Thoughts on the App Store and the “Podcaster” rejection

The subject of what Apple should and should not allow in the App Store has become a very “hot button” topic. The closest thing I can compare it to are politics. Politics is one of the areas where very smart people often have very dumb arguments. What I mean by that is that many of the smartest people in the world seem to lose all perspective when it comes to political discussion. Their view point is the only one that is right, and how dare anyone question it.

When, rationally, we all know that there are two sides to every debate, and that none of us are correct 100% of the time. Discussing the App store, and Apple’s current policies for accepting applications seems to generate these types of responses.

On Friday the Internet lit up because the application Podcaster was rejected by Apple. The reason they said was that “since Podcaster assists in the distribution of podcasts, it duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes.”

That reasoning is extremely hard to understand. Now people that are supportive of Apple’s decision immediately jump on the “If I had a store that sold widgets, and someone else wanted to come into my store and sell similar widgets – why should I have to let them?” While those that are against Apple will immediately jump up and down screaming “Apple is anti-competitive! This is blatantly suppressing competition!”.

I will let you decide for yourselves which of those two categories you happen to fall under.

Taking a broader look at it, though, this reasoning doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Here’s why.

First – Apple has allowed numerous applications on the phone that duplicate features of their products. There are hundreds of calculators available for the iPhone. Some are vastly different than the iPhone calculator, but many are very similar. There are several photo editors and viewers much like the Photos application on the iPhone, and there are even services like AOL Radio and FlyCast that stream internet radio just like iTunes. There are chat applications that feature similar functions as iChat. There is even a VOIP app called truphone that allows you to make calls over wi-fi.

Is it really possible that Apple has allowed all of these applications in, and just decided, arbitrarily to draw the line at downloading Podcasts?

I think its far more likely that there is another reason for this – and the rejection letter was worded poorly. Perhaps Podcaster has inadvertently violated one of Apple’s patents related to iTunes. If that was the case, it would make more sense for the App to have been rejected – but it doesn’t excuse the idiocy of the rejection letter.

Whatever the reason, Apple doesn’t own podcasting – they’ve never claimed to to my knowledge. They have been very aggressive in shutting down websites with “pod” in the title though, another possible reason for rejection.

Having this application on the iPhone could in no way harm Apple that I can see. If people use it for their podcasts instead of iTunes – it wouldn’t stop people from using iTunes. They have to have iTunes to sync their iPhones. So that argument doesn’t really hold much water. So why would Apple NOT want this application in the store?

If you go to Podcaster.fm and look at the web version of the Application it looks almost identical to the App or iTunes Stores on the iPhone. Again, this makes me think that there could be something related to the look and feel of the application, rather than Apple simply not wanting a competing podcast application for the iPhone.

Regardless of the true reasoning behind this, it is clear that Apple has a big problem on its hands. The company is spending millions of dollars right now advertising to the world that the App Store is going to “change everything”. If Apple isn’t going to allow competing applications – or work with developers to get Applications approved (from the conceptual stage) then high quality developers are going to develop for other platforms. It will be very difficult to seek financial backing for application development if you don’t know that the application will be approved until after it is completed. At that stage it is far too late, and if Apple rejects it – you don’t have any way to recoup your costs or profit from your endeavor.

The App Store is going through some serious growing pains. Hopefully, Apple is going to devote the time and energy necessary to help this Store reach its full potential – because it would be a shame to see it fail because of arbitrary rejections like this one.

Comments

  1. IMHO, Apple has every right to do this. Looks like a Trademark infringement to me.

  2. The fact that Apple is the arbitrary decider (shades of Bush) of what shows up is what is wrong with the App store. You can try to rationalize the reason(s) for the podcaster app rejection but the arbitrary nature of Apple’s action is the issue. Until they become more apparent/transparent in the way they do business this will remain a major issue for developers and will impede the improvement of the iPhone/iTouch ecosystem into something worth participating in. I know if I were to do development I would rather do it for Windows Mobile, Symbian, or BlackBerry than for Apple. These markets may not be as robust but I would control my destiny much more than leaving Apple in control.

  3. Podcaster broke the SDK’s rules.

    1. It allows downloading of podcasts over the cellular network. This causes cellular bandwidth problems for everyone if enough consumers use Podcaster. This breaks an explicit SDK rule.

    2. Podcaster allows downloading of video and audio – creating a distribution of copyrighted material – without the copyright owner’s explicit permission. It is not just podcasts than can be downloaded. This is explicitly banned in the SDK. Streaming of podcasts where it isn’t saved doesn’t break copyright rules. Downloading and thus distributing does.

    3. Podcasts are distributed through the iTunes Store. If they were called by any other name, e.g. newscasts, and not distributed through the iTunes store, then Podcaster may not break the SDK rule that applications may not add additional functions for items distributed through the iTunes store.

    The SDK includes additional rules. Yes, Apple’s letter’s wording was not clear and was poorly worded.

    However, Podcaster violates 3 of Apple’s explicit SDK rules for applications.

    The Developer of Podcaster probably did not read the SDK clearly. And by his complaining, a mountain was made out of a molehill that could have easily been avoided.

  4. @James Katt

    Thanks for that. Seriously.

    That all makes sense, and clearly states why the application was rejected. Apple should hire you to write the rejection letters – because whoever is doing it is doing a terrible job.

    :)

  5. James Katt:
    Did you learn this from Apple or did you read the SDK and assume that you correctly divined Apple’s reasoning.? I have not seen anything that corroborates your interpretation. Therefore, I assume you are as out-to-sea as the rest of us and don’t know anything!

  6. “Some developers demand Apple try to communicate better, lest they assume the worst of the platform vendor. While that sounds plenty reasonable at face value, given the curatorial demands on the fledgling state of the App Store platform and Apple’s overall reliance on product-plan secrecy, we shouldn’t realistically expect Apple to ‘open up’ anytime soon,” as I explain in:

    Resolved: Apple is right to curate the App Store
    http://counternotions.com/2008/09/15/app-store/

  7. Michael Teuber says:

    It seems to me that Apple is concerned about allowing ordinary users to download podcasts which may contain any sort of malicious material. Users who unthinkingly download podcasts from the iTunes Music Store may not hesitate to do so from ‘Bob’s Bait and Switch Blog’ without perceiving a threat. When Bob’s malware sends their financial or personal data to russian mobsters, the headline will not read “Virus Plagues Podcaster Users” but “iPhone Virus Plagues Apple Customers.”

  8. There might be another, unofficial reason to the rejection. The way I see it, Apple considers the Podcast section of the iTunes Store as a sort of a foyer where people search for their podcasts, but when they the search engine usually delivers results from the paid section of the Store as well. So when it does, one might say: “hey, this is cool, I might just buy it”. So if Apple lost this advertising function of the free section, they might lose some revenues, and what company wants that? Of course, they can’t say this out loud…

  9. Michael, I certainly agree with your reasoning.

    If Apple allows Podcaster on the iPhone then its essentially means that anyone can just actually download any old podcast onto the iphone. Not just stream it but actually download the file and run it.

    Even though I don’t have an iPhone, I’m pretty sure none of the radio apps, utube, movie app, etc allow you to download the actual music or movie file onto the iPhone.

    Allowing something like Podcaster onto the iPhone means that you are allowing something like a p2p client onto the iPhone. Bypassing iTunes and providing competition to Apple is one thing but it also means that all someone needs to illegally share music or any other file for that matter, is to put it up online as a podcast and it gets downloaded via Podcaster onto your iPhone.

    Look Apple doesn’t store all podcasts on the itunes server. You subscribe to podcasts from thousands of websites all over the internet. Allowing podcaster on the iPhone is like opening pandora’s box.

    Do you think that any of the music labels or movie studios for that matter will allow any of their content onto iTunes if this happens???

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