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Monday September 22, 2008 11:50 pm

The App Store is a gamble for developers

Earlier today, I received word that a second iPhone App had been denied access into the App Store, with Apple citing that the application duplicates existing functionality already found in the Apple ecosystem. This is beginning to become a problem, and if you aren’t seeing why, allow me to explain why this is so alarming to me. In case you hadn’t heard, a couple of weeks ago, an app called Podcaster was rejected by Apple for similar reason. The line of thinking there was that Podcaster, an app that would allow you to subscribe to and download podcasts while on the go, duplicated functionality already found in iTunes.

Now, if you’ve never used an , allow me to point out the absurdity. There is nothing on the iPhone or that allows you to subscribe to, or even download, a podcast to your device. Sure, you can open the file in Safari, but that is not what we are talking about. That’s right, even if you enter the iTunes app, you will find right away that podcasts just aren’t there. So we have to then assume that Apple was referring to the iTunes desktop software when they said that Podcaster duplicated functionality. Really? Is that a major issue that a company decided to fix a gaping hole on the iPhone, even if that hole doesn’t exist on the desktop? Why, then, are there so many calculators in the App Store? After all, not only do we have a calculator as part of OS X, but there is a calculator that ships installed by default on the iPhone as well. It seems we have a double-standard here.

Let’s move on to the latest app that got rejected by Apple, by the makers of MailPlane. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because MailPlane is a successful desktop program for OS X. Basically, it lets you plug in a bunch of Gmail accounts, and acts as an email client specifically for Gmail. So the company that makes MailPlane decided, it might be beneficial to make a mobile version of the software for users who have multiple Gmail accounts that they might want to check while on the go. So they wrote, tested, and released MailWrangler to Apple, and awaited their approval into the App Store. Except, instead, they got rejected. Why? Because MailWranger duplicates functionality found in the Mail app on the iPhone. Well, except, that it really doesn’t. You can only check one Gmail account in the default Mail.app at a time. They obviously are there to serve two different purposes, and are way more different than all the tip calculators and Sudoku games we see in the App Store.

While you may not see this as a big deal, there really are some large negatives that we are seeing here, especially if this becomes a trend. There are two big problems that I can identify right off the bat:

Apple is actively competing against their developers. This doesn’t feel like an act of good will. There are some amazing apps that have hit the App Store, and while the games are hot, quite a few of them are utilities. What if Apple decided to build out their own utility that then obsoleted something that sells nicely in the App Store? Would they then kick that app out, saying that it now duplicates something that Apple has put out? Yeah, it likely wouldn’t happen, but you get the point, right? It wouldn’t surprise me if it did.

Developing an iPhone app can cost a lot, with no return. This is the one that worries me. Now, I don’t know how much money was put into the development of either Podcaster or MailWrangler, but you know it wasn’t free. The apps needed to be written, tested, debugged, and everything else before they were submitted to Apple for App Store approval. If an app costs $15,000 to develop before submitting, and doesn’t appear to duplicate functionality on the iPhone, or even OS X, but Apple comes up with some obscure reason that it does, you may be out of luck, and out of the cash. To put it bluntly, that sucks.

We are gonna be keeping an eye on this, and will update if and when we see any other apps denied for similar reasons. Apple has gotta be called out on these issues, at the very least, so that us users can be aware. Maybe enough attention on this will result in great software getting approved, even if it duplicates functionality of apps that are more important than the Calculator and Weather apps.

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