Apple breaks its silence on App Store rejections

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before: Apple rejects an iPhone application on grounds the app contains objectionable content. The application in question this time around is a mobile version of online dictionary Ninjawords, and according to the Daring Fireball blog, which first reported on developer Matchstick Software's struggles to earn approval for the premium app, when Ninjawords finally did hit the App Store it arrived with a 17+ parental control rating despite bowing to Apple's mandate that all "objectionable" words (among them "ass" and "screw") be purged to earn approval. Apple rejected Ninjawords three separate times before finally greenlighting the app--according to Matchstick developer Phil Crosby, "Someone from Apple called [a Matchstick Software colleague] to tell him that we were being rejected again for illicit content [and] no matter what we did to our dictionary, it will have to be 17+ to make it to the App Store."

What seems like a familiar story is anything but. Unlike with previous App Store controversies, Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller publicly responded to the Daring Fireball article, sending the blog an email to state he investigated Matchstick's account with the App Store review team. "Apple did not censor the content in this developer's application and Apple did not reject this developer's application for including references to common swear words. You accused Apple of both in your story and the fact is that we did neither," Schiller states. "The issue that the App Store reviewers did find with the Ninjawords application is that it provided access to other more vulgar terms than those found in traditional and common dictionaries, words that many reasonable people might find upsetting or objectionable." Schiller adds that Apple did not ask Matchstick to censor Ninjawords content, but that the developer made that decision on its own to expedite the app's time to market. "Even though the developer chose to censor some terms, there still remained enough vulgar terms that it required a parental control rating of 17+," Schiller continues. "You are correct that the Ninjawords application should not have needed to be censored while also receiving a 17+ rating, but that was a result of the developers' actions, not Apple's."

And now that Apple's talking, you can't shut them up. The computing giant also responded to an Unofficial Apple Weblog article on a series of recent ebook app rejections, speculating the computing giant was treading carefully over third-party rights concerns. "We have not stopped approving ebook readers and ebooks--in fact we've approved 221 new ebooks to the App Store since 7/30/09," an Apple spokesperson writes in an email to TUAW. "The book category in the App Store lists 6,000 apps and this doesn't cover the full scope since ebooks are included in other categories like medical, reference and education."

It seems Apple's willing to talk about anything--except why it's suddenly willing to talk, that is. It's possible the company is feeling some pressure from a Federal Communications Commission inquiry into its controversial decision to remove a pair of third-party Google Voice applications from the App Store, additionally rejecting Google's own VoIP client. Or maybe Apple is genuinely concerned about its relationship with the mobile development community: Last week, Wired reported on the emergence of Cydia, an unauthorized iPhone and iPod touch app storefront that's becoming a safe haven for programmers turned aside by the official App Store. Cydia caters exclusively to jailbroken iPhones--an addressable market of about 4 million smartphones, according to site operator Jay Freeman. Cydia is now welcoming close to 500,000 consumers each day, and the store has generated $220,000 in total sales in five months. "People are so annoyed by Apple and their s***, and if you give them opportunity to go around it, then they'll even pay for it," said Kim Streich, the developer behind Cydia app 3G Unrestrictor, which earned $19,000 in just two weeks.

Developers who've sworn off the App Store remain a distinct minority, however--if anything, the pace of iPhone development continues to accelerate. Mobile analytics firm Flurry reports that the number of available applications in the App Store has more than doubled from 25,000 applications in January to over 65,000 in July, translating to 14 percent month-over-month growth. Even more telling, programmers initiated more than 1,000 new iPhone app projects last month, compared to about 100 six months earlier. At the current rate of growth, the App Store will easily surpass the 100,000 application milestone by year's end--as Flurry notes, the virtual storefront soon will carry more items than the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, which merchandises about 100,000 items in each brick-and-mortar store. Those numbers speak far louder than anything else Apple has to say. -Jason