Should Apple Really Be Determining What Is Useful?

from the steve-jobs:-the-decider dept

Ten years ago, if someone told you that they were going to create an encyclopedia that anyone could edit, at best, you would have decided the site would be of "limited utility." Five years ago, if someone told you that they were going to create a service to let people write 140 character updates, you would have decided the site would be of "limited utility." How about a site that will let you sleep on a strangers couch? The Internet has bred success stories because it allows inexpensive experimentation; in amongst the rickrolling and other dribble that fills the tubes are sometimes deceptively compelling ideas. These aren't ideas that come through corporate meetings or product development; they come from the edge. Yet, Apple continues to stifle innovation in their App Store by rejecting and removing applications. Now, the company is ejecting applications based on the rather vague rational of "limited utility." While I agree that the application in question has little use, this is a dangerous precedent that could easily have been used to ban Wikipedia, Twitter or CouchSurfing.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Buzz, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 7:15am

    Silly Apple

    Apple should have two major divisions in its app store. The "lower" division should allow virtually all programs (little to no censorship). The "higher" division will be the programs that are placed upon pedestals; Apple could even add incentive by taking a smaller cut of the upper division apps. That way, no one will fill picked on, and the suckup apps will receive the attention they deserve.

     

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  2.  
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    n/a, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 7:20am

    ...Except that there was no

    Apple's decision to not have applications it views as limited utility is right on par with Wikipedia's "quality standards" and CouchSurfing's Vouching and Verification policies. Those in control of the marketplace get to choose its contents and how they're presented.

    We saw what happened when things were open. At least six people bought IAmRich and a couple complained that they somehow didn't think it was real / they made a mistake. These were not children. They were all customers at least of legal age, who had credit cards, a spare thousand dollars, all the education the world could offer, and they still couldn't take care of themselves.

    Is the argument being made that since there's money involved it's somehow not alright to filter content?

     

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  3.  
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    Matt, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 7:25am

    except this straw man argument?

    The issue is the fact that the situation is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It has nothing to do with market control in any way.

    Some good apps will be refused/lost because of someone's evaluation that they are of limited use. They will still make it as programs for jailbroken Iphones, but last I checked non-jailbroken won't run things not from the app store too well. All it does, is make the phone more crappy, and harder to support a developer of a program you wish to buy.

    Instead of supporting apple + developer you can only now donate to the developer or something. I'm all for cutting out crapple anyway, but still, this is an example of how things are missed.

     

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  4.  
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    Michael Britton, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 7:26am

    Quite a Monopoly

    This would be OK, I guess, if the App Store wasn't the sole source of iPhone/iPod Touch apps, but it is. Apple has (for most people) locked the platform down so the only way to add additional functionality is through their sources. To me, this kind of "closed system" further escalates the monopoly that Apple started when they refused to unlock the iPhone and, initially, to only sell it through AT&T. It's akin to Microsoft building their own PC that only runs Microsoft apps and can only buy those apps through Microsoft's online PC Store (obviously such a store doesn't exist, but you get my drift). Microsoft would get slapped so fast with an antitrust suit, but Apple keeps getting away with it.

     

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  5.  
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    wasnt me!, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 7:27am

    apple has always made sure it had the most control possible over its product. That is the main reason why MS was so successful with its Widows OS.

    until today (but not for long i guess) Iphone with apple store are still a unique product and Apple can afford to do what ever it pleases with them.

    Although Apple has placed it self in some sort of a niche market and having a Iphone today is some sort of social status that might not work for long.

    i think we will have to wait and see how the Android phones do and if the Google App. Market delivers on what it promises. Then again the 2 year contract Iphone users had to sign with there carriers might delay all that thats only if the Android phones do not work with ATT and other carriers (which is doubtful)

     

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  6.  
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    another one, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 7:34am

    ms was prolific... but not successful. quality over quantity.

     

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  7.  
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    some old guy, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 7:37am

    oblig star wars reference

    The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers

     

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  8.  
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    Potato Head, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 8:06am

    After much thought...

    At first I was sure that Google was Skynet and I have been waiting for it to become self aware. Now I think that Apple my be the fall of man kind.

    After finding my self spending hours playing useless games on my ipod touch, I have come to the conclusion that they are mind control devices.

    Prepare your tin foil hats!

     

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  9.  
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    Rod MacPherson, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 8:07am

    It's their store...

    The app store belongs to Apple, therefore apple decides what goes on the shelf.

    Do you think Walmart would let you just put your widget on their shelf and say "Here's my contact info, send me my check when any of my stuff sells."

    Would you do that if you were running a store?

    If you want to sell an app for one of apple's systems there are other ways to do it. Set up a website of your own. If your app is successful let Apple come to you begging to have it in their store.

     

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  10.  
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    Yosi, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 8:10am

    Don't like Apple? Buy Nokia

    Why does it matter what Apple does with iPhone? This crap has less than 10% of phone market.
    Every device has it's limitations - do you know that Sony approve ALL games for PSP? Do you know that there's order of magnitude more PSP's than iPhones?

     

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  11.  
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    suckerpunch-tm, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 8:16am

    Re: It's their store...

    Actually MacPherson, thats EXACTLY what Walmart does: http://walmart.oodle.com/

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 8:18am

    Re:

    Microsoft *was* and *is* successful. The only way you can deem in not successful is to make up your own definition of success.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 8:19am

    Re: It's their store...

    That's a faulty comparison. Walmart is a brick & mortar place. Shelf space costs money. A better comparison would be Amazon.com and Amazon's Marketplace... which actually lets you do kinda what you're talking about.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 8:19am

    Re: It's their store...

    "If you want to sell an app for one of apple's systems there are other ways to do it. Set up a website of your own. If your app is successful let Apple come to you begging to have it in their store."

    you have no idea what you are talking about.

    unless an advanced user has cracked (or jailbroken) their iPhone they can only buy and use apps from the apple store. So this isn't like the real world where if a single store won't carry your product you just go to another or open you own stand. if the apple store won't carry your program then you could manually send it to a few friends, but there is no real way to set up a commercial site to make a profit from the majority of users.

     

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  15.  
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    Ima Fish, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 8:20am

    Should they? Nope. Will they? Yep. I wish college was this easy.

     

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  16.  
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    huntm856, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 8:24am

    I agree that Apple's business philosophy is shortsighted....

    ...but, hey, it's a free country. Let the market decide. If sheeplike consumers want to have their products screened and offered to them by Uncle Steve, then that's just the way it is. Other, more open platforms will benefit from Apple's shortsightedness.

     

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  17.  
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    Fritz Brown, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 8:59am

    Re: It's their store...

    If Wal-Mart refuses to sell your product you can go to Target or K-mart or any other of the thousands of retailers that exist.
    There is only one place to sell iPhone apps.

     

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  18.  
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    Michael Britton, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 9:19am

    Re: It's their store...

    Except that if Walmart doesn't carry something, there are countless other places to buy the product. In Apple's case, unless you have jailbroken your iPhone or iPod Touch, there is no other source for apps. THAT is monopolistic. Apple sells you a device and then controls what you can put on it and from where you can get those apps. There is no alternative (normally) and every update they bring out re-locks their devices. Now, I own an iPod Touch, so their argument that malicious apps can damage the cellular network is full of it, so why should I have to be limited to what they provide? Yet they hold me to the same standards as the iPhone and even charge me for software upgrades (which they say they have to do because the so-called "business model" for the Touch is different... bull!). So I don't really think your Walmart analogy is applicable.

     

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  19.  
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    Joe Schmoe, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 9:20am

    I'm in the market for a new mp3 player. Despite my misgivings with iTunes (DRM/AAC et'all), the iPods themselves are very nice.

    I had always wished that Palm would have strapped their PDA's onto a real harddrive (40Gig min, not that measly lifedrive offering). However, after this current re-affirmation of the Apple walled garden, I'm going to pick up a Palm TX after all. Not near as nice as an iPod Touch. And I would probably never want to install and use anything that Apple would ban, but I can install whatever "I" please onto it. Now affordable SD cards make up for storage space. And come to find out, you can stream radio over wifi on it too.

     

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  20.  
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    Kappen, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 10:11am

    You'll Have To Explain

    To all those people commenting about how apple did this for the right reasons will have to justify to me the 20 different Iphone applications that basically put a white screen on your phone to use it as a flashlight. Some of which are charging for the application.

    I truely wonder how Apple is not getting brought up on charges by the DoJ for being anticompeditive. They are worse then MS when MS was brought up on charges.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 10:29am

    Well Microsoft was monopolistic for so long, maybe the DoJ wants to give someone else a turn. :)

     

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  22.  
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    Michael Long, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 1:44pm

    Since when....

    Since when was "pull my finger" considered innovative? Heck, that joke was old back in 2,000 BC.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 4:28pm

    Re: Since when....

    it's not whether or not it's innovative, it is the idea that somehow apple knows what people will find "useful" and that a lot of things that were once perceived as useless turned out not to be.

     

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  24.  
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    Dan, Sep 8th, 2008 @ 6:09pm

    Can you accuse Jobs of having a GOD complex? He really is GOD, just ask him.

     

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  25.  
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    EvelGnyus, Sep 9th, 2008 @ 2:40am

    Good for Apple and good for Apple's customers

    Anyone who operates a store, particularly one as egalitarian in the opportunities that it provides to suppliers as iTunes and the App Store, has the perfect right to exercise some degree of editorial discretion over items stocked in that store. Negative commentary on the "I Am Rich" application is testament enough that consumers get value from Apple discretion on application distribution. If you were to look at it from a customer perspective, it is pretty difficult to find a particular application of interest as it is.

    The letter to "Pull My Finger" developers did suggest a perfectly valid alternative in Ad Hoc distribution. Perhaps by successfully reaching the limits of Ad Hoc distribution, these developers might re-submit having proved utility sufficient to attract 100 users via Ad Hoc distribution.

    Personally, I think the video for "Pull My Finger" shows that it is pretty weak, and deserves to be sent to the minor leagues. Looks like the general app UI is decent (or at least familiar) but the meat of the application is weak. If they would add animation synched to the act of finger pulling, they could have vastly improved the user experience.

    It is all interconnected folks: people make apps, apple has a store, other people buy apps. Let's try to think differently about how to efficiently make this the most delightful experience possible.

     

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  26.  
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    rwahrens (profile), Sep 9th, 2008 @ 4:00am

    monopoly

    No, Apple is NOT monopolistic. The iPhone is, as someone noted above in a less than charitable tone, selling at somewhere south of 10% of the market. How is THAT monopolistic?

    One cannot be a monopoly at less than 10% of the market. The simple fact is that Apple sells the iPhone, the App Store is THEIR App Store, so Apple gets to make the rules. They do so, as Steve has noted time after time, to prevent malware from getting into the system. If you can't load it without iTunes, and iTunes won't load it without approval from Apple, that sets a high bar for malware to cross.

    I'm happy with a safe phone, thankyouverymuch.

    Don't like it? Buy something from Samsung, or RIM! Then you don't have to agonize over it.

     

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  27.  
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    DCnderella, Sep 11th, 2008 @ 2:56pm

    Re: monopoly

    "by rwahrens - Sep 9th, 2008 @ 4:00am
    No, Apple is NOT monopolistic. The iPhone is...south of 10% of the market. How is THAT monopolistic?...
    "The simple fact is that Apple sells the iPhone, the App Store is THEIR App Store, so Apple gets to...prevent malware from getting into the system...I'm happy with a safe phone, thankyouverymuch. Don't like it? Buy something from Samsung, or RIM! Then you don't have to agonize over it."

    Agree wholeheartedly, rwahrens. I started as a DOS user and became an Apple computer user. From years-ago DOS and such, I know just enough BASIC programming to understand how easily something can get destroyed by a novice. (Ever C:/delete *.* when you didn't want to?) Since Apple's products can't be fudged with, anyone who considers herself a developer and wants to 'take apart the toaster to see if it can be made to work better' shouldn't buy it unless they wanna just play. Apple's best market is who their products are designed for: the Novice (less than 50% of the market I'd imagine) who needs something they cannot easily destroy *because* of all the closed gateways. Strictly from a tech support view, the fewer non-approved apps on a system, the better chance it will (nearly) always perform well.

     

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  28.  
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    DeadLee, Sep 12th, 2008 @ 9:39am

    Who do they think they are

    I agree that apple has the right to ban or not publish apps that are potentially harmful to the iPhone, iTunes or the cellular network. But who do they think they are to decide what programs are of 'limited utility'.

    Look at the flashlight program. Could you not just load a blank webpage in safari and get the exact same result, so doesn't that program qualify as 'limited utility'?

    What about the iPhone light saber, that uses the accelerometer to make light saber sounds as you swing the iphone around like a ninny. Isn't that of 'limited utility'?

    There are hundreds of games on the app store. I'm sure they are all very fun, but they are most definitely of limited "utility".

    I just see 'limited utility' as an excuse to control competitive software on the iphone.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 15th, 2008 @ 11:32am

    Re: Re:

    which is, I assume, what MS must have done to label Vista a "success"?

     

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  30.  
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    Motorcycle Fairings, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 5:03am

    Yeah, Whatever they say they would do fine, but don't claim that the world ends just because Apple doesn't allow to continue. lol.

     

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  31.  
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    Strategy Guide, Nov 27th, 2008 @ 12:44am

    Now, I own an iPod Touch, so their argument that malicious apps can damage the cellular network is full of it, so why should I have to be limited to what they provide? Yet they hold me to the same standards as the iPhone and even charge me for software upgrades (which they say they have to do because the so-called "business model" for the Touch is different... bull!). So I don't really think your Walmart analogy is applicable.

     

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  32.  
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    Jordan Release Dates, Dec 20th, 2008 @ 8:13pm

    It's akin to Microsoft building their own PC that only runs Microsoft apps and can only buy those apps through Microsoft's online PC Store (obviously such a store doesn't exist, but you get my drift). Microsoft would get slapped so fast with an antitrust suit, but Apple keeps getting away with it.

     

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  33.  
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    Home Decor, Jan 7th, 2009 @ 12:18pm

    Who would even think that now people can be connected with hundreds of friends just by one click? This is the era that many though it was just a dream!!

     

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