from the would-you-please-make-some-sense dept
Apple’s ridiculous, inconsistent and incoherent app store approval process is now a thing of legend. The company has long banned apps simply for being able to access other, vaguely-controversial content, whether that’s a dictionary (because some words are naughty), or comic book and e-book readers (because, occasional booby references). But Apple’s also been known to ban apps critical of Apple products, games with Nazis in it, DUI checkpoint apps, and anything with a confederate flag in it (even if historically accurate). Basically, Apple governs its app store approval process like a puritanical child in the throes of an epic acid trip, and conversations trying to decipher company intent goes accordingly.
Apple’s latest ingenious app store approval ban? Virtual reality journalism. Graphic artist Dan Archer thought it might be cool to build a 3D representation of the Ferguson shooting to help people better understand precisely what happened. Note there’s no graphic content whatsoever; the app simply shows a 3D representative of the crime scene, 3D models of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson and their alleged locations, and lets the user simultaneously peruse publicly-filed evidence, witness testimony, and published radio chatter:
Note that in and of itself a VR exploration of what happened isn’t specifically controversial, and it’s a very handy tool in trying to better understand the details of the story. Yet Archer received a phone call from Apple, explaining cryptically that his app would not be allowed on the store because its “scope was too narrow”:
“According to the phone call I received, Ferguson Firsthand was disallowed because it ?refers to a very specific event, and therefore its scope is too narrow.? I was encouraged to try again with an app that is ?topical, but not focusing on any one single incident or topic.? Ferguson Firsthand, in its current state, would need to be ?changed so significantly for it to be approved.? The representative was unable to clarify whether an app that reported on multiple, nationwide allegations of police misconduct would better fit the recommendations she had mentioned.”
As with previous bans, getting Apple to transparently and more precisely illuminate the exact problem with the VR app was utterly unfruitful. In a companion piece over at Medium, Archer quite-correctly notes that the continued reliance on arbitrary, non-transparent gatekeepers is the last thing the soon-to-explode virtual reality market needs. Sure, those that can afford the $500 for the upcoming HTC Vive or Oculus Rift (not to mention a high-end graphics card) will likely be slightly less-reliant on gatekeepers for content access, but having Apple determine what qualifies as an acceptable journalism tool on less expensive smartphone VR platforms is a scary proposition:
“Leading VR headsets in the market still cost hundreds of dollars (despite becoming a decimal point or two cheaper in the last decade) and a powerful PC to run home experiences. Google cardboard, the SDK that allows journalists to port a game engine experience into VR, was designed to work brilliantly with smartphones, but in light of my phone call with Ms. Apple, almost half (44.1%, according to June 2015 data published by Comscore) of that market share in the US was effectively being cut off.”
Archer also notes that Apple’s decision directly contradicts its own over-arching principles for its own guidelines:
“Thank you for developing for iOS. Even though this document is a formidable list of what not to do, please also keep in mind the much shorter list of what you must do. Above all else, join us in trying to surprise and delight users. Show them their world in innovative ways, and let them interact with it like never before. In our experience, users really respond to polish, both in functionality and user interface. Go the extra mile. Give them more than they expect. And take them places where they have never been before. We are ready to help.”
Or, try to do exactly that and get your project blocked for no coherent reason.