Reject or Accept: Apple’s App Store dilemma

02Mar10

Apps that make fart noises. An app that quacks like a duck. An app which shows a glowing red crystal. Yes, it’s the “limited functionality” parade. Apple sometimes rejects apps which they judge to have “limited functionality”, while allowing others which some would say are just as useless. Apple fans are often divided on the issue. Some argue that Apple has no right to decide what has “limited functionality” to the user, while others decry the mass of useless, cheap, poorly-written Apps in the store and would like Apple to reject more of them. What are the arguments, and which argument do you side with?

The argument AGAINST allowing  “limited” Apps

The App store is getting too full of rubbish. The signal-to-noise ratio of good apps to useless nonsense is getting worse. For example, a search in the iTunes store for the word “Fart” revealed 458 apps. That’s amazing, considering the cost involved in deploying an App in the store, and Apple’s review process. Remember also that the store is still growing – imagine how bad it will get in the future!

A ridiculous limited-functionality App which is currently on the store.

If things continue as they are, the ratio of useless-to-useful Apps will easily become 100 to 1. This means genuinely good Apps may become swallowed up and undiscovered, surrounded by all the nonsense and rubbish. Imagine how many great games lie undiscovered, sitting in the depths of the app store with no reviews and few downloads?

Legitimate and highly skilled developers may be robbed of a chance to make a living because their creations are shouted-down by terrible games coded by teenagers in their bedroom. Or, budding teenage geniuses making the next great game in their bedroom, may never see their creation discovered because of all the stupid apps released by their less-inspired peers.

Surely this situation has to change. Apple can — and should — vet all apps for their quality and usefulness. Wouldn’t it be great to browse a store full of good, useful, insightful, practical, and fun apps? Wouldn’t it be good to know that whatever App you buy, you are guaranteed at least some level of functionality, quality, and usefulness?

Of course it would. Apple should continue to reject the rubbish, limited apps — and if you ask me, should continue to narrow their acceptance criteria. Quality Apple devices should run quality software. Let’s not see the Apple experience diluted by a mass of poorly designed amateurish garbage.

The argument FOR allowing ALL “limited” Apps

If Apple banned all useless apps, we wouldn’t have the fart apps. Personally, I’d say hooray — but such apps have brought much joy to hundreds of thousands (millions?) of kids. Who am I to deny them that joy, just because I don’t like it?

Limited functionality is the eye of the beholder. Let’s imagine that I am miraculously appointed the gate keeper to the App store. I personally decide which Apps get accepted and rejected – and I will have zero tolerance of any Apps that almighty I judge as limited, useless, or rubbish.

I would, in effect, be dictator. Who would I be to decide what is “limited”,  “useless” or “rubbish”? What appears as rubbish to me might be very good and useful to someone else. For example, the Tate Modern (the gigantic modern art space in London) recently released an App which is a virtual tour of a new art exhibit. Now, some people would say that exhibit is rubbish, and the App is rubbish too. However, who are you decide what art is “good” and what is not? Should the choice be taken away from me? Can’t I decide for myself what is good and what isn’t? Who can truly judge what artwork is good, and what is not? No one can. That’s partially the point.

Likewise, are not Apps creations also creations, a form of expression? Even things that blatantly are terrible can become popular. Have you heard of the Three Wolf Moon t-shirt? It’s a t-shirt design that was so awful that it became a running joke, and part of online popular culture. Now, if Amazon had decided to reject it from sale because it was terrible, and no-one would buy it, we would have lost a funny cultural icon. Who is to say that the recently banned App which makes your iPhone quack like a duck could not have become the next Three Wolf Moon?

What right does Apple have to make such judgements? Surely it is I, the consumer, who has the right to decide what I want on my own device. Sure, Apple keeps out the viruses, spyware, etc. — and that I accept (and am very grateful for). But to go further, and judge certain apps as useless, limited, or of poor-quality, can’t I decide that for myself?

My local bookstore does not only sell books it judges to be useful, or even good. There are some absolute stinkers for sale in my local bookstore. But it doesn’t matter. We, the customers buy what we want. Likewise in the local supermarket, the bosses of the store don’t only sell foods that they judge to taste good. If I ran a supermarket only stocked with foods I thought tasted good, then I wouldn’t sell Marmite, because I think it tastes horrible, but other people love it. Likewise I wouldn’t sell beer, because I feel it smells like urine, and prefer wine — but surely who am I to deny others what they like?

I say Let the people decide what’s rubbish and what isn’t. Apple can keep out the viruses and spyware, but leave the other judgements up to us.

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