I received my iPhone 3G three weeks ago and have had a wonderful honeymoon with this most excellent device. More on my fifteen years of waiting for it, in a future post. Of the many improvements over the first iPhone OS, the killer app is, ironically, the App Store. The availability of third party applications makes the device exponentially more useful. For developers, the App Store puts their applications within a few taps of every iPhone and iPod Touch user and handles the complete payment and distribution mechanism.
When the store was first announced, Apple stated that there would be a one time, $99 per-developer fee to have their apps included, and every app would have to pass their approval process. Being the company that holds itself and it’s devices to a high level of quality and produces developer documents like “iPhone Human Interface Guidelines”, my expectation was that they would be relatively stringent with what got accepted into the store. I quite mistaken. While there are 2000+ apps currently on the store, and many of them are top notch, there’s a whole barrel of smelly crud in there as well. The iPhone app gold rush has everyone and their mother writing a tip calculator. With Apple getting a 30% cut of sales, they have an incentive to allow as many apps in as possible, but at what point do low standards cheapen their attractive platform?
One in particular caught my eye, the Vancouver2010 app (non-iTunes link): it’s a countdown calendar, and an RSS feed of the Vancouver Olympic Commitee’s press releases. For lousy design and weak functionality, the author asks $1.99. I’m calling you out on this, Esteban Garro, of Transcriptics in Edmonton: your iPhone app sucks, it’s a shameful attempt to cash in on Olympic hype, and VANOC could/should take legal action for use of their logo and mascots. If anyone actually bought your ripoff of an application, I’m curious to know.
But Apple’s standards for the App Store seem inconsistent. MacRumors reports on an app called “Pull My Finger”, simulating the popular flatulence joke of the same name, which was rejected on the rationale of having “limited utility to the broad iPhone and iPod touch user community”. True perhaps, but the same could be said of Koi Pond, $0.99, currently the #1 most popular paid app. On the flipside, you have quality Mac developers such as Jesse Grosjean of Hog Bay Software. After submitting an iPhone version of his Mac text editor WriteRoom, he reported that Apple rejected it due to documentation nitpicking. He can fix the issue and resubmit it, but the approval process has been known to take up to a week or more.
Google has said that their upcoming Android Market for apps on their upcoming mobile platform will be “open and unobstructed” and apps won’t be vetted before inclusion. Whether this will make for a better store, I have my doubts. I think Apple’s model does a better job of cultivating user confidence in the store and the platform as a whole. However, Apple needs to decide what exactly their standards are, publish them publicly, and apply them consistently.