9 Banned Apps You'll Never See on the iPhone
Much of the consternation stems from the fact that Apple has never published hard and fast guidelines for what determines whether an app will be allowed through Apple's gatekeepers. To make matters worse for frustrated developers, Apple frequently contradicts itself in its judgments. So, say, while porn stars are free to peddle T and A to consenting adults, e-book packages that include the "Kama Sutra" are apparently too risqué for Apple. In the hopes of discovering a method to this maddening process, we've looked at nine high-profile iPhone apps that were found guilty of transgressing Apple's (unwritten) approval terms, and weigh in on the fairness of Apple's judgment and the likelihood an app will have it overturned on appeal in the future.
The defense: In this stretch of the word "game," your job is to quiet a crying baby by... (wait for it) shaking it as hard as you can, until it dies.
The complaint: We shouldn't have to spell this one out, but Apple objected to the patently offensive content of the game.
Fairness of the judgment: We're comfortable with backing Apple on this one. While we're firmly against the idea of censorship and are uncomfortable with Apple deciding what's in good taste and what isn't, at the end of the day selling the game would cast Apple as a purveyor of infanticide snuffware.
Likelihood of appeal: About as likely as Charles Manson ever seeing daylight again. Case dismissed.
2. Google Voice
The defense: The official Google Voice app (and the pulled third-party options like GV Mobile) allowed you to use your iPhone to access your Google Voice account to place calls, send text messages, and check voicemail -- all for cheap or free.
The complaint: Apple pulled the third party apps and then denied approval of Google Voice, claiming it duplicated built-in features of the iPhone.
Fairness of the judgment: Funnily enough, Apple has approved full-fledged Internet telephony apps like Skype and Vonage and other apps that promise free or cheap text messaging. And there is convincing speculation that the rejection was influenced by AT&T, which is obviously eager to protect its text messaging business from being poached by Google Voice's free option.This one smells like three-day-old fish to us -- we're not buying it.
Likelihood of appeal: Perhaps in part due to intense public backlash over Apple's move, the FCC has launched an investigation into the incident and enacted new net neutrality rules that may force Apple to approve the application anyway. If you don't feel like holding your breath for some action from the FCC, however, you can get your Google Voice fix by jailbreaking your iPhone and installing GV Mobile.
The defense: Mighty Goog's latest foray into the world of social networking uses GPS to pinpoint your location and broadcast what you're doing to your other buddies on Latitude.
The complaint: Apple reportedly "asked" Google to make the app Web-based instead, "to avoid confusion with [Google] Maps," since Latitude relies on the same interface and data. You know, it's for your own good.
Fairness of the judgment: Apple must believe its customers have learning disorders, as anyone who would get confused by an app they installed themselves would probably have trouble operating an iPhone anyway. Or a phone for that matter. Or a toaster. Anyway, aside from that silly explanation, Apple has contradicted itself on this one, as it has since opened up Google Maps data to be accessed by other applications, letting anyone create an app that could effectively do the same thing -- for example the bizarrely specific Kondom Localizr, which allows Swiss users to locate places to pick up condoms.
Likelihood of appeal: For now, Google's Latitude lives on as an iPhone-friendly Web app, which Apple is unable or uninterested in blocking, so we're stuck with a hung jury. But if Latitude becomes a hit in the future, it may well force Apple to cave.
The defense: When launched, this $999.99 application that throws up a glowing red light and the words "I am rich." Booyah, bro, let's go do some shots!
The complaint: Apple has a policy against function-less apps, and deemed this one fit that (rather sky-high) bill.
Fairness of the judgment: As this app comes as close to literally doing nothing as possible -- hey, sort of like absurdly rich people! -- it technically falls afoul of Apple's policy. But then again, it isn't offensive or harmful, other than the fact that it represents the worst kind of conspicuous consumption. (Did we mention the $999.99 price tag?) The flip side is that while this largely useless but harmless app is denied, legions of obnoxious fart-noise making apps and their ilk continue to flood the App Store.
Likelihood of appeal: The defense will likely accept judgment and simply get on with life. Truth be told, the app was more of a time-sensitive social experiment and get-rich-quick scheme than an earnest app warranting inclusion. On principle alone, though, it ought to be allowed!
The defense: Drivetrain allowed users to remotely control the Transmission BitTorrent client on Mac and Linux, starting and stopping downloads, but didn't actually download anything itself to the iPhone.
The complaint: Straight from the source, Apple told the developers of Drivetrain: "This category of application is often used for the purpose of infringing third-party rights. We have chosen to not publish this type of application to the App Store."
Fairness of the judgment: If rejecting an app because it can control an application that could, potentially, be used to pirate software, music or films, then what should be done about YouTube or Safari, which can be used directly to pirate media? Oh, we're sorry Apple, did we just blow your mind? This judgment smacks of the worst kind of hypocrisy.
Likelihood of appeal: We sincerely doubt the sentence will be overturned, but if you're a dedicated torrent user, there are options such as TorrentTRAK for jailbroken phones and both uTorrent and Transmission have Web-based interfaces that can be used from the iPhone Safari browser.
The defense: The accused was a partisan political spoof that featured a cartoon Dubya swinging his arms counter-clockwise on a backwards-running clock and a countdown showing the seconds left till the end of the George Bush presidency.
The complaint: After Apple rejected the application, developers Juggleware appealed directly to Apple el presidente Steve Jobs, who responded, "... I think this app will be offensive to roughly half our customers. What's the point?"
Fairness of the judgment: We saw how effective the boycotts of the Dixie Chicks and France were, so what exactly was Jobs so afraid of? Besides stifling political speech, even glib hackery (hey what's a Fox News Reader doing in my App Store?), never sits well with people, and so this one's a seriously bad call on Apple's part. If the app featured violence, or obscenity, then sure, it's worth taking a stand. But this one's out of line. What's next, pulling all the hunting apps because it offends vegetarians and gun control proponents?
Likelihood of appeal: Barring a constitutional amendment, the question is moot -- Dubya is happily in Texas and Juggleware filed an appeal and had it denied by Apple's turtleneck-wearing chief justice. But we're sure this debate will arise again soon enough under the new presidency. Stay tuned.
7. Me So Holy
The defense: This app allowed users to paste their face over images of religious figures such as Jesus.
The complaint: ...That's right, objectionable and offensive content. How'd you guess?
Fairness of the judgment: If depiction of religious figures is offensive, then we could find a million and one potentially objectionable apps in the store. How about the much-loved 'Pocket God,' in which users take on the role of a pagan deity worshiped by an island of primitive people? We're sure someone, somewhere, is offended by that. Still, we're at least a little sympathetic because rather than protect the feelings of one particular group, Apple has ruled against offending any religious figure -- which undoubtedly saves them plenty of grief.
Likelihood of appeal: This app isn't about free expression or speech, and so we don't see its cause being taken up again any time soon. Besides, the last thing the App Store needs is another cheesy $0.99 app that lets you crudely paste your head on things.
The defense: A game that has you bounce one of 18 politicians on a trampoline and have them pop balloons with their heads.
The complaint: Supposedly the Bill Clinton caricature was pants-less, in violation of Apple's policy against content that ridicules public figures, and also may be considered personally defamatory.
Fairness of the judgment: Watching a video of the gameplay didn't reveal what the offending material is, so we don't see why this would have been rejected. Even if Clinton is depicted as not wearing any pants, it's not something we'd consider wildly offensive.Though tired at this point, "Bill Clinton: womanizer" jokes are still staples of late night talk shows, and last we checked, no one was suing Jay Leno for defamation. Lame jokes, sure -- he's guilty as hell -- but not defamatory.
Likelihood of appeal: With the presidential election season behind us, it's doubtful the developer will file an appeal. And after watching the game play video, we're not losing any sleep. Our iPhones already have enough overly simple games with poor control schemes.
The defense: An impressive looking 'South Park' iPhone app that would download wallpapers, assign character photos to contacts, and, most importantly (and impressively), stream every episode of the show, ever.
The complaint: The official word from Apple is that the content of the streaming episodes was potentially offensive.
Fairness of the judgment: Potentially offensive is a bit of an understatement -- 'South Park' is incredibly offensive -- which is why we and millions of others love it. According to the court of iTunes, however, uncensored seasons of the TV show aren't offensive enough to keep them from being available for purchase right from your iPhone, which means this ruling puts the prosecution's case firmly in hypocrisy territory. We suspect that Apple is simply protecting its iTunes revenue stream and motivated by pure greed. But that couldn't be the case, could it, Apple fanboys?
Likelihood of appeal: Expect the show's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, to fight tooth and nail to get their application past the approval blockade. Apple knows it was stepping in it (and by "it" we mean a word that starts with "shhhh") when it banned the app, so it left the door open a crack for future backtracking when it's beaten down by hordes of 'South Park' fans. Parker and Stone were told that standards were evolving, and Apple highlighted that it didn't sell any music with profanity in it when iTunes first launched. Let's not forget: These are the guys who got the FCC to allow them to use that previously alluded to "sh" word 162 times, uncensored, in one episode. Apple is up against a formidable opponent.