App Store review guidelines

In light of Apple’s recent about-face on Liyla and the Shadows of War, it’s interesting to look at Apple’s App Store review guidelines. One of the statements is:

If your App is rejected, we have a Review Board that you can appeal to. If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps.

The wording here is pure Jobs, but the thing that gets me is this statement is flat-out wrong. Most developers don’t have the contacts or a subject that results in a load of press. Generally, though, those who have ‘run to the press’ have found bizarre decisions Apple made about an app rapidly overturned. Perhaps the ‘and trash us’ bit is key. But certainly running to the press can help.

It’s also interesting looking at Apple’s other so-called ‘broader themes’:

We have lots of kids downloading lots of Apps. Parental controls work great to protect kids, but you have to do your part too. So know that we’re keeping an eye out for the kids.

This, I think, governs an awful lot of what Apple deems acceptable regarding app and game content, but the App Store has age gating. On that basis, I still find the following baffling:

We view Apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical App.

Clearly, Apple isn’t really budging much on this, but it makes no sense to consider interactive content somehow ‘lesser’ than books or music when it comes to self expression. I recall during my fine arts degree that it was innovative for people to be creating interactive art, but that was during the 1990s. Now, apps and games are just another medium for working within. Treating them with kid gloves helps no-one.

We have over a million Apps in the App Store. If your App doesn’t do something useful, unique or provide some form of lasting entertainment, or if your app is plain creepy, it may not be accepted.

I actually like this one’s ‘plain creepy’ remark, although as ever with Apple, it’s almost like the vague language that politicians use, meaning you can apply all sorts of content to that rule if you want to kick out an app. As for ‘useful, unique or provide some form of lasting entertainment’, plenty of apps in the store arguably fail that test.

If your App looks like it was cobbled together in a few days, or you’re trying to get your first practice App into the store to impress your friends, please brace yourself for rejection. We have lots of serious developers who don’t want their quality Apps to be surrounded by amateur hour.

This is the other rule that really gets me. Amateur hour is everywhere on the App Store. There are thousands of truly terrible apps and games that are devoid of quality. I suppose it’s still helpful for Apple to argue people should aim higher, but it strikes me this rule has never been seriously adhered to.

We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, “I’ll know it when I see it”. And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.

“We won’t tell you what the rules are and can change them whenever we see fit.” It’s this kind of thing that is slowly putting off developers from creating innovative content for iOS. And times are changing.

I recall chatting to a lot of game devs at an event five or six years ago, and without exception they were thrilled about the platform. As they saw it, Apple was a major step up from existing players, who too often made onerous demands on developers. There was a kind of hands-off freedom in developing for iOS. But goodwill continues to be chipped away as developers almost randomly find apps and games blocked for no obvious reason. (And then, worse, you see other apps of the same kind approved, and the original sometimes making its way to the store many months later, far too late to make an impact or any money.)

But hey, at least Apple points out your app could trigger a bout of craziness:

This is a living document, and new Apps presenting new questions may result in new rules at any time. Perhaps your App will trigger this.

‘Boom’.

 

May 23, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Apps, Opinions, Technology

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How big an issue is the nausea problem for Virtual Reality products?

On Quora, helmet mounted displays expert Steve Baker talks about the issue of nausea in VR. It’s an excellent post that should cause lots of people within the industry to sit up and take notice. The short of it is VR confuses the brain, contradicting what we feel and see, to the point some people’s automatic response is that they’re hallucinating, and therefore must eject whatever they just ate that poisoned them. In other words, VR makes them sick.

I’m not optimistic much will change. Vestibular conditions through to basic nausea are not very well understood in the tech industry. Engineers and designers are broadly ignorant of any such issues, and companies don’t appear that concerned about taking steps to rectify them. That might sound like hyperbole, but the evidence is everywhere you see an interface that moves. Our Samsung TV’s ‘smart’ screens spin around; my iMac’s full-screen mode slides before my eyes; and countless web pages hurl content about with merry abandon.

Apple seems to have precisely zero interest in addressing motion issues, and yet it is strong on accessibility elsewhere: vision, hearing, motor. And if even Apple doesn’t care enough (bar when there’s bad press, which made the company take notice in iOS 7), how likely is it anyone else will deal with such problems?

At least with VR, you know you’re placing yourself in a situation where you might get sick. You put on a headset. You can prepare yourself. What concerns me more is that extreme motion is becoming ubiquitous, pervading all interfaces, and hardly anyone seems bothered about addressing this. It’s one thing when you can escape, but another when the problem is all around you.

May 23, 2016. Read more in: Design, Technology

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Apple should rethink regarding games with political and sexual content

Apple likes to think it’s hip and cool — or whatever words hip and cool people are using these days to describe being hip and cool — but the company at times comes across like someone’s dad. This is never more the case than when it comes to gaming. Apple’s latest news headline in this area: rejecting a game about a Palestinian child struggling to survive in the 2014 Gaza strip.

This line of thinking isn’t new for Apple. App Store guidelines since 2010 have stated:

We view Apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app.

This showcases Apple’s concern with the interactive components of apps. When it comes specifically to gaming, I also suspect Apple links them to being a juvenile pursuit, unlike the ‘grown up’ mediums of music and literature. This was a dated distinction to make in the 1990s, when Cannon Fodder did the rounds, ruthlessly satirising war (while simultaneously being a bloody excellent game). But we’re now 35 years into home gaming, and the medium has matured at speed. As someone who’s trained in the fine arts, I often take issue with the ‘games are art’ argument, but it’s clear some border on (or possibly are) art, plenty more are artistic, and a great many have something important to say.

This is one of those occasions where Google Play’s light-touch curation gets things right, letting people create in the medium of their choice. Liyla and the Shadows of War is available to download there. But whereas Apple as an organisation lauds creativity and encourages people to be creative with its devices, it stops short when it comes to interactive content. Apple doubles down on older mediums and means of expression other than embracing the new. There are exceptions — Apple will allow abstracted political statements, as evidenced by Papers, Please — but that feels a lot like dancing around any points, and can be a compromise too far when someone’s trying to craft a very personal story via the medium of gaming. (Similarly, in a store with device age-gating, why shouldn’t someone be able to create a game that explores aspects of sex?)

On the flip side, I don’t doubt Apple has it tough. If there was a change in policy, perhaps there would be a flood of rabid ‘anti’ games, slamming specific figures, politicians or movements. With App Store reviews reportedly lasting only a matter of minutes, would it even be possible for a reviewer to examine a game, and deem whether it’s unacceptably offensive in some way? Still, I do hope Apple rethinks, because it could and should be a force for good across the entire range of gaming, rather than a force for ambivalence or, worse, obstruction.


Update (May 23): In this case, at least, Apple has rethought. The game’s creator says on Twitter that the game will be published on the App Store.

May 20, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions, Politics

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It’s not my job to tell the BBC what to do, says politician telling BBC what to do

There’s been a BBC climbdown over removing 11,000 recipes from the internet. Now, just the links to them will be obliterated, with the bulk of the recipes moving across to BBC Good Food, so that the main BBC website doesn’t compete with commercial companies that freak out at the prospect of actually having to make something good, diverse, reasonably ad-free and usable.

According to the Guardian’s article on all this, culture secretary John Whittingdale, who told the BBC what to do, attempted to distance himself from what was going on: “It’s not my job to tell the BBC whether [or not] to broadcast The Voice, or Strictly Come Dancing or indeed to put recipes up on its website,” he told a conference in London. “We have said firstly that the BBC needs to be more distinctive. And also it has to be sensitive to its market impact and not be directly going out of its way to compete with commercial offerings,” thereby essentially telling the BBC whether [or not] to broadcast The Voice, or Strictly Come Dancing or indeed to put recipes up on its website, just like he did before in the White Paper that essentially told the BBC whether [or not] to broadcast The Voice, or Strictly Come Dancing or indeed to put recipes up on its website.

May 18, 2016. Read more in: Politics

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iTunes shuffles deckchairs again

It’s funny to think that iTunes was once a focussed piece of software. In an age of media players with a million windows, iTunes was a breath of fresh air. Now, it’s a bloated mess, due to being forced to do too much.

As Kirk McElhearn notes, iTunes 12.4 has some improvements, some which are focussed on navigation. The best of them is back/forward arrows/shortcuts, which now work across the entire app. Bafflingly, though, each media type does not remember its state, instead switching to the equivalent used elsewhere without your say-so.

For example, if I’m my ‘My Music’ in Music and then visit Apps and click App Store, my assumption as a user would be that on returning to Music, I’d still see My Music. Instead, iTunes thinks “well, you’re in the store already, so how about I show you loads of music you can buy?” via the iTunes Store tab. This despite me having never clicked the iTunes Store tab. THANKS, APPLE!

As someone who flits back and forth between App Store and Music, this is infuriating, but at least a couple of stabs on Cmd+[ now makes the process slightly less awful. Ironically, this would all be solved if I could have an extra window.

May 17, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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