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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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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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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App Store search is currently broken

Developer Travis Ryan just noted to me on Twitter that App Store search is broken. Presumably, this is a temporary glitch, but it’s frustrating for developers. In Ryan’s case, a search for Dashy Crashy doesn’t bring up his excellent game of the same name. All you get is Dashy Crashy Bird, a one-thumb sort-of Flappy Bird clone.

Once Ryan reminded me, I realised that I’ve seen this problem crop up quite a bit recently, although I’d never really thought much of it. When writing round-ups, I’d not find the odd app by searching the App Store, and would then check online to see if it still existed. I’d end up on iTunes Preview, click View in iTunes, and then go straight to the app’s page to install it.

All this makes me think is that, once again, the App Store needs a serious kicking. But also Apple needs to do a bit more stealing. I might grumble about Android and that Google Play is mostly full of garbage, but at least when I find something I want to install on my Android devices, I can do so from the web. That Apple doesn’t yet allow me to install an app or game from Safari (or, for that matter, an iPad app from an iPhone) is ludicrous. It’s not so much a walled garden at that point as walled stupid.


Developer Gary Riches says this screw-up has led to daily sales falling by 66 per cent, and adds that you “literally cannot find my app, even by keyword“.


Update: it’s fixed now. Apple presumably glared at the server hamster. WORK HARDER, SERVER HAMSTER. OUR BOTTOM LINE HAS FALLEN. NO HAMSTER FOOD FOR YOU TODAY.

May 5, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Apps, Opinions, Technology

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A brief guide to everything that’s annoying about the Guardian’s brief guide to everything that’s annoying about Apple

The gloves are off! Apple is doomed again! And with it, we get tech writers giving the company a right hook with a boxing glove of stupid, but cunningly following up with an occasional uppercut of truth, because balance. The Guardian’s A brief guide to everything that’s annoying about Apple is an excellent case in point, offering 26 examples of how bloody annoying Apple is! And if you’re thinking 26 examples doesn’t make for a brief guide, I’ve news for you: despite the title, this post probably won’t be brief either.

1 The passwords

Yes, the Guardian leads with passwords being the big evil. Clearly, Apple is the only company to have you sign into things. No other companies do this. SO ANNOYING. Well, apart from Apple making things easier with Touch ID, and the security that comes from passwords. BUT WE SHALL IGNORE SUCH TRIFLING THINGS. ONWARDS!

2 The product launches

Half a point here, Guardian, if only because Apple last year slipped into dad joke city and events that lasted approximately eleven days. But the most recent one, where Tim Cook mostly talked about health, privacy and the environment? That’s only annoying if you’re a tech journo on a deadline rather than an actual human.

3 The endless hardware upgrades

If Apple didn’t upgrade its hardware often, number 3 in this list would have been ‘the lack of hardware upgrades’. Plus, again, isn’t it SO ANNOYING that Apple is the only company that endlessly upgrades hardware and obsoletes certain connectors? No other companies in the history of history have ever done that. BAD APPLE.

4 The Green Eggs and Ham approach to software updates
Install now? Turn on automatic software updates? Remind me later? Try in an hour? Try tonight? Would you update them in a box? Would you update them with a fox? You do not like software updates, so you say? Try them, try them and you may!

CHOICES ARE BAD.

5 The U2 album

I’m not going to argue over this one. Mind you, nor did Apple when it specifically created a ‘wipe U2 from the face of your iTunes’ tool.

6 The price

BLAH BLAH APPLE IS EXPENSIVE BLAH. The Guardian writer notes that in the UK you can “buy a basic mobile phone for as little as £10”, because that’s totally like an iPhone. (And if Tim Cook went crazy and decided the iPhone 7 would sell for a tenner, you can bet people would still find something to whine about.)

7 They’re too cool for tills

Agreed. This actually is annoying. Guardian hit rate: now two and a half out of seven. Almost as good as Apple rumour websites.

8 The ubiquitous ringtone

Because you can’t change ringtones. (Also: not as bad as that sodding Nokia one.)

9 iPhone repairs
No matter what’s wrong with your iPhone, or how tiny, it costs at least £200 to fix. Dodgy home button? £200. Won’t restart? £200. Cracked screen? A bargain at £100.

Guardian breaks the laws of maths as ‘a bargain at £100’ equates to ‘at least £200’. Did anyone even read this back before it was published?

10 The rip-off accessories
Need a new power adapter because that magnetic bit on the end broke when it got bent back too much? How much, Apple Store? £65! Plain black phone bumper that you could get down the market for a fiver? £25!

Another Billy Half a Point! Apple does sometimes take the piss here, but the bumper whinge? Just no. If you don’t like the bumper, it’s not like it’s mandatory. Unless Tim Cook passed some kind of new law while I wasn’t watching.

11 The constant iTunes revamping

SO CLOSE! The revamping isn’t the problem. The fact it’s still bloody awful is the problem.

12 The utopian demos

This is true. Apple should in future have demo videos that feature people looking miserable on a grey, rainy pebble beach while a seagull poos on their head and steals their chips. People can aspire to that.

13 The Apple Watch
It sucks and Apple won’t admit it.

“It’s so annoying when I have an opinion about something and the company that made it doesn’t publicly agree, even though doing so would be unbelievably stupid.”

14 Apple TV
“The future of television?” Also known as “Another expensive box that does nothing all your other expensive boxes can’t do already, but has an Apple logo on it.”

Hmm. I have to agree with this one, on the basis that the ‘future of television’ argument was bone-headed. But the Apple TV itself is really good. So there.

15 Mac lag
Our old MacBook takes longer to wake up every morning than we do.

Either Guardian writers spring out of bed in an instant, someone’s telling porkies, or there’s a MacBook in some serious need of help. Poor MacBook.

16 It is more controlling than Prince was
We know we’ve paid for the entire Prince back catalogue at some stage, but iTunes won’t let us listen to it without negotiating an assault course of synching protocols, passwords, user settings, menus, helpdesk chatbots and, finally, Googled explainers.

Or, if you’re already signed into your Apple account, clicking on some cover art. Exaggeration. So annoying! Perhaps that’s number 17 in the list!

17 Wet fingers

Oh. Wait, what?

17 Wet fingers

Apple has wet fingers? That’s annoying? Also, what?

Having to wait for 20 minutes after coming out of the shower before our iPhone fingerprint scanner recognises us. Like the clean you isn’t the real you.

Which suggests either Guardian writers set up Touch ID when covered in grime (and/or are usually covered in grime), or they spend so long in the shower that they emerge wrinkled to the point even the dogs on this article would recoil in horror, barking “TOO WRINKLY! SEND HELP!”

18 They have turned into The Man

Apparently, Apple is now Big Brother, while trying to fight the US government over privacy. Got it.

19 Their hatred of ports

The Guardian, presumably also still angry Apple dropped the floppy drive from the iMac. Although the reasoning on this one is weirder than you might imagine. If you were expecting a perfectly rational and sensible argument about the new MacBook only having one USB-C port, well…

Apple’s eradication of USB ports from iPads just rendered all your accessories obsolete

That’s right: Apple’s giant iPhone doesn’t have USB ports, and that is the source of annoyance. (The USB dongle is, naturally, waved away as a money waster.)

Just like their sealing up of the DVD/CD slot rendered your collections of both obsolete

What, on the Mac?

It is now easier to hack the US defence system than get a DVD on to an iPad.

Oh, on the iPad. Right. I can count the times I’ve wanted to play a DVD on my iPad on the invisible finger I’m not holding up right now.

20 The ‘Smart Battery Case’

Apple selling people a battery case to make their iPhone battery last longer. SO ANNOYING.

21 Their format dictatorship

This is true. Apple has a dictatorship based on formats! Annoying! Wait, what?

You take a picture with your iPhone. You import it to iPhotos.

‘iPhotos’. Do you mean ‘iPhoto’, now cancelled? OK, that’s being picky. Let’s not quibble about details!

Now you try to attach it to an email. Ha! You can’t!

Actually, no, let’s quibble about details. Ever heard of drag and drop?

The only way to do it easily is through Apple’s own Mail application, otherwise known as BlackMail.

Ah, I see. “I use Gmail in a browser, and can’t drop photos on to it from Photos.” Actually, that is quite annoying. Hard to know who’s to blame for that one. Still, half a point!

22 Their wealth

Apple makes money and is profitable. So, so, so very annoying.

23 Their contempt for humanity
Bill Gates uses his fortune to cure malaria, Apple uses its fortune to … make bigger fortunes.

This is true. Apple does literally nothing to help the world.

24 Error 53
How many corporations possess and wield the power to criminally damage their products – your products – after they’ve sold them to you? Apple’s notorious “Error 53” punished users for the offence of going to “unauthorised” repairers by effectively shutting down their iPhone 6 handsets – a practice known as “bricking”. When a class-action lawsuit threatened, Apple got scared and backed down – a practice known as “bricking it”.

You appear to have mis-spelled ‘messed up’ as ‘got scared’, but, well, we’re 24 items in now and there was probably a word count to hit, a train to catch, and your fingers were getting awfully tired.

25 They’ve taken over the music industry

As evidenced by the lack of competition from the likes of Spotify and Google Play.

iTunes paved the way for the low-priced digital music revolution, where artists get a minuscule share of the profits and Apple gets a much larger cut. It wiped out high-street record shops, crippled the music industry, then extracted a ransom from artists to put their music in its virtual shop window.

Fortunately, before Apple came along, the music industry was doing brilliantly, due to people downloading music for free on Napster.

26 Their business model is The Circle
Dave Eggers’ dystopian novel details a utopian-sounding tech corporation whose ambitions extend to every aspect of people’s lives, anticipating, fulfilling and creating their every desire, to the extent that people never need to step outside the closed loop of control. Then find they can’t even if they want to. Apple has done its best to dispel such comparisons by building a massive new headquarters – in the shape of a circle.

That is perhaps the most annoying thing I’ve read this month, although not because of Apple.

April 28, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Humour, Opinions

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