May 04, 2009

Trent Reznor is Guilty of Appcrime

Josh Williams's picture
Josh Williams
Director, Product Strategy

In 1984, Apple unveiled their new Macintosh computer, depicting it as a vibrant and hopeful tool of revolution against a monochromatic and malignant Orwellian dictatorship, as represented by personal computing back then.

Big Brother Is Watching Your iPhone

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and it's hard not to see the irony in that metaphor, given Apple's black-box approval process of iPhone apps. Trent Rezor's Nine Inch Nails Access App is the most recent perpetrator of what I'll call "Appcrime." Even though the first version of the app was approved, over the weekend Apple rejected an update to the app citing "objectionable content." When Reznor unveiled the NIN Access app a few weeks ago, it immediately attracted attention for its clean, robust, and well-considered functionality; the first version available on the Apple Store got thousands of downloads in just hours. The news about the rejected update caught Trent Reznor off guard. The objectionable content cited in the app was from the Nine Inch Nails album "The Downward Spiral," which can be bought from Apple as music downloads. As Reznor tweeted, "Not even sure where to start with that one."

That bit of hypocrisy is definitely worthy of criticism, but I think this rejection represents a bigger problem for app developers. What does this mean for them? Or for end users who just want the freedom to use their iPhones in ways that maybe Steve didn't envision? iPhone users shouldn't have jailbreak phones just to get access to commodity functionality like shooting video.

For many, the hardware and OS of the iPhone represent the cutting edge in user experience. The iPhone enables the creation of compelling and sometimes even unique mobile experiences. That's why whenever mobile strategy comes up, the first platform many want to talk about is the iPhone. From a branding perspective it makes perfect sense; it's the coolest thing around, so if you are on the iPhone, you're automatically cool by association. And for more utilitarian apps it's also a great fit, because the design principles that guide iPhone interaction were conceived with mobile utility in mind.

But what good does it do you to have the most useful, usable, and desirable branded experience if you can't get it into the Apple store? And for that matter, what business sense does it make to tie your fate and fortune to the whim of dictatorship? Apple has a monopoly on the marketplace, which they clearly plan to leverage. How can that be a good thing for app developers? And when an app is rejected, resubmitting could be a pain in several ways, as Techcrunch reported:

"When an app is rejected, it basically means it must go back to the back of the line for approval, and this may mean another two weeks of waiting around. For certain time-sensitive apps, this can be a crushing blow. For others, it’s just an extreme annoyance, especially if the change needed is very minor. And, in the case of Instapaper, it means lost sales."

With more than a billion apps downloaded, clearly Apple's Big Brother approach isn't exactly stifling app creativity. But when the Baby Shaking app (yes, you violently shake the crying baby to stop it from crying) makes the cut, but a community app, like NIN Access doesn't, it's a signal that there's room for another market, one that's more open and free, or transparent at the very least. Maybe Android will fill in that vacuum, maybe Blackberry, or maybe even Apple.

For now, though, those considering jumping into mobile development should weigh the platform options thoroughly. The iPhone may be where you want to be, but that doesn't mean Apple is going to let you get there.


More links to the story:

  • Techcrunch - Like My Parents In 1994, Apple Finds NIN’s The Downward Spiral Objectionable
  • BoingBoing - Apple's censors remove NiN app and Anda's Game from iPhone store, citing "objectionable content"
  • Slashdot - Apple Rejects Nine Inch Nails iPhone App

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Holly Hagen's picture

Just wanted to update you all... Because of all the noise that was heard throughout the internet on the rejection of this app, it looks like Apple has reconsidered.

And according to TechCrunch:
"...what did NIN do to change the app? Nothing. Apparently, Apple’s definition of 'objectionable' changed."

Read more:

Still the fact that this happened is highly questionable. What about other legit apps that get rejected? Not everyone has the power of the crowds... so Apple can still screw the little guys.

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