Apple Rejects Jesus iPhone App

A look-at-me-I’m-Jesus iPhone app: banned. An app that has users shaking a baby until it’s dead: allowed, then later banned. A Nine Inch Nails app update that links to a site with dirty words: banned, then later allowed. Apple tells iPhone app developers upfront it will reject “offensive” content and bar it from the App Store, but who exactly is making the call as to what’s offensive?

he growing list of controversies surrounding the Apple App Store might make for a new killer iPhone app. Call it “Developer Demolition Derby”: use the phone’s accelerometer to keep your third-party app on course to Apple approval and financial success while steering it past objectionable content, consumer outrage, censorship obstacles and inconsistent company guidelines. The makers of the Me So Holy app couldn’t stay on that course. The developers announced on their blog Monday that Apple had rejected their application, which would have allowed users to put photos of their faces over pictures of Jesus and other religious figures and upload them to their Facebook More about Facebook pages.

“We feel that Apple is being too sensitive to its perceived user group and are disappointed that this otherwise creative, freethinking company would reject such a positive and fun application,” the developers wrote. “The message to developers is that they should think inside the box, rather than outside it.”

The developers released a portion of their rejection letter from Apple, which quotes section 3.3.12 from the company’s software development kit (SDK): “Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users.”

A Brief History of Apple App Outrage

It is how that objectionable content rule is applied — sometimes after approval, sometimes before — that has allowed Me So Holy to join those stories involving iPhone apps that have generated mainstream media headlines. The controversies are also causing technology observers to wonder about the app approval process in Cupertino.

It began with the outrage over an approved app that let users “shake” a crying baby until it’s dead, generating howls of protest from child abuse prevention advocates. The resulting outcry forced Apple to remove the app and apologize.

Then an update to an app produced by the band Nine Inch Nails was rejected due to objectionable content: The app linked users to NIN.com which contains some parental-guidance-suggested music and images. NIN frontman Trent Reznor wrote about it on his Twitter More about Twitter account, and Apple later rescinded the ban on the update.

At what point do the Apple App Store controversies start to impact the company’s relationship with developers? “If you’re going to run a walled garden the way they run it, they need to provide guidance with the developer community so they know what the boundaries and limitations in the App Store are,” Steve Rubel, senior vice president/director of insight at Edelman Digital, told MacNewsWorld. “I think they need to bring in more transparency in the process. They should show who’s making these decisions.”

The answer to that question, at least with regard to the “shaken baby” app fiasco: “It’s not going to be some kind of senior person,” according to technology marketing expert Rick Chapman. “I’ll bet this is some kid who’s not particularly up with the current zeitgeist, who didn’t have a clue as to what they were looking at and only found out after the bad taste had left the barn,” Chapman told MacNewsWorld. Chapman is the founder of consulting firm Aegis Resources and author of In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters.

The Importance of App Store Placement

Apple did not respond to a MacNewsWorld request for comment regarding the app store approval process. However, Amy Bohutinsky, senior vice president of marketing at online real estate data company Zillow, provided some insight. Two weeks ago, Zillow released a GPS More about global positioning system-powered iPhone app that tracks a user’s location and provides real-time data on houses, including current values, listing prices, price histories and realtor contact info if a house is for sale. It has quickly become one of the app store’s most popular downloads.

“For us, it was a really clean process,” Bohutinsky told MacNewsWorld. “I don’t know if that’s the norm or not, but it was really easy on our side. Once we submitted it, it got approved pretty quickly.”

That approval came in a matter of weeks and didn’t require any face-to-face meetings, Bohutinsky said, but connections provided by Zillow’s funding partners did result in a trip to Cupertino by the company’s top executives for a personal demonstration. Otherwise, “they have a pretty tight process, where you submit it, they approve it, and they choose a date for when they want it in the store.”

The Zillow app has been a featured application in the App Store. It has just passed a quarter of a million downloads. It’s also been well-reviewed by users, who use a star-rating system to pass judgment. “There’s a story there about how being chosen by Apple and being featured in some way helps with popularity and downloads,” Bohutinsky said.

Consumer Backlash?

Will stories about app controversies have any real impact on iPhone users or potential customers? Thanks to the publicity, “with all these events, it’s now a consumer issue, and they need to let the consumer know [the guidelines] as well,” Edelman Digital’s Rubel said. “If they continue to play this game, they’re going to give more credence to the jailbreaking community.”

Those controversies regarding which apps to approve and which ones not to approve may have company officials feeling ultra-paranoid and give people the impression Apple is out of touch with the values of all its customers, not just those in a certain age demographic, according to Aegis Resources’ Chapman.

“I don’t think they know how to react. They are completely whipsawed,” Chapman said. “They have created this very proprietary store with complete control over the distribution channel. No one forces you to download apps. The problem is cultural at Apple, I would imagine. An older person should be keeping an eye on things. They just don’t quite know what to do.”

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~ by Travis on 05/12/2009.

One Response to “Apple Rejects Jesus iPhone App”

  1. […] Original post by Travis […]

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