Baby Shaking Apps and Other Challenges for Apple's App Store
My wife and I were going through our morning routine, eating breakfast and reading the newspaper when suddenly she said "I can't believe Apple!". We share many core beliefs—especially on politics—so I usually give her a nod, offer a "Yup" and continue reading my section.
Me: "What about Apple?"
Wife: "They have a shaking baby iPhone application!!! This is outrageous!"
Me: "Honey, Apple didn't make that application."
Wife: "Well they had it in the App Store. That's just stupid."
I completely understand that Apple is generating some significant revenue from their App Store sales and that it has become a major part of their strategy moving forward. The problem as I see it is that Apple is putting itself in a very precarious position. Instead of just worrying about whether or not the application will break an iPhone, chew up resources, etc. Apple now has to worry about the content.
The problem as I see it is two-fold: Apple is now associated with the content of applications that run on an iPhone. The second is that Apple is setting a precedent that will carry forward as small devices like the iPhone get more powerful and start to merge with traditional desktops and laptops.
Being Associated with Content
Since Apple is essentially taking responsibility for the content on the iPhone they are putting themselves in a no-win situation. Clearly a shaking baby application is egregious to virtually anyone, but what about other topics. The US alone is a highly polarized place with issues like gay marriage, torture, bail-outs, taxes, etc. provoking strong arguments. Throw in the fact that Apple is a global company and now you have to police these issues in every country you want to sell into.
Now try to apply a rule set that works for the people sitting in the Apple App Store review area. Every single app needs to be approved and the rate will only increase. Mistakes like the Shaking Baby app will happen again and again.
Apple has crafted this brilliant company image, spending billions of dollars on stores, training, application standards, etc. and now a minor mistake by the guy or gal down in the App Store review area makes headlines everywhere and it's directly associated with Apple, not the author of the application.
The Orwellian Future
This is today's problem. What about tomorrow's? Portable devices are becoming more and more powerful. It won't be long before we'll see the technologies start to merge and iPhones will be just as powerful as a laptop or netbook class machine. As this merge happens how will Apple distinguish between applications that are specific to the iPhone and those that run on a more traditional machine?
Can you imagine a day when Apple has to authorize any software that is installed on your Apple device, including what today is your Mac? Technology advances mean these products will converge in the near future and Apple will need to live with the standards (and revenue streams) they have come to depend on.
How can Apple solve this problem?
There are numerous solutions to this issue, all with strengths and weaknesses. Apple could stop worrying about application content entirely and focus on highly objective measures like memory usage, stability, etc. They could have a class of applications that have been rated for content and others that have not. They could even license out the deployment of iPhone applications to other companies, allowing those companies to be responsible for the content.
Rest assured though, this is going to become a bigger problem down the road. Can you imagine if the developers of a web browser were responsible for the web pages that were viewed through them? This is effectively the role that Apple has staked out for itself.
What do you think? Is this really a problem that Apple needs to figure out?