Apple is sending a clear message to developers: Play nice or get out. Apple made the message clear by booting out a developer and its approximately 1,011 apps from Apple's App Store for the iPhone and iPod touch.
To keep a clean store, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company banned China-based developer Molinker and its reported 1,000-plus applications, including Camera Plus, Color Magic, and eCamera. Molinker's applications range from photography to travel guides.
Apple was first alerted of a problem by iPhoneography, a photography and videography blog. An Internet user became suspicious when some not-so-great applications consistently got poorly written five-star reviews and contacted iPhoneography, which then alerted Apple.
iPhoneography forwarded the user's letter to Apple's Philip Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide product marketing. In the letter, the user said Molinker gave individuals free applications in exchange for five-star ratings. The scam enabled Molinker to get some of its apps into the store's staff-favorites section.
Behind the Scam
The Internet user, who goes by SCW, not only pointed out the scam but also accused Molinker of creating copycat applications. SCW asked that people who purchased Molinker applications be given refunds.
How many Molinker applications were purchased is not clear. It's also not clear how much Apple stands to lose from future sales and if it decides to issue refunds.
"A developer who's looking to 'game' the system and manipulate it to make themselves look better threatens Apple's reputation and weakens the ecosystem as a whole," said Michael Gartenberg, an Interpret vice president.
Apple didn't respond to a request for comment.
Apple, which has been criticized for its strong hold on the App Store, lost no time in reacting once notified of the scam.
"The action Apple took was harsh, but it sent an important message to anyone else who might want to do this," said Alex Sokirynsky, an iPhone developer who developed the RSS Player app and the original Podcaster. He added that developers need to allow their applications to receive real ratings by others to get feedback for improvements.
"There is plenty of room to grow your app by making it better," he said.
While some observers believe Apple reacted too harshly, others say it was the right move.
"I believe Apple did the right thing with this," Gartenberg said. "The App Store success is predicated on trust, both of the product and the reviews of those products."