Whether it is an application about passing wind or an application showing you are rich, Apple's App Store has guidelines in place, and does not hesitate when deciding which app makes the cut -- and which app lands on the cutting-room floor.
This week, another application was cut from the App Store, and it has some questioning how the Cupertino-based company decides what is accepted and what is not.
David Carnoy's book, entitled Knife Music, was rejected twice by Apple. Yesterday, Apple deemed some of its content objectionable, saying the book does not follow the company's guidelines in its software-development kit, according to Carnoy (who is also the writer behind CNET's Fully Equipped electronics column).
One line in particular, where a teenage girl uses expletives during a romantic encounter, is at the core of Apple's objections.
"The app was resubmitted last week, and the only reason cited for the rejection was because of the obscene content," Carnoy said.
The book was first rejected because it had a few bugs that needed fixing. "So, the book has been rejected twice now," Carnoy said. "Both the developer and I don't think this is fair simply because Apple has allowed 'mature' apps to appear."
The author is referring to applications such as Pull My Finger and iFart Mobile, which are allowed in the "mature content" section of the App Store. Pull My Finger was at first rejected by the App Store, but has since made a comeback.
"And furthermore, there's 'explicit' content all over iTunes, with lots of rap music (they have the 'explicit' bug on those items). And obviously, Apple does serve up some R-rated movies," Carnoy added. "Beyond that, Apple sells audiobooks through iTunes that feature profanities. It has plenty of best sellers that are in the same genre as my book (Michael Connelly's Brass Verdict, for instance). So, obviously, the whole thing is hypocritical and unfair. My book is R-rated at best. It's not porn."
Lack of Unitary Rules
Alexandru Brie, a developer and one of the first publishers of e-books to the App Store, submitted Carnoy's book to the App Store using his TouchBook Reader software.
"My personal opinion is that there seem to be no unitary rules around application rejection/acceptance," Brie said. "Sure, the iPhone SDK Agreement has a couple of guidelines, but they are much too generic to be relevant."
Brie goes on to say that each of Apple's reviewers can interpret the obscene, pornographic or defamatory content clause in a different way, saying some people may find iFart to be funny, while others may find it offensive.
"However, David Carnoy's book is obviously not erotica, but a contemporary medical thriller -- like most contemporary literature, street language is bound to appear here and there," Brie explained. "Apple's staff fears that the app may be found offensive by some of the readers is unjustified. If books like Knife Music aren't allowed to appear on the App Store, then most contemporary fiction books fall under the same category."
Brie said no bookstore should ban books because of potentially objectionable content, and the App Store is an online version of a bookstore.
"With such restrictive policy, I'm sure that even Darwin's theory of evolution would be banned from the App Store, for fear some users might consider it offensive," Brie said.
Brie said the solution is not censorship. Instead, he suggests that, like games, Apple should develop a rating system that developers can access when categorizing their e-books. "It's weird that you can rate an iPhone game as 'potentially violent,' but have no similar solution for the books," Brie said.
Brie's message to Apple: Publish a clearer set of rules for reviewers -- one that can be accessed by developers -- and allow ratings for all App Store apps.
Carnoy said Brie has asked Apple to reconsider in an impassioned plea, but that neither he nor Brie is hopeful.