2014-06-02

Co.Labs

App Store Outlaws: 10 Developers Who Fought Apple And Lost

These developers got their apps booted from the App Store—But not for the reasons you might expect.



Whether it's violating the Human Interface Guidelines, calling undocumented APIs, running adult content, or engaging in other sanctioned business, there are lots of ways to run afoul of Apple's App Store developer rules. We found 10 odious cases where Apple took action to allegedly protect users from malicious third parties (or themselves).

1) Send Me To Heaven

There’s no nudity, graphic violence, or other things in Send Me To Heaven that you'd expect to see from a banned app. So why was it banned? The “game” measures how high a user throws their iDevice in the air—something Apple is naturally not eager to endorse. Wired talked with developer Petr Svarovsky, who confirmed that his goal was to get people to destroy their expensive devices.

The 50-year-old from Prague said he had hoped to have people shatter as many iPhones as possible. “The original idea was to have very expensive gadgets, which people in certain societies buy just to show off, and to get them to throw it,” he said via Skype. He has not been without some success, however. Send Me to Heaven has been causing ample destruction for reckless Android users, who have been leaving negative reviews on the Google Play store, where the game has been available since April 28.

2) Codea

Codea is an app for coding on the iPad. By all accounts it's a tremendous step forward into the next generation of computing, and yet the app is still suspect in the eyes of the App Store.

Apps aren’t allowed to distribute code, which is a feature that happens to be a big part of Codea’s functionally—and its name. If you build something with the app generally you’d like to share it with other people. This puts the app constantly straddling the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable within Apple’s digital store.

From Codea's forums, Two Lives Left founder and developer Dylan Sale addressed the issue.

We received a call from Apple about violations regarding downloadable executable code (namely, the .codea packages). Edit: We have worked with Apple and have resolved the issue. The app will be available to download/purchase in the future, but we have removed the sharing feature in the next update. We will attempt to convince Apple that the feature is benign and that we should be able to keep it using their official channels.

The thought is that if you can make apps within other apps and then distribute them, it would be very easy to bypass all other rules and regulations. For now, Apple and Codea have reached an agreement, but it only takes Apple feeling fickle (perhaps at the introduction of a competing or similar product) to rescind their approval again.

3) AppGratis

AppGratis was one of the many apps that tried to gain popularity by piggybacking off of other apps' marketing in a sort of spammy app-download Ponzi scheme. AppGratis was removed from the store because it was found guilty of confusing users with promotions of other apps. This is basically Apple’s way of trying to stop large scale scamming efforts. AppGratis was also violating a rule which prohibits sending advertising via push notifications. AllThingsD had some further insight to what AppGratis might have been trying to do with its app.

Apple declined further comment on AppGratis’s ouster, framing the move as a standard response to guideline violations. But sources close to the company say it was more than a little troubled that AppGratis was pushing a business model that appeared to favor developers with the financial means to pay for exposure. “The App Store is intended as a meritocracy,” a source familiar with Apple’s thinking told AllThingsD.

4) Blockchain

Try and find a single Bitcoin wallet app on the App Store—you won’t be able to. Blockchain.info's app was the last one to be removed, but with it also went the last hope users had at managing their Bitcoins through a native iOS experience.

Apps like Coinbase and BitPak have been removed from the store as well. Blockchain was notified via email that the reason was “unresolved issues.” Business Insider has an idea about why Bitcoin in general is a problem for Apple.

Bitcoin isn't illegal in the U.S. It's not regulated though, either. It's in this weird in-between state. It's an unregulated currency. In other countries, Bitcoin is in a similar position. In China, for instance, financial firms aren't allowed to use it, and the biggest e-commerce company in China has banned it. So, basically, it looks like Apple is waiting for legal clarity with Bitcoin before it starts approving apps that do Bitcoin transactions.

5) Tawkon Radiation Detector

Supposedly, app development company Tawkon was able to detect radiation from cell phones via an app. When it was rejected from the App Store, the developer appealed directly to Steve Jobs by email, who simply replied “Not interested.”

The app being rejected came hot on the heels of the company raising $1.5 million in funding. While the app was still made available on Android, this case goes to show why investors consider an iOS-based business risky: No matter how good or useful an iOS app could be, Apple's whimsy can knock a company completely out of range of mainstream adoption.

6) I Am Rich

I Am Rich was one of the earliest App Store controversies, taking place back when the App Store was very much a work in progress. The app was priced at $999.99 simply because that's what the upper limit allowed—perfectly within Apple's rules. But also in bad taste, the iPhone-maker ruled. The L.A. Times reached out to I Am Rich developer Armin Heinrich as the app was starting to cause waves.

In the e-mail, Heinrich said there seemed to be a market for the program. "I am sure a lot more people would like to buy it—but currently can't do so," Heinrich said. "The App is a work of Art and included a 'secret mantra'—that's all."

Reportedly, eight people bought the $1,000 app, which only presented a static image of a red jewel, before it was removed from the store. Apple didn't release an explanation when the app was pulled.

7) GameBoy Emulator

I can speak for everyone when I say Nintendo should take it upon themselves to release official first-party games for iOS. Until that happens, however, third parties will likely keep trying to rip off familiar mechanics or just flat out build counterfeits.

The GameBoy emulator didn’t make it in the store, but it was able to be distributed to standard non-jailbroken iOS devices. The app took advantage of Apple’s iOS Enterprise Program which allows side loading of apps, a method traditionally used for large companies to distribute internal tools or utilities.

TouchArcade tracked down 18-year-old developer Riley Testut and got the whole story behind the emulator.

He wouldn't go in to too many details as to where it came from, but he describes the situation as "lucking out," with a connection with someone who could buy an existing enterprise certificate GBA4iOS 2.0 could use to allow for the same jailbreak-free install magic that made the original so popular. Typically, being blessed with the ability to sign your own apps involves all sorts of hoops to jump through and other associated paperwork with Apple to release internal corporate applications and sidestep the App Store entirely.

While the source of the GameBoy emulator app was found and its certificate revoked, lots of other standard developers are now using the iOS Enterprise Program to get around the 100 device testing limit. This problem will likely present itself again sooner or later.

8) Molinker

If Molinker wasn’t the first large scale App Store scam, it was the definitely the first big one to get caught. After being noticed by a blogger and reported to Phil Schiller directly, Molinker had about 1,000 apps removed from the store. Many of the apps had reached the top charts and one even made it into a staff pick selection. The developer had apparently been giving out promotional codes in exchange for five-star app reviews.

9) Amazon

You may be surprised to hear that Amazon was an original instigator in Apple’s App Store. Amazon has always had a delicate relationship with the App Store primarily because the company sells so much content and constantly bumps up against the in-app purchase rules. This was most likely a major factor in Amazon developing its own content platform on the Kindle.

Comixology didn’t have a problem coughing up 30% of in-app purchases until Amazon acquired the company. Pulling the functionality for users to buy comics directly within the app was a main component and has caused quite a bit of outrage. The decision to remove the functionality has also caused technology commentators to take up the topic of App Store rules once again. Amazon has also built web versions of its apps like Kindle in order to allow users to purchase books in the same space as reading, without cutting Apple into the deal.

10) FreeWeibo

It’s really hard to pin the blame on the app maker for this one. FreeWeibo was developed in partnership with Radio Netherlands Worldwide and gave people in China a way to circumvent the country’s Internet censorship. The app was said to be removed from the Chinese App Store because of pressure from the Chinese government. The reason the developer was given was that the app violated local laws. Apple has also removed other books and apps in the past that pushed up against what the government in China found acceptable.

Honorable Mention: Line Messaging App

Line is obviously still in the App Store, but about a year ago it tried to add gifting of paid stickers and was asked by Apple to remove the functionality. Why? The company was gifting in a virtual currency, which isn’t allowed in the App Store. The function also bypassed Apple’s in-app purchase rules, keeping the app from having to pay Apple's 30% in-app purchase tax. Gifting of stickers remains in the app, but they're now free.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]




Add New Comment

0 Comments