Aug 17

Yesterday I told you about Bikini Blast which was held up in Apple’s approval calamity for four months. Today I’m going to top this by a wide margin. Here’s the story, in the words of my client:

It seemed like a good idea: Build a fun, flirty iPhone app that generates millions of custom pick-up lines on the fly, simply by tapping in specifics of a situation: A user enters the place, time of day and characteristics of his intended date, hits a button and chooses a line ranging from clever to clumsy. And just to keep things under control, the user can choose between lines that are either Safe or Sexy.

The app is called LittleWingman (www.LittleWingman.com) and it tested through the roof. It’s an equal-opportunity app, generating pick-up lines regardless of gender or orientation. And because it contains no graphics, no profanity and no abusive language of any kind, we knew it was a cinch to gain approval from Apple’s iTunes Store. And it did. Eventually.

Nine gruelling months after it was originally submitted.

Why was LittleWingman constantly rejected? As it turns out, not for any specific objectionable words or graphics — it doesn’t have any. In fact, LittleWingman may be the first and only app ever rejected purely for the sexual ideas it stimulates in users’ minds.

Are phrases like “tight-fitting jeans” and “legs” objectionable? Not to most people. But when LittleWingman composed them into the following line, iTunes had a big problem with it:

“I’m tonight’s official legs inspector. I’m going to have to ask you to remove those tight-fitting jeans.”

At first, we thought iTunes objected to words like “breasts” and “ass” — two commonly used words in many other apps. So we replaced those with “casabas” and “tush,” only to be rejected again. Within a week or two, the same canned message came back with the same canned rejection:

At 5:51 PM -0800 3/5/09, xxx@apple.com wrote:
Thank you for submitting LittleWingman to the App Store. We’ve reviewed LittleWingman again and determined that we still cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because it contains inappropriate sexual content and is in violation of Section 3.3.12 from the iPhone SDK Agreement which states:

“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.”

If you believe that you can make the necessary changes so that LittleWingman does not violate the iPhone SDK Agreement we encourage you to do so and resubmit it for review.

We combed through the content again, looking for any profanity or objectionable content. But we could find any, because there wasn’t any. It was the app that was writing the content by itself, based on what the user had chosen.

For example, LittleWingman generated this line for a user who finds herself at a wedding: “Think any of the rabbis at this ceremony can lend us some personal lubricants?” Random? Funny? Hardly as objectionable as a flushing toilet, upskirt shots or jiggling breasts, yet Apple rejected that generated line flat out.

The correspondence flew back and forth, with LittleWingman getting rejected for combining innocent phrases like “kiss” with innocent body parts like “lips” into pick-up lines that resulted wonderfully appealing ideas as to what things people might actually kiss with their lips. Each time, the App Store returned the same canned response, with no guidance as to fixing the problem, mainly because there was no problem there to fix. Unlike the “baby shaker” app, LittleWingman was pure, positive pick-up lines — and healthy ones, at that.

At six months, we thought we had a breakthrough: iPhone 3.0’s 17+ rating was just the ticket to get us past our non-existent objectionable content. We re-submitted and got rejected. Again.

The maddening, automated responses were finally disrupted when, after seven months, a breathing App Store human being actually left a voicemail at our offices. We began the dialogue which, two months later, resulted in LittleWingman being approved — with only two word changes from its original submission. And that, as it turns out, is the main problem with technology: it lacks human judgment, which cost us time, energy — and nine months’ of sales.

It’s been nine months of nuttiness. But at least now the world doesn’t have to struggle with how to approach that blonde at the end of the bar.

NINE MONTHS! Insane. That has to be a world record. And for the sanity of all iPhone developers out there, I sincerely hope so. Maybe I can submit it to Guinness Book of World Records?

You can find LittleWingman in the App Store here. You won’t find it anywhere on the What’s new pages in iTunes, because the date of the app is Jan 21, 2009. Another not so nice side-effect of the App Store approval process.

written by Nick \\ tags:

Aug 15

This is the second part in a series about iPhone application being rejected by the App Store. You can read the previous part here: 57 Ways To Get Your iPhone Application Rejected From The App Store and the accompanying App Store Rejection Reasons list.

I always inform my clients about the “objectionable content” clause in Apple’s iPhone developer agreement to let them know that there is always a risk that Apple will reject the app and their development investment may be lost. Some clients find this level of risk to be unacceptable, and they walk away from the platform. This self censorship is not good for my business, and in most cases it’s not good for Apple either.

When I was approached by the publishers of this book I didn’t imagine that it would get caught up in the objectionable content morass. The book is political satire and in my opinion hilarious. Each page has a real photo of a famous politician to which Mr. Lee has added his own cartoon style talk bubbles. With the limited amount of text on each page, I thought this would make a great iPhone app. Apple unfortunately thought otherwise. After five weeks in review, the app was rejected because it was “defamatory”.

Steve Jobs famously replied to a developer who had developed an app that counted down the number days remaining of the Bush administration. Steve’s defense of that rejection was to ask why should Apple risk offending half their customer base. I don’t know if that put the kibosh on all apps that could raise some political ire. I didn’t tally the jabs in Election Daze to see if one side came out ahead, but it seemed pretty evenhanded to me.

In the end my client decided to drop the fight with Apple. The presidential election was quickly approaching and their carefully timed promotional campaign was not going to be able to ride the tide of political interest.

My second example is an app that we knew from the beginning was going to be a tough battle with Apple. The client was prepared for this and had the patience and resources to ride it out. The application is Bikini Blast which is a wallpaper download type app with photos of, you guessed it, women in bikinis. (I want to point out that we also developed iWallpaper for this client and that app has a category called “Hunks”. So this is not a gender issue.)

Our client sells wallpapers and applications for many other phones, so he has experience dealing with all the major carriers and their content rules and he used that experience when selecting content for Bikini Blast.

Note to Apple: All the major carries have published very clear guidelines on what is acceptable content and what is not. Furthermore they have outsourced the approval of such content to a few companies that specialize in this. I think this is a great way to establish a policy and then take a step back from the daily headaches of deciding what to approve and what to reject.

Bikini Blast was submitted to the App Store in October 2008. Then we heard nothing. This was before Apple started sending out the “this app is going to take longer to approve emails”. So no email. No phone call. No smoke signals. Just complete silence for FOUR MONTHS. Then suddenly out of the blue in January 2009 the client received the approval email.

I said in the first part of this series that these spectacular rejections and wait times are exceptions. However, the point is that they do happen often enough to give businesses pause before diving into iPhone application development. It is difficult to build a business around a platform when the rules are not known, the wait times are indeterminate, the communication is nonexistent, and there is no way to appeal decisions or even have a discussion with anyone responsible for the process.

If you thought four months was a long time to put your business on hold, that’s nothing compared to the next story. And all you have to do is wait until Monday for the next installment of this series.

written by Nick \\ tags:

Aug 12

App Store rejections is a part of life for us iPhone Developers. Recently there have been several high profile rejection cases that have garnered the attention and response from Apple’s top level management. This is most welcome news!

I genuinely believe that Apple does not have evil intentions when it comes to approving iPhone applications for the App Store. I think the problems that we are seeing are the bumbling results of a process that was hastily put in place and which is still trying to catch up with the flood of new applications and the many intricate policy decisions required. Apple’s self-imposed cone of silence doesn’t help their cause and it frustrates developers to the point of giving up.

This is the first post in a series where I want to constructively add to the discussion.

The meat of this post is on a regular web page that you can reach from the main navigation on this blog. I want to maintain this page as a comprehensive resource for all the technical things you need to think about and comply with before you submit your application to the App Store. I welcome your feedback and additions to the list.

It is my own experience that most App Store rejections are valid and they make sense, at least when they are explained to us. I also think Apple’s recent moves to pay more attention to copyright infringements is good.

However it’s the few cases where the App Store reviewers seem to have gone off the deep end, that we love to talk about. I’ve had my share of these too, and I’m going to dish out the details in the following posts:

  • The story of a mainstream book that was too funny to be accepted. I’m sure you will recognize the name of the author.
  • The inside story of an app that broke new ground in the App Store and paved the way for a whole new category of apps. For better or worse, depending on your perspective. That app sat in the queue for four months.
  • If you think four months was a long time to wait for an app to be approved, wait until you hear about my own personal record.

But before we get to the juicy stuff, please head over to App Store Rejection Reasons.

written by Nick \\ tags:

Feb 10

Apptism just reported that they are now tracking 20,000 apps on the App Store. I thought I’d take inventory of the number of apps that I’ve written for clients that are available on the App Store now. The total tally comes to 164. Granted 132 of those are books powered by the Iceberg book reader. (They are not not public domain books, but current best sellers from big name publishers.)

That gives me about a 0.8% share of the number of apps, which is the same as when the App Store launched. So I’m keeping pace with the growth of the App Store!

After this self-congratulatory post, back to our regular scheduled program…

written by Nick \\ tags:

Jul 10

The App Store has finally launched. It’s available in iTunes 7.7 and from 2.0 iPhones and iPod Touch devices. Out of the 552 applications that are available today, I managed to get 4 applications listed. That’s almost 1% mindshare; not bad. And I have 5 more apps waiting for Apple’s review.

These are all applications that I have developed for clients:

Lingolook - 3 language titles

written by Nick \\ tags: