Five Fixes for Apple's App Store

From the Google voice fiasco to this week's Pepsi pick-up line app, Apple's vaunted app store is showing its weaknesses. CIO.com's Tom Kaneshige suggests five steps Apple should take to make the store better for users and developers.

In a little more than a year, Apple's App Store has already become one of the world's great retail success stories--but this doesn't mean it's perfect. The App Store has taken its share of lumps from critics who, for the most part, think Apple is too draconian in its management.

The biggest firestorm came when Apple denied Google Voice, an app that assigns a single number to multiple phone destinations, a spot in the App Store. Critics condemned the move. Consumers felt slighted. AT&T claimed innocence. Google pointed the finger at Apple. And the Federal Communications Commission decided to investigate.

Apple also has a policy of prohibiting apps with "objectionable content," which has led to the banning of apps such as South Park, Nine Inch Nails, and even Eucalyptus, an e-book reader that can access the Kama Sutra. Then there's the odd list of apps that Apple has allowed on the App Store's virtual shelves, such as the infamous "baby shaker" app.

This week, AP reported that PepsiCo is facing criticism for an iPhone app that promises to help men "score" with various stereotypes of women--such as "foreign exchange student," "nerd," and "cougar." The free app gives users pickup lines and a scoreboard to keep track of their conquests. PepsiCo, which used the app to market its Amp energy drink, issued an apology.

(Social networking blog Mashable "scored" with this line: "Alienate your female customers? Pepsi has an app for that.")

App Store follies have pointed to a need for more enlightened management. Here are five changes that Apple should consider to improve the App Store experience for developers and iPhone owners, alike.

1. Establish a transparent app approval process

Pity the iPhone app developers who submit their apps into the black hole that is Apple's review process. Cerulean Studios, makers of the popular Trillian instant-messaging client, has been in the dark for going on two months about its submission of Trillian to the App Store, reports Macworld.

As rumor has it, a very small group of people at Apple gives the stamp of approval (or disapproval) on apps. The apparent subjectivity is alarming. There's also a backlog of apps that Apple is trying to move through the process. App Shopper reported that more than 1,300 apps appeared on the App Store in one day last month.

When WhippleHill, which provides services to private high schools across the country, decided to build an iPhone app, CEO Travis Warren partnered with TerriblyClever, a developer started by Stanford University students (and later acquired by Blackboard for around $US4 million). TerriblyClever built its iStanford iPhone app by working closely with Apple, where many Stanford grads end up.

Warren says TerriblyClever was able to speed his app through the Apple approval process thanks to TerriblyClever's relationship with Apple.

2. Get off your high horse

The idea of Apple playing the role of morality cop would be laughable, if it wasn't so serious.

Apple's own sense of "objectionable content" is inconsistent. Apple, for instance, initially banned the app Pull My Finger until it realized that it had approved similar apps, including those making fart noises. Then there's the obvious disconnect between apps and other content sold over iTunes. That is, Apple sells R-rated movies and MA-rated television shows.

Not everyone, however, agrees Apple should come down off its high horse. "I don't think this is in line with Apple's brand concerns," says Gartner analyst Van Baker. "The company does not want to be seen as distributing offensive material, and that is their right to assert that control. Brand image is very valuable, and to ask Apple to risk that is not reasonable."

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Tags AppleiPhoneapp store

More about AppleCerulean StudiosFederal Communications CommissionGartnerGooglePepsiCoStanford UniversityTrillian

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