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The “Podcaster” lesson: Users want more than Apple’s Walled Garden allows

As we’ve discussed before…and before…and before, Apple’s practice of blacklisting applications from its App Store is something of a controversial move on the part of the Cupertino-based technology company that once described its products as “the computer for the rest of us”, and told us that their company will be “nothing like 1984”.

Among the first to go was an application called “I’m Rich”, a decidedly useless, but IMHO hilarious, application that cost a cool G-note and did nothing other than proclaim your wealth to anyone who was close enough to see the glowing red jewel it displayed. A couple of people bought it “by accident” (suuuuuuuure they did) and griped about it. Apple’s response? BANNED.

The same fate was in store for “Pull My Finger”, an app that basically made your iPhone fart. Useless? Sure, but no more so than Phone Saber. (NOTE: Phone Saber has also been removed from the App Store, but only because THQ decided to bring it into the LucasArts family and distribute it themselves. Call it a copyright sitch .) Apple didn’t like it, and therefore: BANNED.

Same goes for “Box Office” and “NetShare”. These two apps represent a significant difference in Apple’s decision-making process, however: Unlike the admittedly useless products above, “Box Office’ used your GPS to locate movies, theatres and showtimes in your area, while “NetShare” allowed you to tether your iPhone via the Dock connector and use it as a portable modem. Useless? Hell no. BANNED? Hell yes.

But while “Box Office” and “NetShare” may or may not contravene the iPhone SDK, another application has joined their ranks on the blacklist. That app is called Podcaster. Podcaster is simply a podcatcher for your iPhone. Once you add a podcast to the list, you can stream that podcast to your iPhone or save it directly to your internal memory. Adding a podcast couldn’t be easier, and once you decide to add the podcast to your feed, you’re literally watching the show within seconds.

So why did Apple decide to to ban it from the store? The video above explains in greater detail, but the short answer is, Apple considers it a form of competition. The short response to that claim is, that’s a lie. You’ll see when you watch the video.

Apple does it, we do it.

Beyond the competition factor, there is debate as to whether Podcaster violates Apple’s SDK, specifically, section 3.3.3, which states:

3.3.3 — Without Apple’s prior written approval, an Application may not provide, unlock or enable additional features or functionality through distribution mechanisms other than the iTunes Store. (Daring Fireball)

The wording of this clause may seem like Podcaster is in the wrong, but looking at the App Store, the availability of apps such as Last.FM, Truveo, mDialog, and a slew of others, all of which either replicate the iPhone’s functionality or add to it, would appear to seat Podcaster comfortably in the “safe zone”. One application in particular, which is discussed in the video above, replicates Podcaster’s functionality virtually identically.

In the interest of fairness, it needs to be pointed out that there is no information as to whether or not the above-mentioned applications obtained “prior written approval” before being admitted to the App Store, although the language of the SDK would seem to indicate that such permission is granted once an application is granted distribution by Apple. Rest assured, this is a question rgbFilter is dedicated to getting answered in the near future, but for the purposes of this article, I’m going to accept it as a given (though unproven) assumption that such permission was granted before these applications were given the “golden ticket” of App Store distribution.

That said, it appears that the decision made regarding distribution of the app does violate Apple’s SDK, but considering that decision was made after the fact, it has no bearing on Apple’s refusal to sell it in the App Store.

The developer of the application, Almerica (because of the potential for a sticky legal situation to develop, names will be withheld) has been keeping a running blog of their dealings with Apple regarding this application, and people’s reactions to their decision to ban it. Response to the decision to ban the application, along with the developer’s own outrage over it, has led Almerica to decide to distribute the application ad-hoc, which is how I got it. All you need to do is provide Almerica with your iPhone UDID (if you’re brave enough to release such information to a stranger over the internet…I for one took a big belt of Scotch before hitting the “send” key), provide them with $9.99 via PayPal, and the application is yours…at least until the iPhone “phones home” and Apple’s Ministry of Love yanks it from your device like it was never even there. (Hopefully, the fact that I live in Canada will somehow make me immune…but I doubt it.)

The best part? No jailbreaking required.

HALP!!!  I swear, I'm innocent!!!

This action proves several important things.

1, , people are not satisfied with doing only what Apple tells them they can do.

And why should they be? If you’re like me, then the opinion of “I bought it, it’s mine” means that you are (or at least, should be) free to install whatever you want on your device, regardless of Apple’s opinion of it. ZDNet’s Jason O’Grady puts it succinctly:

The banning of Podcaster actually brings up a great point. Why can’t podcasts be downloaded Over The Air and managed directly on the iPhone? Didn’t Apple invent the entire podcast ecosystem? Why aren’t they tending to their precious technology and advancing it forward with new features? The answer: Apple doesn’t care about podcasts because they don’t generate revenue.

(We’ll ignore the fact that Apple had nothing to do with the invention of the “Podcast” :P)

2, if distributing apps is this easy, do we even NEED the App Store?

Podcaster works perfectly well as an ad-hoc purchase. I didn’t have to jailbreak my iPhone, and except for the general fear of Apple randomly eliminating it from my phone, it “should work for a minimum of one year“. Installing updates may be slightly more tedious than using the App store, but no more so than with any other OS’ system. Granted, Almerica needed my UDID to make the application active, but I imagine there’s an intrepid programmer out there who’s hard at work making a user client version of that software to distribute (hint, hint, blogosphere.) With all this potential, it seems like the App Store could easily be reduced to a “nice to have” feature rather than a mandatory one…which is what it should have been from day one, anyway.

3, as anyone should have already known, Apple is in it for Apple first, and consumer a WAAAAAAAYYYY distant second.

No matter how cute, warm, and fuzzy Apple’s marketing may portray it, Apple is a business founded on a closed platform, and a particularly cold one at that. That’s the way it’s always been, and anyone who is surprised at Apple’s (not so) new practices of keeping everything installed on its devices under the AppleBrella is in dire need of a reality check, myself included. While I do consider myself fairly well informed and somewhat of a realist when it comes to the company I appear to hate to love, I have to admit, there was a sense of “Oh come ONNNN” when Apple’s practices became harder and harder to defend over time.

I’m reminded of the sage words of our own Doug Groves:

When you’re in someone house, you live by their rules. That’s the fact of the real world, message boards and the App Store. If enough of the guests complain, maybe Apple will listen, and for your sake, I hope they do. But as long as those complaints are coupled with support of said house rules with your dollar, don’t be surprised if that change never comes.

Ain’t that the truth.

Still love my iPhone though 😉


UPDATE EDIT: Almerica’s Ad Hoc distribution may or may not be legal, but it certainly has been profitable:

Niall Kennedy on the App Store and the Podcaster saga. Includes this fascinating nugget regarding Podcaster developer (NAME WITHHELD) decision to sell the app on his own, via ad hoc provisioning:

As of yesterday afternoon Podcaster had provisioned 1130 devices for distribution across 12 different copies of the application hosted on Google Code. Each new uploaded build included up to new 100 authorized devices after the publisher received payment via PayPal. It’s stretching the Ad-Hoc distribution model a bit but the application may have collected approximately $11,000 over the weekend through suggested donations of $10 per handset. At the time of writing Apple has not pulled the application or developer certificates from their central certificate authority.(Niall Kennedy’s Weblog via Daring Fireball)

Good on ya, Mr. “Nameless Iphone App Distributor.” You’ve got my support.


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  • Laroquod

    Great vid & article! That DIGGnation thing is a real ripsnorter — there are so many examples of the App Store hall monitors telling one guy up is down, and then telling the other seemingly identical guy that up is actually left.

    ‘Ad hoc’ is a really unfeasible way to distribute apps en masse, because you have to recompile the application for every 100 users you send it to. If your app is any kind of hit, you might have to recompile it and re-upload it *dozens of times a day*. Kind of takes the ‘digital’ out of digital distribution.

    Apple has really made sure that they are the only mass distributor, despite the ability of users to create multiple ad hocs — there is still a very strict built-in growth limit.

  • RebelScum

    Oh no argument that Ad Hoc is not a feasible long-term solution…I’m just saying the potential for other methods of distribution certainly do exist, even if they haven’t been thought of yet.

  • Doug Groves

    BTW, did ya hear about ‘MailWrangler’ being banned too? It would let you check multiple Gmail accounts.

  • RebelScum

    Unbelieveable. I can only hope that the reason for these out-and-out lies re. rejection policy is that Apple is working on something similar, but I doubt it.

  • Laroquod
  • RebelScum

    That’s incredible. It’s like Macey’s punishing me for shopping at Gimble’s.

  • Laroquod

    Umm … holy shit! Now Apple wants to silence all the critics as well as the app developers, by preventing them from ever finding out about it…