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Why Apple should relax its App Store rules

Marco Tabini | Dec. 5, 2013
Apple's ecosystem has been successful, in part, by adapting its rules to the evolving needs of its users--but the pace of change has slowed, and problems are starting to pile up again.

Developers for Apple's platforms have long had to walk a knife's edge, balancing their desire to implement powerful features with their need to ensure that those ideas fall within Apple's prescribed bounds.

Unfortunately, those bounds often seem to be moving targets. To take one example, Smile Software recently announced that Apple had deemed features of Smile's popular TextExpander beyond the pale and that, as a result, Smile would have to revise the app.

Apple's role as gatekeeper has drawn ardent praise and provoked sharp criticism. Though iOS had become an incredibly successful platform, where hundred of millions of users gobble up app after app at a pace unmatched by the OS's rivals, problems have arisen along the way.

And as iOS continues to mature, Apple's tight grip onto its mobile ecosystem is beginning to make evolution and growth hard for developers who have contributed significantly to the platform's success.

Curated garden or manicured prison?
For developers, living in Apple's gilded cage means having to contend with a long list of rules. Initially, as the folks from Cupertino found their footing, the restrictions were largely unwritten, but they have since been codified and made available to registered members of Apple's Developer Connection. The company has even set up an "appeals board" to hear special cases brought to it by developers whose apps fell into the rules' inevitable cracks.

For the most part, the rules have worked well. Apple wants iOS to be a well-curated garden on the outskirts of the Internet's Wild West, and that has meant excluding some software along the way. For some kinds of apps, the decision is relatively painless: Obviously, nobody wants the App Store to host malicious software that takes advantage of users.

For other apps, though&mdash:software that most users would want to have on their phones and tablets&mdash:running afoul of Apple's rules can be a serious problem. In the past, the company occasionally altered its rulebook to accommodate unexpected needs, but that process has slowed down considerably in the last couple years. At the same time, iOS has shifted from being a platform designed for use in conjunction with desktops and laptops to being one that often stands on its own.

When rules go bad
Take the aforementioned case of Smile Software's TextExpander&mdash:an app that can seem inconsequential until you start using it and realize that how much unproductive time it can remove from your daily routine. TextExpander lets you define and quickly recall arbitrary chunks of text, regardless of their complexity.

On OS X, TextExpander can interact with just about any app. On iOS, Apple's sandboxing makes this much harder, but in the past Smile's developers have circumvented the problem by implementing a software development kit that other programmers can easily and quickly integrate into their own software.


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