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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.

Unfortunately, this leaves one problem unsolved: Third-party apps still need to synchronize their text-snippet database against the main TextExpander app, which is difficult to accomplish in an environment where programs are largely prevented from talking to one another&mdash:or even being aware of one another's presence on the device.

Thus, Smile had to find another workaround, which involved relying on iOS's built-in Reminders as an ersatz synchronization mechanism. After initially permitting that usage, Apple eventually rejected it as an improper application of a technology whose primary goal is, after all, to help you compile grocery lists.

Workarounds are not solutions
In fairness, Smile could adopt alternatives to the way it did things. One option would be to develop a Web-based system that allowed synchronization across the Internet, thereby avoiding strange workarounds that require putting its software at the mercy of Apple's approval process.

On the other hand, such a revision is far from trivial, even for a well-established company like Smile: Web synchronization is notoriously hard to implement, leads to all sorts of privacy complications, and (of course) only works if you're connected to the Internet.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with Aple rules like the one that went against TextExpander is that they hurt customers. Smile isn't some rogue company trying to sneak malicious software into the App Store; it's legitimately trying to make users more productive by giving them a product that they are happy to use and pay for.

More generally, the inability of iOS apps to work in concert is becoming increasingly problematic. Apple's store policies favor inexpensive, highly specialized apps; if you've ever spent time working with a Unix shell, you know that this model can work very well&mdash:if the apps can easily pipe content through each other. Absent this ability, though, you're left with situations like the ones affecting iWork, where Apple's fixation on simplifying everything leaves users scratching their heads.

In-app purchase woes
This issue is just the tip of the iceberg. In many other areas Apple's grip on its ecosystem risks harming its users much more than it ensures protecting their interests. Take in-app purchases (IAPs), for example, where Apple wants to be the payment processor of choice in the App Store, except not really.

IAPs have become a snake pit of rules and exceptions. Developers can use them to charge customers, but only for virtual items; organizations can't use IAPs to collect donations; and&mdash:as Instapaper creator Marco Arment discovered last year-&mdash:companies can't use them to manage recurring subscriptions unless the company actually publishes the magazine or newsletter in question. On top of this, Apple won't let developers use their own payment systems except in connection with physical products.


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