UPDATE: As of 24 February, Simply Beach has also returned to the App Store. The developer confirmed to TechRadar that neither he nor his client received any communication from Apple during or about this incident. iWobble remains absent from the App Store at the time of writing.
On 19 February, many App Store developers abruptly found their apps had been removed from sale.
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They'd fallen foul of Apple's latest seemingly snap decision, which some developers say is akin to a puritanical crusade.
Once again, Apple's head of worldwide product marketing Philip Schiller has entered the fray, trying to justify Apple's decision, but has done little more than fan the flames, showing up the company as being uncomfortably hypocritical and hostile to developers.
According to Schiller, in a 22 February interview with the New York Times, a small number of developers had been submitting "an increasing number of apps containing very objectionable content". Schiller claims Apple received complaints from women, who found the content of these apps degrading, and parents were becoming concerned with what their children were able to see on Apple devices.
With Apple attempting to make the iPhone and iPod touch appealing to advertisers and educational institutions alike, it's undoubtedly problematic when apps with titillating content pepper the download charts. But instead of taking a reasonable approach or utilising App Store age ratings, categorisation and device parental controls, Apple instead hit the delete button.
The solution (and the problem with the solution)
Without warning, Apple removed 5,000 apps from sale. Many were effectively clients for accessing soft-core porn, but innocent and harmless applications were also taken down, despite offering perfectly acceptable content to anyone with a normally calibrated moral compass.
A high-profile casualty (since reinstated) was IUGO's Daisy Mae's Alien Buffet, presumably targeted due to it offering a trashy cartoon female lead with a penchant for short shorts - despite Daisy Mae being only a little more risque in terms of dress than Lara Croft.
BACK AGAIN: Daisy Mae's Alien Buffet, a vaguely saucy Robotron-style shooter was initially removed from the store, due to 'overtly sexual' content. It's since been restored
At present, it's unclear if App Store rules have officially changed, but on his blog, the developer of iWobble (an app that "add[s] wobbly bits to any iPhone picture," yet ships with zero objectionable content), says Apple revealed what it no longer considered acceptable.
New 'rules' ban images of women (and, oddly, men) in bikinis, 'skin' (the developer says that when he asked if a burqa was OK "the Apple guy got angry"), sexual connotations or innuendo, and anything that can be sexually arousing; he was also told "no apps will be approved that in any way imply sexual content".
Apple's hypocritical stance
Although such rules would turn Apple's offering into the Disney of app stores, consistent, sensible application would perhaps be acceptable.
Instead, as has become depressingly common with the App Store, Apple's approach has been ham-fisted, inconsistent and hypocritical. Online swimwear retailer Simply Beach found its app gone, presumably due to Apple's 'no bikinis' stance, and the company initially thought an email from Apple regarding 'overtly sexual' content in its app was a hoax. "[The app's removal] has put people's jobs at risk as we rely on all income streams," said Simply Group MD Gerrard Dennis in a press release.
"It would have been better to have had some warning or discussion before removing the app. I assume all clothing retailers that sell anything other than overcoats will now have to be removed?"
Apple's already proved Dennis's last point isn't to be the case. Schiller made it very clear in the New York Times interview that the App Store most definitely isn't a level playing field.
I-TROUBLE: iWobble will at the least have to remove the silhouette and any innuendo before being allowed to return to the App Store
When directly asked why the Playboy and Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue apps were still on sale - despite including a similar kind of 'overtly sexual' content Apple and all those who've complained seemingly find so objectionable - his response was that each app comes from "a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format".
In other words, Apple has again taken a developer/publisher-hostile approach (unless said company is very high-profile and makes Apple a lot of money), despite Schiller's promises during the previous App Store disaster.
This time, Apple's stance is indefensible. You either sell apps with sexual content or you don't - it's not acceptable to allow high-profile publishers to provide 'women in swimsuit' apps and then ban shop-based apps selling actual swimsuits.
Once again, Apple's at serious risk of a PR disaster, providing further ammunition for rivals to crow about the 'closed' nature of the App Store and Apple's extreme policies.