Apple’s campaign to get tough on iPhone applications is reportedly continuing with a new target: template-based iPhone applications. You can find services that build these so-called cookie cutter applications all over the Web, and they have been used by a variety of prominent celebrities, bloggers, and brands including Ashton Kutcher, blogger Seth Godin, and the U.S. Army.
Cupertino’s main concern is that some of these applications—but by no means all of them— are nothing more than “RSS feeds or glorified business cards,” according to TechCrunch. Unlike previous App Store purges, like those that affected Wi-Fi stumblers and explicitly sexual apps, this clampdown reportedly isn’t concerned with purging approved apps, but refusing to accept newly developed cookie cutter apps with basic functionality.
One size fits all
Template-based applications can be a handy way for a small company or blogger to get a branded iPhone application into the hands of users as quickly as possible. Apple reportedly doesn’t have a problem with this in principle, and seems to be focusing on applications that have very basic functionality.
One iPhone app building service, Mobile Roadie, was reportedly told by Apple that applications had to do more than just “pull feeds from web sites or reproduce websites with webviews,” according to TapSwipePinch. Mobile Roadie had initially discussed the issue in a blog post, but has since removed the post from its Website (although it still shows up in Google searches).
TechCrunch reports that some feature add-ons that could help applications qualify for the App Store include things like in-app purchases, offline access, instant notifications, and landscape view.
App spam: You know it when you see it
Unlike other recent purges to the App Store, Cupertino’s decision to disqualify basic cookie cutter apps makes a lot of sense. Applications with limited functionality that deliver no real value to the user, and which are only meant as a shallow attempt to create a marketing platform, deserve to be cut from the App Store. That’s because these apps are nothing more than useless spam, clogging up the iPhone application catalog.
But at the same time, Apple may have to be more selective when it comes to turning down some of these template-based apps. Blogger Godin’s iPhone app, for example, does nothing more than deliver Seth’s daily blog posts and capture tweets that happen to mention him. The application does support offline viewing, which may be enough to have an updated version approved, but the app doesn’t have other features that would appeal to Godin fans, like in-app purchasing for Seth’s books or landscape view.
A similar application by a lesser-known writer could end up on the chopping block, but considering Godin’s popularity and avid readership, it makes sense for this app to survive regardless of its basic functionality.
That may not be fair, but there are clearly times when two applications with the same basic functionality can serve two different purposes: one informs a dedicated readership and one serves as a self-promotional tool with no real value to the end user. App spam may be hard to define, but just like Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography more than 40 years ago, when it comes to App spam you know it when you see it.