Rejected by Apple

I’ve covered the story before. A developer submits an iPhone app to the App Store. The app gets rejected for what the developer believes to be an arbitrary or unjust cause. Some degree of controversy ensues. Usually, after some modifications by the developer or some degree of concession by Apple, or both, the app winds up in the Store after all.

Yup. I’ve been down this road before. Still, I never expected I would be traveling it for an app of my own. Yet that is exactly what happened.

I am the author of an ebook called Take Control of iPhone OS 3. Last year, Adam and Tonya Engst (the people behind the Take Control Books series) negotiated with O’Reilly Media to have several Take Control titles converted to iPhone apps. Not surprisingly, given its subject, my book was included in this destined-to-be-an-app group.

To be clear, I did not personally submit the app to the App Store. Rather, it was submitted on my behalf by O’Reilly Media. Thus, I have never had any direct contact with Apple regarding this matter. All the information I have is via O’Reilly Media as an intermediary.

Was I looking forward to having my book appear in the App Store? Sure. Did I consider it a big deal, especially from a financial perspective? Absolutely not. To be frank (maybe franker than my publishers would prefer), I doubted that the profits from sales of my book-app would cover taking my wife out to a fancy dinner. It was just going to be fun. Or so I thought.

Reality hit in December when we received word that the book had been rejected.

My obvious first question was “Why?” Apple’s only answer was that we would “need to remove the section on jailbreaking.” Could we get any further guidance? Did we really have to remove all mention of jailbreaking? Or was there some specific aspect of the coverage that needed to be revised? Apple’s answers to all of these questions was silence. All O’Reilly Media could tell me was that “Apple doesn’t provide specifics, unfortunately.”

However, O’Reilly Media did add that the jailbreaking section of my book “violated” the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement. Really? 

A Bit of Background

Exactly what does my book say about jailbreaking? There is a 4 page section (in a 200 page book) that explains the risks of jailbreaking — such as it may void your warranty and “may lead to problems using your iPhone, such as crashes or even startup failures.” Apple publicly offers this same advice in a support article on jailbreaking. Thus, I didn’t imagine that this would be a problem.

The problematic material, if there was any, is where I discuss the potential advantages of jailbreaking and offer a brief subsection titled “How to Jailbreak.” Despite the title, the subsection does not provide step-by-step instructions. Rather, it offers only a vague description of the jailbreak process, noting: “Describing how to jailbreak an iPhone for a book like this is an exercise in futility. What you can or cannot do, and how best to do it, keeps changing as Apple continues efforts to prevent jailbreaking…As such, it’s pretty much pointless for me to give step-by-step guidelines.” (I did include a couple of links where you could get further assistance.)

I honestly did not believe any of this material was cause for Apple to reject the app. This view was reinforced by my perusal of the iPhone app version of David Pogue’s iPhone: The Missing Manual. Pogue’s book, already in the App Store, includes coverage of jailbreaking, with statements such as: “It didn’t take long for these programmers to ‘jailbreak’ the iPhone, using special software to open it up (metaphorically speaking) and shoehorn their own programs onto it.”

Back to Our Story

I was curious as to exactly what clause in the License Agreement my book violated. I obtained a copy of the Agreement (not via O’Reilly Media). Is there really a statement that specifically prohibits any mention of jailbreaking? No. As it turns out, the supposed violation might come about only if you make a rather tortured (in my view) interpretation of a much more general restriction that states that applications may be rejected if they contain materials that Apple finds “objectionable.” The cited examples were “obscene” or “defamatory” material, not informed discussions of technical procedures.

However, it doesn’t really matter. Apple’s License Agreement includes a catch-all clause that amounts to a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card for the company, allowing it to do whatever it wants: “Apple may…reject Your Application for distribution for any reason, even if Your Application meets the Documentation and Program Requirements.”

In other words, Apple can reject your app even if it is not in violation of any specific clause in the License Agreement. Apple doesn’t even have to provide a rationale for its decision. Apple can basically tell you: “We reject your app. We’re not going to tell you why. We’re not going to tell you what, if anything, you can do to revise the app that would change our decision. It doesn’t even matter if another app already in the Store includes the same material that is the basis for our rejection here. And there’s not a thing you can do about it. So get lost.”

I think you can tell that I hardly believe this is a fair policy. But I get that my opinions carry no weight whatsoever. Apple is holding 4 aces and I have a pair of deuces.

Rejected Again…and Acceptance

I was reluctant to cut out the entire section on jailbreaking. As much as possible, I wanted the app version of the book to be the same as the ebook version. So I deleted the entire “How to Jailbreak” subsection and removed some related text from other sections. I held out some hope that this would be sufficient to make the book acceptable to Apple. It was not.

I was not entirely surprised to learn that the revised app was rejected — this time with no explanation. I probably would have dropped the matter at this point and given up on having my book in the App Store. But others at Take Control Books and O’Reilly Media had invested time and money into pursuing this matter, and I felt they deserved for me to follow through. And I was curious as to how the story might play out. So I re-edited the book, eliminating all the material on jailbreaking. This was the magic key to unlock the door. My book-app was accepted and is now in the App Store. [For those of you who buy the book and want the “redacted” material, it will soon be available online via a link for getting “updates,” located in the beginning of the book.]

Bottom Line

While Apple’s policies may be legal, I believe they are wrong. I don’t see how Apple’s behavior here (or in similar situations with other apps) benefits the user, despite Apple’s claim that this is the ultimate basis for its decisions. Rather, what Apple is doing amounts to corporate censorship, for its own benefit, in what should be a much more open marketplace for apps. If Apple at least permitted a way for users to acquire apps rejected from the Store, similar to how you can import CDs into iTunes as an alternative to the iTunes Store, I might not object to their policies. But they don’t.

Where will it stop? At the risk of sliding too fast down a slippery slope, I can imagine a cookbook app getting rejected because it contains meat recipes (Steve Jobs is a vegan). It sounds silly. But my point is that it could happen and, if it did happen, there is nothing you or I or anyone could do about it. Except protest. Only a decision in the court of public opinion can force Apple to budge here. It’s up to you.