A powerful DJ application for your iPhone or iPod touch may be a tantalizing prospect. But several would-be candidates aren’t available to you yet. Why? They’re languishing in Apple’s approval process, with no sign of whether they’ll be released or not.
For all the success of Apple’s App Store, some developers and users continue to express frustration at what they believe is a sluggish, unpredictable approval process, restrictive Apple policies, and Apple’s complete control over distribution and categorization. That now leads to two complaints from music developers. A number of music developers want more delineation from Apple’s categories, so that the flood of general music apps don’t drown out powerful, creative tools. Meanwhile, developers of DJ applications claim that Apple is discriminating against DJ apps, which they say has led to delays without explanation.
“Open” development is relative, without question. Game system makers require developers to prove to them why they should be “allowed” to create titles, leading to a tightly-controlled stream of approved titles. But the success of Apple’s relatively open development model has prompted many software creators to hunger for greater freedom. I’ve increasingly heard people enthusiastic about the more flexible distribution model on Google’s Android (and other Linux) platforms, which allow users to install apps they want. I even moderated a mobile music platform panel at the CMJ music conference at which a Verizon representative, no less, talked about wanting to be more open to applications. The benchmark was Apple, for being perceived as overly restrictive.
iPhone/iPod touch developers, however, aren’t simply ranting against Apple. They’re complaining because they’re enthusiastic about the App Store. They want changes from Apple and believe there’s potential to get what they want. That said, I think they also illustrate potential for rivals like Google to outdo Apple – assuming those rivals invest more time and effort into courting these kind of applications.
Is Apple Blocking DJ Apps?
First, some developers believe that Apple is intentionally blocking DJ applications from being approved. Whether intentional or not, a number of potentially ground-breaking applications are unavailable after a significant delay. Kasabian Kasabianmeister writes:
Apple is deliberately not allowing DJ apps to the App Store
Something really strange is going on with the Apple review team. They now seem to approve all kinds of applications, even the ones that have been previously considered "unacceptable", but there is one kind of applications that are simply kept "in review" stage for months without any explanation.
These are the DJ applications that have been developed with the idea to give the user the ability to mix his own MP3 tracks on the iPhone. Currently, there is no application in the AppStore that has such functionality. Of course, this wasn’t left unnoticed by the developers, but…
At least 3 applications: Touch DJ (www.amidio.com), Sonorasaurus (www.sonorasaurus.com), DJ Player (www.djplayer.fm) are not being approved since the beginning of September, hitting the 2-month "in review" mark. One of the developers even made a video voicing the frustration over the absolutely unacceptable behaviour of Apple:
What is really weird and unprofessional, Apple doesn’t give any reasons whatsoever what is the reason of such delays. The developers are just told to "wait" without any explanations.
Meanwhile, the demand for the DJ apps is so high that people even started an online petition entitled "Apple, Allow DJ apps on the iPhone!":
One of the reasons for such attitude could be that Apple is working on its own DJ app, or is waiting for a DJ app from a "senior" player and keeping the possible "competitors" aside. In any case, it is quite possible that we will know the real reason soon.
It’s worth noting that, in the past, Apple’s application process has simply proved to be inconsistent and slow, which can cause people to see intention where there is none. But that doesn’t necessarily excuse Apple’s App Store approval process. The iPhone and iPod touch are popular largely because of Apple’s success at making media playback devices. Apple needs to document what it views as acceptable use of these devices. In the absence of information, developers are jumping to their own conclusions, possibly accurately, possibly not.
Obviously, aside from interest in Apple’s policies, I’m sure many iPhone and iPod touch owners are eager to see these applications, so we’ll certainly be following them to see if any are released.
In other rejection news… The App Store is currently just letting these DJ apps languish in limbo rather than providing a rejection. But another significant set of rejections is game titles built with the Unity game engine. There, the issue appears to be the presence of support in the engine for a private API call from Apple, whether or not the title itself uses the API, and …uh, yeah, that one’s complicated. Updated TUAW tells us via Twitter that Unity developers say they’ve fixed that issue, so… move along, nothing to see here.
Do Music Apps Need Better Categorization?
One potential danger of having a centralized store like iTunes and the App Store is giving control of approval to a single company (Apple), as seen in the DJ apps. The other is that such a storefront will simply not be categorized in a way that allows people to discover apps successfully.
Apple has been roundly praised for creating a store that encourages people to consume apps. Now, some developers want Apple to tweak their categorization to allow some of the most creative applications to stay in the forefront. Over the summer, Jokton Strealy, maker of the excellent songvoo music collection management tool, issued a call to fellow developers to try to get better categorization from Cupertino.
Side note: songvoo is just the sort of app that critics of the App Store might assume would be impossible. It replaces the existing playback functionality of the iPod and iPhone, the sort of replacement app that has sometimes earned rejection from Apple. Evidently, if an application is differentiated enough, it can clear Apple’s approval hurdles. (On the other hand, inconsistent policy and overzealous restrictions are at the center of some of those criticisms.)
But Strealy has no complaints about the App Store itself or the approval process. He just wants a more intelligently-organized store. Here’s his open letter from the summer, which has since earned a lot of support from fellow developers:
Recently, the Music section of the App store has gotten very busy with a new type of app — let’s call them Artist Apps or Fan Apps. Some of these Apps are great resources for fans and artists reaching out to their fans and potential fans, and some don’t live up to their potential.
However, they are joining a category that previously moved a lot slower, as the apps that had been populating this category were apps with a lot of development put into them and therefore sold at a higher tier usually- but were released at a slower pace. A look at the top 100 paid music apps illustrates this nicely.
Customers perusing the music section to catch that next great sound generating tool (for example), could check in on the new releases section perhaps once a week or even once a month and have the opportunity to check out all the great new apps that had been released, without worrying that one was missed.
Now however, these newer Artist apps have flooded this category, and great apps are getting lost in the shuffle. On one day last week, there were 21 pages of Artist or Fan apps, with a few "other" apps strewn in the mix here and there, very hard to pick out of the jumble.
I understand that this may be happening in other categories for other reasons, but I only concentrate on the Music section since I am a music producer and music App writer.
I propose that we all get together to come up with some suggested sub-category names for the music category. I will start the list off and hopefully some of you will chime in and give suggestions for other categories or add more definition to a sub-category that is already here.
Once enough input is received, I will compile it into one bug report for Apple. i will then post the bug# for everyone to include with any correspondence with Apple on this issue.
New sub-categories for the Music section of the App store.
Synthesizers, drum machines, sound generators, scoring and notation, sequencers, DJ apps, recorders (multi track)
Lyrics apps, iPod interfaces, visualizers, iPod controllers, song recognizers, concert finders
Metronomes, guitar and voice tuners, music slow downers, guitar tutors, chord apps,
Artist Apps/Fan Apps:
iLike apps, Deadmau5 app, PVD App, Underworld App, NIN, etc.
AOL Radio, Pandora, Last.fm, individual radio stations
Please visit the Apple iPhone developer forums and voice your opinion/support!
Jokton Strealy., President
If nothing else, the explosion of development for iPhone and iPod touch is prompting some lively discussions about just what development should look like. A lot of what you hear is praise for the Apple model, but I expect some of the criticism of it – even down to minor details – could be productive, as well. I’ll certainly be watching the development of both of these issues, and we’ll see if Apple responds or not.
Updated: Jokton notes an additional change to the way apps are listed.
As for my original issue with categories and release dates, there has been a new development. Apple recently stopped listing “updates” in the “release date” listing of each category. Now the only way to get a listing there (which generates sales) is release a new app (1.0). Before that, devs were releasing constant updates to an app to keep it “on the radar” on the app store, even if the update were a simple as correcting a spelling error or perhaps even faking issues to correct. That in itself created a lot of “update spam”. Many developers are up in arms about these new changes because previously this was the only way to get your app seen by the masses. There has been no official word from Apple on the issue, so it is still unclear if this is a permanent change or some kind of error in the system. If this change is indeed permanent, then the argument for more subcategories is even more important now.