Apple's app store guidelines don't change anything

Apple may have released guidelines for getting into its App Store, but what'll get an app rejected remains murky as ever

If you were to take a quick glance at today's tech headlines, you might think hell had frozen over.

Apple, you see -- the company famous for rejecting apps with no explanation and often no discernable reason -- took the magical and revolutionary step of releasing a set of guidelines for getting into its App Store. Yes, for the first time in the App Store's two-year history, Apple is actually giving developers some insight into its mysterious approval process and what it takes to avoid those dreaded app rejections.

Eureka, right? Not exactly. While Apple's move toward transparency seems like a positive step, the gesture is really more symbolic than anything. Let's take a look through some of Apple's new App Store guidelines, and I'll show you what I mean.

(To be clear, by the way, Apple announced two things today: the App Store guidelines and a loosening of limitations on what tools developers can use. What we're talking about here is the former. The latter change is certainly welcome; it undoes some ridiculous restrictions Apple had put in place earlier this year.)

Examining Apple's App Store Guidelines

Apple's new App Store bylaws come in the form of a six-page document. You have to be registered as an Apple developer to find the official file, but the folks from Engadget have published a copy PDF if you'd like to check it out.

The document begins with a disclaimer in which Apple says it views "apps different[ly] than books or songs." Specifically, Apple says, it wants everything in the App Store to be family-friendly. "We have lots of kids downloading lots of apps, and parental controls don't work unless the parents set them up," the guidelines say. (If you want all that "nasty porn," you can go to Android -- remember?)

From there, Apple begins listing out specific behaviors that'll result in an app's rejection. One early disclaimer pretty much tells you everything you need to know:

We will reject apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court justice once said, "I'll know it when I see it." And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.

Well, there you have it: Anything Apple doesn't like will be rejected. Aren't you glad we've cleared things up?

I guess that's why Apple won't let apps like Google Voice or Google Latitude into its App Store: They must be "over the line." I can't find any other rule in the new guidelines that explains those rejections.

Some other noteworthy gems from Apple's document:

• Apps that are not very useful or do not provide any lasting entertainment value may be rejected.

Another perfectly vague requirement. Ready to start investing your time in development now?

• Apps that duplicate apps already in the App Store may be rejected, particularly if there are many of them.

So competition's good, unless maybe it isn't. You might be able to do something better than the folks out there, but you might also get rejected. You know, all this certain-sounding uncertainty reminds me of something...

• Apps with metadata that mentions the name of any other mobile platform will be rejected.

Previously known as the "Mention the Word 'Android' and You're Outta Here!" rule.

• Any app that is defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited, or likely to place the targeted individual or group in harms way will be rejected. Professional political satirists and humorists are exempt from the ban on offensive or mean-spirited commentary.

Huh. I guess cartoonist Daryl Cagle must not be a "professional" humorist; that's probably why his Tiger Woods cartoon viewer got the kibosh.

• Apps that present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected.

Don't forget: According to Steve, a woman in a swimsuit is "excessively objectionable." Except when she isn't.

• Apps containing pornographic material, defined by Webster's Dictionary as "explicit descriptions or displays of sexual organs or activities intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings," will be rejected.

Oh, wait: Maybe those swimsuit-wearing women were "pornographic." My bad.

The list goes on, but you get the point: Apple may have released a set of App Store guidelines, but the parameters for what'll get an app rejected remain as broad and murky as ever. Developers do, however, gain this excellent suggestion:

If your app is rejected, we have a review board that you can appeal to. If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps.

Gotta love that good ol' Apple magic.

JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the co-founder of geek-humor site eSarcasm. You can find him on both Facebook and Twitter.

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