As if there could possibly be any lingering doubt that Apple's approval bots over at the iTunes App Store have been consistently asleep at the wheel, the sudden appearance of a simple "visit these map locations and earn a coin" GPS-based game called Mariolife [iTunes Store Link] should cause even the most skeptical of apologists to scratch their heads.
Right from the start, problems (and complaints) concerning the approval process have turned up due to seemingly abitrary App Store rejections. A quick Google search turns up phrases such as "more app store rejection fun" and "Apple's Terrifying App Store Rejection Policy" and "rejected from Apple's App Store for the most absurd of reasons" and, lest anyone think Apple discriminates via this "absurd" policy, even the popular band Nine Inch Nails saw an App rejected.
Why? Because the app provided access to a podcast which provided access to a song which happened to have a nasty word in it. Similarly, the Eucalyptus eBook Reader app was rejected for providing access to the Project Gutenberg library of books, and one of those books happens to be the Karma Sutra. Scandalous.
To Apple's credit -- ahem -- most of these Apps eventually get approved, but only after a bit of a public outcry and not before the loss of a little credibility. (It probably doesn't hurt to be Trent Reznor when you complain, either.)
Just to mix things up, or to keep critics on their toes, Apple has chosen to allow an app which features graphics of Nintendo's Mario Bros. characters, ripped straight from Nintendo's own games, never-mind that the app is actually named after the titular character -- and it's selling for $2.99. (For what it's wroth, it actually does appear to be selling. Several reviews have been posted. Verdict: The app kind of sucks.)
The problem? Nintendo isn't involved with the game. It was created by a guy named Slava Bushtruk.
When the approval process lets slip through an obvious violation of Nintendo's intellectual property while continuing to reject seemingly innocuous apps, the perception that the process is deeply flawed at best, and arbitrary at worst, grows stronger.
I sent an email over to John Gruber at Daring Fireball, who -- after posting a link and a "WTF?!" to the App in question -- provided this update:
Ends up the App Store review team simply doesn't deal with copyright and trademark verification (with the exception of enforcing Apple's own trademarks, of course). Any beef Nintendo has (and trust me, they're going to have a beef with this app) is between Nintendo and Mariolife's developer. Makes sense. SOURCE
Even so. Gruber presumably learnt this information because he has clout, and clout breeds connections to inside information and sources who are quick to respond to criticisms. Meanwhile, countless developers are left scratching their heads when an obvious trademark violation is admitted -- the Mariolife violation could not be more blatant and shouldn't really require verification beyond the application of common sense -- yet Apple seems to go out of their way to inspect possible potty-mouth language issues based on content an App might access.
In other words, when Apple finally has a seemingly good reason to reject an App, it glides through the approval process. If the policy regarding trademark and copyright is to be "let the developer deal with the fallout" why not let all Apps through, and only worry about removing Apps if/when there is a public outcry, rather than looking the fool by approving apps after-the-fact that should have been approved from the get go? It's a defensive vs. offensive strategy and Apple would be spared a lot of grief if they'd simply drop the offensive stance.
Ultimately, this is a game of perception, and the perception hasn't been favorable, thus far. The overwhelming success of the App Store will certainly blunt some of the criticism Apple is facing, but leaving developers and consumers confused about policy simply isn't good business, even in the face of success.