Curb your exceptionalism: App Store restrictions catch up to everyone

By Nathaniel Mott , written on April 10, 2013

From The News Desk

AppGratis founder and CEO Simon Dawlat is just shocked -- shocked! -- that Apple pulled the company's application, which promotes apps for developers and companies able to pay AppGratis' fee, from its App Store. Which is interesting, because Apple has been pulling app discovery-slash-advertising-slash-download services from the App Store for over two years.

The first notable casualty was Tapjoy, an application that directed users to download certain apps in exchange for its own virtual currency. Apple pulled Tapjoy from the App Store in April of 2011, and TechCrunch wrote at the time that Apple was "clamping down on incentivized downloads" and that "it’s now much harder to buy yourself popularity on the App Store." Tapjoy now relies on a Web-based application accessed via the iPhone's browser to serve its audience.

A similar service, AppShopper, was removed from the App Store in December of 2012, and has yet to make its way back into the store despite its promise of an iPhone 5-optimized version of its app. (AppShopper's website claims to link users to an application, but iTunes simply displays an error message, at least in the US.)

So when AllThingsD reports that removing AppGratis from the App Store is merely the  "first step in a broader enforcement action generally targeted at app-discovery apps," it really means that Apple is renewing its efforts against apps like Tapjoy, or AppShopper, or AppGratis, or any other application it feels is a threat to the App Store. Apple's intent hasn't changed since 2011, which raises the question of why these and similar services believed they would be spared Apple's wrath.

And, really, that belief is likely rooted in the same reasoning people use as they drive cars despite their status as rolling death machines, or why someone who lives next to a river neglects to get flood insurance: Bad things only happen to other people, and everyone thinks they are the exception to every rule.

Apple's enforcement of App Store policies might not be most stringent -- AppGratis and each of those other apps needed to be approved for the App Store before they could be pulled from it, after all -- but, once the company feels like exerting its control over the marketplace, no one is granted exceptions to its rule.

Don't want to give Apple its 30 percent cut from in-app purchases, and think you have a clever workaround? If Apple wasn't willing to let Amazon pull something like that, chances are it won't let another application do so either. Feel like hiding a tool that allows users to share an iPhone's data connection with other devices, bypassing carriers' (ridiculous) grip on that functionality? Apple's probably deleted more of those applications than you or I would believe.

Sometimes apps slip through the cracks. Sometimes Apple approves something and then changes its mind, which is what happened with AppGratis. Sometimes Apple decides to do a little spring cleaning -- a joke about Google killing Google Reader goes here -- and start pulling applications like so many daisies, as AllThingsD says it might be doing with services like AppGratis and the others.

It should be clear by now that Apple doesn't want services that might mess with the App Store's rankings by "artificially" providing downloads or replicating the App Store itself operating in its marketplace. Reports about the company's attempts to cull those applications have been coming out for two years -- there's no excuse for people operating apps even remotely similar to AppGratis or Tapjoy or AppShopper to be surprised if Apple decides to kill their app as well.

The app discovery services currently in the App Store are not the exception to Apple's rule. They just haven't been cut yet.

[Image via HBO]