Friday, May 17, 2013

The app review team appears asleep at the switch as dubious apps continue appearing in the Newsstand

The Apple App Store, when first opened, was like the wild west – apps would routinely make it through the review process that were of dubious worth. It led, eventually, the Apple famously proclaiming stating that "We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store. We don't need any more Fart apps."

But Apple is back approving Fart apps – possibly driven by a desire to remain the number one app store in existence. It won't work, it is inevitable that Google Play surpasses Apple's store simply based on the market share of smart phones.

I've recently written about the some of the sharks that are launching apps into the Newsstand, many coming from Russian developers. JLynnApps, which already has some less-than-credible apps inside the App Store has released another that really has to have you scratching your head as to how it made it through the review process.

UnderCover News is simply a collection of low-rez screenshots that are then placed in a Newsstand app. There is no magazine cover, no table of contents, no masthead (they certainly wouldn't want to use their real names here), no ads, and only 12 pages of content. Each screenshot then has an embedded link in it that takes you out of the app to the original publisher's website. The stories are, way out there, and usually are to be found on conspiracy websites or far-right news sites. A short note from the "editor" opens the app with the word "Hi" followed by a couple sentences, ending with "Best" but no name. Even the email address included is aimed at "admin" rather than an actual person.

The app is built using Fast PDF. The developer's website contact page lists their address as "244 Madison New York, New York, 10016" (sic), with no phone number and no e-mail address.

The anthrax vaccine story seen here is a good example. The story originated with a report by a presidential bioethics commission that declared that the vaccine against anthrax should not be tested in children until its safety it better understood. This immediately turned into a story that the Federal government wanted to test an anthrax vaccine on children.

In fact, vaccines are tested on humans all the time, but only when a reasonable amount of safety checks are conducted. Still, in clinical trials, it is possible for something to go wrong – that is why new drugs are tested. Of course, in this case it was convenient to twist the story into a monstrous tale of the Obama administration going rogue.

But the issue here isn't the news content as Apple would be wrong to reject an app for political reasons. No, the issue here involves three issues: 1) the app takes copyrighted material and reassembles to without the publisher's permission in order to attract its own readers, it is aggressive aggregation of the worst kind; 2) the app does not fulfill any function that the browser could not handle, a typical reason an app is rejected; and 3) the track record of the publisher shows that all their apps have questionable reviews attached to them (check them out yourselves and tell me that these are legitimate reviews).

Apple is either asleep at the switch or else are now actually encouraging bogus apps to be launched into their store in order to maintain their number one position. As a result, the Newsstand is a mess and getting worse every day. This is a great way to convince publishers to shy away, I can't imagine that is their goal here.

The major problem with Apple's Newsstand remains the inability of readers to find what they want. It is a mess and getting worse every day. The problem is see at its worst with the U.S. App Store that contains hardly any promotional efforts and does not even contain an "ALL" section where readers would be able to find either the best selling apps there, or a listing of apps by release date.

As a result, I routinely change stores to use the Irish or Canadian app stores to find new apps. It is simply not possible in the U.S. store. Even "browsing" does not work as Apple restricts the search to 6,000 apps which is far less than the number of Newsstands apps now available. How Apple determines which make it into the 6,000 shown is a mystery.

I've speculated in the past that Apple must believe that by limiting the number of apps readers see that they will drive sales to bigger titles and make more on volume. For every buyer of a citizen published magazine ten are bought of Cosmo, for instance – actually, probably a thousand a bought.

I get it. But the store is a mess and its reputation is in danger. Apple should not get into the censorship game, but it also should not allow in apps that are obvious violations of its own developer guidelines. Just as importantly, Apple needs to make it easier for new apps to be found by not intentionally making it difficult for them to be found. Not everyone wants to go exploring in the Irish app store to find a new app, do they?