Apple’s At It Again- UPDATED

April 16th, 2010 | Posted in News



Earlier this week editorial cartoonist Mark Fiore was honored with a Pulitzer prize for his work, which in an of itself is historic in that Mark’s work does not appear in print… it’s all on the web at,,, and NPR’s web site.

He’s also making news this week for another reason… one that sounds all too familiar to me. He has submitted an app of his work to Apple for their App Store only to have it rejected for violation of the dreaded “Section 3.3.14” of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement which states:

Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.

Readers of The MAD Blog will recall a similar letter being sent to the developer of the app “Bobble Rep”, for which I had done over 500 caricatures of every member of the 111th U.S. Congress. That app was also rejected by Apple, who apparently found my caricatures “obscene, pornographic, or defamatory” and cited that it ridiculed public figures. Apple relented after only a few days after a fairly substantial firestorm of internet outrage and stories on major news outlets rattled their cage. In fact I have found the Bobble Rep debacle cited on several stories about Mark’s current difficulties, as well as Daryl Cagle‘s similar frustrations with Apple over his politcal cartoon app (which also eventually got approved).

Mark’s story is striking a bit more serious chord than Apple just being overly Draconian in their app approvals. With the introduction of the iPad, the focus of content for these devices moves out of the convenience of having a few apps in your pocket and into the promised land of a media delivery/consumption device that could revolutionize the way the world get’s its news, entertainment and information. Suddenly Apple’s control freak approach threatens the development of the very technology it is supposed to be innovating by placing restrictions and outright rejections upon the content that would be consumed via their devices. Apps for publications and newspaper content won’t be very useful if it only lets us see stuff that Apple and Steve Jobs thinks we should see, and rejects things they don’t like.

Even so, Apple does have the right to decide what it will or will not allow on it’s App Store and on it’s device. I am certainly not going to argue that point. Apple isn’t the publisher, so arguments that a newspaper gets to decide what it will publish and what it won’t are irrelevant. Apple is the delivery system. Apple is the newsstand/bookstore that makes you pay a fee (buy it’s device) to browse. Apple is the cable TV station that gets to decide what programming if offers even as it charges you to look at it’s listings. Bookstores can sell whatever book they want. TV stations only air shows they want. They don’t have to carry pornography or content it deems inappropriate even if it’s legal where they operate. They don’t have to sell books that they don’t like the subjects of or air TV shows that don’t support the ideology of their ownership.

That said, levying editorial content restrictions against app authors will lead to Apple’s eventual downfall. It’s one thing to limit useless and tasteless apps on an iPhone, but when they are crowing about the iPad being the future of media content consumption with one hand and pushing back the very content providers people want unless they tow the line to their satisfaction and limitation with respect to that content, consumers will quickly move on to other devices that do not tell them what they can or cannot see or consume. The dollars of the consumer will sort this out eventually.

The marketplace and competing iPad-like devices will win out. Apple is crazy if they think they can limit free speech and expression like this and still come out on top. Jobs apparently hasn’t learned his lesson from the 80’s, when Apple’s closed format and heavy handed approach to it’s operating system and hardware versus the open sourced and use-on-any-hardware approach of Bill Gate’s Windows resulted in the overwhelming dominance of Microsoft in the PC market… a dominance that continues to this day. It was big news the other day when Apple’s share of the PC market touched 8%. Other devices that don’t put these kinds of restrictions on it’s content and allow for the use of technologies like Flash, which Apple also stubbornly refuses to allow on its devices, should eventually squash the iPad if Apple doesn’t change it’s tune (or in Mark’s case… “toon”). What’s at stake is not just a couple of pocket apps on your iPhone, but the possible future of media content delivery.

UPDATE: Fortuitous timing on my part. Apparently Apple is asking Mark to resubmit his app likely with the intention of approving it ASAP. Mark commented via an interview:

“I feel kind of guilty,” he said. “I’m getting preferential treatment because I got the Pulitzer.”

Just go with it, Mark! Apple needs to be taken to task each and every time they pull this kind of thing until they understand even though it’s their sandbox if they want the world to pay to play in it they have to allow some kids who aren’t in their Super Secret MacHead Club.


  1. In the age of the internet, a lot of folks have discounted the role of gatekeepers. It will be interesting to watch the ipad and similar products navigate the question of whether or not to filter content and to see what role syndicates and publishers play. Syndicates aren’t just agents for content, papers also count on them to be gatekeepers – it’s one reason for the long lead time on comic strips as they are assessed for “questionable” content. It may be that companies like Apple that seem to be concerned with a certain level of censorship will only form partnerships with publishers that share that sensibility.

  2. Jeff Zugale says:

    While there’s certainly some reason to suspect corporate rivalry in Apple’s exclusion of Adobe’s Flash, there’s also a very practical reason for it: Flash is an encapsulated media format that can include extremely powerful programming code. It can create system-level vulnerability in a device (like iPhone or iPad) – meaning simply it opens giant security holes on the system that can be hacked.

    Given Apple’s philosophy of keeping these platforms “closed” in many ways, that just isn’t a compatible situation. The whole point of doing the App Store, iTunes Store and iBookStore is to create a conduit through which media content can be *sold* reliably, as opposed to the open Internet situation where it’s practically impossible to sell (for instance) a webcomic as a primary product. Keeping the conduit “closed” is the keystone of making that happen.

    While I agree with you that this level of censorship is a problem, the rigorous review system for Apps is also designed to deny any candidate app that creates exploitable security holes on the system – which is a function it does rather well. The only viruses ever reported on iPhones (a total of 3) all only affected “jailbroken” iPhones, i.e. ones that had been hacked to allow non-approved apps to be installed!

    In addition to Flash, the iPhone/iPad OS also doesn’t support Java, which comes from Sun Microsystems who don’t have the kind of corporate jostling going on with Apple that Adobe has. Java isn’t excluded because of some company disagreement, it’s excluded because like Flash it can open the system up to hacking.

    So, while it’s not an ideal situation and there’s probably some ego-war attached, leaving out Flash and Java is part of the core platform strategy in terms of security and control of content.

    • @Jeff,

      I hadn’t thought about that dimension of it. Your explanation makes a little more clear to me why King features has been having trouble with hacking of their Comics Kingdom.

  3. Rob Usdin says:

    Not to be picky, but where that says “RG Entertainment iPhone App’s Presents” – shouldn’t it be “Apps” with no apostrophe? Plural gets no apostrophe. Not trying to be the grammar police but you would think something that basic would be obvious.


    • Tom says:

      Perhaps, but as the graphic is from RG Entertainment and not from me, feel free to contact them directly and don’t forget to brandish your shiny Grammar Police badge.

  4. dave says:

    Well, that was a right pretty speech about Apple keeping the dreaded Flash out of its pristine operating system – until the update that Apple is going to “allow” Fiore’s app anyway. So I guess the moral is, Apple is terribly concerned about the damage Flash will do – until it’s not.

  5. al franken says:

    The Obama cartoons made Jobs angry, so he ordered this app off. This move is 100% political.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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