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 SFGate.com, Slate.com, CBSNews.com, Motherjones.com 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.