Apple's App Store Review Guidelines: 'we don't need any more fart apps'

Apple definitely surprised us this morning by relaxing its restrictions on third-party iOS development tools and publishing its app review guidelines, but that's nothing compared to the almost shockingly blunt tone of the guidelines themselves. Grab the PDF for yourselves at the source link now and check out the highlights after the break.

Okay, so while Apple's tone throughout the guidelines is extremely direct, the highlights definitely come from the introduction, where the company basically lays it down:

  • "We have lots of kids downloading lots of apps, and parental controls don't work unless the parents set them up (many don't). So know that we're keeping an eye out for the kids."

  • "We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store. We don't need any more Fart apps."

  • "We have lots of serious developers who don't want their quality Apps to be surrounded by amateur hour."

  • "If your app is rejected, we have a Review Board that you can appeal to. If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps."

  • "This is a living document, and new apps presenting new questions may result in new rules at any time. Perhaps your app will trigger this."

  • "If it sounds like we're control freaks, well, maybe it's because we're so committed to our users and making sure they have a quality experience with our products."

Harsh, but it's nothing we didn't already sort of know. The real action comes in the actual rules, which are written in an equally direct way. A few jumped right out to us:

  • "Apps that include undocumented or hidden features inconsistent with the description of the app will be rejected." This hits all those apps with game emulators hidden as easter eggs. Oh well.

  • "Apps that duplicate apps already in the App Store may be rejected, particularly if there are many of them." This is an interesting one -- obviously it touches on the fart app dilemma Apple's already worried about, but what about the proliferation of Twitter clients? Photo apps? Drawing apps? We're curious to see how this one is interpreted -- that "may" gives Apple a lot of wiggle room.

  • "Apps that browse the web must use the iOS WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript." Looks like there's still no hope for third-party browsers!

  • "Apps with metadata that mentions the name of any other mobile platform will be rejected." We're guessing this means you can't advertise your app in the App Store by saying it's also available on Android, or has been ported from BlackBerry, or whatever.

  • "Apps which appear confusingly similar to an existing Apple product or advertising theme will be rejected."

  • "Apps that misspell Apple product names in their app name (i.e., GPS for Iphone, iTunz) will be rejected."

  • "App user interfaces that mimic any iPod interface will be rejected." So much for bringing the Click Wheel back.

  • "Apps that look similar to apps bundled on the iPhone, including the App Store, iTunes Store, and iBookstore, will be rejected."

  • "Apps that create alternate desktop/home screen environments or simulate multi-app widget experiences will be rejected."

  • "If your user interface is complex or less than very good it may be rejected." Harsh, but this one's already been broken in practice by lots of apps.

  • "In general, the more expensive your app, the more thoroughly we will review it."

  • "Professional political satirists and humorists are exempt from the ban on offensive or mean-spirited commentary." So what about amateur satirists and humorists?

  • "Apps that include games of Russian roulette will be rejected." We can't even begin to explain why other types of violent games are allowed but this is specifically banned.

  • "Apps containing pornographic material, defined by Webster's Dictionary as "explicit descriptions or displays of sexual organs or activities intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings", will be rejected." Well, at least it's a rule -- but the line between "erotic" and "emotional" feelings is a blurry one that moves constantly, so we'd say Apple still has its hands full.

  • "Apps that contain user generated content that is frequently pornographic (ex "Chat Roulette" apps) will be rejected."

  • "Apps that enable illegal file sharing will be rejected." This explains why some BitTorrent control apps were rejected, but there's a lot of legal file sharing going on there too -- Apple might need to clarify this one further.

So those are the most interesting rules we see -- the rest are pretty basic, like "apps that crash will be rejected." There's also a little conclusion, which reads like the secret last verse to Greatest Love of All:

Above all else, join us in trying to surprise and delight users. Show them their world in innovative ways, and let them interact with it like never before. In our experience, users really respond to polish, both in functionality and user interface. Go the extra mile. Give them more than they expect. And take them places where they have never been before. We are ready to help.

All in all, there's nothing here we weren't really expecting, but it's nice to see Apple finally making these rules public -- and it's definitely refreshing to see the company address its developers with this sort of honest directness. We still think all these rules would be easier to swallow if Apple allowed apps to be sideloaded, but at least devs have a better sense of what they can and can't do, and that's no small improvement. We'll see how these rules evolve over time -- we can already think of several edge cases, and Apple seems committed to being flexible and case-specific with the apps it allows.