Since the dawn of computing, developers have been free to create whatever software they can imagine for computers. Windows, Mac, UNIX, Linux, Atari, Amiga, Apple II, Commodore 64 – it doesn’t matter. Come up with an idea, and short of doing something destructive on the system, you can make it work on a computer. It’s this freedom that has made the computer age possible. Game consoles have been different, a relic of the days when cartridges were physical objects you put in the machine. But mobile devices have generally acted more or less like computer platforms – look at Windows Mobile, Symbian, Linux, Android, Palm OS, Palm’s Web OS, and so on. It wouldn’t be odd to expect the same of the iPhone or iPod touch, which is essentially a Mac running on a low-power platform with a mobile-optimized set of libraries. The iPod doesn’t even connect to a wireless phone network; it uses WiFi just like your computer.
As musicians and artists, this sort of freedom has given us the freedom to make expressive music and art using powerful tools. That same freedom hasn’t applied to comparatively restrictive game platforms, which is why music apps for platforms like PSP and Nintendo DS require hacking hardware and software.
But then there’s the iPhone / iPod touch. Apple claims that they create a superior user experience by controlling quality, and they use that control to pick and choose which applications they think are appropriate for their phone. Never mind that a whole lot of what’s available on the iTunes store is simply worthless crap. And, frankly, that’s okay – users pick and choose the good stuff, and a lot of it’s really great.
But far from simply protecting mobile carriers like AT&T from abusive apps, it’s clear from developer experiences that Apple has extended that supposedly superior judgment to second-guessing developers on design and application purpose.
The latest victim: a fully free wireless multitouch server that would empower iPod touch and iPhone users to control live art and perform, created by one of the world’s leading interactive artists, Memo Akten. It seems Apple’s powers that be rejected the app because they simply don’t understand what the heck it is.
The story so far:
I received the following response from Apple: “Thank you for submitting your application “MSA Remote”. We need clarification in regards to the functionality of the application as we do not have access to the interactive installations that the application controls. If possible, please provide login information for a server application we can use to review your application.”
So I sent them 3 desktop apps: a standard TUIO client, a MSATouch client (multiple devices can control a single client without interference), and an OSC Dumper so they could see all the messages being sent in detail.
Even after receiving that documentation, Apple decided that they knew better than their users and developers. Result: no app.
Apple’s response to this app is “We’ve reviewed your application, MSA Remote, and we have determined that this application contains minimal user functionality and will not be appropriate for the App Store.”
I find it hard to believe that a FREE TUIO SERVER for iPhone and iPod touch is not suitable for the App Store!! Please leave comments below if you think it is suitable and I will get back to them to try and sort it out.
Let’s be clear. The point here is not just to rant. Memo is looking for comments from users. I’m hopeful that an upswell of support could show Apple the error of their ways and get them to correct course on this one, and I’ll applaud them if they do that.
But let’s also be clear: restrictive platforms are bad for artists. Apple is setting a dangerous precedent, and I’m frankly tired of the conventional assumption that they’re always right. I think the restrictiveness of the platform – well beyond what is “safe” for users or what might endanger Apple’s relationship with carriers like AT&T – is simply wrong-headed. The reason we love platforms like the Mac is that they have empowered us to express ourselves freely. And having seen the power of the Mac as a platform over the years, I’d be disingenuous not to point out that the iPhone has lost a big part of that soul.
The good news is, complaining and whining and griping can be productive. Tweetie, a powerful Twitter app that was censored because it might expose users to profanity on the open Web service, did make its way to the store after massive public outcry.
So, as I say, I don’t rant just because I like the sound of my own typing. I hope that the rest of you will join in, and it’ll make a difference.