A powerful DJ application for your iPhone or iPod touch may be a tantalizing prospect. But several would-be candidates aren’t available to you yet. Why? They’re languishing in Apple’s approval process, with no sign of whether they’ll be released or not.

For all the success of Apple’s App Store, some developers and users continue to express frustration at what they believe is a sluggish, unpredictable approval process, restrictive Apple policies, and Apple’s complete control over distribution and categorization. That now leads to two complaints from music developers. A number of music developers want more delineation from Apple’s categories, so that the flood of general music apps don’t drown out powerful, creative tools. Meanwhile, developers of DJ applications claim that Apple is discriminating against DJ apps, which they say has led to delays without explanation.

“Open” development is relative, without question. Game system makers require developers to prove to them why they should be “allowed” to create titles, leading to a tightly-controlled stream of approved titles. But the success of Apple’s relatively open development model has prompted many software creators to hunger for greater freedom. I’ve increasingly heard people enthusiastic about the more flexible distribution model on Google’s Android (and other Linux) platforms, which allow users to install apps they want. I even moderated a mobile music platform panel at the CMJ music conference at which a Verizon representative, no less, talked about wanting to be more open to applications. The benchmark was Apple, for being perceived as overly restrictive.

iPhone/iPod touch developers, however, aren’t simply ranting against Apple. They’re complaining because they’re enthusiastic about the App Store. They want changes from Apple and believe there’s potential to get what they want. That said, I think they also illustrate potential for rivals like Google to outdo Apple – assuming those rivals invest more time and effort into courting these kind of applications.

Is Apple Blocking DJ Apps?

First, some developers believe that Apple is intentionally blocking DJ applications from being approved. Whether intentional or not, a number of potentially ground-breaking applications are unavailable after a significant delay. Kasabian Kasabianmeister writes:

Apple is deliberately not allowing DJ apps to the App Store

Something really strange is going on with the Apple review team. They now seem to approve all kinds of applications, even the ones that have been previously considered "unacceptable", but there is one kind of applications that are simply kept "in review" stage for months without any explanation.

These are the DJ applications that have been developed with the idea to give the user the ability to mix his own MP3 tracks on the iPhone. Currently, there is no application in the AppStore that has such functionality. Of course, this wasn’t left unnoticed by the developers, but…

At least 3 applications: Touch DJ (www.amidio.com), Sonorasaurus (www.sonorasaurus.com), DJ Player (www.djplayer.fm) are not being approved since the beginning of September, hitting the 2-month "in review" mark. One of the developers even made a video voicing the frustration over the absolutely unacceptable behaviour of Apple:

What is really weird and unprofessional, Apple doesn’t give any reasons whatsoever what is the reason of such delays. The developers are just told to "wait" without any explanations.
Meanwhile, the demand for the DJ apps is so high that people even started an online petition entitled "Apple, Allow DJ apps on the iPhone!":

One of the reasons for such attitude could be that Apple is working on its own DJ app, or is waiting for a DJ app from a "senior" player and keeping the possible "competitors" aside. In any case, it is quite possible that we will know the real reason soon.

It’s worth noting that, in the past, Apple’s application process has simply proved to be inconsistent and slow, which can cause people to see intention where there is none. But that doesn’t necessarily excuse Apple’s App Store approval process. The iPhone and iPod touch are popular largely because of Apple’s success at making media playback devices. Apple needs to document what it views as acceptable use of these devices. In the absence of information, developers are jumping to their own conclusions, possibly accurately, possibly not.

Obviously, aside from interest in Apple’s policies, I’m sure many iPhone and iPod touch owners are eager to see these applications, so we’ll certainly be following them to see if any are released.

In other rejection news… The App Store is currently just letting these DJ apps languish in limbo rather than providing a rejection. But another significant set of rejections is game titles built with the Unity game engine. There, the issue appears to be the presence of support in the engine for a private API call from Apple, whether or not the title itself uses the API, and …uh, yeah, that one’s complicated. Updated TUAW tells us via Twitter that Unity developers say they’ve fixed that issue, so… move along, nothing to see here.

Do Music Apps Need Better Categorization?

One potential danger of having a centralized store like iTunes and the App Store is giving control of approval to a single company (Apple), as seen in the DJ apps. The other is that such a storefront will simply not be categorized in a way that allows people to discover apps successfully.

Apple has been roundly praised for creating a store that encourages people to consume apps. Now, some developers want Apple to tweak their categorization to allow some of the most creative applications to stay in the forefront. Over the summer, Jokton Strealy, maker of the excellent songvoo music collection management tool, issued a call to fellow developers to try to get better categorization from Cupertino.

Side note: songvoo is just the sort of app that critics of the App Store might assume would be impossible. It replaces the existing playback functionality of the iPod and iPhone, the sort of replacement app that has sometimes earned rejection from Apple. Evidently, if an application is differentiated enough, it can clear Apple’s approval hurdles. (On the other hand, inconsistent policy and overzealous restrictions are at the center of some of those criticisms.)

But Strealy has no complaints about the App Store itself or the approval process. He just wants a more intelligently-organized store. Here’s his open letter from the summer, which has since earned a lot of support from fellow developers:

Recently, the Music section of the App store has gotten very busy with a new type of app — let’s call them Artist Apps or Fan Apps. Some of these Apps are great resources for fans and artists reaching out to their fans and potential fans, and some don’t live up to their potential.

However, they are joining a category that previously moved a lot slower, as the apps that had been populating this category were apps with a lot of development put into them and therefore sold at a higher tier usually- but were released at a slower pace. A look at the top 100 paid music apps illustrates this nicely.

Customers perusing the music section to catch that next great sound generating tool (for example), could check in on the new releases section perhaps once a week or even once a month and have the opportunity to check out all the great new apps that had been released, without worrying that one was missed.

Now however, these newer Artist apps have flooded this category, and great apps are getting lost in the shuffle. On one day last week, there were 21 pages of Artist or Fan apps, with a few "other" apps strewn in the mix here and there, very hard to pick out of the jumble.

I understand that this may be happening in other categories for other reasons, but I only concentrate on the Music section since I am a music producer and music App writer.

I propose that we all get together to come up with some suggested sub-category names for the music category. I will start the list off and hopefully some of you will chime in and give suggestions for other categories or add more definition to a sub-category that is already here.

Once enough input is received, I will compile it into one bug report for Apple. i will then post the bug# for everyone to include with any correspondence with Apple on this issue.

New sub-categories for the Music section of the App store.

Music Creation:
Synthesizers, drum machines, sound generators, scoring and notation, sequencers, DJ apps, recorders (multi track)

Music Utilities:
Lyrics apps, iPod interfaces, visualizers, iPod controllers, song recognizers, concert finders

Metronomes, guitar and voice tuners, music slow downers, guitar tutors, chord apps,

Artist Apps/Fan Apps:
iLike apps, Deadmau5 app, PVD App, Underworld App, NIN, etc.

Radio Tuners:
AOL Radio, Pandora, Last.fm, individual radio stations

Please visit the Apple iPhone developer forums and voice your opinion/support!

Jokton Strealy., President

If nothing else, the explosion of development for iPhone and iPod touch is prompting some lively discussions about just what development should look like. A lot of what you hear is praise for the Apple model, but I expect some of the criticism of it – even down to minor details – could be productive, as well. I’ll certainly be watching the development of both of these issues, and we’ll see if Apple responds or not.

Updated: Jokton notes an additional change to the way apps are listed.

As for my original issue with categories and release dates, there has been a new development. Apple recently stopped listing “updates” in the “release date” listing of each category. Now the only way to get a listing there (which generates sales) is release a new app (1.0). Before that, devs were releasing constant updates to an app to keep it “on the radar” on the app store, even if the update were a simple as correcting a spelling error or perhaps even faking issues to correct. That in itself created a lot of “update spam”. Many developers are up in arms about these new changes because previously this was the only way to get your app seen by the masses. There has been no official word from Apple on the issue, so it is still unclear if this is a permanent change or some kind of error in the system. If this change is indeed permanent, then the argument for more subcategories is even more important now.

  • This is a real shame. Gavin makes some great software as Circle is one of my favorite synths. The fact that we have to wait for Touch DJ is ludicrous! The thing that bothers me the most is there is no real consistency in how they evaluate apps for the App Store. I am an Iphone developer but I have not submitted anything to the App Store yet. I have heard horror stories from other developers though. Apple is a good company, but i think they need to define more specific guidelines for acceptance and additionally they need to make it easier and faster for the apps to be accepted into the App Store. Google is far better in this respect. Although, I saw they threw some new terms down in last day or so.

    It will be interesting how this all plays out as the platforms get more competitive. Developers will only take so much and if the platforms start to have a pretty even market share, but one company is easier to deal with than another then that's the one developers will probably decide to go to.

    I am already very interested in the prospect of developing on the Android platform.

  • A huge vote in favor of better categorization.

    Even in the past 3 months the landscape of the App Store has changed dramatically to the point where novel apps don't even appear on the radar unless they have a heavily funded PR campaign featuring an all-star parade of rappers.

    The uncertainties of App Store approval make for very difficult marketing. It's apparently quite possible to find oneself with all ones marketing ready to go but nothing to talk about.

  • The more I think about the problem of categorization of mobile music apps the more difficult the problem seems. There are clearly many many apps like the iLike fan series that fall into a class. But the interesting new apps all seem to fall on the lines between the categories.

    On first glance it seems like there's an obvious separation between Fan/Band apps and Production/Creative apps, except that you don't need to look too far to find major exceptions like the Depeche Mode-content version of iDrum or Sonifi or Deadmau5 Mix or even Eno's Bloom.

    Then let's look at Music Education vs. Music Production. Since when is a musical instrument not a music education tool? Maybe they could select "Music Education" apps by choosing only apps that aren't fun.

    Utility like iPod interfaces vs Producer oriented DJ's apps? Where is the distinction?

    It's a problem the entire App Store faces. There's too much in there and the search engine and filters aren't up to the task.

  • Marc

    Last I heard, Apple were planning to launch a tablet computer in November. Think that might have any use for DJs? 🙂 That alone might explain the approval lag.

    And yes, it sucks. Apple's bureaucracy is actually becoming one of the biggest bottlenecks between innovation and the market. 🙁

  • Gavin@FAW

    Hi guys,

    Touch DJ is not from us, our app which is out since February of this year is called Touch Mix. This app seems to be inspired by what we have done. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery as they say!

    I hope it gets through for them, but I think it won't be passed as circumventing iTunes for downloading mp3's onto the iPhone is playing with fire.

  • I wonder when AmidioInc is going to give Apple the finger and put their Touch DJ app in Cydia.

  • I don't particularly want a dj app, but these seem to be benign apps. Unless Apple gives the developers prompt and accurate information on what they need to do, they should just allow them on.

    I think one of the rules they should have for themselves is to reply with accurate information of what needs to happen within 2 weeks for EVERY app. There might be back and forth, but they should have some sort of timeline like that. Otherwise, they are going to get continual blowback on issues like these, and even if it's not true, that can make it look like they are repressing certain technologies, publishers, or programs.

    I would have signed my name on the petition, but I'm not making an account for a random site just to sign a petition.

  • Using an iphone since 1 week, getting mad downloading and testing all music apps, so yes, give us a better categorization.

    About dj app and few stuffs unavaible at apple store, I ve got the bad feeling that Apple is becoming more and more microsoftised, and we don't need that!

    I haven't jailbreaked my iphone, I still don't want to do it cause I'm happy to have access to a huge platform of software & apps for few dollars, give chance to any little developer everywhere in the world, but if the access for them is not fair, why I won't jailbreak my iphone soon?

    So Apple, back again to a more funky attitude and politic, and we ll keep our long friendship together!

    A french dude

  • norand

    come on ,

    stop complaining , first you go with the flow with apple questionnable business model , next you end up crying cause you figured out it is a scam , stop the bs , thanks.

    If you want to be free , develop apps on android period

    what is the purpose of this article ? complaining about a proprietary dev plateform ?

    there are free ones out there , so you made a deal with the devil ? well it will always be a bad deal …

  • EJ

    Yeah, I think giving apps access to a common file system, including the music library, is a logical next step for the platform. Another music use-case: I'm pretty frustrated that my voice memos sit in a walled garden where I have to e-mail them to a home PC to do basic tasks like converting to MP3 or uploading to a website.

    The complaints are valid, but I'll be very surprised if we don't get a major expansion of what devs can do with the iPhone at the next Apple event (early January?). I think history has shows they're keen on expanding the capabilities of the iPhone for both consumers and developers even if the pace of that expansion is sometimes slow.

  • @EJ: But, wait a second here. These are things the device CAN do right now, which developers simply can't publish. The capabilities are there, and Apple's the barrier. Now, as I said, given the past history of some of the rejections, it's sometimes unclear whether rejections are by design or if the approval process itself is just not entirely functioning.

  • Gavin@FAW

    On the DJ apps mentioned above, I agree that there is nothing wrong with these apps, but by Apple letting them through it sets a precedence. Take Sonorasaurus, it uses an online manager for the mp3's you want to play inside the app, circumventing iTunes as the only way to get music onto the iPhone. Now this is benign in itself, but if Apple lets it through then it sets a precedence for Amazon to create a direct competitor for iTunes. This is the reason they are not being approved, I'm sure of that.

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  • Right, but to clarify — as far as I know — these apps are being neither approved nor rejected. They're just in limbo. That has seemed in the past to happen sometimes arbitrarily. This is the advantage of other mobile app publishers simply approving everything, then weeding out anything truly malicious. By taking on the responsibility of approving certain applications, Apple shifts the expectations to their court.

  • Gavin@FAW

    Hi Peter,

    They are in limbo I think because if Apple rejected them they would have to provide a reason. They will do this for Google, like the statement they issued on Google Talk a while back, but for smaller devs its just easier to ignore the applications.

    If you look at it in the cold light of day, the API provides certain functionality for accessing the iTunes library and playing back mp3s. Functionality is missing for a reason and if you start to circumvent this through other means then you run the risk of running into problems, which clearly is the case here.

    In time I think all these things will be resolved, I feel that we are not too far from the app store approval process being removed or at least a two tier system like was rumored before. Adobe are releasing a version of flash that allows existing flash games to be changed slightly and for them then to run native on the iPhone. When this happens the app store approval process will get log jammed, as all those existing games get submitted for approval. Apple know this is coming and I think we will see changes in the way the store works to avoid this coming soon.

  • I agree the damn is near breaking. The Flash apps on the horizon may be the breaking point. No matter what they will certainly change the game (again). Something's going to give… News at eleven.

    As for the app categorization problem, if only there was a company with really good search engine technology that could be used to run an app store with 100,000 products…

  • Nothing against Flash, but I'm actually rather hoping it doesn't catch on. I'd like to see more work happen on the browser/JavaScript/HTML5 side of the equation. Flash is also bound for Android 2.0, and again, it'll be a missed opportunity if everyone just uses that.

    On the other hand, I would like videos and such on *this site* to become visible. So I'm not unhappy about Flash, I just want people to begin to work with these other technologies. Guess I'd better just put my money where my mouth is.

  • LSD 25

    I think that better catagories are overdue in the music section. The large number of Band apps needs a section onto itself. There can be so many band apps in a single day that music apps are pushed down.

    As well the music apps sometimes appear down the list because the date on them seems to be a day or so later than the day they go into the store.

    Running around itunes could be a problem with their music contracts for itunes. Apple I am sure are conserned about getting sued either way accepting or rejecting.

    I hope there are lots of great apps for Android too variety is the spice of life.

  • @LSD 25 – Last week Apple changed their policy with the new releases list. Only new releases will appear on that list now — no updates. There was apparently too much gaming of that list with the update mechanism. But even without the updates that only gives a new app about a day and half on that list in the music category before it's pushed off to the next page.

  • LeeMan

    it is the arrogance that only a market leader could afford. it got 'em in trouble in the 80s and hopefully it will again. but what a business to have; after investing in R&D the cream of the development community pay money for the privilege of being at the mercy of a retailer that then takes 30% of revenue. Megalomania.com!

  • i think all the devs should put their work into the cydia app store… then it would increase the number of people jailbreaking their phones which would end up making apple seriously think about changing the way they are currently doing business.

    ..or they should port to android – which i would welcome with open arms (as would many others, im sure!)

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  • Hello all,

    We just posted a lengthy article on this whole issue / topic. It may also answer some of your questions and clear up some facts.

    You can read it on our blog: http://www.sonorasaurus.com/blog/in-limbo-part-1/

    Also a special thanks to Peter Kim for highlighting this issue.


    Pajamahouse Studios

  • anonymous

    Apple, the solution is simple: have two parallel systems

    1/ approved apps (the current system)

    2/ not approved apps

    Just make it clear to users that not approved apps may destroy your iPhone and your life. GIVE FREEDOM TO YOUR USERS.

  • Gábor

    My DJ app is in review since 30th January.

  • Apparently, TouchDJ was just approved – it's now available in the iTunes store.


  • Gábor

    DJ Player is now approved – available in App Store.