Yesterday, I talked about two complaints of music developers writing applications for the iPhone. These come from developers who are really iPhone fans, who just want to get their software released and (for many music devs) better categorized on Apple’s store. Pajamahouse Studios, maker of the new Sonorasaurus remix application, follow up with a more detailed explanation of their situation.

These are not rejections; at least rejections are generally accompanied with some sort of suggestion of what would need to be changed. They represent the dreaded iPhone developer “limbo,” in which an application is neither rejected nor approved. For Sonorasaurus, that’s been the state of affairs for over two months. As the developers explain, there seems to be nothing unusual about their app:

  • Library access: It doesn’t access the iPhone/iPod music library. (no application is allowed to do that, which incidentally limits a lot of the DJ app possibilities of the device) Clarification: The status of the music API itself is unclear; some developers report just this sort of approval delay when trying to use it. [Source] Also, access to files inside the media library is not directly possible, which can be compared to the status of Android.
  • File access: A separate http server is provided, with a parallel library, for users to store their own tracks – again, something found on numerous other approved applications. This doesn’t use the included library.
  • Included music / music distribution: Five included songs are for testing only – something found in a number of other, similar applications that have been approved. The application is not an alternative to iTunes for distribution.
  • Media decoding: Custom MP3 decoding technology – something not provided on the iPhone – was separately licensed. Clarification: This was not meant to imply that you can’t do MP3 decoding; the developers meant to make the point that they were not violating patents or licensing by using their own decoding, which presumably they did for the purposes of building a DJ app.

Of course, whatever the reason, we’ve seen in past applications suddenly approved after weeks or months, so who knows what will actually happen with this app.

Read the full explanation:

In Limbo Pt. 1 [Sonorasaurus]

While reading that, though, I also have to observe how significant these workarounds are. Without launching into an Android versus iPhone debate – believe me, there are many, many things to criticize about the Android as a platform, especially relative to music –  none of these is an issue on the Android. Forget platform wars or fanboys. Alternatives are good. I’d hope that we do have more than one approach to how to do this. These approaches should have to compete with one another, as they offer different tradeoffs and advantages.

If music is becoming an application, this kind of freedom is important.

Point by point:

  • Library access: Android’s standard, supported APIs provide access to the media library and user playlists. Clarification: this includes direct access to the files and the ability to read from the buffer of these files (with some effort), in public, documented, approved APIs, with no chance of having an app rejected for the use of these APIs. My understanding is that this is not exactly the case on the iPhone.
  • File access: Users are free to put files on their SD card over USB, and off-load those files – neither possible on iPhone. And yes, these will be integrated with the media library; iTunes-style sync isn’t necessary.
  • Included music / music distribution: Including songs is actually a bit of a challenge, but you can freely download content and store it on the SD card. Because Google doesn’t have an equivalent of iTunes, that includes creating your own alternative distribution methods – meaning a label or music store can do make their own outlet.
  • Media decoding: Decoding technology is included on the phone, including the ability to decode the open OGG Vorbis format. Clarification: Some folks read this to mean that the iPhone can’t decode MP3s, which was not what I intended; the key point here is that Android has in-box support for free formats and byte-level access to the audio buffers they give you, by default, straight out of the user’s media library. That is not entirely the case on iPhone.


More mobiles means more different ideas about how to distribute music and creative applications. Photo (CC) Jose A. Gelado.

Beneath all of this is the major fundamental difference, which is that you can install applications for Android whether or not they’ve been approved for Android. There’s actually a checkbox in the Market that allows you to opt into installing other apps you’ve downloaded directly from a developer or from another source.

Again, I don’t mean to make a pro-Android argument. In fact, I believe many of these items are also true on Windows Mobile, Symbian, and upcoming Linux platforms; I just happen to be working on Android now, so I’m more familiar with it.

What’s important is that this represents an alternative approach to how to provide music as an application, one in which the user is free to load content on and off the device.

Specifically, this paragraph jumped out at me:

Another problem would be that Apple could see this as a means to circumvent iTunes as a means to sell and distribute music. This we also addressed. These songs can only be used within the App. They can not be removed from the app / device for use elsewhere (iTunes on the desktop, burning to a CD, etc).

Now, we hear from many developers that the iTunes integration is something that attracts them to the platform. Likewise, many content creators will want just these sorts of restrictions.

But what if you want fewer restrictions? Let’s say you’re an artist releasing Creative Commons-licensed tracks, and you want to encourage remixing, sampling, modification, and free use of your tracks. Or what if you’re a label or artist collective, and want to experiment with new ways of using mobile for distribution, beyond what’s possible with iTunes and Apple’s stores? The same qualities that may attract someone else should, I think, concern you. I don’t think that necessarily means you shouldn’t write an iPhone application with your music, but perhaps you should also consider trying an alternative platform.

There seems to be a growing sense that the iPhone Way is The Only Way. Obviously, that’s not the case. This very debate demonstrates just how much room for interpretation the distribution of content can produce.