updated 08:50 pm EDT, Tue June 30, 2009
App Store review policies
Apple has reversed its rejection of Metaversal Studios' "Hot Dog Down a Hallway" app for the iPhone, while rejecting egrev.lab's "15 with Soviet Leaders" puzzle game. An update to Hot Dog Down a Hallway was recently rejected by Apple for "explicit content," despite the approval of earlier versions that were even given an age rating of nine and up on the App Store.
Apple's review team initially may have been unaware of the sexual innuendo, although the developer argues that the app does not include any sexually-explicit content. After a second review, Apple approved the title without changing the rating.
"Apple seems to be sorting out their approval process," said Alec Shobin, Metaversal's executive producer. "The inconsistent system made any kind of application development a total crapshoot. Now it's finally the iPhone users' decision which games they download and enjoy."
While a number of developers have received a second consideration and reversal from Apple, others remain frustrated and confused by the App Store review policies. Egrev.lab claims its app was rejected in just one day, after Apple concluded it "contains content that ridicules public figures."
The app in question is a variation of the popular fifteen-puzzle containing numbered square tiles. One of the tile spaces is left empty, enabling users to slide the pieces around until they are ordered correctly. In the case of 15 with Soviet Leaders, the tiles are arranged to show portraits of historical figures such as Vladimir Lenin and Mikhail Gorbachev.
The portraits do not appear to be altered in any way, and the app does not contain any plot other than moving numbered tiles. The interface shows what appears to be simulated wood with a few hammer-and-sickle symbols.
"We've never even thought of ridiculing anybody, especially the people who ruled our own state for years," says developer Kirill Egerev. "Our intention was to create a game that reminds the player of all those people and years they were heading our country. This rejection looks like a specific Apple reviewer's aversion towards soviet theme[s] and symbolism."
Considering the availability apps featuring images of U.S. leaders, it is easy for the developer to see a bias in the App Store review process. Many developers feel Apple is extremely subjective with its approach, while the SDK terms leave too much room for interpretation.
The uncertainty has even been costly for some companies, with money wasted on development and pre-release marketing. After spending many months and marketing dollars awaiting an approval that never came, FreedomVoice created a petition asking Apple to clarify its policies, expand the definitions and list of factors involved in the review process, provide more detail on status of submissions and explain detailed reasons for rejection.