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iPhone Apps Policy Stirs Discontent

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has yet to comment publicly on the recent brouhaha related to charges it's not being consistent in rejecting certain applications from appearing on its iPhone App Store.

The App Store has been phenomenally successful since its launch last July, attracting thousands of developers offering a variety of new applications both paid and free.

CEO Steve Jobs said at the recent launch of new iPods that users downloaded more than 100 million applications from App Store, the e-commerce service that sells applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

But there have been bumps along the way. The saga of Alex Sokirynsky got big play Monday after the New York Times reported Sokirynsky's podcasting application, Podcaster, was rejected by Apple.

He had previously published for the iPhone via Apple's Safari browser without any pushback from Apple. But Safari was Apple's first foray to opening up the iPhone to outside developers; the more restrictive App Store puts Apple in a gatekeeper role, with final responsibility for determining which apps will be allowed to run on the device.

Sokirynsky received notification from Apple that Podcaster was rejected because it "… assists in the distribution of podcasts, it duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes."

Other developers of podcast-related software have also been rejected, despite the fact that Apple has allowed at least two applications in this same category, Diggnation On The Go and Mobility Today, to be published. Earlier this month, Cliff Ravenscraft reported on his blog a copy of the e-mail he got from Apple, which said in part:

"gspn.tv cannot be posted to the App Store, as the App Store is not the appropriate channel for distributing podcasts.

"The iTunes Store has separate categories dedicated to each type of media. Music, podcasts, and movies are delivered through that channel."

With the exception of these rejections to specific developers, Apple to date has made no public pronouncements that applications that competed or overlapped in some way with Apple's would be subject to rejection. Apple has not responded to repeated requests by InternetNews.com for comment.

At the SDK launch in March, Jobs showed a slide that listed the categories of iPhone applications Apple could reject. Those included malware and pornographic content as well as "bandwidth hogs" and "Unforeseen."

Sokirynsky said he remains enthusiastic about the iPhone and would be happy if Apple itself offered an application with the additional capabilities of Podcaster, which he's now offering outside of the App Store. "They make wacky decisions sometimes, but what can you do," Sokirynsky told InternetNews.com. He said he'd be happy if Apple matched his features and then allowed him to compete. "I would have to raise the bar and that would be fine."

Leaving iPhone for Android

Not so happy is Todd Cochrane. The CEO of RawVoice said he's dropping development work on his company's podcasting app for the iPhone, in light of Apple's recent decisions and the uncertainty of knowing if his will be accepted. In an e-mail response to questions sent by InternetNews.com, Cochrane accused Apple of favoritism in allowing some podcasting applications on the App Store while rejecting others.

"We had already spent considerable time and money planning the app, we have stopped and will focus on Android because the risk is not worth it," he said in reference to the forthcoming line of devices based on Google's Android software. The first Android phone from T-Mobile is rumored to be set for release next week.

"It would be fiscally irresponsible of me to spend my company's limited resources in building an application that is worthless unless approved for [the] app store. Apple's ongoing silence should be a wake up call for all iPhone App developers. The odds of getting list is kinda like playing russian roulette."

Matt Murphy, who heads the KPCB $100 million iFund for iPhone developers, defended Apple's actions, but conceded the company's policies and decisions need to continue to evolve. "You can't do everything in a day," Murphy told InternetNews.com. "As you hear and learn things from the developer community, you open up to the next set of things. Apple wants to curate the environment and I think that's a good thing.

"For the most part it's been a light touch, not a heavy touch," he added. "It's a bit dangerous to just open the floodgates and see what happens because you could damage the user experience. When you look at the thousands of applications Apple has already accepted that's a pretty good start and the wave continues."