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7/7/2010
02:34 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Apple Should Charge Developers Per App

Apple's App Store reviewers will refuse to approve apps for the iPhone, iPod, and iPad for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons, like political viewpoint or competing with Apple services, remain controversial; other reasons, such as security concerns, are welcomed by pretty much every iTunes customer. But Apple hasn't been paying close enough attention to application quality.

Apple's App Store reviewers will refuse to approve apps for the iPhone, iPod, and iPad for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons, like political viewpoint or competing with Apple services, remain controversial; other reasons, such as security concerns, are welcomed by pretty much every iTunes customer. But Apple hasn't been paying close enough attention to application quality.It perhaps goes without saying that quite a few of the 200,000+ apps in the iTunes App Store aren't the product of great or innovative programmers.

It's a problem Apple has been trying to address through various purges of adult-oriented apps and through Apple CEO Steve Jobs's refusal to allow Adobe Flash to run on iOS devices. Part of Jobs's dislike of Flash reflects past problems between Apple and Adobe, but part of it is also based on his belief that third-party development frameworks produce substandard apps.

Apple is approaching the problem the wrong way. Quality is not a function of which development tools one uses. While coding in Objective-C, as Apple recommends, may present a higher barrier to entry than third-party tools designed to make development easier, it's perfectly possible to follow all Apple rules and user experience guidelines and still come up with a basically worthless app.

And Apple has been accepting many of those worthless apps.

The consequence of this is a new business model: producing worthless apps and buying them with other people's money, through iTunes accounts that have been compromised or established fraudulently with stolen credit cards. This appears to be what got developer Thuat Nguyen booted from the App Store.

Unauthorized purchases through iTunes have plagued Apple for quite some time. In the consumer complaints about Apple that InformationWeek recently obtained from the Federal Trade Commission, hacked iTunes accounts represented the most common issue. Search for "hacked" or "fraud" on Apple's iTunes Support Forum and you'll find plenty of people dealing with the problem.

The answer for Apple is not more rules. Rather it needs to raise the cost of developing apps. For $99 per year, anyone can be an Apple developer and can submit as many apps as he or she chooses.

Were Apple to impose per-app fee of $25 or $50, perhaps in conjunction to dropping its annual fee to a nominal $10, at least the volume of worthless apps would be reduced.

That won't make every app great, but it will cut down on the garbage and hinder business models that rely on app spam.

Black Hat USA 2010 presents a unique opportunity for members of the security industry to gather and discuss the latest in cutting-edge research. It happens July 24-29, in Las Vegas. Find out more and register.

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