Ninjawords and the App Store

On Tuesday John Gruber wrote a fantastic piece regarding Ninjawords, a fast and simple dictionary for the iPhone developed by Matchstick Software.

In the article Gruber suggested that the Ninjawords application had been rejected from the App Store and that the only way the application could be accepted was if several “objectionable words” were removed from the app.

But, when the application reached the App Store it had a 17+ rating, that just didn’t seem right for a censored dictionary.

Wednesday afternoon Gruber received an email from Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller. In the email Schiller explained in a little more detail what actually happened with Ninjawords.

When Ninjawords was first submitted to the App Store ratings were not implemented yet, so if Matchstick Software wanted their application to be approved in its original form (with the “objectionable words”) Matchstick Software would have had to wait until ratings were in the App Store. It would then be approved, receive a 17+ rating and everything would be fine.

But, instead Matchstick software decided to remove the words so that they could launch as soon as possible. Matchstick Software’s Phil Crosby, talking to Gruber, had this to say:

17+ ratings were not available when we launched, which means at that time, it was simply not possible for our dictionary to be on the App Store without being censored. Given the options of censoring or sitting on the side lines while our competitors ate our lunch, we chose to launch.

What’s unfortunate was that in between the time Ninjawords was submitted and when it was available in the App Store, parental controls went live. 17+ was the rating that Ninjawords was given. This rating could be argued, I personally don’t believe it should have been rated 17+, considering that other dictionaries that do contain these “objectionable words” are rated as low as 4+. But, it is nice to know that the application didn’t need to be censored to be approved, the 17+ would have been enough.

But, this incident isn’t just about Ninjawords, it is about Apple’s policies and inconsistencies when reviewing these applications. For now, there isn’t a whole lot we can do about it, but it seems that our complaints may not be falling on deaf ears. In Schiller’s email to John Gruber, he also wrote the following:

Apple’s goals remain aligned with customers and developers — to create an innovative applications platform on the iPhone and iPod touch and to assist many developers in making as much great software as possible for the iPhone App Store. While we may not always be perfect in our execution of that goal, our efforts are always made with the best intentions, and if we err we intend to learn and quickly improve.

Apple may not always get it right, but at least with the App Store they truly intend to right their wrongs.

Update 8/12/09: Phil Schiller has sent out another email in hopes to calm the App Store complaints. This email was sent to Steven Frank and may end his week-long boycott of the iPhone platform. Steven Frank writes this regarding the email:

But to summarize, he said: “we’re listening to your feedback”. Not all of my suggested solutions were viable, he said, but they were taking it all in as they continue to evolve the app store.

He went on to say that the rumors of widespread e-book app rejection I’d heard were false — that specifically one e-book app had been rejected because it facilitated iPhone-to-iPhone sharing of (potentially copyrighted) books. But that otherwise, there was no sweeping ban on e-book readers.

This further solidifies Apple’s commitment to improving the platform and that they are dealing with the public complaints head on.

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