Apple Demanding Fewer “Cookie Cutter” Applications

Following Apple’s decision to remove a wide swath of sexy/adult-oriented applications from the App Store, the company is also apparently culling “cookie cutter” applications/applications built using templates from one of the many app-building services on the market.

According to TechCrunch, the consensus according to developers interviewed appears that Apple doesn’t appear to be opposed to ‘app generators’ and templates per se, but in the last month or so it has started cracking down on basic applications that are little more than RSS feeds or glorified business cards. Apple apparently doesn’t want people using native applications for things that a basic web app could accomplish.

Unlike the ’sexy’ app ban that took place a few weeks ago, when Apple gave developers no options to keep their apps on the store, over the last month the company has been reaching out to at least a few app building services to suggest what they should be doing.

Despite all this, the founders of Appmakr, which has been used by publications such as The Atlantic to build iPhone apps, say that the process has yielded some positive results. Following suggestions from Apple, Appmakr implemented new tools such as in-app purchases, instant notifications, offline access, and landscape viewing modes to their app templates. Another developer mentioned that they might include a tip calculator for restaurant apps. Appmakr’s hope (and one that I’m sure is shared by other developers) is that applications generated using their tools will eventually be given an accelerated path through the App Store’s approval process, because Apple is familiar and happy with the kind of apps they produce.

Still, other developers have stated that Apple hadn’t been as accommodating with them and it’s been speculated that developers offering basic templates have been hit the hardest. Even so, developers have only said they’ve heard about Apple blocking newly submitted applications and that there wasn’t an indication that Apple is going back and removing all of the overly-basic apps they can find.

As to why Apple may be doing this, Medialets CEO Eric Litman offered the following opinion regarding the situation:

This is the ongoing balance point between encouraging innovation and growth on one side and wanting to tightly control user experience on the other. Apple wants iPhone apps to be superior to Web experiences because they are extremely sticky and drive people specifically to buy the iPhone over competing smartphone platforms. Apps that are too simple or largely indistinguishable from the Web, other apps or particularly other apps on other platforms send the message to end users that the iPhone app ecosystem might not be particularly special.

Now the challenge for Apple is that the app building platforms are extremely attractive to a wide swath of the market that would otherwise be reluctant to bear the cost and complexity of developing an app from scratch. We have already seen apps from personal bloggers up to major media brands using some of these platforms, and many of the folks in that spectrum have content Apple would certainly want in the App Store. Interestingly, some of those same developers also have fully custom-built apps in the App Store, too.

So what are the platforms to do about the recent crackdown from Apple? There’s really only one choice if they want to continue to exist on the iPhone: invest in building out considerably more flexibility into their platforms to allow each app to differ from the others they build. Integrate more features and take the time to nail the design and UI elements to be representative of what Apple wants to see in every app.

For better or worse, Apple will be looking more closely at apps from the platforms than from individual developers. AppLoop, the first startup to announce and iPhone-specific app builder, is already gone. Others will almost certainly follow.

Like any major change, this could have both an upside and a downside, perhaps removing spam-esque apps while scaring developers to differentiate their products. Even so, it could lead to some developers being hesitant to build a business around the iPhone, especially if Apple’s criteria could change on a whim and without warning.

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