Should Apple loosen its restrictions on how App Store apps are promoted?

It's rumored that Apple sent Newsday a cease and desist letter regarding its iPad app commercial. Shawn Morton asks: How much control should Apple have on how iPad and iPhone apps are promoted?

It seems that just about every company in the world has an iPhone or iPad app. Many of these companies are spending big money to create and promote their app, and some of those companies depend on their apps to generate new business or revenue.

Unfortunately, all of that effort and expense could go to waste if you upset Apple in the process of promoting your app. At least that's the rumor that surfaced last week after Newsday created a commercial to promote its new iPad app.

After the commercial became somewhat of a viral hit, it mysteriously started to vanish from sites like YouTube. NetworkWorld quoted a source at Newsday who said, "We have taken the commercial 'Flypaper' down and its short, glorious run appears to be over."

The following day, the same NetworkWorld reporter received an anonymous email from someone claiming to be a Newsday employee that said: "Newsday got a cease and desist letter threatening all of our apps, if we did not remove the commercial immediately. They took exception to the fact that the (iPad) glass shattered into large jagged pieces ... Your instincts are correct."

The same company that poked fun of rival Microsoft for years in its Mac vs. PC ads will apparently cry foul if it doesn't like how you portray its products or brand. And unlike the Mac vs. PC ads, where it was a direct attack on a competitor's product, the premise of the Newsday "Flypaper" commercial actually showed the iPad as the successor to the printed newspaper. That's a pretty surprising move from the 11th largest newspaper in the U.S.

And this isn't the first time that this has happened. A few months ago, when Ellen Degeneres did a parody of the iPhone, Apple allegedly pressured her to issue an apology. According to Ellen, they took exception to her claiming the iPhone is difficult to use.

What are companies developing iPhone or iPad apps to do?

Whether the rumor of Apple threatening to pull Newsday's apps is true or not, Apple can shut your company out of the App Store if it doesn't like your app or how you advertise it.

Earlier this month, when Apple revealed its App Store Review Guidelines, they playfully mentioned that there were enough fart apps, so don't bother submitting more. However, what if they determine that some other category of apps isn't App Store-worthy? Here is what Apple said:

"We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store. We don't need any more Fart apps. If your app doesn't do something useful or provide some form of lasting entertainment, it may not be accepted.

If your App looks like it was cobbled together in a few days, or you're trying to get your first practice App into the store to impress your friends, please brace yourself for rejection. We have lots of serious developers who don't want their quality Apps to be surrounded by amateur hour.

We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, 'I'll know it when I see it.' And we think that you will also know it when you cross it."

The Apple App Store gives you a lot of potential exposure. But, as the number of apps grows into the hundreds of thousands, your app has less chance of standing out. In order to raise awareness of their apps, companies like Newsday turn to producing TV spots. And like the cost of building an app, the investment in a TV spot is just as significant.

A developer's perspective

We asked TechRepublic Programming and Development blogger Justin James to share his thoughts on this story. Here's his take:

"I've been cautioning developers against committing to any one mobile platform for some time, and Apple's capriciousness and control of the App Store is a large part of that. In this case, Apple is using their power over the App Store to control the content of marketing collateral from a fairly major company. Apple has been able to get away with this, both legally and in the marketplace. If you commit to just one vendor, your entire revenue is dependent upon that vendor. Even on an "open" platform like Android, alternative application markets have not really caught on, so the vendor still has substantial leverage over application developers. Developers looking to protect their revenue streams from these blackmail attempts should either be willing to commit to writing different versions of their applications, or use cross platform tools to create their applications."

Weigh in

So does Apple's approach make you think twice about pouring a lot of time and money into developing an iPhone/iPad app or a marketing campaign to support it? (You can download the App Store Marketing Guidelines PDF.) Or do you think that Apple is justified in its approach? After all, it has built one of the biggest, most beloved brands, and don't they have the right to protect that? Does the development of HTML 5, which lets you create rich, app-like experiences, make you less likely to build native apps, whether for iPhone or Android, at all?

There is no right answer, but it is definitely something to consider if you are making a significant investment in mobile.