Apple Screws Up Again, Censors iPhone Dictionary App

Update: John Gruber received an e-mail from Apple executive Phil Schiller to clarify Apple's position regarding Ninjawords, and it sounds like the whole brouhaha was a bit of a misunderstanding. Apple claims it never asked the developer to censor; Apple wanted to give it a 17+ rating, but the developer censored the app to get it published on the App Store before Apple implemented iPhone parental controls and ratings on the App Store. Read Gruber's latest post for the full details.

That said, this entire story, and others like it, highlight the need for Apple to be more transparent and establish clear guidlines for what gets published on the App Store.

Our original post follows below:

Just when you thought the iPhone App Store approval process couldn't possibly become more of a debacle, it did. John Gruber of Daring Fireball details the story of Ninjawords, an iPhone dictionary that Apple censored.

You read that right: Apple refused to sell Ninjawords unless the developer removed certain words from the dictionary.

John Gruber describes Ninjawords as "a terrific app — pretty much exactly what I’ve always wanted in an iPhone dictionary," but that, "Ninjawords for iPhone suffers one humiliating flaw: it omits all the words deemed “objectionable” by Apple’s App Store reviewers, despite the fact that Ninjawords carries a 17+ rating." Gruber goes into more detail about the Ninjawords saga, like the fact that it took two months for Apple to finally approve the app for sale.

What's wrong with this picture? What isn't? Okay, I can fully understand Apple for wanting to limit porn on the App Store. And I'm not against Apple reviewing apps in general; after all, the iPhone would make an inviting malware target.

But a dictionary?

As Gruber notes, schoolkids everywhere have access to the dictionary. And, of course, Mac OS X includes a dictionary app that you can use to look up any word you want.

I can think of many people who are offended by farts, porn, and baby-shaking. I can't think of a single person—not one—who is even the slightest bit offended by the dictionary.

Last year, Mac developer Wil Shipley said the following on his blog:

"I think Apple needs to have a clearly-documented policy for approving submissions to the iPhone App Store, and it should be:
Publish all software submitted to Apple, as long as the software isn't actively harmful to users, illegal, and does not violate Apple's agreements with cell phone vendors.
Period."

I couldn't agree more. Apple's role as gatekeeper should be to keep apps that could keep malicious or illegal software off the app store. Apple's role should not be deciding what's offensive. Leave that up to iPhone owners and parents.

If you've been reading this blog long enough, of course, you already know all about jailbreaking your iPhone, thus getting around Apple's restrictions.

So congratulations, Apple. Your App Store approval process has just gone from inconsistent to inane to absolutely ridiculous. You may think you're doing us all a favor, but all you've managed to do is shoot yourself in the foot.

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