Fear And Loathing In the App Store 12 - Apple Punishes IFixit
Fear And Loathing In the App Store 12 - Apple Punishes IFixit
Written by Mike James   
Tuesday, 06 October 2015

The closed world of the app store gives the company that controls it great power and with it comes a great temptation to use it as a weapon. Apple have welded the app store weapon very efficiently and banned iFixit's app, even though there is nothing wrong with the app itself. 

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iFixit makes a habit of taking hardware to pieces to find out how easy it is to fix and provides guidance on how to fix things based on the information the team gets from the teardown.

Recently iFixit took an Apple TV and a Siri Remote to pieces. The TV was sent to a iFixit's developer account as one of the many that Apple are shipping to try to interest programmers in creating apps for it. IFixit took the opportunity to look at the insides of the beast. 

A few days later...

"we got an email from Apple informing us that we violated their terms and conditions—and the offending developer account had been banned. Unfortunately, iFixit’s app was tied to that same account, so Apple pulled the app as well. Their justification was that we had taken “actions that may hinder the performance or intended use of the App Store, B2B Program, or the Program.”

 

At this point you can take the attitude that iFixit deserves this punishment in that it did break the terms of the Non Disclosure Agreement and published details of the hardware that Apple had provided them under the NDA. This isn't at issue - they done wrong!

If a company agrees to accept an Apple TV for free before a commercial version is available and accept the NDA, then, in most cases and without an exceptional reason, it should honor it. 

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The slightly disturbing point is that revoking iFixit's developer account automatically revokes its iOS app and removes it from the app store.

The app has no problems, even though iFixit says:

"The app that Apple pulled was outdated, and iOS 9 introduced some major bugs into the system. Fixing them would require a substantial rewrite to a bunch of iOS 4-era code." 

That is, the app passed the requirements of the app store and yet isn't available to actual or potential users.

There obviously isn't much that iFixit can do to get the app back in the app store. There's no point in doing the work to improve it and then resubmit because it isn't the app that Apple is objecting to. 

The removal of the app is essentially Apple's punishment of  iFixit and the users who are inconvenienced are collateral damage:

"You might have noticed that there’s no longer an iFixit app in the Apple’s App Store. We are sorry for anyone this has inconvenienced."

Should Apple have so much power that it can remove a perfectly good app?

The principle here seems clear cut - the devs broke the rules and got kicked out, app and all.

But there are some subtle shades of grey here. 

Is the app store about protecting the user from poor quality apps and providing a safe place to acquire apps that make the hardware more useful. 

After all the app store is the alternative to a free unregulated app market where anyone could offer apps for the device, complete with malware if that was their intent. The only real justifications for moving away from a free market is to establish a quality guarantee for users and generally make the device eco system better - while taking a cut of the profits. 

The iFixit app was a suitable app to be included in the app store, but it is excluded as punishment to its originators. This makes the app store much more like a mechanism to control what developers do in the wider world. It is a first step on a road that sees Apple banning apps because programmers reverse engineered some code, misused some copyright material. wrote a bad review or made a critical comment. 

The closed app store should not be used as a punishment mechanism for programmers who break rules that aren't directly applicable to the way apps in the store work. The app store should be about the quality of the apps.

What Apple should have done is exactly what it would have done had it not had control of the apps store. It should have revoked the right to participate in future trials that involved NDAs and perhaps pursued any legal conditions in the NDA that was broken. 

iFixit seems to have accepted the situation and its punishment:

"In the meantime, we will continue to support our Android app, which includes native guide creation. And you can always access repair guides and troubleshooting help from any mobile device (including iDevices) on our mobile site."

How long before Apple wants to ban its mobile web site? Perhaps they could just add it to an ad-block list?

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