If Disneyland had kiosks where you could choose from 10,000 food vendors, no one would be making the argument that the food was bland, even if Disney needed to hand-taste each vendor for approval. To continue the analogy, one might say hungry customers would be better off having access to 100,000 un-tasted food vendors. I think for >99.99% of patrons, 10,000 options are quite enough, and the fact that they’re missing out on 90% of their potential choices — the vast majority no doubt repeats of others — is just fine considering someone has actually tasted the 10% and not gotten ill. The fact that there would be a group of snotty cooks out there complaining they can’t get their own flavor of spaghetti and meatballs on the menu wouldn’t enter into anyone’s mind (and rightfully so.)
At least not until one of those “snotty cooks” wins a Pulitzer prize:
Political cartoons, it turns out, can violate Apple’s license agreement with developers, which states that applications, or “apps,” can be rejected if the content “may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic or defamatory.”
Apple alone determines what is objectionable for its online app store, a practice that has come under close scrutiny. In its message to Mr. Fiore in December, the company cited his cartoon’s allusions to torture and to last year’s White House party crashers as examples.
After Mr. Fiore received the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning — and after he mentioned his app’s rejection in an article published on niemanlab.org on Thursday — he was encouraged by Apple to resubmit it. Mr. Fiore did so on Friday morning and is awaiting a response.
The fundamental problem here is that “objectionable” apps, like bad food, is in the eye of the beholder. In a centrally-planned ecosystem, the proprietor gets blamed for every aspect of the customer experience. And so reviewers are going to reject offerings that will offend any portion of its customer base—even if those same products would have been extremely popular with other customers. So you only get bland food and inoffensive apps.
And the problem tends to get worse over time. Last year, Apple got blamed for approving a tasteless but basically harmless “baby shaker” app. Incidents like this push bureaucracies to be increasingly timid and conservative. If an Apple app reviewer approves an app that proves controversial, he might get in trouble with his boss. In contrast, if he rejects an app that some users would have liked, the users will in most cases never find out what they’re missing. At least until the app author wins a Pulitzer prize and makes the whole approval bureaucracy look ridiculous.