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I started reading Garrett Murray's post about his annoyances with the way the iTunes App Store works, and I have to say, it's made me way more pissed off at Apple and the way they handle App Store submissions than I ever imagined.

Yes, in writing this post, I realize what a marvelous piece of work the iPhone platform is and how the runaway success of the App Store means that it's definitely doing a lot of things right. The thing is, most of that is from the customer's point of view. From the developer's standpoint, regardless of how many times Apple tells me that the App Store takes away all the pain of marketing and distributing my app, I have to say that this is not the way I want to be doing it.

What stirred all this poison? An email I got from Apple yesterday telling me that version 2.0 of Qingwen has been rejected because of two reasons: one is a minor bug that I've fixed and that the email did not even have accurate reproduction steps for, but the second is the one I'm pissed off about. Apparently, they've "reviewed Qingwen Chinese Dictionary and determined that [they] cannot post this version of [my] iPhone application to the App Store because it contains objectionable content and is in violation of Section 3.3.12 from the iPhone SDK Agreement which states 'Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple's reasonable judgement may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users.' Please refer to the attached screenshots." Here are the screenshots they sent me:


I hope you're looking at the screenshots and thinking something along the lines of "you've got to be kidding me". I'm sorry, did I mention it's a dictionary? Dictionaries have words, all sorts of words, including, yes, swear words like "fuck" and also words like "penis", which of course is such a lewd word that I should be smited (well, technically, smitten) for having included it in Qingwen? And all of this somehow falls under their so-called "reasonable judgment".

It's hard for me to imagine precisely who Apple is trying to "protect" by keeping these words off the iPhone. But that's not even the right question to ask. My question is, can they keep these words off the iPhone? Of course not! As is clear from the screenshots, Qingwen doesn't bombard you with words like "cock" and "penis" the moment you start it up. No, the Apple employee who took those screenshots specifically searched for those words. As far as I'm concerned, it's the same thing as opening a website that contains swear words (like the page you're reading, for instance) on the iPhone. If they don't want Qingwen on the iPhone because it can show you "objectionable material", then why allow Safari, Mail, YouTube and pretty much any other app, which can easily show you all sorts of even more "objectionable material"?

But that's not all. First of all, Qingwen 1.0 contained most of the words they've pointed out in those screenshots as objectionable and it's on the App Store right now! In fact, it's been downloaded more than 20,000 times since it came out earlier this year. Not only that, but every competing app I know of contains all these same words and these apps are all out on the store gathering downloads. Meanwhile, Qingwen is stuck on what is now a completely outdated version 1.0, not because of some hairy bug that I haven't fixed, but because of some bullshit company policy.

Here I am sitting with this idiotic email from Apple, while users are going on the App Store, giving Qingwen bad ratings and writing it bad reviews, and I have this new version of the app that addresses nearly all of their issues and more just sitting on its ass. And this is another chord that Murray's post struck with me. Loads of "customers" on the App Store are just complete asses. They download your app, don't even bother playing around with it for five minutes or contacting the developer, but instead go and post a negative review on the App Store, talking about missing features that are not even in the list of new features in version 2.0 because they're there already in version 1.0! And it's for this reason that I am no longer going to be distributing Qingwen for free. It was an app that I made for my own use and thought it'd be nice if other people also got to use it, but you know what, I'm done dealing with all the freeloading jerks whose only job is to make my day worse. From now on, if they want to bitch about it, they at least have to pay me first. And for those who feel it's an app they like and is worth having, well maybe it wouldn't hurt for them to dish out about the same amount of money as it takes to buy a Crunch bar.

Anyway, that's enough raging for today. I want to end the post on a lighter note because, really, overall Qingwen has been a great thing for me. Not only is it my first real-world app, but it's also been way more successful than I ever imagined. As I mentioned, it's had over 20,000 downloads last I checked, and that's way, way more than I ever expected to have in its entire lifetime. Also, if you visit Qingwen on the App Store, you'll see that most people have written extremely gracious reviews and it's a great feeling to see other people appreciating what you've made even more than you yourself do. Reading these reviews and watching the downloads counter is a bit like an addiction–I want more and more happy users–and for Qingwen 2.0 I've added at least a couple of significant features that I don't really use myself but which others have requested. And that is something that I wasn't expecting to do at all when I starting developing it, because I kept telling myself it's an app made only to suit my needs and mine alone. This is all the more reason as to why I wanted Qingwen 2.0 to make it to the App Store as soon as possible, because this is really the first release that I've actually developed more for my users than for myself. So, I do hope Apple gets a little smarter about this whole process, and soon.

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  • This whole App Store relation with the developers comes across as, like you said, "you've got to be kidding me".

    All those words they find offensive, they're there in the shipping Dictionary.app in Mac OS 10.5, and for good reason too. It's a dictionary for crying out loud! Maybe the reviewer should've checked the meaning of a dictionary before reviewing you app.

    Congrats on finishing and shipping (on your part) 2.0!
  • I'm not sure why they've changed their behaviour since iPhone OS 2.0. I remember 'f**k' was a word that the iPhone's auto-correction dictionary supported before 2.0. If I reset the dictionary on my 2.x device, I immediately see the auto-correction suggestion 'duck' for the word.

    Dictionary.com's app requires network access if users want to access everything they would find on a real dictionary. The other $3.99 'Dictionary' app that uses only a built-in word database doesn't have the word.

    If this censorship is for the benefit of kids then they should allow apps to use the Restrictions feature on the OS(is this allowed already?).

    This is just the beginning. I wonder how long this manual approval process is going to continue. I think there will be a saturation point where they will have to open up the App Store.
  • As I sit here waiting on my own v2.0 release (the longest wait I've had since August 2008), the only words that come to mind reading your post are expletives. How many of us have dictionaries based on CC-CEDICT in the AppStore with all of those same entries? That's not to mention all of the other dictionaries based on whatever source that likely have the same entries.

    What's your plan? Are you going to censor the entries or resubmit and hope you get a sane reviewer?
  • Well all I have to say is that you have done some fine work with your app and I am sad that apple doesn't see that. I bout a palm a year ago for $150 and student edition Pleco dict for like $90, just so I can have the functionality you have in your app. I could have bought a touch AND your software for way less. Keep up the good work and don't let the app store keep you down!
  • I was wondering why this wasn't free anymore and now I know. But I am going to buy it anyway because it sounds to be the best and looks like you put lots of work into it!

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