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Handheld Games speaks out on App Store certification process

CEO hopes for change in Apple's certification process he can believe in
Product: iPhone | Publisher: Apple | Format: iPhone
iPhone iPhone, thumbnail 1
When VP of Product Marketing Greg Joswiak trumpeted the 96 per cent approval rate for titles submitted to the App Store on Tuesday morning (PST), it was the first time Apple publicly acknowledged growing criticism of its certification policy.

According to Joswiak, 4 per cent of the applications submitted to Apple during its last full month - February - were rejected.

One company that's been rejected is Handheld Games, for its appĀ honouring the oratory of President Barack Obama entitled Yes We Can!

CEO Thomas Fessler, who has worked in portable gaming for two decades, contacted us on Monday morning following our analysis of Apple's worrisome certification policies.

While none of the developers we approached before the publication of that article were willing to go on the record with their stories, Fessler reached out in the hopes of putting pressure on Apple to change their process. The fear of having future apps intentionally rejected has prevented small shops from vocalising opposition to the company's vague policies.

Fessler, who made a point of highlighting his support for the App Store as an exciting platform for games distribution, expressed frustration and dismay at what he regards the unreasonable rejection of one of Handheld Games's apps.

The title depicts a stylised President Barack Obama reciting inspirational passages from speeches given during the 2008 US presidential campaign. You can see what it's about by watching the YouTube video at the bottom of this article.

It was rejected. Twice. Apple sent Fessler a letter of rejection a week after the game had been submitted stating that it was ineligible for publication on the App Store because it was "ridiculing a public figure."

Fessler recounts receiving the notice passionately. "It was a form letter that said we violated a vague section of the platform guidelines and that we were ridiculing Obama."

Without being given any indication as to what elements of the app Apple found unacceptable, Fessler instructed a reworking of the title to be resubmitted. "We had to assume the rejection was because of the size of Obama's head," he says. Handheld Games re-sized the portrait of President Obama and sent the tweaked app back to Apple.

It was summarily rejected a second time.

Fessler pressed Apple for specific information regarding the decision in the hopes of changing whatever it was that the company found offensive. Two months later, he's still awaiting a reply. "I have no problem with following the guidelines established to publish on any platform. We just need to know what the rules are."

The criteria Apple uses for adjudicating apps are nothing short of nebulous: what qualifies as objectionable, what is deemed to ridicule?

While Handheld Games's app has been accused of "ridiculing a public figure," Apple has put the stamp of approval on Zit Picker's portrayal of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton covered in pimples. The company also allows use of the President's full name in several sliding puzzle apps and even granted StreetBall the option to feature President Obama among its roster of basketball players.

How, then, can Apple define Handheld Games's app as ridicule? "We aren't ridiculing Obama. We're trying to honour the President."

Fessler points to the app's use of the President's rhetoric as indicative of the desire to honour him, not ridicule him. He argues the app is trying to commemorate historic speeches. "I want to do a similar apps to recognise other public figures, but I'm hesitant to move forward."

Considering that Handheld Games spent over $10,000 developing the app, his hesitance to move forward is understandable. Fessler calls on Apple to "be clear on standards," so that Handheld Games and thousands of other iPhone developers don't have to go through the same experience.

The company's first public acknowledgement of the number of rejected apps shows it is listening. It's a step in the right direction that will hopefully continue down the path of fixing a vague, unfair system. Until that occurs, we encourage developers to speak out.

Reviewer photo
Tracy Erickson 18 March 2009
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