Apple is, for lack of a better word, an unconventional company. And in the past several days, it has apparently decided to take on the conventional wisdom that 'sex sells'.
In a publicly unannounced and unexplained move, several days ago Apple began a mass purge of the App Store. The target: iPhone apps that somebody, somewhere might find a sexual overtone in. From bikinis to ice skating tights to mere silhouettes, Apple is reportedly done with any apps whose purpose is to create "excitement or titillation" -- for both males and females alike.
So far, the number of apps purged is said to be in the thousands, and even includes apps such as Wobble, which itself doesn't contain, as Borat would say, any 'sexytime contents'.
Needless to say, Apple's move has attracted a lot of attention. Apple is obviously free to do what it thinks is in its best interests, and as I've argued before, so long as the App Store delivers an audience and sales, developers will continue to develop for the iPhone.
But Apple's apparent move to ban anything that might be construed as 'sexy' is, for lack of a better word, stupid. Not on moral or practical grounds, but because the App Store is an economy, and economies thrive when producers have a stable environment in which to produce, and in which regulations are clear and consistent. Today, the App Store economy looks unstable, and the regulations are anything but clear and consistent.
Apple's opaque, constantly-changing rules and abrupt changes of them impacts all developers, not just the ones who create apps that are now 'too sexy to sell'. After all, developers invest time and money when building apps, and despite all of the App Store's advantages, the threat that the time and money invested can be lost overnight without warning or explanation may force some developers to reconsider future investments in the App Store.
In my opinion, Apple would be wise to think of the App Store as a sovereign nation, with developers as both citizens and private business owners. They already pay a hefty tax (30%), but since the App Store has the largest (mobile) consumer population, that's the cost of doing business. Now, however, these citizens and private business owners are waking up to find that the government has put them out of business. It's the same dynamic seen when a country nationalizes entire industries on the whim of its leader.
Continuing this analogy, Apple is a resource-rich nation, which means that it has a considerable amount of leverage over private businesses and entrepreneurs who will bend over backwards to gain access to those resources. But there's always a breaking point at which the costs and risks of doing business clearly exceed realistic returns, and private interests in turn walk away. Apple seems hell-bent on finding where that breaking point is.
Apple needs to wake up. It can implement policy decisions without being opaque and leaving developers in the dark. There's absolutely no reason Apple can't make its positions clear and officially announce when there are important changes to them. Hopefully Apple will realize that not everything it does needs to be done in Stalin-like secrecy.
Photo credit: William Hook via Flickr.