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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.

Patricio Robles

Published 22 February, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (8)

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Gerrard Dennis

We are designer bikini retailer and they removed our app last week without warning. Yes there are pictures of women in bikinis and men in trunks but nothing you cannot see at the pool or beach. It is a ecommerce app, not a sex app, had they even looked at it they would have seen that. The real irony of this is, that the product can now be viewed on the Amazon app via our feed to them. So I assume the Amazon app will be removed shortly?.. I doubt it.

over 6 years ago

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A human not amebea

why do you people assume that we are single cell organisms ? we are not bacteria, everyone has his own values and beliefs. For some people, their religion forbids them from using sex to sell their stuff.

We are different and i guess the one who wrote this post is the one wh must wake up

over 6 years ago

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An iPhone but soon to be Android device owner

Why does Apple think they "need" to censor anything?  It's a device and if they really want to drive people away from their product, they'll continue down this politically-correct, Orwellian path.  At the price of their device, most owners are ADULTS and adults can make their own decisions on morality, thank you very much...

over 6 years ago

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Christopher Rose

It seems Apple has joined AdWords in arrogantly dismissing account holders with precious little thought or explanation.

Is this the tipping point where public and commercial support for these companies starts to swing away from them, what might be called their Microsoft moments?

over 6 years ago

John Braithwaite

John Braithwaite, Managing Director at Ergo Digital

On the one hand, this argument is valid looking at it from the user perspective.

However because of the nature of the medium Apple also have a responsibility to their users in terms of the content accessed as they are fully responsible for both the hardware and software on the platform as well as the distribution.

Not only that, but iPhone and iPod users are NOT all adults, in fact the stats suggest that many are minors - particularly users of the iPod. Not only that, but it's also wrong to assume that all adults think that sexually explicit materials are therefore OK on a site like the Apple Store, just because we're over 18. We all know that there's an adult land-grab going on (has been going on for some time) and therefore the industry will, of course, try everything to recruit 'new members'.

At the same time, it seems that they have been a bit heavy-handed if indeed shops selling swimwear have been barred.

However, I guess it's up to the individual stores to press their cases with Apple. I know it's not easy, and I totally take on board the point about Adwords, but these are very different things IMHO.

over 6 years ago

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Natalie Taylor

Apple can do what they like can't they? it's their business and their image they are managing. It is the case that most of the top apps are often games and 'useful' tools that provide transport information, etc. so I don't see that this is seriously going to affect many legit businesses. They can always run via the million other routes to market that are out there nowadays - big brands like Agent Provocateur, Figleaves, etc. won't suffer and the little guys won't lose out much. In a world where brands can get in serious trouble for peddling sexual imagery I can understand and appreciate Apple's cautious maneuver.

over 6 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

John, Natalie,

I'm not arguing that Apple should permit adult or 'sexual' content. What I am arguing is that Apple would do itself a favor by being transparent about its policies and announcing and implementing them in a more consistent fashion.

over 6 years ago

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Kevin Martin Meteorologist

Apple can do what they want, I do.

over 5 years ago

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