A 22-year-old iPhone application developer by the name of Red Daly is claiming that Apple rejected his new application from inclusion in the iTunes App Store due to its political nature. His app, iSinglePayer, was designed to educate its users on the benefits of a single-payer health care system, a hotly debated issue here in the U.S. In addition to data-filled bullet points, the app also taps into the phone's GPS to determine who the user's local congressperson is, how much money the health care sector donated to their campaign, and a "tap to call" button to connect app users with lawmakers.
According to Daly, an Apple representative spoke to him by phone to inform him that the rejection of the app was due to its "politically charged" nature. Well that, and the fact that Apple doesn't allow political apps from single developers.
Where Does Apple Draw the Line when it Comes to Politics?
Apple may understandably want to distance their company from any hot-button political issue such as health care for fear that accepting political applications would damage their image (at least among those with opposing viewpoints). However, in this case it's a matter of them arbitrarily deciding that one political app can't make the cut when many others already did. For example, during Obama's campaign, there was an "official" Obama application which included news, event listings, media, and details on where the candidate stood on various issues. Was that not politically charged? McCain supporters probably thought so.
Daly also notes that Apple currently carries "Drudge Reader," an app that allows for mobile reading of the "The Drudge Report" website. While this is a news-based application, the site is generally regarded as being conservative in tone. So again, this could be considered a politically charged application, especially among those who disagree with Matt Drudge's opinions and views.
So where is Apple drawing the line? Daly says that the app's rejection is, in part, due to the fact that it's a product of a single developer. At least, that's what he claims Apple told him. Apparently, political candidates are allowed to release apps expressing their views, but single developers are not.
Why Not Allow Political Apps?
The real question here is why not? Let's say that Apple approved the application, what would the fallout be? Would those against the views expressed in the app actually refuse to purchase an iPhone or iPod Touch? Would they dump their Apple devices for a politically-neutral Pre, Blackberry, or Google Android smartphone? All but the most excitable zealots would not. In fact, the result would probably be the release of another application from a different developer expressing an opposing viewpoint. Would that be such a bad thing?
Considering how the rejected application's design tapped into the phone's GPS to deliver personalized, localized political information, it could have really set the stage for a slew of grassroots apps that used the mobile platform to rally the public to various causes or issues. Tap to call your congressperson, tap to customize and send an email to your senator, for example. In time, it's likely that both sides of every issue would be properly represented, keeping Apple out of the spotlight as supporting any particular political opinion themselves.
To date, it's been Apple's MO to distance themselves and reject anything remotely controversial, whether that's mature apps, apps from their competition, and obviously now, politics too. Ironically, by doing so, they actually invite the scrutiny and ill will they were trying to avoid. At the end of the day, though, Apple's iTunes Store is not the Internet where anyone and everyone can have their say - it's a closed, tightly regulated platform where developers have to play by Apple's rules or not play at all.