Apple targets 'objectionable' apps, leaves Playboy, SI in App Store

Developers angered, but Apple says content from branded companies is broadly available

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Carl Howe, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc., said that Android Market and other application stores could benefit by choosing to sell potentially objectionable apps from lesser known developers.

"I predict that the policies about keeping certain apps will be all over the map, with some stores saying they'll be open to anybody's app," Howe said in an interview. "Microsoft, I'd guess, won't exercise a lot of control, while Android has been the most open and has pulled apps when they are complained about."

Regarding the concern that Apple was keeping potentially objectionable apps from well-established publishers like Playboy, Howe said it's clear that Apple has retained apps from makers with "legitimacy and brand." The companies in question are "well-known, loved and reviled by millions," he said. "It's tasteful porn, I guess."

Even though Apple has retained apps that some people consider objectionable, Howe said it is within the company's right to define what it will carry and what it won't, "since it's their store and there is no First Amendment requirement to carry anything."

From a business standpoint, Howe said he agreed with Apple's decision, noting that dropping a reported 5,000 apps out of the 150,000 available in the App Store "is no big deal."

"Pulling them is a smart move, even though it will be controversial," Howe said. "Apple was getting complaints from women and parents thinking some apps were cheesy and offensive. So here's a company that decides girlie apps aren't worth offending half of its customer base, and it's hard to argue with that."

Howe said it's possible that the remaining apps in the App Store, such as Sports Illustrated's swimsuit app, could become more popular -- and profitable -- with similar apps removed. Sports Illustrated told MinOnline.com that its Swimsuit 2010 app has been downloaded 411,648 times since its launch on Feb. 9, and that it had beaten the NBC app dedicated to Olympics coverage.

Nearly 8% of users who downloaded SI's free swimsuit app paid $1.99 for an upgrade with more pictures and videos, according to a Sports Illustrated official. A key strategy by app developers is to convert free app users to paying customers, Howe noted, although he called the 8% upgrade rate "low" in comparison to the upgrade rate developers typically achieve. "The number of upgrades for SI may rise with time, since girlie apps will be a scarce commodity on App Store," he predicted.

In fact, Yankee Group's latest research shows that paid apps are doing better than it reported six months ago. Paid apps accounted for 20% of all apps acquired at all app stores in the U.S. in the first six months of 2009, but that figure rose to 34% for all of 2009, Howe said. Spending on mobile apps will reach $10 billion in the U.S. by 2014, Howe said, citing recent research assessing users' willingness to pay for apps.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed @matthamblen or subscribe to . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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