iPhone developer sidesteps App Store to sell banned Podcaster

After Apple turns down his app, Alex Sokirynsky uses iPhone beta-test mechanism to distribute his software

A week after Apple Inc. rejected his iPhone application and barred it from selling on the App Store, developer Alex Sokirynsky has turned to a little-known, but still Apple Inc.-approved, distribution channel to sell his work.

Sokirynsky, who in August submitted his Podcaster application to Apple for inclusion in the company's App Store -- the company's online iPhone mart where programs can be downloaded, some for free and some not -- received the rejection notice last Thursday.

Apple's rejection was to the point. "Today I finally got a reply from Apple about the status of Podcaster. The Apple rep said, 'Since Podcaster assists in the distribution of podcasts, it duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes'," Sokirynsky said in a post to his blog. "That's right folks, it duplicates the functionality of the desktop version of iTunes."

ITunes, which is available in versions for Windows and Mac OS X, connects to Apple's online music store, plays music and other audio and video content, and synchronizes the iPhone to data, including music, stored on the computer.

Podcaster allows iPhone and iPod Touch users to subscribe to, manage, download and listen to podcasts without first downloading them in iTunes on a Mac or Windows PC.

"I was very surprised," Sokirynsky said today in an e-mail. He cited several examples of similar overlap -- calculator applications, for example, as well as other music-playing applications -- where Apple has allowed third-party developers to sell their wares on the App Store.

The online reaction last week to Sokirynsky's rejection was overwhelming negative, with one iPhone developer flatly saying he was through with Apple. "I will never write another iPhone application for the App Store as currently constituted," said Fraser Speirs in a post of his own last Friday.

Speirs called on Apple to publish clear rules for what will be accepted and what will not, and to add some kind of pre-approval procedure to the App Store application process.

"You have to wonder if Apple wants the App Store to be a museum of poorly designed nibware written by dilettante Mac OS X/iPhone OS switcher-developers and hobbyist students," Speirs said. "That's what will happen if companies who intend to invest serious resources in bringing an original idea to the App Store are denied a reasonable level of confidence in their expectation of profit."

Sokirynsky said he appreciated the support from Speirs and other bloggers who railed at Apple last week. "I'm happy that he is taking such a stand," Sokirynsky said. "He is saying that we want change, some clear rules and better communication and a faster response.

"I have several ideas on how to change Podcaster so that it does not duplicate iTunes, but I would need to get that approved prior to starting any work," added Sokirynsky. By his estimate, he put about two months of work into Podcaster.

But that time has apparently not been wasted.

Since Apple rejected Podcaster, Sokirynsky has been selling his software using the "Ad Hoc" method, the name Apple has given to the distribution channel it set up earlier this year as a way for developers to beta-test their iPhone applications, and for enterprise developers to offer custom iPhone apps to corporate users for business use. Ad Hoc allows up to 100 iPhones or iPod Touch devices to download and install a specific build of an application. To enable downloads, the developer must obtain each iPhone's UDID (unique device identifier) code.

Sokirynsky has created a Web site to sell Podcaster directly to customers for $9.99, twice the $4.95 he had proposed to sell it for on Apple's App Store. During the process, buyers must submit their iPhone's UDID, then download and install the application to their computer.

He was reticent to talk about using Ad Hoc to sell Podcaster, afraid that Apple would somehow block that avenue, too. "I will just tell you that Apple said that I can share the app with friends and family using the Ad Hoc method," Sokirynsky said. "The method allows you to give the application to 100 users at a time. I don't want to get into any trouble, although it is perfectly in the limits of what Apple allows me to do."

Sokirynsky declined to reveal how many copies of Podcaster he had sold, but Niall Kennedy, a technology consultant and president of Hat Trick Media, said that as of Monday, Sokirynsky had provisioned 1,130 devices using 12 different builds hosted on Google Code.

Kennedy, who advises clients on iPhone development issues, said Sokirynsky was "stretching the Ad-Hoc distribution model a bit," but that Apple had not yet reacted by, for example, pulling Sokirynsky's developer credentials or somehow banning Podcaster from iPhones.

Apple could conceivably disable the application by using the iPhone's "kill switch," a feature that would let the vendor remotely cripple potentially malicious applications. Last month, Apple CEO Steve Jobs confirmed that the iPhone 2.0 software included a kill switch capability.

"I think this is an ongoing process," said Kennedy in an interview today, talking about the App Store approval procedure. "They could clarify what it will or will not allow in the App Store, but I think Apple does work with developers." Kennedy rejected Speirs' suggestion that Apple institute some kind of pre-approval process and argued that the picture from the developer side was completely different than that of others, including reporters, looking in.

"We want to work with Apple on this," he said.

And Sokirynsky remained optimistic. "I have not had any [new] communication with Apple, [but] I would love to work with them to modify my application so that it gets approved. Even if they release the features on the iPhone, they could release Podcaster and we can compete."

As for advice to others who might find themselves in his position, Sokirynsky had something for them as well. "Keep developing," he urged. "I am going to develop this app for all available phones and devices, and others should do the same with their own apps."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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