OFF THE GRID

Creepy Steve Jobs May Not Want You to Read This (or Will Break Down Your Door)

Apr 27, 10 | 7:24 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Speaking of Apple’s weird and scary overreactions—yes, good idea, have the police storm the Gizmodo editor’s house in the lost iPhone prototype caper—here’s my story:

Apple has rejected an app version of this column—which, on a relatively frequent basis goes out of its way to analyze the odd behavior of Steve Jobs.

My last effort at putting Steve on the couch was on Friday, in a column that dealt with Jobs’ recently announced intention to police apps for violations of Apple’s new (and undisclosed) rules against porn. I suggested that Jobs was overreaching—and, maybe too, a little messianic and off his nut. (I did not know then that his cop mentality would soon enough involve actual police action.)

The stated reason for the rejection of my free app is that Apple requires "sufficient amounts of content to appeal to a broad audience." Putting aside the fact that this pretty much makes specialty content ineligible for iPhone or iPad apps, it’s also a pretty fudgy standard. For instance, I get a bigger readership for my online columns than I do for my Vanity Fair columns—so Vanity Fair shouldn’t make the cut?

Where we are is that Apple is now creating a distribution system for books and periodicals—in a sense, no different from a newsstand or bookstore—which it proposes to regulate as it sees fit, without explanation, recourse, or standards.

Apple demands a high degree of technological conformity to its “Human Interface Guidelines.” And it has many other arbitrary eccentricities that might get your app dinged, including if your app somehow gives the iPhone a look that Apple (or Steve) doesn’t want it to have. And you’ll have to conform to icon standards and rules about button look and feel. All these rules are relatively clear (well, relatively). But then there is the unstated rule, as articulated in a post about iPhone app rejection by Brian Stormont of Stomy Productions, with more than 45 apps to its credit: “Don’t make any jokes about political figures, past or present, in either your app or the description in iTunes.”

By likely inference: Don’t diss Steve Jobs, either.

Stormont takes a pained but still relatively sanguine view of this, a programmer's view perhaps: “It’s Apple’s store. They can do whatever they want in the end and don’t have to be fair.”

Programmers are dealing with functionality, which has no special status in American culture and law. Writers, on the other hand, aren’t used to having books and articles thrown off the store shelf because we’ve annoyed the store owner…or, either, of having our doors broken down.

Obviously, the convergence of technology and content, which is willy-nilly being encouraged by Mr. Jobs, into applications that he will control and market, if he so chooses, changes the nature of Steve’s role.

What we have now, suddenly, is one of the most mercurial and paranoid and unusual men in American business—willing to swear out a warrant if you cross him—telling you what you can and cannot read.

In other words, the device you may be holding in your hand (my column, perhaps unbeknownst to Apple, is available on the Newser iPhone app) is not necessarily a benign one; the company that makes it not necessarily your friend.

My app, by the way, is available for the Android.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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