Apple's rejection of a Nine Inch Nails iPhone app update caused a mini-firestorm today across the Internet. Apple-bashing may be the important part of the story to some, but there is a business lesson amidst the noise.
The main part of the story, missed by many reports, is that Apple has different standards for iPhone app content than it has for iTunes music store content. According to a post at the Nine Inch Nails forum, Apple's email specified that the app was rejected for violating Apple's Section 3.3.12 from the iPhone SDK Agreement. The specific content in question is the video for "The Downward Spiral." The iPhone SDK Agreement, according to the email from Apple, states:
"Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple's reasonable judgement (sic) may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users."
The main takeaway is that artists, labels and managers must be aware of the huge difference in what is and is not acceptable content at the iPhone app and music stores. Apple is clearly more lenient with music – iTunes sells 379 tracks by the often obscene band Agoraphobic Nosebleed, for example, and countless other songs with obscene and graphic lyrics that many would find objectionable if heard. Agoraphobic Nosebleed's songs, hardly noticed among the millions of songs at iTunes, are not marked as explicit but do have censored song titles.
Do the two policies make sense? Maybe the lack of a rating standards for explicit content in apps – which movies and music have – has caused Apple to opt for a conservative policy. Given the iPhone's and iPod Touch's ability to restrict explicit content, the lack of ratings standards for apps is going to need a resolution at some point. That’s another discussion for another day. Right now, what is important is to understand Apple’s guidelines and how it will impact projects. Not all music content will be welcome in an app store.