Why the App Store Police Need More Muscle — Not Less

Apple has been repeatedly criticized for over-policing its App Store by arbitrarily enforcing a litany of rejection policies only slightly less decipherable than a David Lynch film. But as I discuss in my weekly column over at GigaOM Pro, in not weeding out the garbage and offering a library of only top-notch apps, Apple may be blowing a tremendous chance to differentiate itself and remain on top.

In the latest App Store snafu, a rogue developer managed to infiltrate Apple’s walled garden and push his suspicious-looking titles into 42 of the top 50 seller slots of the App Store’s e-books category. Thuat Nguyen and his offerings were publicly frog-marched out of the App Store after he reportedly hacked into users’ iTunes accounts to make fraudulent transactions for relatively pricey apps, boosting those titles onto the hit lists.

The incident is just one more piece of evidence that Apple isn’t effectively minding the App Store, which teems with knock-offs, third-rate me-too offerings and just plain junk. The success of a novelty fart simulator in late 2008, for instance, so inspired developers that Apple approved 14 me-too offerings in one day alone. Which doesn’t do much to stoke the confidence of consumers when they’re trying to browse a store that stocks a ridiculous 200,000 items on its shelves.

The odd thing is that the marketing message of protecting the consumer and delivering elite products are underpinnings of Steve Jobs’ empire. Jobs notoriously boasted that the iPad offers “freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash you battery. Freedom from porn.” And Apple has long made a point of contrasting the vast number of malware threats Microsoft Windows faces with the few attempts to threaten Mac OS. But as the Nguyen incident demonstrates, the Phone’s locked-down ecosystem isn’t keeping customers free from either garbage or fraudulent titles that may threaten their safety.

The folks in Cupertino have a well-earned reputation for producing top-notch offerings, but too many iPhone apps are anything but top-notch. Meanwhile, Android already has some real competitive advantages over Apple’s mobile operating system, especially in the U.S., where it isn’t tied to a single carrier. If Apple doesn’t differentiate itself with a vastly superior App Store, it may find itself on the wrong end of a two-horse race.

Read the full post here.

Image courtesy Flickr use RightIndex.