Monday, May 4, 2009

Downward Spiral to the App Store

Jason Lackey

Trent Reznor, better known to millions as the lead man of industrial metal band Nine Inch Nails, has a gripe with Apple and the App Store thing, and he is correct.

Let me set the stage. Unlike many other smartphones, Apple controls who can put software on the iPhone. The way this is done is by making the Apple App Store the only (official) way to install software on the device.

OK, fine you say. Apple feels that the end-user experience is important so they filter out crap to keep their users safe. We certainly wouldn't want people installing fart noise apps or baby shaker games, right?

The Nine In Nails folks came up with a pretty slick looking app - a dedicated portal into the body of good stuff available on all formatted and optimized for the iPhone. If you are a Nine Inch Nails fan with an iPhone you would probably want to have this application.

Unfortunately Apple seems to be having trouble scaling their App Store approval process or being consistant. Let me explain.

The problem that Apple seems to have with this application is content from the album "The Downward Spiral" (damn fine album and a good part of the soundtrack to some of the more interesting parts of my wayward youth). Yes, to be sure there are lyrics that are obscene, but they are just as obscene on iTunes, also run by Apple. Sure, it is understandable how these things can happen - different organizations, different people, but in the end the public sees it all under the Apple umbrella and expects that the different arms of the organization would follow the same rules.

Interestingly this type of failure is not uncommon. Indeed, many who comment on customer care advocate "rep surfing" - the practice of calling for some sort of issue and then if you don't get the answer you want to hand up and call again, knowing you will get a different rep who might give an answer you like better. Many companies have websites that breathlessly ask for your feedback and correspondence yet nobody answers the phone, replies to emails or answers the stupid form that you filled out. Not such a big deal, except unmet expectations are hugely annoying. A phone number or email combined with text about how "We are eager to hear from you" creates the expectation that you will be able to contact someone. If you cannot get there from here, fine, not a big deal. Kind of like having kids, tell the kids that there is ice cream tonight and you better have that ice cream on hand. Other times it might not be a big deal, but once you promise you better deliver.

I suspect that the answer might end up being to have a multi-tiered arrangement in the appshop where in the clean, well lit area everything is Disney clean, while in the somewhat seedy parts there are fewer restrictions but it will be like a trip to the Tenderloin - you can do whatever it is you want but there may be sights and smells that you will not be able to soon forget.

Anyway, hope Trent, NIN and Apple sort things out. Apple products are hugely popular here at the office and I am personally looking forward to seeing Nine Inch Nails (with Jane's Addiction!) at Shoreline on May 22. Should be a really good show. Wonder if Trent can figure out how to rep surf the App Store?

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