Do you want to know what it's like?
It's like being dipped in bittersweet chocolate and run over by five million very bored army ants. It's like sinning against a strange and indifferent God and then realizing there is no god and sin is just an overweight, scared Labradoodle that's afraid of the water. It's like banging your head repeatedly against a wall made of cotton balls and heavy sighs and lead.
It is, in turns, a fascinating and infuriating process, getting an innocuous little iOS app approved by Apple's overburdened team of App Store approvers, people who, since no one knows for sure, we can hereby imagine as an exhausted squad of overworked groaners perpetually terrified of getting the company sued and/or earning it any sort of negative media attention by signing off on an app that's even slightly salacious, pornographic, offensive to Mormons, racist, sexist, repulsively violent (hi, NRA!), or invented by lonely Harvard frat boys drunk on Coors Light and pimpled sighs (Hi, Zuck!).
Hence, mania. Hence, one of the strictest, most inconsistent, oddly inscrutable approval processes known to humanity. Particularly when it comes to (gasp) more "mature" (read: sexy, titillating, very slightly dirty) content.
I know of what I speak. I and my tiny app development team spent upwards of two years (!) getting my wondrous little Mark Morford's Apothecary iOS app -- a wild funhouse compendium packed full of choice columns, quotes, hot advice, personal recommendations and all sorts of tasty writerly effluvia, all wrapped in a gorgeously designed package -- ready for prime time.
What a blast we had! What a mini saga! We first submitted Apothecary back in late summer of 2011, confident we'd avoided all major snags and careful to keep the app's naughty bits -- particularly a mildly heavy-breathing section called, aptly, MOAN -- safely within (what we thought were) the parameters of Apple's 17+ rating. I mean, how strict could they be?
Oh, how naïve I was.
Turns out that, in coding circles, Apple's app approval process is justifiably infamous; wildly finicky, infuriatingly arbitrary, impossible to decipher a coherent set of rules. And yet, a multi-billion dollar business. And yet, dozens of new apps approved every day. And yet, 250,000 available, only about 139 of which are any good. Astonishing. And when it comes to sex and even mildly salacious content, it's even worse.
Do you want to know? When you send in your app for approval, you do not deal with an actual human; so far as you can tell, no one is ever assigned to your case. It's mostly all done through automated forms and preset replies, dark magic and spurious prayers to the ghost of Jobs.
Did I say naughty bits? Oh my, yes. While my friendly app is completely free and PG-13 almost all the way through, the MOAN section contains the bulk of the tantalizing, semi-adult stuff: sex toy reviews, salacious advice, discussion of fave erotica sites, that sort of thing. It's a beloved topic, after all: I've included material like it, off and on, for years in my column. And my life.
Look, I'm not an idiot. There was no actual X-rated material of any kind in the app itself. I know of Jobs' infamous anti-porn crusade. I did, however, naively include a few thumbnail images of cute sex toys, along with a bunch of active, live links to NSFW content, assuming that, being mere links, and being in the MOAN section (which was surrounded by all sorts of pop-up warnings and caveats) there was no way anyone could possibly be offended.
What's more, I make you pay for it (a little). Whereas 98 percent of the app's content is completely free (I wrote a ton of new content for it, all gratis), I set it up so that if you want the MOAN section and/or any new material added to the app since it was released, I ask for a buck or two. See? Safe as church. How could anyone at Apple object? How strict could they be?
Answer: Oh. My. God.
Long story short: I'm not really all that proud to say Apple rejected my little app six times in a row, and each time I'd strip out more of MOAN's content, trying to find the line, trying to figure out just how Puritanical Apple really is, and how seemingly random, and how silly. The entire time, we never had a clear idea. All we had were a stack of brief email rejections, telling us we'd violated the guidelines, but not exactly sure how.
As mentioned, I have sympathy. I cannot imagine the mountains of awful, stupid, inflammatory, gross submissions Apple's team has to wade through every day. My insiders tell me it's a joyless gig, trying to work within the insane, Steve Jobs-era dictum of zero-tolerance for even a whiff of pornography in the App Store, a bizarre and, by definition, arbitrary rule which cannot possibly be applied with anything resembling fairness or logic. So, instead, it's applied with a hammer. A broken one....
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Mark Morford is the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a mega-collection of his finest columns for the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate, and the creator of the new Mark Morford's Apothecary iOS app. He's also a well-known ERYT yoga instructor in San Francisco. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...