Apple to iPhone users: No app for you

At the risk of inciting the Apple faithful and iPhone devotees, I can’t help but note that the recent shenanigans with the App Store are more than a little disturbing. As Don Reisinger at Mashable notes, the store belongs to Apple, and therefore the company can do whatever it wants — including removing apps without warning, then allowing them back on, and then suddenly removing them again. And it’s entirely possible that the company had a good reason for removing the most recent app, Box Office. But was it because the app was insecure in some way? Because it breached the terms of the company’s developer agreement? Because it made the iPhone unstable? No one is saying.

It could be that — as some of the commenters on the Gizmodo post about the latest removal are speculating — Box Office infringed on some sort of trademark (there are reports that the app has been renamed “Now Playing”), or was unstable in some way and caused technical issues with iPhones. But there is no way of knowing. What’s interesting to me are the numbers of negative comments, including many from developers, who seem to be less than impressed with the way Apple seems to remove apps willy-nilly — without any notice or explanation — and who see this kind of attitude as being all of a piece with the company’s use of DRM and other overly intrusive strategies.

Obviously, Apple can (and frequently does) do whatever it wants. And it’s possible that only some small developers will care, and that the company’s hold on iPhone users (and developers) is so strong that it can remove even some of the most popular apps and yet remain untouched. But other companies have taken the same route in the past — yes, we’re looking at you, Sony — and come to regret it. It’s entirely possible that others could experience a similar fate, regardless of how cool and universally loved their products might be.

Update:

Steve Jobs has confirmed that the company has a “kill switch” feature that can disable an iPhone app remotely. And BoxOffice has returned to the store as Now Playing — and no explanation for the turnaround.

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