Apple bans some racy apps without notice

Apple has been the darling of the tech crowd for years, but will they remain so if they keep acting like dicks?

Apple’s App Store has become a huge money-making opportunity for developers, but now Apple is starting to behave in a way that can piss off the developer community. Banning apps without notice, while leaving alone similar apps from huge companies like Sports Illustrated and Playboy, will definitely get some attention.

Apple has started banning many applications for its iPhone that feature sexually suggestive material, including photos of women in bikinis and lingerie, a move that came as an abrupt surprise to developers who had been profiting from such programs.

The company’s decision to remove the applications from its App Store over the last few days indicates that it is not interested in giving up its tight control over the software available there, even as competitors like Google take a more hands-off approach.

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Many software developers have long complained about Apple’s strict screening process and, at times, seemingly arbitrary decisions about what was acceptable in the App Store. The company’s latest move, which was first reported by TechCrunch, did little to change their minds.

Fred Clarke, co-president of a small software company called On the Go Girls, which made Sexy Scratch Off, said that as of Monday all 50 of his company’s applications were no longer available. They included an application in which a woman wearing a swimsuit appeared to wipe finger marks from the iPhone’s screen with a rag and spray bottle.

“I’m shocked,” said Mr. Clarke, who said the company had not had a problem with its applications since the first one went on sale last June. “We’re showing stuff that’s racier than the Disney Channel, but not by much.”

Mr. Clarke said his company had been earning thousands of dollars a day from the App Store.

“It’s very hard to go from making a good living to zero,” he said. “This goes farther than sexy content. For developers, how do you know you aren’t going to invest thousands into a business only to find out one day you’ve been cut off?”

So what’s the standard here? Babes in bikinis are OK, but only if they come from a big company like SI?

MG Siegler blasts Apple for its hypocrisy in a scathing post on TechCrunch, but as he points out this will probably blow over as long as Apple continues to dominate this market. That said, we’re seeing a significant backlash against their arbitrary policies. Let’s hope more people call them out on it.

TurboTax vs H&R Block at Home

Are you ready for tax season? If you’re looking for tax preparation software, you should take a look at this recent article in the New York Times comparing TurboTax and H&R Block at Home. The makers of the software stress different benefits.

The two companies go to great lengths to try to distinguish their programs. Block stresses the backup provided by its nationwide network of professional tax preparers. Buyers of its Premium edition can receive a phone consultation with a Block staffer. The company will also provide the help of an enrolled agent — someone trained specifically to prepare returns and represent taxpayers before the I.R.S. — if a customer is audited.

Intuit, in contrast, emphasizes the ease with which TurboTax dovetails with other sources of financial data. Quicken users, for example, can transfer all of their information into the program with a couple of clicks.

Read the full article and see which is best for you.

Google Buzz eliminates the auto-follow features following a privacy backlash

Google Buzz has gotten off to a very rocky start, and the company is moving quickly to address privacy concerns resulting from its auto-follow feature.

The Buzz fiasco is encouraging, however, as another example of how the privacy police can alter the development and implementation of products. As we’ve seen, the Internet can be self-correcting, as users and self-anointed watchdogs work together to police new technologies and policies that can threaten our privacy. Google is the most powerful Internet company in the world, yet they understand that they have no choice but to take these concerns seriously.

This phenomenon will also strengthen our democracy and democracies (and fledgling democracies) around the world. Governments will think twice before imposing intrusive policies on their citizens.

AOL’s content strategy – will it work?

AOL’s content strategy is a mix of quantity and quality. We previously posted on how AOL plans to churn out gobs of content to compete with the likes of Demand Media. AOL also has it’s huge flagship site, which it uses to push traffic to its popular niche sites like Asylum and Engadget.

I like the strategy, as they have a good chance of competing for premium ads on their network of quality sites, and they can also make money with the shotgun approach as well. Will it work with their cost structure? Who knows. They’re slashing costs and closing offices, so they seem to have the right idea.

Regarding their prospects, one thing I won’t do is pay much attentions to analysts like Roger Kay.

Tech industry analyst Roger Kay gave Armstrong and the company a mixed report card. “I’ve got to give him some credit for doing as well as he did,” Kay said.

Still, Kay was skeptical of AOL’s new strategy as a Web publisher, given that the company never benefited from its years as a part of Time Warner, a company with ample supplies on the content front. “They couldn’t get content from a professional provider; now they’re going to do that on their own? I’d say the odds are against them.”

Really? Let’s be clear – Time Warner knew practically nothing about how to create content for the web. If you needed movies or magazines, Time Warner was the gold standard, but when it came to the web they were like most other old media companies – clueless. So, AOL’s history with Time Warner is not at all relevant.

The Wi-Fi bus

Here’s a fascinating story of how access to the Internet alters behavior . . . in a good way.

Students endure hundreds of hours on yellow buses each year getting to and from school in this desert exurb of Tucson, and stir-crazy teenagers break the monotony by teasing, texting, flirting, shouting, climbing (over seats) and sometimes punching (seats or seatmates).

But on this chilly morning, as bus No. 92 rolls down a mountain highway just before dawn, high school students are quiet, typing on laptops.

Morning routines have been like this since the fall, when school officials mounted a mobile Internet router to bus No. 92’s sheet-metal frame, enabling students to surf the Web. The students call it the Internet Bus, and what began as a high-tech experiment has had an old-fashioned — and unexpected — result. Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared.

“It’s made a big difference,” said J. J. Johnson, the bus’s driver. “Boys aren’t hitting each other, girls are busy, and there’s not so much jumping around.”

I guess many of them are playing games, chatting with friends or doing other fun stuff, but anything is better than the boredom of the bus.

I wonder how well Wi-Fi would work to improve behavior in actual schools, particularly schools that have problems with discipline. Hopefully our education officials will pay attention to this development.

As someone who travels often, it’s painfully obvious that something like Wi-Fi can change a trip dramatically, particularly when you forget to bring reading material. There’s always tons of dead time, even if you’re on a fun trip as a tourist, and having access to the Internet is a great way to pass the time. I can only imagine how relieved students are to have this on their buses. Hopefully we’ll see it in most airplanes soon.

Get more travel information at Sundance Vacations.

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