Why Apple may be removing desktop/dashboard/widget apps from the App Store


Since the iPad launch on April 3, TiPb's been getting tips about desktop/dashboard/widget-style apps being removed first from the iPad App Store, then from the iPhone App Store as well. There are a number of examples, some well known by now, some relatively unknown. The commonality between all of them is that they've tried to somehow make the iPad or iPhone into a Mac- or PC-like screen filled with mini-apps like browsers, email clients, calculators, weather, etc.

Some look almost exactly like Apple's Mac Dashboard, other like Windows of various flavors. Others don't look like desktops at all but rather place widgets on top of photos or other, more specific backgrounds.

Devs have worked around this by using a much more restricted metaphor, like a double tiled display, or by going the Jailbreak route, or they haven't worked through it and just gotten frustrated at the opacity of the App Store review process and not known how to proceed.

I can't claim any special insight or information on this, but my best guess is that Apple is removing (or advising they will be removing since not all of them have been pulled yet) the apps for the same reason they originally didn't include cursor (arrow) keys on the Mac. It's a pretty well known story and one that's been used a few times in different commentaries on the iPhone and iPad and Apple's direction thereof, but it bears repeating.

The Mac was the mainstream transition from CLI (command-line interface) to GUI (graphical user interface). People had to become comfortable using a mouse to drive the new interface, and Apple felt that if they gave them arrow keys users would just launch text windows, abandon the mouse, and revert to what they were comfortable with at the first opportunity. They'd never learn the new paradigm because they wouldn't have to. So, like the metaphorical bird, they pushed us out the CLI nest and made us madly flap our GUI wings (or risk crashing).

The iPhone and now iPad mark a similar mainstream transition from GUI to multitouch user interface (I'm not calling it MUI). The iPad's display is bigger, but Apple doesn't want it treated like an old-fashion PC or Mac desktop, and they don't want apps in the App Store that encourage users to treat the iPhone or iPad like desktops.

Developers who have invested time and money into building those apps get crushed, of course, and Apple really has to figure out a better way of advising people which apps are on the "unforeseen" list as soon as they can possibly foresee them. I'm not defending Apple's process or policy here -- as I said I have no idea if I'm even right about the reason -- I'm just trying to figure it out. Curation isn't bad, but bad curation is chilling.

Users also will no doubt be upset they can't get these apps, just as users were probably upset Apple didn't include arrow keys on the original Mac. I don't know if Apple realizes that and just banks on having enough momentum and cool tech that users will once again forgive an App Store removal in light of what still remains and is coming. (That bank of user good-will isn't limitless, however, and I certainly hope Apple realizes that).

[Yes, or Apple could be getting ready to announce their own widget platform for iPhone OS as a special feature for that large-resolution iPhone HD/iPhone 4G at WWDC 2010. Those types of things are always possible.]

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Why Apple may be removing desktop/dashboard/widget apps from the App Store


Updated to include feedback that Apple might be rolling their own widget platform for that super high res iPhone HD/iPhone 4G display. One more thing, perhaps.
Popovers on the iPad suggest a method, but would Apple pull the trigger on that yet?

@Rene, why not use the popovers on the iPhone? If they leave it out now no doubt someone else will take the concept and expand on it.

MyFrame fell victim to this, which was somewhat ironic since MyFrame's dev was one of the loudest defenders of Apple when "bikini" apps were removed from the store without notification a few months back. Understandably, he is a little annoyed now that he has had 3 separate versions approved in the App Store, then had it removed without any recourse. The Apple reps on the phone were (he felt) deliberately evasive, but at least he got a typically terse (if completely unhelpful) response from Jobs.
It really does not matter if Apple is rolling out their own widget platform or not. It does not even matter (too much) that Apple has stupid rules. What matters is that nobody knows the rulebook until after they play.
Please, Apple. As a multiplatform (no, not Flash) developer who likes your platform, I am begging; please just write down the rules beforehand so people know what they can and cannot do BEFORE they invest their time and their savings.

As much as I give Rene hell I have to admit, nice written article and I feel informed. Just giving credit where credit is due.
Now with Apple constantly doing this, will this cause developers to not want to risk making apps for the iPhone/iPad or will this just have them making the same copy cat apps and nothing original for fear of it being taken down?

Rene is the man. He's a hard worker and people like me always enjoy visiting this site to get the latest Apple iPhone/iPad news. He's posting stuff nearly 7days a week. Keep up the good work Rene.

It would be AMAZING if iPhone used widgets in G4, and Jobs will whine that its not stealing from Android, unlike how HTC is totally stealing from Apple.

I really believe there will be a widget/dashboard feature in os4 announced at wwdc - The Weather, Stocks, Clock, and Calculator apps are missing on the iPad, and i feel it in me bones that these latest widget app removals means they might just announce it as a new feature soon.

Makes sense, Rene. We'll see what Apple has up their Steeve on Monday. Can't say I'm too excited about a widget feature, but who knows.

I really notice the absence of arrow keys on the iPad keyboard. And the Tab key. Any chance of those ever getting included in future updates?

As a MyFrame user, I really really am sad to hear this. While the latest version of MyFrame had some stablity issues, the dev was good at pushing out frequent updates. Truly sad to see it will not be getting updated due to this decision by Apple to remove it.

I agree with a few of the commenters here--widgets will likely be an addition to OS 4. If you think about it, what apps were mysteriously pulled from iPhone OS for the iPad? Apple pulled apps that have traditionally served as widgets on the Mac (e.g., stocks, weather, clock, etc.). I'm almost certain that we'll see some new widget action.

So why pull them?
If Apple can't out do their own developers, why should they kill them off? Let the user decide which widgets work for them.
Its becoming increasingly obvious that Apple is scared to death of competition, whether from its own developer network, or from Google.
Jobs: "We didn't enter the search business, they entered the phone business. Google wants to kill the iPhone - we won't let them."
Really Steve? Paranoid much?

The problem for me is not that there or there not a valid reason to remove them... The problem is a reason is not given!! Simply saying you no longer comply with our policy in my opinion unacceptable. If apple has rules about what is and is not compliant... Publish them!!

Getting a bit off topic, but Google has no interest in killing the iPhone. Zero. Zip. None.
Google is primarily interested in the ad eyeballs; if Android makes money, Google will not complain, but Android was not created as a profit center. Google acquired Android in 2005 -- two years before the iPhone launch -- and developed it ever since, primarily so that RIM/Microsoft/Palm, and later Apple, could not minimize or lock out Google's ad platform on a rising class of devices. Considering that 5 years later Apple is indeed trying to do just that with iAd, this seems a prescient defensive move by Google.
Google does not need or want Android to kill the iPhone. All they need out of Android is to keep the mobile platform market open enough so that no one other player can dictate the terms of the mobile advertising market, and Android will be considered a success.

What's this? Making more excuses for apple's silly rules? What a suprise. Renee, how can you look at yourself in the mirror?

I am beginning my own blog to share my photography encounters. Do you uncover it challenging or uncomplicated to publish constantly?

Thanks for discussing your ideas. I'd also like to state that video games have been ever before evolving. Better technology and enhancements have made it easier to create realistic and interactive games. All these entertainment games were not as sensible when the real concept was being experimented with. Just like other designs of electronics, video games also have had to evolve by many decades. This itself is testimony towards fast growth of video games.

Rene, it's been 4 years now, and Apple is still doing it. The pulling of Launcher makes no sense to me. Shortcuts to the settings app are extremely helpful. What is Apple afraid of? This article is 4 years old, and I have no idea if you see this comment. If you do, maybe a revised article on this subject would help explain this issue to your readers.