Want into Apple's App Store? Just win a Pulitzer

Apple told a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist his app wasn't fit for the App Store, but it may be rethinking the ban

If you want to get past Apple's unpredictable App Store censors, it's simple: Just go win a Pulitzer Prize, and/or inspire an online revolution.

That seems to be the message being sent by Cupertino this week in a very public iPhone app rejection fiasco. Word broke on Thursday that Apple had rejected a cartoon app created by Mark Fiore, a cartoonist who recently made history by becoming the first online-only journalist to win a Pulitzer. Fiore received the award for animations he'd published at the Web site of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Fiore's iPhone app, however, was reportedly shot down by Apple because it "ridicule[d] public figures" -- you know, as most satirical political cartoons tend to do. But the story didn't end there: The general silliness of a ban on political satire, coupled with Fiore's high-profile honor for that same genre of work, led to a public outcry over Apple's actions.

And that public outcry has seemingly now led to Apple rethinking its ban.

Apple's Pulitzer Rejection Reversal

Fiore, according to an interview published in The Wall Street Journal on Friday, received a call from Apple shortly after his story started receiving widespread attention online. The Apple representative, Fiore says, suggested he resubmit his app.

"I feel kind of guilty," Fiore tells The Journal. "I'm getting preferential treatment because I got the Pulitzer."

To be fair to Fiore, it's probably more directly the public attention than the Pulitzer itself that caught Apple's eye. But the honor, no doubt, illustrated the validity of satirical work in the eyes of the real world -- the eyes, that is, outside of Apple's carefully guarded walls.

Apple's App Store and Political Cartoons

This wasn't Apple's first clash with politically charged App Store content. The Cupertino team put the kibosh on an app featuring the work of Mad Magazine cartoonist Tom Richmond last fall. Richmond's app, entitled "Bobble Rep," featured bobblehead-like caricatures of U.S. senators and representatives. Apple eventually reconsidered its rejection following a similar wave of online outrage.

Other authors have faced struggles, too, ranging from a guy who made a caricature-driven election game to a developer who created a cartoony countdown clock for the end of the Bush administration. But with the advent of the iPad and its focus on redefining the way we receive information, the concept of content-based censorship -- particularly when the guidelines are so murky and inconsistent -- is more troubling than ever.

"Suddenly Apple's control freak approach threatens the development of the very technology it is supposed to be innovating, by placing restrictions and outright rejections upon the content that would be consumed via [its] devices," Richmond writes on his blog. "Apps for publications and newspaper content won't be very useful if [the iPad] only lets us see stuff that Apple and Steve Jobs thinks we should see."

For now, it appears satire and politics will remain a wishy-washy, gray area within Apple's app world. Not to fret, though: Bodily functions are still A-OK.

JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the co-founder of eSarcasm. He's on Facebook: facebook.com/The.JR.Raphael

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