Chaos at the App store -The amazing appearing disappearing iPhone app

The Net Share saga has become more and more convoluted. The iPhone application by NullRiver, released 48 hours ago, finally allowed non-jailbroken iPhone owners to share their internet connection with their desktop via WIFI. There was much rejoicing in the streets, and many iPhone users felt Apple had finally let go of its death grip on software freedom.

Of course, as followers of the saga know, only a few hours later the application started disappearing from the app store, first with iPhone owners being unable to buy it, and then, in an Orwellian way, the application dropped down the memory hole and even searching did not acknowledge its existence. Rejoicing was followed now with howling and even some cursing of Apple.

The next phase of the drama follows when the app appears to become available again, but only through searches and direct links, and not listed in any of the directories (previously it was listed under productivity applications). This seemed to last for a good 12 hours, until, suddenly, the application disappears again.

One can only imagine what forces are at work behind this amazing sequence of events. The original approval of the application is easy to explain – Apple is in a huge rush to add applications to the store, and is achieving headline figures like 1000 applications listed by approving a huge amount of shovelware without any real supervision, meaning as the store become more crowded the quality of the listings have gone down. Recent embarrassments such as the Aurora Feint spyware episode made it clear that instead of guaranteeing safety and quality, the division running the application store seem more intent to be reactive than proactive.

After the application appeared, what caused it to be removed? One expects some involvement by AT&T, as this application would allow iPhone 3G users to tether their computers without paying the higher $60/month subscription which usually goes along with the privilege. On the other hand Apple has seemingly consistently resisted making their gadget more useful by supporting standard productivity technologies, so one can not really automatically blame AT&T.

The next 2 parts of the episode is more difficult to explain – why did the application reappear, and why then did it disappear again. It suggests competing forces inside Apple, possibly the geeks versus the aesthetes , or the user experience people against the utility people. Whatever the reason, its clear that whoever is in charge is not acting with one mind, and conveys the impression of a division in chaos.

Of course all of this would not matter so much were it not that millions of iPhone users are captive to this division, with their every ability to expand the functionality of their device subject to what now appears to be capricious whims and neglectful attention. Whether the App store will ever live up to its promise of safety and quality remains to be seen, but as the service grows, and with each application and application update needing to be reviewed at least once by some human, it seems unlikely the service will ever scale properly, leading to embarrassment after embarrassment, and iPhone users who gave up freedom for security will likely find they have achieved neither.

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