It hasn't been a good year for Apple's iPhone App Store. Child welfare advocates threw a fit over the notorious Baby Shaker application. App Store developers started to complain about slow payment of royalties from Apple. The ubiquity of iPhone flatulence applications became a running joke. And now comes word that popular industial rockers Nine Inch Nails have had their iPhone app turned down, because of naughty language.
Which all leads to the question: Why is Apple in the business of selling iPhone applications anyway? Although best known as an operating system and hardware vendor, Apple does sell a few applications such as iLife, Final Cut, and Aperture. But by and large, they have let Mac developers do as they will as far as delivering applications. You don't need Apple's permission to run Illustrator on your Mac, or Halo for that matter, a product of the dreaded Microsoft. Nor do they ask for a cut of the action from the sale of Mac software. So, what's different about the iPhone?
One possible answer is that Apple needs to gate-keep iPhone applications because otherwise they could screw up their deal with AT&T. Notably, if anyone could produce iPhone apps without review by Apple, there would immediately be "tethering" applications for the iPhone, that let you use your iPhone as a 3G gateway for your laptop. This is something AT&T definitely doesn't want, because they'd much prefer you to purchase a USB 3G dongle with the accompanying data plan, and pocket another $40-60 of your cash a month.
Unfortunately, this deal with the devil comes with a lot of baggage. For example, because Apple needs to have total control over what applications are installed on the iPhone, they can't permit Adobe Flash to run on the phone, since once you can run Flash, you can run any program written in Flash. But, more insidiously, it means that Apple becomes "responsible" for all the applications in the store. This is the old trap that common carriers and forum operators ran up against. As long as you don't look at anything that anyone posts or transmits through your system, you can make the argument that you're not responsible for the content. But if you start to pick and choose, you have to answer for all of it.
And that's Apple's headache in a nutshell. Once you start gatekeeping to keep out one type of application, you become responsible for the entire shebang. And with the volume of iPhone apps being churned out, there's probably not enough resources to do it properly. As a result, things are slipping through (like shaking babies), and things are being arbitrarily banned (note to Apple, the NiN songs you're banning from the App Store are purchasable via iTunes, so make up your mind!)
Google's Android avoids this problem because they have not tied themselves exclusively to one carrier. In fact, they haven't even tied themselves to a specific hardware platform. As a result, they can be a pure cell phone operating system player, rather than having to do the bidding of their carrier masters.
And if you're thinking that a rumored deal between Apple and Verizon would improve the situation, think again. Verizon is as jealously protective of their revenue as AT&T, as previous debacles with disabled Bluetooth profiles in Palm smart-phones can attest.