There is definitely something afoot at the Apple App Store, but what exactly is causing this sudden, and seemingly random, change in direction from Apple is left solely to our imaginations at this point.

Back on Feb. 18th, it came to light that Apple was beginning to ban sexually suggestive applications from the App Store.  One developer shared the e-mail he received from Apple with TechCrunch, which in part read, “We have decided to remove any overtly sexual content from the App Store, which includes your application.”  In that purging of the store, some 5,000 applications were removed which included sexually suggestive games, apps that focused solely on displaying pictures of girls in lingerie & bikinis and even oddly down to apps that showed women in ice skating outfits.

apple-app-storeOddly, apps from Playboy, and one tied to the annual Sports Illustrated (SI) Swimsuit Issue survived the culling.  Philip W. Schiller, head of worldwide product marketing at Apple, told The New York Times in relation to the SI app in particular that the company did take the source and the intent of the product into consideration in its decisions.  “The difference is this is a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format,” Mr. Schiller said.

Now a second round of purges has happened, but this time it makes a whole lot less sense.  The Register reported that apps that scanned for Wi-Fi networks were being removed.  This did not include apps that were simply databases of Wi-Fi hotspots that worked with the iPhone’s GPS, or by entering an address, but instead apps that would actually scan for networks.

While Apple has had a policy in place since it launched the App Store that apps could not duplicate activities the device performed already, hence why there are no Web browsers, these apps had been overlooked thus far.  The iPhone and iPod Touch do indeed scan for wireless networks, but the functionality is very limited, and the apps were far better at it.

Could this be the reason these apps were removed?  We have no clue as Apple is maintaining its usual corporate silence this time.  This was nowhere near the size of the 5,000 apps removed just weeks before, so the outcry is nowhere nearly as great.

phil schillerThis does raise the awareness of a problem with the App Store that some had pointed out since it opened: Apple controls all of it.  Nothing gets into the App Store, nor stays there, without Apple’s consent.  Fred Clarke, co-president of a small software company called On the Go Girls, told The New York Times that his company was making thousands of dollars a day from the 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?”

And right there, Mr. Clarke hit the nail on the head.  While most developers are thrilled to get their wares into the App Store, they also have to realize at any moment Apple can flip a switch and throw them out.  Just because you got into the party doesn’t mean you’re going to be allowed to stay, and you could be out thousands of dollars in development costs and work just because the company changes its mind on some little thing.

The timing of these new decisions coming so close to the release of the iPad is a bit hard to overlook.  Many people are saying the the addition of the iPad to the venues for the store’s goods is going to make this an even bigger enterprise, so this may just be Apple cleaning up some of the clutter in the store before they open their “new location.”  That helps explain away the sexy apps, but not the Wi-Fi detection ones.  That one may remain a mystery for all time.

So what say you?  Do these decisions by Apple make sense to you?  Would you be worried if you were/are a developer?