Over the past few weeks, Apple has been much-maligned for keeping apps such as Google Voice off the App Store. These weren’t some random garbage apps; there was no farting, or baby shaking. Google Voice apps are utilities which many have come to rely on, and thus many (including TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington) are none too happy with Apple’s blockade. But what if Apple deleted a completely useless app from the store? What about 900 useless apps – all from one developer? Apple has decided to test those waters: it has revoked the developer’s license of one of the App Store’s most prolific developers, Khalid Shaikh, founder of Perfect Acumen.
Khalid Shaikh has been making a killing off the App Store through questionable means. In less than 9 months, Khalid Shaikh and his 26-employee team (most of which are in Pakistan) have published 943 applications (thank you TapMetrics for validating these numbers). That’s roughly 5 apps a day, every day, for 250 days. All of these apps have gone through the entire Apple review process, sometimes taking as long as six weeks to get reviewed, and have been published on the App Store. Users have bought these apps in droves; Khalid has refused to give official numbers but we gather from his comments that it’s a few thousand dollars in sales per day. This business was making solid money until last Friday, July 24, when Khalid Shaikh was officially banned from the store. Without advance notice or forewarning of such an action, Apple revoked Khalid’s developer license and asked him to remove all of his apps from the store.
Whoa. Wait a second. Over the course of 9 months, Apple has accepted 900 applications submitted by Khalid Shaikh and his team of developers. Then, realizing their mistake months later, Apple tells Khalid he has to delete all of his apps? I’m not going to say that Khalid’s apps aren’t useless (more on that later), nor would I argue that they are providing any value to the App Store (they aren’t). Yet, there are obviously some major inconsistencies when Apple lets hundreds of applications through the App Store, all from one developer, and then suddenly revokes the developer’s license to do business altogether. Apple’s e-mail to Khalid, which is attached to the end of this article, cites copyright infringement and other intellectual property infringement on behalf of Khalid. It is a near-certainty that Khalid publishes material for which he does not have the rights: most of his apps simply re-package online content into an iPhone app on a specific subject. Yet, the fact still remains: Apple has accepted hundreds of these apps into the store; it is a bit misleading to allow these apps to come through and then turn around and cancel the license of the developer who made those apps.
Apple claims that it has asked Khalid about more than 100 of his applications and that it “continue[s] to receive the same or similar types of complaints regarding [his] Applications despite [Apple's] repeated notices to [Khalid Shaikh].” Clearly, Apple does not want to (nor should it have to) expend its resources trying to determine the legality of all of the applications on the store. Still, the fact that Apple continues to play mediator and reject applications on the basis of violating copyright infringement is a signal to developers that it is going to play watchdog on their apps. So even if there is nothing wrong with Apple discontinuing Khalid Shaikh’s developers license, this further highlights the inconsistencies of Apple’s review process.
As we mentioned, Khalid’s apps were of questionable value and quality. He has told us over the phone that he is not concerned about creating particularly valuable apps. Instead, he says, he’s going for “less product value” and “more monetization.” So, instead of developing one or two apps and charging $0.99, Khalid prefers to create hundreds of apps and charge $4.99. The vast majority of his apps simply provide topic-specific news on a given subject. Apps such as “US Army News” and “Skin Care Updates” cost $5, and aggregate articles from various internet sources. He has mastered SEO on the App Store, and uses the App Store’s search as a way to target users (or victims, depending on how you look at it). Many have questioned the value of the apps he produces, and there’s a small contingent of developers who are absolutely furious about his business. Rightfully so, it seems: a review of an app titled “WWE Updates” reveals that the user isn’t just getting updates of World Wrestling Entertainment; he’s also getting breaking news about Michael Jackson. Khalid says that he tests every app he submits to the store, but I can’t imagine that even a team of developers can submit 5 apps a day and sufficiently test each one.
Unfortunately, because all of his apps are off the App Store, you or I cannot see any of them on iTunes. Fortunately, there are websites that keep data from the App Store: a quick search on App Shopper shows a list of 854 of his applications. They include “Top Sexy Ladies: Audrina Patridge,” which (from what we gather; again, we cannot test these apps because they are not up anymore) is an app that takes 5 pictures of The Hills star from online and puts them on your phone. Yes, it costs $4.99. There are hundreds of others like this, including Top Sexy Men apps and various news update apps (ETFs Updates, iSoaperStarsUpdates, and Economical Crisis Updates). And Khalid Shaikh is not the only one littering the App Store. Brighthouse Labs has released over 2,000 apps on the store: each one for $0.99. They, too, seem to be quite successful (we’ve used number of ratings on some of their apps as a benchmark for sales), and are using similar tactics as Khalid Shaikh.
Both Khalid Shaikh and Brighthouse Labs seem to be running a pretty sketchy business. I simply can’t find a website for Brighthouse Labs. And if you search Khalid Shaikh’s name on Google, it is unlikely that you’ll figure out which result is his company, Perfect Acumen. That’s because it doesn’t mention anywhere on his website that the iPhone apps made by “Khalid Shaikh” are in fact related to Perfect Acumen. Furthermore, the website claims that Perfect Acumen has Apple, AT&T, Microsoft, Motorola, Intel and HP as clients. When I asked him about it, he said that “the website isn’t focused on the iPhone company. Those are companies we’ve done services with in the past, but it has nothing to do with the current iPhone company.” That’s all well and good; however, he’s got 26 engineers and all of his apps are supposed to be made by Perfect Acumen, yet his website doesn’t reflect the same company. The problem here is not that Khalid Shaikh doesn’t have a proper website. It’s that when you put out 900+ applications, many of which have bugs, then it should be easy for a user to e-mail you and ask for support on your apps. To top it off, when you e-mail the only contact information on the site, you get an auto-generated e-mail from Perfect Acumen HR about a job at their New Delhi, India, office (see the full e-mail below).
This story highlights dozens of problems with the App Store review process and developing for the App Store. Clearly, Apple doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing. It inconsistently applies its rules and regulations: allowing companies such as Brighthouse Labs (which has the most apps on the App Store) to grow to 2,000 applications that seem to have similar copyright issues as Khalid Shaikh’s 900 apps. Not to mention the fact that it at first accepted Khalid Shaikh’s 900 apps, and then later pulled them all from the store. In addition, it is clear that developers that spam the store with hundreds of apps can win, much to the chagrin of those who toil for months just to get one app out. Finally, there is also an incomplete customer feedback system; developers can put out hundreds of applications on Apple’s store, and yet never have to have a website or an e-mail address for customers to use to troubleshoot.
Now, we open these issues up to you, oh wonderful commenters: what do you think about Khalid Shaikh? About the Apple Review process? About the various developers who spam the App Store?
Apple’s e-mail to Khalid:
Date: Fri, Jul 24, 2009 at 4:45 PM
Subject: Notice of Termination
Please include the line below in follow-up emails for this request.
July 24, 2009
XXXXXXXXX, California 9XXXX
Dear Mr. Shaikh:
This letter serves as notice of termination of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement (the “iDP Agreement”) and the Registered iPhone Developer Agreement (the “Registered Developer Agreement”) between you and Apple, effective immediately.
Pursuant to Section 3.2(d) of the iDP Agreement, you agreed that “to the best of Your knowledge and belief, Your Application and Licensed Application Information do not and will not violate, misappropriate, or infringe any Apple or third party copyrights, trademarks, rights of privacy and publicity, trade secrets, patents, or other proprietary or legal rights (e.g. musical composition or performance rights, video rights, photography or image rights, logo rights, third party data rights, etc. for content and materials that may be included in Your Application).” Apple has informed you of numerous third party intellectual property complaints concerning over 100 of your Applications and reminded you of your obligations to obtain the necessary rights prior to submission of your Applications. Nevertheless, we continue to receive the same or similar types of complaints regarding your Applications despite our repeated notices to you. The persistent nature of such complaints has led us to conclude that you are entering into the representations and warranties in the iDP Agreement in bad faith by misrepresenting that you have all the necessary rights for your submissions.
As required by Section 12.3 of the iDP Agreement and Section 8 of the Registered Developer Agreement, please erase and destroy all copies, full or partial, of the Apple Software and any information pertaining to the services and all copies of Apple Confidential Information in your and your Authorized Developers’ possession or control. After you have completed those steps, please provide certification of that destruction to Apple, as provided in Section 12.3 and Section 8. Finally, please note your additional obligations on termination as set forth in those same sections. This letter is not intended as a complete statement of fact with respect to the subject matter hereof, and nothing in this letter should be construed as a waiver of any rights or remedies Apple may have in connection with this matter, all of which are expressly reserved.
Worldwide Developer Relations (WWDR)
Auto-generated e-mail from Perfect Acumen:
Thank you for applying to Perfect Acumen Inc.
We develop iPhone applications exclusively using Objective-C and the
Mac. We have a strict work schedule of 12 hours a day 6 days a week.
Please read the first two chapters of ObjC.pdf before you can process
to the next stage of this interview process.
You should review a PDF we will send before interviewing on-site.
Please review “ObjC.pdf” & “iPhone in Action.pdf”
Our offices are in New Delhi, India.
Please confirm once you have read the 2 chapters that you are ready
for the interview.