"Problematic Wi-Fi Access": Apple Bans Augmented Reality App Sekai Camera [Update]

More and more apps are stricken from the App Store as of late, for a variety of reasons. Today, the Apple hammer hit Tokyo-based Tonchidot whose augmented reality app Sekai Camera was removed without warning.

The free app, which made its – memorable – debut during TechCrunch 50 in 2008, intends to help users “tag the world” by imposing information (text, pictures, video and audio) over images in the iPhone camera.

Sekai Camera uses GPS to locate the user and measure the distance to objects in the vicinity. The problem for Apple: in places with weak GPS signals (i.e. within buildings or underground), the app relies on PlaceEngine, a technology that makes it possible to determine a user’s location via Wi-Fi. Once it’s installed on a device, the PlaceEngine client collects Wi-Fi signals from nearby access points and sends the information to a server, which then estimates your location.

PlaceEngine provider Koozyt says on its Japanese website Apple changed their policy regarding “the way apps access Wi-Fi devices”. Not only Sekai Camera, but a number of other PlaceEngine-powered apps were kicked out, too (including Yahoo! Maps for the iPhone). Details are still unclear at this point, with Koozyt saying they are currently looking into the issue.

More information on the peculiar ban are available at The Register.

Tonchidot itself cites “issues regarding the App Store review process” as a reason for the ban of Sekai Camera version 2.1.1, adding the app will make a comeback in version 2.2 “soon”. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see PlaceEngine get scrapped altogether.

In Japan, Sekai Camera is the most downloaded iPhone app to date, and it was elected “Best App in 2009″ by Apple Japan late last year (it was released worldwide in December).

We reached out to Tonchidot for a comment and will update this post when we have it.

Update with Tonchidot’s response (edited):

We have also received sympathetic words from many people across the
world, and really appreciate everyone’s support.

We always strive to comply with Apple’s policies, and will fix and
resubmit a version that satisfies their current requirements.  We do
not know what the exact reason is for their recent decision, but
Koozyt, among others, have been extremely helpful in helping us
identify the potential cause.

No worries, will will have a new and better version back up on App
Store very soon, so please look forward to it ! :)

Go Koozyt! Go Sekai Camera!