Podcaster, an iPhone app that downloads podcasts over-the-air, was rejected from the App Store this past Friday on account of it "duplicating iTunes functionality." The Mac community is justifiable upset, with at least one developer refusing to develop any more apps, and others looking to coordinate some form of organized protest. I think that many are confounding two separate issues that the Podcaster rejection raises. First, that there are App Store approval guidelines that extend being what is listed in the developer agreement, and second, that Apple has seemingly decided to not allow any third party applications to compete with their own.
The first issue is not new. I wrote about it in my post about Flickup being rejected and we've seen it many times of the past couple of months. This incident just gives us yet another item to add to our unofficial approval guidelines. That these guidelines are (1) not published provided by Apple, and (2) a result of trial and error on the part of many very frustrated developers is inexcusable and irresponsible. As both Fraser Speirs and Paul Kafasis mention, development takes time, effort and money, and without a reasonable expectation that an app will be approved makes the App Store that much more unappealing to develop for, scares away developers and undermines Apple's goal of building a long-lasting ecosystem around its mobile operating system.
The solution, of course, is simple. Apple needs to release an all-inclusive set of guidelines. Knowing what is off-limits cuts developers off from the get go instead of forcing them to develop an app and spin the roulette wheel. Developers may not be happy that they can't release an app that does X, but at least they'll know before pouring weeks into development. A scary, but entirely possible situation is that Apple hasn't released such a document because even they aren't sure exactly what's in it.
The second issue is the anti-competitive nature of this specific rejection. I don't want to spend too much time extrapolating meaning from this specific rejection, particularly the common view that this rejection indicates that Apple won't allow any application into the store that competes with *any* of its products. I don't see Apple being stupid enough to actually have an explicit non-complete policy in place, so my view is that this is simply a case of a reviewer not fully understanding Apple's (currently nonpublic) approval guidelines and I fully expect Apple to correct this mistake. Until we see more cases of this anti-competitive policy being applied, I don't think we should go running for the hills just yet.