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Discussion - Apple's App Store Policy Against Name Squatting

Hello World. I asked @MysteryCocunut to add me to the iDevBlogADay waiting list back on July 29th, 2010 and now 5 months later, it's finally my turn! This is my first official iDevBlogADay post, so I'll start by introducing myself.

I am Dave Wood, a 36 year old developer who lives and works north of Toronto in Canada. I work full time, and develop for iOS in my spare time. Since the start of the App Store, I've released 7 apps (3 of which are games) under the Cerebral Gardens brand, and I've also built several apps for clients, some of which are for high profile companies and for public use in the App Store (eg. Cruze), others for use by small companies and only for use by their employee's. I'll be the first to admit that some of the apps I've built haven't been the greatest. Some were created as a learning tool (eg. Ditto - Objective-C), others to test a technology (eg. Carpe Diem - Push Notifications/Scalability), sometimes a game seems like it will be a tonne of fun during design but flops when released because it's missing a feature (eg. Wings - no single player option). Each app, good or bad is a learning experience and moves me closer to completing a masterpiece (I hope).

I am someone who loves to learn, but will then turn around and share that knowledge with others. I also like to throw unusual ideas into a pot and see where they go. So for my iDevBlogADay posts, I'm going to present a mixture of educational posts (from beginner to advanced), and posts intended to elicit a discussion. Please let me know if you have anything you'd like to learn about or discuss.

Today I'd like to discuss Apple's recent policy change with regard to app name squatting. If you're unaware of the policy, Apple says you must now submit your binary for an app within 120 days of reserving the name. If you don't submit a binary, you'll receive warning emails with 30 and 7 days remaining in your 120 day grace period. At the end of 120 days, if you still haven't submitted a binary, the app is automatically deleted by iTunes Connect and you're forbidden from using that app name again in the future.

The idea behind this policy is likely to prevent the ridiculous name squatting environment the exists with domain names. Personally, I don't believe that Apple has come up with a great solution to the problem though. 120 days isn't long enough for an independent developer working in his/her spare time to create a good quality app. And there's a known work around anyway1, that just forces you to do an extra 5-10 minutes work per name to reset the 120 day count. So what has been accomplished? It makes it awkward for someone to register a tonne of app names and just sit on them, since the 5-10 minutes add up fast.

I propose that there is a better solution. Instead of an arbitrary time period to submit an app, why doesn't Apple limit each developer account (that is, per $99 fee), to an arbitrary number of incomplete apps. Lets say 10 for example. In my hypothetical world, you can squat on up to 10 names for each $99/year. Making app names cost about $10/year, similar to domains. But the domain ecosystem is a disaster you say. Well the difference is that with domains, there's a whois database. Everyone can find out who has registered a domain, and contact them in order to generate a sale. There is no current way to find out who has reserved an app name, and thus no way to buy the rights to a name. Which means, there is no market for buying and selling app names; crazy domain name ecosystem averted. The only people reserving app names will be those who plan to use them.

I'm sure there are problems with my proposal also, or that you have an even better solution. Please add to this discussion here.

1 Rename the app that's about to expire to some gibberish, and recreate a new app with a new SKU and the original name you're reserving. Credit: Daniel Jalkut

This post is part of iDevBlogADay, a group of indie iPhone development blogs featuring two posts per day. You can keep up with iDevBlogADay through the web site, RSS feed, or Twitter.