The App Store is a panoply of apps that cover just about everything you can do with that little supercomputer in your pocket. But Apple keeps an iron hand on what developers can offer to the public. If they step out of line, the hammer of Jobs comes down and deletes them unceremoniously. In 2021 alone, Apple removed or blocked a staggering 1.6 million apps and updates. Here are 11 tales of iPhone apps that went too far and got banned.
I Am Rich
One of the most inexplicable flexes of all time, Armin Heinrich’s “I Am Rich” was programmatically very simple. When it was booted up, it displayed an image of a glowing red gem which, when tapped, showed an affirmational mantra about wealth and success. Sounds pretty innocent, right? Here’s the twist: Its retail price was $999.99. The whole point of the app was showing off that you could drop a G on something completely useless and not sweat it. Apple yanked it the day after it was released with no explanation.
Low-effort apps have often been a way for people to make a quick buck off of controversy, but the big brains behind the “Slash” app maybe didn’t think it through. All this thing did was display a photograph of a knife on your phone’s screen and play the Psycho theme by Bernard Herrmann when the accelerometer detected a “rapid stabbing motion.” Basically harmless, but releasing it in the midst of some brutal knife crime incidents in the UK didn’t play well, and the app was pulled down after just a few days on sale.
Would Apple really ban one of the most popular games in the world? If it had to, yes. Two giants butted heads in 2020 ahead of the release of season 4 of Fortnite. The issue, as always, was money. You see, Apple charges a 30% royalty on apps and in-app purchases, and Fortnite—as a free game—makes a lot of money through battle passes and the like. Epic wanted to do an end run around Apple’s payment processor or convince the company to take less of a cut, so it uploaded a version with its own purchasing options and cheaper prices. Apple wasn’t having it, and it deleted the game, leaving mobile players Victory Royale-less and kicking off a hellacious series of lawsuits.
Apple obviously wants your iPhone to be an escape from the real world, without any intrusive reminders of bad times sneaking in. So when programmer and digital artist Josh Begley released Metadata+ to draw attention to US acts of warfare by sending users a push notification whenever a drone strike was launched in Pakistan, Somalia, or Yemen, it didn’t last long (even though Apple approved it after several previous rejections and a name change from Drones+). Apple’s stated reason was the go-to “crude or objectionable content,” but really it’s the drone strikes that are objectionable, not making people aware of them. It briefly re-emerged in 2017, but didn’t even last one day the second time around.
Sexy Bikini Fart
Fart sound apps have been a thing since as long as computers could emit white noise, so it’s not surprising that the iPhone has a passel of them. But something about “Sexy Bikini Fart” was so craven and crude that it got itself banned from sale. Featuring photographs of 18 bikini models sourced from God knows where coupled with an assortment of flatulent noises, the software was only up for a little while before Apple removed it.
Tawkon Radiation Detector
Whether the ambient radio waves given off by your cellular phone can cause physical harm has been a hotly debated topic in and out of conspiracy circles. So when Israeli company Tawkon developed an app that promised to estimate the radiation that you’re subjecting your body to, it added fuel to the fire. Tawkon’s Radiation Detector used the network band, phone antenna, and other factors to create a readout for users. But after the App Store deleted the software in 2011, CEO Gil Friedlander reached out directly to Steve Jobs to ask why, only to be met with a curt “no interest.” That seems more than a little suspicious to me! I’m interested!
Typically, phone companies aren’t excited about you using their devices to commit actual crimes, so it was obvious that the “Drivers License” app wasn’t long for this world after the US government got involved. The app allowed users to take a picture and insert it into a digital template of a driver’s license from any of the 50 states. Sure, it was stuck on your phone and not an actual card, but the possibilities for fraud were pretty major. Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey was alerted to the app in 2011 after it had been available for over two years, and a stern letter to Tim Cook was all it took to have it removed.
Send Me To Heaven
When the developer of an app publicly states that his goal is to destroy as many iPhones as possible, you know you’re in for a good time. Petr Svarovsky is a Norwegian artist who develops “transgressive apps,” and the absurd “Send Me To Heaven” is his biggest hit. The concept is simple—turn it on, throw your phone into the air, and it’ll record the maximum height, which then gets posted to a global leaderboard. Of course, the idea of throwing a $1,000+ piece of technology is patently idiotic, so Apple rejected it to protect their users. Hilariously, you can still get S.M.T.H. on Google Play. Maybe that’s their killer app.
Crowdsourcing information is a key part of Web 2.0, and we don’t know what we’d do without real-time traffic reporting, honest restaurant reviews from normal people, and the millions of other ways big data helps us out. But when that data is used to enable people to drive drunk, we might have a problem. “Trapster” was an app that let tipplers mark drunk driving checkpoints where police lurked to catch DUIs. Obviously anything that enables intoxicated motorists to get away with it is a bad idea, and the app was pulled relatively quickly according to Apple’s policy of prohibiting law enforcement information not known to the general public.
Molleindustria is well-known for titles that tackle pressing world issues using traditional game mechanics. But its satirical 2011 title “Phone Story” hit a little too close to home for Apple. Consisting of a quartet of mini-games, “Phone Story” exposed the human cost of that wonderful little gadget, forcing players to confront child labor used to mine coltan in Africa, the brutal worker conditions driving phone assemblers to suicide in China, and more. Apple didn’t take it well, yanking the game soon after it was released to a wave of bad publicity. The reasoning—that it presented “objectionable or crude content”—doesn’t really work. It’s still available on Google Play for $1.99.
This one, though, is just gross. In 2009, “Baby Shaker” dropped onto the platform to universal disdain. In a grotesque twist on the virtual pet formula, developers Sikalosoft displayed public domain line drawings of babies, coupled with obnoxious crying sounds. The only way to get the digitized tyke to stop bawling was to shake your phone furiously, at which point red Xs would be drawn over its eyes to indicate that it was dead. At a 99-cent price point, it was obviously a novelty, but Apple yanked it from sale extremely quickly as a violation of its policies against depicting harm to children.