Shifting Sands in the App Store

Today brought the latest in a string of confusing rulings from Apple concerning iOS Notification Center widgets. Drafts author Greg Pierce was told that he must remove most of the buttons from the app’s Today extension. Pierce elaborated that buttons aren’t prohibited per se, but that “buttons that took you to the widget's containing app to process/complete a task” are. The whole thing reminds me of the drama surrounding the PCalc calculator widget from a few weeks ago.

Here’s the thing I can’t figure out: What’s the reasoning behind the rule change? Most of the App Store Guidelines have a fairly clear rationale behind them: improving user experience, promoting security and performance, keeping the App Store clear of trashy content, etc. A rule against functional, as opposed to informational, Notification Center widgets doesn’t fit clearly into any of those buckets. It’s hard to argue that users suffer by having the option to perform useful tasks from widgets, nor do there seem to be widespread performance issues associated with them. If security were an issue, the solution would almost certainly lie in the API for working with widgets, and not in the selective enforcement of App Store rules. Both Drafts and PCalc are widely-respected apps and their widgets could hardly be accused of lowering the App Store’s standards.

The best explanation I can come up with is that Apple wants to limit Notification Center widgets to information presentation only. But why? How would that help either users or Apple? And why did Apple provide APIs that let developers build more capable widgets if we weren’t meant to do so? Why wasn’t this limit part of the rules before iOS 8 launched? Did something change at Apple in the interim? If so, why?

It feels as though there’s an internal struggle going on at Apple, and we’re experiencing the effects of it. Perhaps there’s been a change in the balance of power between one team and another. I can’t help but thinking there are at least a couple more shoes still left to drop. If Apple truly does aim to restrict Notification Center widgets to read-only presentation, it would be helpful of them to simply add that to the guidelines.