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App rejections fall far from tree

-- Displaying photos of minimally attired ladies.

-- Using Apple software to show a picture of a user's Mac.

-- Using "iPhone" as the first word in an electronic book's title.

In many cases, Apple backed down after developers protested. Name-brand companies, meanwhile, have seen Apple approve titles with otherwise-blackballed features. And Apple's screening doesn't stop disappointing apps from showing up in the store.

If this conduct seems arbitrary, that's because Apple gives itself that liberty. The Cupertino, Calif., company's iPhone developer agreement, as published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says Apple can reject an application "at any time" if it thinks rejection would be "prudent or necessary."

(So, can Apple remove news organizations' apps for their content? Washington Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti wrote that "this is our understanding"; National Public Radio's Danielle Deabler agreed but said NPR saw no evidence that Apple wanted to do such a thing. Publicists for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN and USA Today declined to comment or did not reply to e-mails.)

Apple has said little about criticisms of its App Store stewardship since a Federal Communications Commission inquiry last year. Apple told the FCC it approved 95 percent of applications within 14 days of their submission.

Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller didn't update that average Tuesday but said that the company now reviews 94 percent of new applications within seven days and that 98 percent of program updates get an answer in that time.

In the company's defense, many developers can work with this regime -- the App Store stocks more than 185,000 titles. Barg Upender, chief executive of Mobomo, said that although Apple declined about 20 percent of his Washington-based firm's applications at first, every one passed after revisions.

Meanwhile, the iPhone's Safari browser, which can run complex Web-based applications, remains beyond the App Store's control.

But the App Store's rules aren't the only way to keep things simple and safe for most users.

Google's increasingly popular Android smartphone software places far fewer restrictions on its Android Market, with more than 40,000 titles. Once developers pay to register with Google, they can publish almost at will.

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