June 10, 2011 at 1:17 pm

For Apple, Yesterday’s Banned Apps Are Tomorrow’s Great New Features

apple itunes steve jobs iphone 5 r&dIt’s good to be king.

Apple deserves lots of credit for creating an entirely new market for mobile software in the iTunes app store, over which it justifiably reigns.

But the army of developers who have created over half a million Apple iOS apps to date perform another valuable function, in addition to making Apple’s hardware more attractive to users and contributing 30 percent of their revenue to the company’s bottom line: Sometimes, they act like a big, unpaid R&D lab for incubating features that Apple can eventually incorporate into its own products — even after banning those same products from its app store (or, rather, “App Store”).

Take Camera+, the camera app for the iPhone that has grossed $2.7 million in sales revenue for its creator Lisa Bettany (and her team). At the AdAge Creativity and Technology conference in New York City on Thursday, Bettany discussed the odd history of her app, which has been downloaded over three million times from iTunes leading to unexpected riches for its creator.

Last August, Apple pulled Camera+ from iTunes because its new “VolumeSnap” feature allegedly violated Apple’s iPhone Developer Program License Agreement by allowing users to shoot photos using the iPhone’s “up volume” button. In its rejection notice, Apple explained, “Your application cannot be added to the App Store because it uses iPhone volume buttons in a non-standard way, potentially resulting in user confusion.”

One reason the iPhone has been so successful is Apple’s tight control over its hardware — and indeed, Bettany told those assembled yesterday, the author included, that she doesn’t even consider it worthwhile to release an Android app because users on that platform refuse to pay for stuff that iPhone users gladly do. Apple was her benefactor — and her tormentor, until she pulled that feature and her app was re-admitted to iTunes.

Earlier this week, Steve Jobs stood on a stage (watch) to announce a great new feature for the iPhone’s built-in camera app: the ability to take photos using the device’s up-volume button, which Jobs heralded as a fantastic new way to take capture a moment with a photo quickly, without hunting around for the camera app and waiting for it to load. In other words, one of Apple’s big new ideas is precisely the one for which it banned Camera+ last year.

Another case of this curious behavior surfaced this week, as The Register reported the strikingly-similar tale of Greg Hughes’ Wi-Fi Sync app, which Apple rejected outright for its ability to sync iTunes music wirelessly to an iPhone using a local wireless network.

On the left is Hughes' Wi-Fi Sync logo; on the right is Apple's Wi-Fi Sync logo.

On Monday, Apple unveiled, what else, a wireless syncing feature for moving music from iTunes to iOS devices — and, what’s more, it used a logo that’s practically the same as the one Hughes used for Wi-Fi Sync (available in the Cydia store for apps that can run on jailbroken iPhones).

According to The Register, Apple asked Hughes for his resume while rejecting his app, but really, there was no need to hire him. It could incorporate his app — and even its name and, more or less, his logo — without paying him a cent.

Like I said, it’s good to be king.