Apple upsets educators with Scratch Viewer app removal

We’ve spoken a fair bit about Clause 3.3.1 and its effect on Adobe and Flash. The general meaning of this controversial clause is that interpreted code is not allowed to run on any iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. And that apps found to be using scripts, or other forms of run-time interpretation will be rejected or removed from the app store. This has made many app developers nervous, and the blog-O-sphere generally angry.

It should be noted though that Apple are not the only manufacturer with this restriction. Nintendo and Sony regulate their software libraries in the same way.

Last week Apple removed Scratch Viewer from iTunes. Scratch Viewer is a program which allows teachers to review a students work (generally younger students) that has been created on an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch using the Scratch Language running inside Scratch Viewer.

The Scratch Language is a creation of M.I.T. Media Lab, and supported by the National Science Foundation among others. You can download that free from here. Whilst the actual Scratch Viewer for iDevices is developed, and sold at $3.99, by Canadian developer John McIntosh of Smalltalk Consulting Ltd.

The Scratch Language is indeed a kind of simple run-time language to give children a rudimentary creative programming experience. And as such, technically would fall foul of clause 3.3.1 if included in an iPhone app.

Mitchel Resnick, who leads the Scratch project at the M.I.T.’s lab, had this to say :

I’m disappointed that Apple decided not to allow a Scratch player on the iPhone or iPad.Ó He added: ÒIn my mind, there is nothing more important than empowering the next generation of kids to design, create, and express themselves with new media technologies. I hope that Apple will reconsider its policies so that more kids can experience the joys of creating and sharing with Scratch. Our group is planning to make Scratch authoring tools for the iPad in the future, and we hope Apple will allow us.

Apple would not respond to requests for comment on this, which is usual, but Mr. McIntosh said that he was currently discussing this with Apple.

My guess would be that Apple may well reverse this decision if enough pressure comes to bear on them. Apple are rumored to be working with other developers like Unity, who also have products for the iPhone OS (and its three hardware platforms) which also fall foul of this clause.

The worrying thing about this case is that it is a removal, and not a rejection. Rejections have typically been reversed more easily as they are arbitrary decisions made by Apple app reviewers who often don’t have anything other than black and white rules to follow. Removals, on the other hand, generally mean a higher level decision has been involved.

How do you feel about Apple’s decision on Scratch Viewer? Is Apple being too heavy handed? Let us know in the comments.

[NYTimes]

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