Hidden within Yelp’s new app this week was an augmented reality feature called “Monocle.” Users gain access to the feature by shaking the phone three times on opening the app. It’s not the first easter egg we’ve seen used to access otherwise prohibited features, but it’s certainly the most prominent, and it seems not everyone is as excited about the feature as I am.
Enter Matt Galligan. He’s the CEO of CrashCorp, a development group looking to put together an augmented reality SDK to help developers create quality AR apps. He was a guest author at TechCrunch this week, where he criticized Yelp for deceiving the Apple review team. It’s not that Galligan always agrees with what Apple mandates, but that he would rather play ball and stay in the game than take his chances with unapproved features. Yelp, Galligan says, has changed the development game for everyone, ensuring even longer approval times as the review teams scour lines of code for tricks and treats.
I can understand Galligan’s concern. The App Store is a symbiotic relationship. Apple gives developers access to a truly ravenous audience, and the best apps draw more customers to Apple’s phone. Everyone makes money, everyone goes home happy. But Apple has been tightening its grip lately, reigning in even the tamest of applications, like Facebook 3.0, and making them beg for release. Rumored rejections of key apps, like Google Voice, have even led TechCrunch’s founder, Michael Arrington, to leave his iPhone behind for greener pastures.
Granted, approval problems aren’t going to make the majority of iPhone users look for change (if AT&T doesn’t scare you off, what will?), but the developers have more to worry about than Apple’s good graces. It’s consumers making developers money, we’re just letting Apple handle the transaction, and consumers love it when their phones can do something cool. Monocle is decidedly cool and, though Yelp may have snuck one over on Apple to release it, Yelp created a bond with the consumer that Apple better not break.
Imagine the outrage if Apple pulled Yelp. Granted, it’s no Google Voice, but it’s prominent enough that more than just the Arringtons of the world would notice. And oh would they be pissed. With as much bad press as Apple’s recently had, it can’t afford to give consumers another reason to cry foul. If anything, now is the perfect time for developers to take action. I hate to turn this into some hyperbolic plea for an uprising but, developers, you have nothing to lose but your chains!
That’s the real beauty of this situation – Yelp is catering to its real audience: the consumers. While Galligan is worried about Apple, and whether developers will get to implement his SDK in a timely fashion, Yelp is using consumers to force Apple’s hand, reminding Apple none too gently that it better behave.