App Store 'Name Squatters' Drawing Attention

Recombu publicizes complaints from App Store developers about other users "squatting" on application names, taking advantage of Apple's policy requiring that each application have a unique name to claim certain names for themselves without actually releasing an application. The issue was brought to light by iPhone game developers at Atomic Antelope who recently discovered that the name they desired for their latest iPhone game was unavailable despite there being no application by that name in the App Store.

Having spent months developing an app called 'Twitch', when it came to Atomic Antelope registering the app's name, it couldn't. Someone else had registered the name 'Twitch' but when Atomic Antelope looked to see if it could find it on the app store, it couldn't. Worse still, unlike domain names, Antomic Antelope had no way of contacting the person who had registered the name.

The issue arises because iTunes Connect allows users to partially submit an application at any time without requiring that an application binary be submitted. Consequently, a developer need only register for the iPhone Developer Program, select a unique application title, and add entries for a few required data fields.

This practice is certainly not new, but is just now starting to receive significant attention. Recombu points to one developer who almost a year ago realized what was happening and decided to grab "dozens and dozens of good sounding applications names." Unlike domain squatting in which users have financial incentive to hoard domain names in hopes of selling the rights to them, the anonymous nature of this App Store name squatting suggests that users may simply be hoarding "good" application names "just in case" they end up developing an appropriate iPhone application. Many of these applications may never come to be, forcing other developers with actual apps into second or third choice names.

The reason for Apple allowing names to be registered before binaries are submitted is clear, as the application's name will almost certainly be featured in numerous locations throughout the application, requiring the developer to have the name already claimed before submitting the final application. But the question remains whether Apple can or should adjust its policies in some way to reduce instances of name squatting.

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