Apple removed the controversial "Baby Shaker" iPhone application two days after it appeared on the App Store following strong protests from child advocacy groups. But the incident raised questions about how Apple and other companies screen applications for sale.
The Apple iPhone application, created by Sikalosoft, allowed a user to silence a virtual screaming baby by shaking the iPhone. A sketch of a baby crying appeared until the user shook the phone, then red Xs appeared over the baby's eyes.
One description of the application noted: "Never, never shake a baby." It also advised: "See how long you can endure his or her adorable cries before you just have to find a way to quiet the baby down."
Apple posted the application on Monday and removed it on Wednesday night, just hours after the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation, an advocacy group, and other groups issued statements condemning the application and calling for an apology from Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
Apple officials didn't respond to requests for comment from PC Advisor sister title Computerworld, although the Associated Press reported an Apple spokewoman called the game "deeply offensive" and said it should not have been approved for sale. "We sincerely apologise for this mistake," the spokeswoman said.
Sarah Jane organisers said they planned a press conference in front of the Apple store in Manhattan yesterday afternoon, even though the application was already removed from the AppStore.
"Apple owes an apology to the family members of children who have been shaken and to the general public for making this tragedy into a joke and almost encouraging shaking a baby," said Jennipher Dickens, communications director at Sarah Jane, in an interview prior to the public protest. "Imagine if a child of 10 or 11 found this application as a way to shut up a baby. It's horrible and completely irresponsible."
Sikalosoft seems to be taking the bullet for Apple in this case, posting this comment on its website: "Okay, so maybe the Baby Shaker iPhone app was a bad idea. You should never shake a baby! Even on an Apple iPhone Baby Shaking application. No babies were harmed in the making of Baby Shaker." Sikalosoft.com was only registered today as a website, and the statement posted there could not be independently verified. However, many application developers work virtually.
Still, Dickens joined others in questioning how Apple screens the thousands of applications it allows to be placed in its App Store. "It surprises me that this appeared, because Apple supposedly has a tough vetting process for applications, and developers have complained that it sometimes takes weeks and months to get them approved," Dickens said.
Dickens' 2-year-old son Christopher was shaken by his biological father when he was 7 weeks old, and he now has irreversible brain damage, she said. Dickens said her organisation works to help the public understand Shaken Baby Syndrome.
Dickens stopped short of calling for some sort of government oversight of the App Store or similar storefronts. "Something like this shouldn't be overly censored, but shaking a baby is definitely wrong, and it takes corporate responsibility to deal with that. I'd expect better of an organisation like Apple."