Apple, Google Forgo CTIA's New App Rating System

The Wireless Association and the Entertainment Software Rating Board unveiled the CTIA Mobile Application Rating System, a new program that applies age-rating icons to apps and games in an effort to provide parents and consumers greater insight into content downloaded to smartphones and tablets.

Speaking Tuesday during a Washington D.C. media event, CTIA president and CEO Steve Largent said the program is designed to offer "reliable information about [an application's] content and context." The system will apply the same ESRB rating symbols awarded to console videogames, spanning from "Everyone" (suitable for ages 6 and up) to "Adults Only" (content appropriate for users 18 and older). Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) as well as operators Verizon (NYS: VZ) Wireless, AT&T (NYS: T) , Sprint Nextel (NYS: S) , T-Mobile USA and U.S. Cellular have indicated their interest in joining the CTIA Mobile Application Rating System, although CTIA states that full implementation timelines will vary from partner to partner.

Developers submitting their applications to participating storefronts will be asked to complete a multiple choice questionnaire to assess factors like violence or sexual content and language as well as elements including a minimum age requirement, user-generated content exchange and location data sharing. Each app submitted for CTIA Mobile Application Rating System approval is issued a certificate and a unique identifying code that may be subsequently submitted to other storefronts during their system onboarding processes. There will be no cost to developers. According to Largent, the rating system will apply solely to new application submissions, although developers can retroactively submit their existing apps for rating. Developers may also appeal their rating designation to the ESRB.

Conspicuous by their absence in the CTIA/ESRB program are Apple (NAS: AAPL) , Google (NAS: GOOG) and Research In Motion (NAS: RIMM) . CTIA vice president of wireless Internet development David Diggs said the organization approached Apple and Google during development of the ratings program, but both companies preferred to stick with their existing app store submission and rating processes. "We'd love to see them join, but we're content if they want to go about this on their own," Diggs said.

Google confirmed its plans to Bloomberg. "We've put a lot of effort into Android Market's rating system, which now works well globally," a Google spokesperson said in email. "While we support other systems, we think it's best for Android users and developers to stick with Android's existing ratings." Apple declined to comment.

Mobile application downloads worldwide are on pace to grow 144 percent this year, with total downloads set to eclipse 18 billion by the end of 2011 -- up from 7.4 billion a year earlier -- according to a forecast issued in September by telecoms analyst Ovum. Apple's iOS and Google's Android generate the vast majority of those downloads: Ovum projects that Android app downloads will surpass iOS installs this year by a margin of 8.1 billion to 6 billion.

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