Less than a week after sending a letter to Daring Fireball’s John Gruber concerning the application review process at the App Store, Phil Schiller, the senior VP at Apple, is at it again. This time, the recipient of the letter was Panic co-founder Steven Frank.
To recap, Gruber wrote an essay highlighting the failures of the App Store using the example of Ninjawords, a dictionary app that was first rejected, then approved with censored content and the mandatory inclusion of parental control rating. In Schiller’s letter to Gruber, he took issue with the developers’ view of events, but in the end conceded an important point.
“Apple’s goals remain aligned with customers and developers…While we may not always be perfect in our execution of that goal, our efforts are always made with the best intentions, and if we err we intend to learn and quickly improve.”
In other words, Apple is listening, but for Steven Frank, that may not be enough. If you have no idea who Frank is, read the True Story of Audion right now. It should be noted that Frank is speaking only for himself, but nonetheless, he has a history and relationship with Apple and the Mac, but not the iPhone anymore.
Frank recently announced he was boycotting the iPhone, declaring that the “iPhone ecosystem is toxic.” His assertion was that Apple had years to fix the arguably broken application review process at the App Store but had not. Saturday he got a letter from Schiller.
While Frank did not publish the letter, he summarized Schiller as speaking for Apple and saying: “We’re listening to your feedback.” Frank also relayed that Apple felt that “not all of my suggested solutions were viable…but they were taking it all in as they continue to evolve the app store.”
The question now becomes what happens next, not so much with Frank’s iBoycott, but with Apple. A jaded person might suggest that the “listening tour” Schiller appears to be on is nothing more than smart PR. By engaging alpha-nerds in dialogue, the intended effect could be to change the terms of the debate, rather than address the chronic problems of the App Store review process. Frank thinks that the issue of Google Voice could be a litmus test. I would assert that’s just a good way to get the FCC off the corporate back of Apple. In short, “listening” is easy, but real reform is hard.
Because of the App Store’s incredible success, fixing it will be a huge and costly undertaking. One approach would be simply to do away with application approval. The caveat emptor option might make jailbreakers and developers happier, but Apple’s PR hit on the first pornography applications and malware would be too costly.
Another option might be for Apple to offer a premium service for developers. Call it App Store Assist Pro (ASAP), based on the Apple Store Pro Care concept of charging more for better service on demand. For a yearly fee of $500 or $5,000 — whatever the market will bear — and a per-app fee, developers get a single point of contact, real-time feedback, fast approval or detailed rejection. In contrast, the unwashed masses of fart app and flashlight developers paying $99 a year get what they get when they get it. For minimum effort and expense, Apple could silence most of the critics. Of course, even less expensive is the cost of a few emails. We’ll see how that works out for them.