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Summary:

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 […]

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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.

  1. Your AppStore Assist Pro (ASAP) concept is interesting, but it does not fix the real problem: Predictability. It’s good to know sooner, but it’s better if I know beforehand whether I get approved. My litmus test remains the same: Where are the peripherals that cost so much more to develop than software. Before I would sink money into developing a peripheral, I would want a guarantee of approval from Apple, if my peripheral+SW stays within certain guide posts. We will not see a flood of peripherals until we get predictability from Apple. For that they would have to publish their “rule book”. That’s what Intel did for the Intel Inside program. BTW – it also got the Feds off their back.

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  2. I’m bored with all this whining already. Frank is not even an iPhone developer and Veit above wants approval before he submits anything? Developers are the problem, not Apple. I still have yet to see a single app that has been denied for anything other than excellent rational reasons, and every scary rejection you hear about always turns out to be not exactly the way the developer was describing the situation when they started whining about it.

    The only rejections that make any sense getting upset about are the ones AT&T is rejecting, not Apple. Developers might take note of how little the general public is interested in this topic anymore (note the lack of comments here). It’s mostly because they have been crying wolf now for a year or more and every time it’s turned out to be either nothing, or the fault of the developers themselves.

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    1. The point about consumers being indifferent to developer woes is a good one, analogous to the issue of DRM and the iTunes Store. When Amazon began selling music downloads without DRM, there were more than a few predictions of the end of iTunes Store dominance. Never happened. Eventually, Apple manage to get rid of DRM, but there was never a sense of urgency. For Apple to act on something, there needs to be impetus, like maybe Google Voice cutting into their revenue with AT&T. No more Google Voice. The App Store will be fixed, but unless its failures begin to impact Apple directly, it won’t happen very quickly.

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    2. @Gazoobee:
      You’ve missed the entire point. Developers don’t want APPROVAL prior to submitting anything. What they want is a guidebook or set of rules to be put out by Apple so that they can develop apps that follow those rules – thus avoiding not being approved.

      And I’m sorry, but rejecting a dictionary application because a swear word happens to be part of the English language is just absurd. And that app isn’t alone. There have been plenty that got rejected that weren’t fart, lighter, tip calculator type apps.

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  3. “Developers are the problem, not Apple.”

    Uh, I wouldn’t bite the hand that feeds you.

    Yes, Developers are the problem. Crazy people that they are, they want to know that if they devote a year or so of their life to developing an application, that they stand a chance of actually being able to sell it.

    I remember reading a study somewhere that the average iPhone app take something like a month to develop. This is one reason you see Apps that don’t very much–tip calculators, fart apps, webpage rippers, etc. Frankly, before I devote more of my time to coming up with something really worthwhile, I want some kind of assurance that I’m going to be able to actually sell it. I’d rather not spend six months developing a word processor only to have Apple decide that I can’t sell it because they were planning on selling a word-processor and I can’t compete with them.

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  4. Gazobee,

    would you invest one million dollars into an app, then submit it to Apple and be told that they do not approve it, thus rendering void your $1m investment? I sure would not. Not even $10k, which is less than a lot of the apps do.

    As an investor, I would not invest into any company whose main goal is to develop iPhone apps…

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  5. @Gazoobee: You are wrong. The problem here is very much with Apple. Developers aren’t looking for approval prior to writing the app, what they are looking for is a consistent set of guidelines that they can develop to. And Apple’s failure to provide any is going to get them sued and investigated. Oh … wait. They are being sued and investigated.

    Worse than that, though, they are destroying important collaborative relationships with other companies. I know this is an Apple site and we all look at Apple through rose tinted glasses, but they really aren’t that special of a company. They make nice computers and electronic gear, but I can get nice computers from Dell too. There is nothing special about the Mac. In fact, out of the box, the Mac is a very boring computer.

    It’s through the array of third-party software and associated services that the Mac becomes useful. And, it’s much the same with iPhone. The Pre is just a good a phone as iPhone (in many ways it’s better), but it lacks the diverse third party ecosystem. By its actions, Apple alienates the people who create that software. If they drive away their developer community (leaving only those that are looking for a quick buck), it will be disastrous to their bottom line. I would bet that Google’s sudden interest in computer and mobile operating systems stemmed partly from their dissatisfaction with Apple. That kind of schism is a long time coming.

    But there is a side-effect. When you offend developers, you are also offending alpha geeks. Alpha geeks have a huge impact on what technology those around them buy. I own an iPhone and people ask me if it’s worth the price. My answer lately has been, “No, it isn’t.” I complain about service, I complain about restrictions, I complain about lack of useful applications (I want a real task sync dammit!). I want out of my contract, and when it’s up, I’m moving to another carrier.

    In the time I’ve been complaining about that iPhone, I’ve not seen a single friend or extended family member go out and buy one. Oddly enough, though, I haven’t seen a few new blackberries and pres.

    In the end, Apple sells pretty overpriced toys. They only justify their value because they give access to an ecosystem of high quality software and services. If that infrastructure falls apart (and Apple doesn’t give a damn about other companies, as evidenced by their pulling out of Macworld and treatment of partners both large and small), their toys are just overpriced.

    And that will effect their bottom line. Phil Schiller is smart enough to know this, which is why he’s personally responding to disaffected users. For an intelligent Apple apologist, I’m surprised you’re not.

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  6. As an alpha geek and system admin, I freely tell everyone that my iPhone is wonderful but only because I jail-broke it and risked Apples wrath.

    I shouldn’t have to do that. They shouldn’t be playing gatekeeper.

    I eagerly await Apple, Android, or Palm Pre or ANYONE who provides a really solid phone with really open hardware/software on a really open network.

    Would I recommend it now? No, I would not. I’m telling them to wait 6-9 months and see what happens with Android and the rest.

    If they must have a phone and have mobile Internet….I think a throw away phone “free” phone and a USB cell modem would be a better route. Preferably something without a contract commitment.

    When I went with my iPhone, I made the calculated guess that it would be 2 years before I saw what I really want….and that it would be about the end of my contract so I could get it….and if it happens early…I can always break my contract….

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  7. [...] clear that Apple realizes there are problems with the way it is currently managing the app store. The question is whether it [...]

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