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Summary:

If you’re a baseball fan like I am, then you know that it in order to win, teams need more than just marquee stars. The role players, pinch hitters and relievers — all have to contribute in order for a team to win. A weak link […]

appleappsarebigIf you’re a baseball fan like I am, then you know that it in order to win, teams need more than just marquee stars. The role players, pinch hitters and relievers — all have to contribute in order for a team to win. A weak link can blow a game. Same goes for companies — every member of the team has a role to play. Why do I bring this up? Apple’s iTunes App Store and its murky and muddled policies.

Apple’s designers and engineers have done a good job putting together what is an iconic product, the iPhone. Its software gurus have helped foster the app revolution. But it when it come to the App Store approval process, Apple is blowing it.

Let me put it in terms Apple and its management can understand: The foggy and opaque App Store approval process is as big a disaster as Dell’s DJ MP3 Player.

For months now, I have watched the twists and turns of the Apple App Store drama with a degree of bemusement. After all, the rejection (or approval) of quirky and pointless apps aimed at hormone-challenged post-pubescent boys weren’t of concern to me. I couldn’t get upset over Google Voice fiasco, but that was understandable (not acceptable) because it was coming in the way of the carrier voice service.  But lately, things have gotten a bit out of control.

The irrational approval process and reasons behind it given by the apparatchiks of Cupertino are driving developers to extreme frustration — especially those who have been Apple loyalists for years. Earlier this week, Joe Hewitt, a well-known programmer and a Facebook employee, threw up his hands in frustration over Apple’s App Store approval process and said he wants to work on a different project. (Check out my video interview with Joe Hewitt.)

No, Facebook isn’t killing its iPhone app — it is a corporation, after all, and will bend over backwards to appease Apple — but Hewitt is someone who’s made many vital contributions toward turning the iPhone into a major platform. He was carrying Apple’s water long before the rest of the 100,000 apps showed up, which is just one of the reasons why he was nominated to GigaOM’s Top 15 Mobile Influencers List earlier this year. When he speaks, I listen — plain and simple. And he expressed his anger in 140 characters.

Today, Rogue Amoeba, a company that is well-known within the Apple community for its audio-focused products, is publicly beating its head against the Great Wall of Cupertino.

Rogue Amoeba wanted to ship a bug fix for their app, Airfoil Speakers, but it took the better part of four months to get it approved. It was an arduous process, one that made the inner workings of the government bureaucracies look like a model of efficiency. The net-net, as described by company CEO Paul Kafasis in a blog post, is this:

First, be aware that Apple is acting as a gatekeeper, and preventing you from getting the software that developers such as ourselves are trying to provide you. We wanted to ship a simple bug fix, and it took almost four months of slow replies, delays, and dithering by Apple. All the while, our buggy, and supposedly infringing version, was still available. There’s no other word for that but “broken.” Right now, however, the platform is a mess. The chorus of disenchanted developers is growing and we’re adding our voices as well. Rogue Amoeba no longer has any plans for additional iPhone applications, and updates to our existing iPhone applications will likely be rare.

Others, such as programmer Jeff LaMarche, disagree with the disenchanted developers and have come to the defense of Apple. But I’m more inclined to side with Kafasis, as this is a problem that flares up more often than California wildfires.

John Gruber, who pens the Daring Fireball blog and is one of the most respected Mac-related writers out there, offers a very balanced view of the situation — and finds Apple at fault. “At a certain point good developers are just going to say, ‘I don’t need this,'” Gruber writes.

Gruber, as we’ve seen in the past, has the ear of the senior management at Apple. So perhaps his fair and balanced assessment is going to help Apple wake up from its stupor.

Apple has a very serious problem on its hands, one that can derail its grand plan. It needs to fix this as quickly as possible. Otherwise the company is going to blow the game in the bottom of the ninth — much like the Phillies in Game 4 of the 2009 World Series.

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  1. Om,
    Good post
    But in hindsight , what do you expect when you have more than 100K applications that are spread across about 10 – 15 languages ( which most tech journalists fail to acknowledge)
    Plus there are probably another three hundred thousand rejected apps.
    You are talking close to half a million reviews.
    Say each review takes 30 minutes ( I would say 1 hour) .
    Hmm, Do the math , you need lots of folks (more than current APPLE staff) who knows 10 -15 different languages to keep up with updates.

    1. Well, I can download and install anything I want on my MBP. No problem. It was Apple’s decision to be gatekeepers of the iPhone platform, and keep it a closed system, so that they could impose their tax on every app sold. No one is forcing them to manage it that way. They should have anticipated the requirements of maintaining such a system. Since they make 30% of each app sold, maybe they need to stop being greedy and put some of that money back into the system.

  2. On the bright side, there is now a third category to entertain the developers in iTunes Connect! The yellow light says hold on for eternity while Apple decides whether your app will prevent potential business opportunities or offend a humorless politician with satire.

    Kafka could only have dreamt up this scenario. I look forward to Apple reviewing music, movies and computer apps.

  3. I don’t see the issue. This is how Apple has treated it’s customers and developers since Steve Jobs came back to Apple. There’s nothing new here. I guess it’s just getting publicity because of the iPhone’s popularity.

    Apple has, and always will, do what it wants, when it wants. You can either play by their rules or go somewhere else (preferably Android).

    “Think Different” right? …well, unless you think different(ly) than Apple does.

    1. “I don’t see the issue. This is how Apple has treated it’s customers and developers since Steve Jobs came back to Apple.”

      There have never been any restrictions on developing or running software on the Mac. Having to pay for the privilege of running your own code on your own hardware, and then begging Apple for permission to release it to the others is most definitely a change for the worse.

      I also hope that Android gains popularity. This bizarre idea that if you can hold a computer in your hand then it should be locked down needs to go away.

      1. Android is going to be a failure, why? Too many crapping phones running the software. Customers like clear solutions, not 8,000 variations of the same OS. One device, one OS, the NEW customer loves this. I guess Google should stick to ads

  4. Mountains out of mole hills.

    1. Well, you spend six months of your life without pay to accomplish something, and have it dismissed as “confusing.”

      iTunes apparently makes you dim.

  5. Not to say Apple doesn’t need to speed things up, but it’s not the bottom of the ninth, more like the bottom of the 1st or 2nd since it’s only now that any semi-credible competitors have come on the scene. As a percentage of total apps (the 100K) are the bitches – .000005%?
    What would be funny is Apple took the poster boy of whiny iPhone developers (Joe), hired him, put him in charge of approvals – I’d predict a massive, embarrassing fail.
    I think all whiney iPhone devs should be sent down to Bentonville for a session with a Walmart buyer, they’d come back praising the iPhone approval process.

    1. While Bentonville negotiates hard , there are still TARGETS , COSTCOS and Dollar shops for the Chinese to sell their stuff.
      The fact that you can make a quick buck if you can tap the 20 million iPhone customers will give APPLe the upper hand.
      Plus there is no competing app store (jail breaking + side loading) for mainstream APPS ( I know there are some for a different audience).

      Essentially these developers have to stick with APPLE.

      If there is anything APPLE can learn, its “Music Industry is different from Mobile Computing world”.
      Dumping songs into iTunes is no big deal. While each APP needs to be reviewed for whatever the policies APPLE set ( internally).

      OTOH, these whiners should quit writing APPS without making public comments.

      Overall its fun to follow these APP store rejection stories :)

      1. While not quite as bad – at least reputation wise – Target/CostCo are tough also. With all, you have to not only have a product they can buy cheap, you have to convince them you’ll make them money. It’s not just submit something and 99.9% of the time they’ll eventually put it on their shelf.

        I think some developers forget what developing mobile apps was like before Apple and the fact the manufacturers took a much larger % of the take. To a certain degree iPhone app developers live a charmed life compared to most product developers in other industries.

      2. Fixing the problem is simpler than you think.

        Simply define, clearly, the expectations and limitations. Apple, despite the numerous screwups they’ve had over the past year and a half has not taken the time to clearly explain why certain apps are/were rejected.

        Next, CONSISTENCY. Don’t reject one app because it has iPhone in the title, while multitudes of others have already been approved. Or reject an app for duplicating functionality, when there’s a buttload of calcs, weather apps, and notepad apps already approved.

        Do those two things and a large percentage of frustrated devs will feel better almost instantly, because if their app is rejected then it would most likely have little to do with what reviewer they got at Apple HQ.

    2. How much shelf space does Amazon have?

      The app store is like a box of chocolates! 20 spaces. That’s it!

  6. Sounds somewhat like Redmond to me…

    1. If you think for 2 seconds that Om is carrying MS’s water than you have not been paying attention. Sounds somewhat like an Apple fanboi to me…

  7. Om, I could not agree more with you. The way things are going the best iPhone developers will soon be Android developers! One day before you know it Android will have the BEST apps and the iPhone will apps that make fart sound without any Apple icons of course.

  8. FYI – From my experience I’m pretty sure the app approval team is out of Australia and developer contact with the app team is via a UK call center.

    Certainly not helping the situation, and possibly even a big part of the problem in the first place.

  9. I agree that Apple is bungling this, although I don’t know that it’s likely to inflict discernible damage on Apple’s revenues in the near future. It doesn’t surprise me that Apple rules its platform with an iron fist. What surprises me is the clumsiness of the fist. Apple has generally been more competent.

  10. It’s funny how nobody has pointed the obvious: Apple has a black list of “undesirable”, yet popular companies and the Rogue guys are somewhere at the top of said list, bellow Adobe Flash.

    Why? Because Rogue provides tools that allow Apple users to get around DRM. Rogue’s products allow you to record any stream coming out of the Mac and therefore make high-quality copies of DRM material. Not all users are pirates, but then again owning a safe cracking device usually is a giveaway that you have intentions of using it.

    This is not the first time Rogue has complained about the App Store’s treatment (http://blogs.oreilly.com/iphone/2008/06/a-broken-system.html). At first, Apple would not approve their developer accounts and they had to register *personally* as individual developers to get around that.

    Rogue loves Apple but Apple doesn’t love back.

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