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App Store Roundtable: Transparency and the Approval System

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For our next installment of the App Store Roundtable, we talked with developers about an issue that comes up time and again: the application approval system and the overall transparency of the inner workings of the App Store. When developers submit their products to Apple, we have to cross our fingers and hope they’ll be allowed into the App Store, as there’s very little consistency or feedback.

My biggest gripe about selling in the App Store is Apple’s lack of status updates during the review process. Even a “we received your app and are reviewing it” would be a big help.

— Doug Davies, developer of JiggleBalls

I guess the single most burning issue with the App Store is the intransparent review process. One submits an app, then after an indeterminate time it is approved or not; there are no clean cut rules; there is no public timeline; there is no ETA; there is no feedback (even a page in the dev center with “Status: Waiting for review,” “reviewing” or something equally vague would help).

— Martin J. Laubach, developer of Moonlight

The whole process needs a lot more transparency because developers are the lifeblood of the appstore and they need to plan their future development and marketing initiatives based on some general time line. If Apple subjectively rejects an app for “being too simple” when there are literally hundreds of simpler apps already in the store, they are hurting the development process. There currently aren’t any guidelines for what is “too simple.”

— Dan of Rareapps

I also feel that apple is not giving the approval process enough attention, we should not have to put up with scandals such as the port of the famous Nintendo Duck Hunt (exact graphics ) in there. Apple should develop a quality assurance process within its approval process so completely ridiculous games wont get through.

— Brynjar Gigja of On The Rocks, developer of Tiltafun

The biggest issue for us is the lack of information on how the App Store really works. So much of what we do hinges on how the store operates- how and when applications are approved, which apps are featured, exactly how the top 100 list is computed, and how release dates work. Knowing how these details work is key, but in depth information has never been provided.

— Andy Korth of Howling Moon Software, developer of Crayon Ball

Featured Slots

If you gather two or more iPhone developers together at any time the conversation will inevitably touch on the featured lists. These are the suggested apps you see in the various App Store lists (What’s New, What’s Hot etc.), and most apps that are lucky enough to get one of these slots find themselves with many thousands of dollars worth of extra sales. This is another area where developers would welcome more transparency.

I’d really like Apple to be clear how they choose to feature apps. Is there anything that can be done to help, or anything which definitely blocks you from being featured?

— Tim Haines, developer of BurnBall

I would like to know more about how Apple chooses it’s featured products, I would like Apple to give us developers more heads up to changes in the market place, what they have in mind for the future so we can adjust.

— Brynjar Gigja

There’s this feeling that the app review and featuring department is completely isolated from the world. There seems to be nothing, or very little you can do as an independent to get their attention.

— Mike Kasprzak

It would be nice if you could pitch your app to Apple (or even a monetary model) so that you could be displayed at the top level (other than by release date) for a few days. As an “indie” it’s frustrating trying to get exposure.

— Doug Davies

Join us next time?

If you are an iPhone developer with experience of the App Store and would like to participate by sharing some opinions in future App Store Roundtables, please get in touch via our contact form.

5 Responses to “App Store Roundtable: Transparency and the Approval System”

  1. I feel somewhere in the middle of Gazoobee and Msr. Gibson. We’ve dealt with two rejections since we started. One of them was totally fair – they found a bug that e had missed and frankly I was glad that Apple caught it instead of our customers. But the other was so random and indecipherable we basically reworded our description text just a little and resubmitted to get approved.

    It’s that second experience where even a little window to say “What are you saying here?” would have been SOOO valuable. It’s also a very strange situation where developers are asked to commit significant time and money to a project before there is any ability to see the project approved or rejected.

    That’s where a little give and take from Apple would make the system better for everybody, including Apple. As it is all developers are basically forced into a kind of ‘throw everything up and see what sticks’ situation which only means Apple has a lot more apps to review than they really want and the app store omits apps that would be good, and includes apps that are just chaff.

  2. John Gibson


    It is not a situation where perception does not equate with reality. I believe you are correct about the number of submissions and the difficulty that causes which is all the more reason to implement some kind of status update system.

    The biggest problem with the App Store process is the terrible inconsistency in what constitutes cause for rejection. I have no idea what the process is inside of Apple w/the process but the logical assumption must be that there is a complete lack of set guidelines as to what triggers a rejection. And that is a huge problem where perception doesn’t do reality justice. It shouldn’t be a crapshoot whether or not an app gets approval.

  3. Gazoobee

    What all these articles that bash Apple over the app store fail to ever talk about (and this one is the same), is the sheer volume of the submissions and the relative newness of the entire operation.

    The app store hasn’t even been around for very long at all and I happen to know they get a “stupid ridiculous” volume of submissions even if you don’t count the upgrades and new versions or things. What do people expect?

    Sure, things like Duck Hunt could have been avoided if there was one single experienced software expert looking at each submission, but that’s just not possible folks. The kinds of people (developers) who could easily catch these glitches as they happen are not interested in working for basic wages looking at tens of thousands of dull, technical submissions to the app store. It’s not possible for Steve to check every one and I don’t see why no one ever seems to realise that.

    A bunch of people work really hard in boring conditions trying to figure out if the apps should be accepted or not. They aren’t developers, and they have a printed book of instructions and guidelines to work from. They have to rely on people reporting these kind of things to them to a degree and while that has worked rather well for them, it’s portrayed in the media and on sites like this as “failure” on Apple’s part instead of what it really is which is Apple responding to complaints rather effectively and quickly.

    It’s also the complaints that produce the perception that there is a “problem” when there really isn’t so much. If the developers weren’t so hot to complain all the time and run Apple over the coals every time their update gets a rejection letter, half the problems would disappear.

    I’m not suggesting that there aren’t *any* problems, just that they are:

    – mostly illusory
    – to be expected
    – shouldn’t be whined about
    – usually quickly fixed
    – often have a very innocuous explanation

    Most of the glitches in acceptance are worked out eventually and very very few apps