Apple’s Phil Schiller Responds to App Store Furore and Ninja Words Debacle

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In an attempt to salvage what little good will is left in the App Store developer community, Apple’s senior vice president, Phil Schiller, has fought back against burgeoning anti-App Store sentiment.

In recent weeks an increasing number of apps submitted to Apple for App Store release have been unceremoniously rejected. Apple’s App Store approval process has proven to be a costly and inconsistent barrier to the App Store. The most recent rejection, Ninjawords, a fast dictionary app powered by Wiktionary.org, has sparked growing unrest in the Apple developer community. Ninjawords was initially rejected on the basis that it included several words that Apple found objectionable. Apple eventually approved the app but only after several words had been censored and the app was certified with a 17+ parental control rating.

Apple is usually known for its closed-door policy when it comes to commenting on any speculation surrounding the company, however in an entirely unexpected move, Phil Schiller has publicly responded to the growing disapproval of the development community. In a letter written to Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, Schiller responded directly to the accusations Apple was facing:

“… Apple did not censor the content in this developer’s application and Apple did not reject this developer’s application for including references to common swear words. You accused Apple of both in your story and the fact is that we did neither.”

Schiller continued by explaining that the developers of Ninjawords, Matchstick Software, and Gruber’s version of events wasn’t entirely accurate:

“The Ninjawords application was not rejected in the App Store review process for including common “swear” words… The issue that the App Store reviewers did find with the Ninjawords application is that it provided access to other more vulgar terms than those found in traditional and common dictionaries, words that many reasonable people might find upsetting or objectionable.”

Schiller’s differing version of events illustrates that there’s a clear breakdown in communication between developers and Apple when it comes to App Store approvals. This situation only goes to highlight the issues that developers encounter when attempting to enter into a dialogue with Apple’s App Store reviewers. However Schiller’s closing remarks hinted that Apple may be prepared to admit that they too can get it wrong:

“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.”

While Gruber seemed somewhat sated by Schiller’s response, I’m not so convinced. The folks at Matchstick Software may have a different perspective than that of Schiller on the whole debacle, but it doesn’t fix the uncomfortable and costly situation that many developers still find themselves in. Having to make changes to apps and re-submit is a timely process, almost certainly incurring additional development costs.

Furthermore, the email from Schiller certainly doesn’t excuse Apple for the blatant inconsistencies present in the app approval process. In his post discussing the email, Gruber says that, “[Schiller’s response] is the first proof I’ve seen that Apple’s leadership is trying to make the course correction that many of us see as necessary for the long-term success of the platform.”

Apple may have admitted they can be wrong, but it seems that many developers are looking for dramatic and immediate changes. It looks like both Apple and the developer community are in agreement that a serious shake-up to get the App Store working effectively.

With talk of developers and pundits alike abandoning the iPhone, the coming weeks will prove important for Apple in resolving the app review process and bringing the App Store back on track.

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