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Facebook App Developer: Apple Doesn’t Trust Us

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facebook_iphoneHave you been checking the App Store on your iPhone for that lovely little red badge that signals available updates? I have. I want the Facebook app update that might – finally – prompt me to want to use Facebook regularly. Y’know, like the kids these days do.

Not quite two weeks ago Joe Hewitt, the developer of Facebook’s iPhone application, submitted the latest version for review. The timeline here matters; in Apple’s published answers to the FCC’s questions, they assert that the average turnaround for an application – from initial submission to publication – is 14 days (assuming the app is not rejected due to technical problems or a violation of the Terms and Conditions of the App Store).

If we hit the 14 day mark and there’s no sign of the new Facebook app in the store – and no blog article, tweet or Facebook update from Hewitt on the app’s status – tech pundits everywhere will gleefully rub Apple’s metaphorical nose in it. With all the recent drama surrounding Google Voice’s App Store refusal, the world’s tech press is watching how Apple’s approval process even more closely than it was before.

Hewitt Speaks Out

Hewitt expressed his own unhappiness with Apple’s submission/approval policies in his blog yesterday. His article “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” provides eye-opening insight into the frustration he (and presumably thousands of other developers) feels with the current state of affairs;

“I have only one major complaint with the App Store, and I can state it quite simply: the review process needs to be eliminated completely.

Does that sound scary to you, imagining a world in which any developer can just publish an app to your little touch screen computer without Apple’s saintly reviewers scrubbing it of all evil first? Well, it shouldn’t, because there is this thing called the World Wide Web which already works that way, and it has served millions and millions of people quite well for a long time now.”

Hewitt addresses Apple’s claim that the submission/review process is a necessary step in quality assurance – that is, testing apps for bugs and other nasty software maladies that, if left unchanged, might ruin the user’s iPhone experience;

“Any bug that Apple finds after their two week delay would have been found by users on day one, and fixed on day two. I’d rather have a bug in the wild for one day than have an app in the review queue for two weeks.

…let’s face it, the real things they are looking for are not bugs, but violations of the terms of service. This is all about lawyers, not quality, and it shows that the model of Apple’s justice system is guilty until proven innocent. They don’t trust us, and I resent that, because the vast majority of us are trustworthy.”

This is a powerful indictment of Apple’s submission and review policies, coming from the developer of the platform’s biggest social networking application. It’s succinct, clear, intelligently composed and cohesive. Hewitt manages to do in just a few hundred words what some very high-profile tech pundits have labored to express using many hundreds more. And I hope the press takes notice, because this is as good as it gets.

Affects All Fish, Big and Small

So far, it seems, developers have not had a particularly strong voice in this chorus. When I interviewed Hwee-Boon Yar for my article on SimplyTweet, he expressed dissatisfaction with Apple, referring to the approval process as ‘broken’, adding;

“Approvals are unpredictable and payment is hard to track… I have waited weeks, sometimes only to have an update rejected; I worked out a fix, then had it rejected again. Each re-submission puts you at the back of the queue again.”

Hwee-Boon is just one of thousands of talented, ambitious developers who have endured endless frustration with the current procedures. But while SimplyTweet is enjoying its place amongst the better-known Twitter apps, it’s no Facebook. Having Joe Hewitt’s opinions aired publicly might work wonders for communicating a more personal, human and high-profile side to the story.

Apple’s broken approval process doesn’t exist in a vacuum where it affects only applications from the big players like Google and Facebook, but it doesn’t hurt to have the developers behind those big apps add their voices to the rising chorus of disappointment. Is Apple listening? I’m sure the FCC is…

37 Responses to “Facebook App Developer: Apple Doesn’t Trust Us”

  1. Man it’s finally nice to see people use there heads, most sites I read just bash the app store. I know the app store isn’t perfect but it’s also fairly new and it gets tons of traffic and new apps everyday. What would happen if Apple just allowed any app without checking them, maybe it sounds good to some people but what about Apple that will have to support all the problems it could cause (you know most users are clueless). The iPhone is in everyones hands now, non-technical people like the average soccer mom, grandparents and kids (they are lucky to sync it to itunes and know how to put a movie on it) they use it for facebook, twitter and texting.

    I want my info to be safe, I keep lots of information on my phone, now that phones are more like computers.

    I know it must suck for honest developers, but very rarely is business perfect and you can’t satisfy everyone.

  2. The app store review process is broken, there is absolutely no doubt about that. As a consumer, a developer, and an investor in Apple, there is also no question in my mind that it must be fixed. Not only is 6 minutes not enough time to weed out the bad apps, it is not enough time to learn about the app to assess that it really does work. In my developing experience, Apple will reject an app without even reading the instructions on how it is supposed to work. The program can be totally bug free yet it goes to the back of the two week long line for no reason at all other than incompetent review. For you Apple-can-do-no-wrong fanboys out there, you ARE missing out on good updated apps due to the broken review process. Stability and innovation are definitely being stifled at this very moment. Whether the whole process should be thrown out altogether is debatable, but at the very, very least Apple needs to devote 10x more resources to the review team at a minimum. Each app deserves more than a 6 minute review and a better than two week turnaround time. If Apple wants to do it right, they should dedicate and deliver a process that promises a truly thorough review of each app (at least 30 min) and a turnaround time of under 48 hours. Until this happens, both consumers and devleopers will suffer from Apple’s intransigence.

  3. Gazoobee

    Finally … Kontra writes another article. ;)

    While the reward is obvious from the long list of comments, this kind of article is a bit beneath the AppleBlog isn’t it?

    Even if you are one of those that favours the “Apple is evil” meme, the fellow making all the complaints at Facebook is asking for a ridiculous “solution” (no barriers at all of any kind). He is also one of the programmers responsible for Facebook’s very recent, egregious efforts to use data-mining on their own clients for reasons that have nothing to do with freedom.

    The source is biased, the argument is lame, so let’s repeat the allegation on the blog to get hits?

  4. I have only one phone, my iphone, no land line or anything else. I cant take the risk of it not working because of bad apps. Developers dont like the review process, but while it may limit the features of apps it is still good for customers.
    What apple could do is go the way of the android store. Keep the app store as it is, but open the phone so that you can put downloaded apps on it directly as well. But from apples point of view there are no benefits to this, no share of the income from apps, people will complain about the phone when non-itunes apps crash it, when malware screw it up and you get a fat bill from the telco, when the batterylife is halved because of 10 apps running in the background.
    I for one would never download an app from anywhere but itunes, I cant afford the risk.

  5. You know what. I think that apples process is a little too overboard. The app HAS to be coded for use only on iPhone, so I’m guessing apple isn’t too happy that they have to share facebook with other “app existing” phones. Personally, if apple keeps this up, I’m switching to another phone and just buying an iPod touch. That way, I can have a phone that actually works, and an iPod that probably won’t.

    By the way, I love apple products, but they are pushing away thousands of customers a day because of all this junk they make us deal with!

  6. I’m sorry theappleblog. I trully think all your posters are apple posers. they just keep spewing Apple mantra like it’s in their apple-bible and they are getting a cut from Apple to spew it.

    Let me shed some light on your security with ur apps. Did u miss the article with several companies phoning home without ur knowledge and they HAVE BEEN BLESSED BY APPLE??? Jailbroken phones now have the option to opt out of this ugly practice, which you don’t have the privilege of doing because jailbreaking is for dirty pirates and shady-types.

    Quality assurance by apple? puh-leez. If they TRULY cared about their customers’ experience, they would make sure to spend a little more than 6 min/app of review. I couldn’t even take a decent crap in 6 minutes and that’s how long it takes ur dear Apple to review an app and “bless it” for the masses.

    I’m just not gonna comment anymore caz I see now that it’s a lost cause with these people leaving their dribble here.


    • The Burg

      Finally, someone who knows what they are talking about! An iPhone app runs in a sandbox and only has access to parts of the phone that Apple allows. The current Apple review process is cursory and is not going to pick up on if someone has found a way out of the sandbox. And they don’t appear to check network traffic – or they don’t care that some apps are sending out information that a user may not be expecting them to send. The 6 minute review is mainly to make sure it installs and runs on the phone/touch OS that you have specified and to make sure the content matches the rating you have provided.

    • Allister

      Excellent. I was looking for this comment. I thought ‘somebody has to have pointed this out already, surely’. Hewitt’s chances of getting it approved in 14 days are 50/50. It’s in the math folks.

  7. I would not trust anything on my iPhone that hasn’t been “blessed” by Apple. I want it to work and I don’t wanna be the one finding the glitches. I want a smooth experience and Apple provides that. As has been said before: Developers, if you don’t like the way Apple runs it’s business than take your business elsewhere. This is a free country. It’s not like the iPhone is the only smartphone platform. It’s the best one and only because it’s Apple!

  8. Facebook Connect for the iPhone is one of the worst products out there. Hewitt should be hanged and quartered for releasing this code upon unsuspecting iPhone apps. He may not realize it, but that one bundle of code is responsible for a lot of delays in the app review process. Why? Because otherwise-well-behaving apps get red-flagged due to some of the nasty stuff that Facebook Connect does (such as harvesting your last known zip code from CoreLocation using a runtime hack that avoids popping up the location dialog). And of course most people aren’t even aware that Facebook Connect is causing these delays, all they know is their app takes longer to approve than it should take (as the red flag requires a complete manual review of the app).

  9. Scott B.

    I Agree with Bonsai,

    Facebook has proven it can’t be trusted, It’s indiscretion’s with information handling and not completely disclosing it’s intensions (FAIL).

    Just another way of a Developer trying to get free publicity, And I don’t buy it.

    This pointing fingers by developers is getting old, Your playing in Apples Sandbox Baby, you can’t cry when the Game and rules were set You Signed an Agreement.

    Free Press to the Oppressed?? Yes it Is.

    If a developer screams enough they believe it will Get Public Outreach and Support, But Those who understand this Pathetic Ploy for Cheap Press Don’t Buy it.

    Facebook has not been very trustworthy with Information, and in time we will see more information with the Release of all the Privacy probes occurring with these sellouts.

    14 day’s, Not Inducing weekends and Holiday’s- I think Joe Hewitt needs to do a little Math on the 14 Day Turnaround, Also they said they (TRY TO), Not that it was a Given 14 day turnaround.

    14 Day’s (No… Not Yet Friend),- Subtract your Weekends and Holidays if any.

    If the Developers aren’t Happy, Go to a Different Platform.

    But Unhappy Whinny Developers Need to stop complaining.

    Some Developers Believe Apple is Handing out Cookies and Milk.

    This is a Business this is there Platform, Not happy Go Somewhere Else.

    Developers Compete with other Developers and the ones that complain will fade in the distance as the others with a keen understanding of the Choice & Chance they take will prevail.

    No One Like a Whinier.

    • “they assert that the average turnaround for an application – from initial submission to publication – is 14 days”

      Given Facebook’s past data sharing sins, I could easily see their app taking two or three times that long. Someone has to be the statistical outlier, IMO that might as well be Joe Hewitt and his buddies from Facebook.

  10. As a writer covering Apple for a few years and just entered the App Store, I have to both agree and disagree with Hewitt. The review process is definitely frustrating, but there are plenty of problems that come from a wide open Internet where anyone can download any app. Just look at the very ads that Apple uses to sell its Macs—its built much of its “Get a Mac” campaign pushing the notion that viruses and malware are constantly vying for PC users’ hard drives. To an extent, the simple fact is that’s it’s true.

    Given the popularity of the iPhone, there is absolutely no way that malware writers would pass it up. People’s entire lives are in their phones now, and that is doubly try for smartphones like the iPhone.

    Think about it: what would stop someone from, say, posting an app to the App Store, and then a piece of malware that gets on your phone and buys that app 1,000 times with that handy dandy iTunes account that is required for every phone?

    There are a *lot* of things wrong with the App Store process, but Apple is—very slowly—improving things. The fact that Apple not only publicly stated the average review time and now gives developers an estimated time of their wait in the queue is a sign that the company is listening. But to completely eliminate the review process on a platform that is so popular, powerful, and an easy target for dangerous malware would be suicide for everyone involved.

  11. I’m also a consumer and am very glad Apple puts another set of eyes on developers applications before they are let loose on my iPhone. I also hope that before the Tech pundits decide to rub Apple’s nose in it they look up the definition of average! Besides I’m sure the world will not come to an end if the free Facebook app takes longer to get to the store.

  12. It’s good to know an everday usage widely popular facebook app that could possibly be made by anyone out there doesn’t also come with a “keylogger” inside that can basically take all your personal info and who knows what they can do with it… Yah it’s true Apple doesn’t trust you and makes you go through a submission process that requires the inspection from their own man power, but basically if you want to make money or gain popularity using their platform, then you got to accept their terms and conditions. If you don’t like it, make your own cellphone? Then you can do whatever you want…

    • Right on. I’m not so sure about Facebook putting something in as malignant as a “keylogger,” but I certainly wouldn’t put it past them to put in some code that lifts personal info off the phone about the user that was not explicitly volunteered and uploads it to Facebook so that they can sell it to their marketing and advertising partners. After all, that’s where their income comes from. What we from them with the intrusive “Beacon” service (which was eventually tuned down after massive criticism) proves my point.

      Besides, Facebook has tight integration with the Pre, running in the background no less. And I mean, the Pre is totally gonna take over the mobile landscape…right? :)

  13. Wasn’t facebook the one who secretly changed the terms and conditions of their website without letting its users know? Who is he talking about trust?

    The iPhone is apple’s and if they don’t want a certain program on the phone that is their right. Just how other phones do the same thing. Facebook is going under anyway and i can care less if they come out with 3.0!!

  14. BlackLeopard

    Sorry, but I for one (I’m an apple customer) don’t want any code on my iPhone that Apple hasn’t blessed. What’s to stop assholes from slipping in malware? The reason the iPhone is so awesome and works so well, is that Apple has their hands all over it.

    All you cry babies that can’t wait a lousy days for your app to be approved need to find something better to do. I’m tired of listening to grown men cry and moan about it. Seriously, are you sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting for it? You should be working on the next thing in the queue. Jeez, I mean, by the time my app is approved, I’m usually wrapping up the next one.

  15. BlackLeopard

    As a CONSUMER, **NOT** a developer, I am VERY glad Apple is making sure that all applications are reliable and will not degrade performance of the hardware device. I would rather wait an extra week or two for an application – but KNOW that everything in the App store has been checked for stability and malicious code. Can’t say THAT ’bout the web… CAN you. Remember – in Apple’s eyes, it’s all about the USER experience (Not the developer’s).

  16. Somebody call the waaaaaaaa-bulance. We know. We know. We know the approval process sucks. I love my iphone to death, but I am so tired of hearing developers complain every single day. If you have such a big problem with Apple, then either develop for another platform or shut up.

    Or at least wait and see what Apple has under it’s sleeves for this September event. If Phil Schiller is to be trusted (and I see no reason why he shouldn’t), then there are big changes for the App store coming. Apple hears these complaints and I’m sure they will change tactics, but on their own time.

  17. Joe Hewitt, from Facebook no less, says: “They don’t trust us, and I resent that”.
    Well, why would anyone trust Facebook? I certainly don’t and I’m not sure there’s any reason Apple should trust them either. Nor Google for that matter. The way Google and Facebook behave makes me think that Apple are probably actually on the right track.

    • ooooooookay. do you just like to “hear” urself “talk” (read ur own crap is what I’m saying). I hate facebook, but that’s a diff story. Millions of people have found it a great tool. Obviously, you have to be a trustworthy developer to have the trust of millions of people, which I’m sure Facebook does now after their little shenanigans with the law.

      Anyway, this debate is not about the utility of Facebook but about a developer of a trusted social outlet.

      Why do you have to spew unrelated sh!t on the internets. As another blogger said, stop dumping ur sh!t on teh internets, it’s not a garbage truck.

    • @mech

      First off, Facebook and Google have both been attacked quite often by critics and users for Big Brother-esque tactics and privacy concerns. That includes many of those millions of people who use them. I use Facebook and Google too, but it doesn’t mean I trust them. I’m not saying Apple shouldn’t lighten up their approval process, just clarifying the commenters points that you are attacking.

      As for your own comment, particularly the part about “dumping ur shit on teh internets,” perhaps you could try checking the spelling and grammar of your own posts before you come on and criticize other people for “spew[ing] unrelated shit on the internets […] it’s not a garbage truck.”