Cupertino, You Have a Problem

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. [digg=]

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.