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Apple’s App Store Approval Process Now Includes an Automated Layer

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App Store developers now have more to contend with than just the fickle tastes of the humans Apple (s aapl) has reviewing submissions. Now, submissions also go through an automated filter that determines whether or not the app is obeying the rules and not using any of Apple’s private APIs, which is a no-no, according to the developer agreement.

The news comes via a conversation that occurred between developers on Twitter. Craig Hockenberry, best known for Twitterific, guessed that the App Store now contains a mechanism to check submitted code against proper framework use, and John Gruber responded that Apple has in fact recently begun to do just that.

The specific function of the new automated component is to check submissions for private API calls. If it finds any, the app is rejected outright. Presumably, such a check would be run at the beginning of the review process, thereby cutting down a lot on the number of submissions that must be reviewed by actual human beings. In other words, it’s a volume compensation strategy on Apple’s part.

It’s also technically fair, since Apple has said all along that private APIs are off-limits. The published reason being that Apple can’t confirm that said APIs will remain stable from release to release of the iPhone OS, meaning that something based on them might break every time an update rolls out. By forcing developers to stick with the public APIs, Apple is trying to ensure that some stability exists for end-users who depend on the hundred thousand apps or so available now in the App Store.

Despite being technically fair, the move feels a little unfair to developers, since Apple hasn’t exactly been consistent about enforcing the rules regarding private APIs up till now. One reason could have been that spotting their use just isn’t that easy, which the computer filter now rectifies. But it seems clear that Apple also looked the other way in at least a couple of cases when it suited it to do so, like with Google’s (s goog) mobile search app, hence my suggestion that this has more to do with reducing workload using a non-arbitrary filter than anything else.

While the introduction of an automated layer does, on the surface, seem to guarantee a level of fairness, it also probably isn’t very encouraging to developers, who now essentially face a firewall before they gain access to individuals they can actually talk to about what’s wrong with their submission. Expect more headaches for the App Store team as the fallout for the implementation of this measure.

18 Responses to “Apple’s App Store Approval Process Now Includes an Automated Layer”

  1. The logical next step would be for Apple to grant developers direct access to this automated test. If developers could test their apps at any point prior to submission, it would be a win-win for everybody except other phone makers. And as we all know, Apple likes to take the next step.

  2. I think that Apple should make the process a little easier for *established developers* but not just everyone. If Apple lowers the bar for everyone, the App Store is going to wind up filled up with a bunch of worthless trash just like the Android Market has wound up with.

    • @Janey. It’s already too late for that. When I think of worthless trash, the first thing that comes to mind is the iPhone App Store. After all of the “100,000” applications, how many of those are stand-alone ebooks, worthless task managers, and other throwaway apps? Probably the majority of them. And while I don’t have an Android phone, My guess is that it’s actually worse in the App store than it is in the Android marketplace.

      No other example shows this better than a recent story run here on TAB. In a review of the home screens of several famous bloggers, the author found that there was a huge overlap between the apps that that people had installed. This leads to one conclusion: while the app store may have a huge variety, very little of it is actually compelling.

      Which makes it the poster child for a broken process.

  3. Synthmeister

    If I were a developer doing my best to play by the rules, I would be extremely happy that Apple is doing it’s best to reject developers not playing by the rules as quickly as possible, and waste as little time as possible.

    So what’s the problem here?

  4. It’s a good thing. I’m surprised they are “just starting” this as I assumed that it was already in there. It’s not that difficult a thing to do–use otool to see what’s being called.

    I’m sure Google got nixed for using private APIs and they went “up the ladder” until they found someone who said it was okay. But Apple would want to control this for just the reasons specified. If 1000 other developers come along and say, “Hey! We want to use that, too!” Apple would say no only because it is a private API. They may have let one company use it, but they don’t want to let 1000 other companies use it.

    Think of it this way: Suppose Apple is nice (ha!) and, when they make a change to the API, they need to notify the people who are using it. In this case, all they have to do is call Google and say, “We may have broken you. Check this out.” If they give out this private API to 1000 other developers, that’s 1000 phone calls. That’s 1000 people who need to update their code. What are the chances that they’re all going to get right to that?

  5. I agree with Aaron. Automating the process seems like a good thing to me. I’m sure there will be some headaches in the beginning but I think the move is good overall. And hopefully review times will improve by automating a portion of the review process.

  6. Aaron Fisher

    Apple speeds up review process. Makes it more objective, with less chance of human error.

    TAB sees it as a negative!?!?!? You guys really need to cheer up. Look on the bright side for a change.