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 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 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.

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