In what BusinessWeek is describing as “his first extensive interview on the subject,” Phil Schiller, everyone’s favorite Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing for Apple (s aapl), has defended Apple’s application approval process.
I’ve read through it a few times, and I’d hardly call it “extensive.” I think it’s more accurately described as “PR spin” more than anything else. Schiller’s opening salvo is actually an advertisement.
We’ve built a store for the most part that people can trust. You and your family and friends can download applications from the store, and for the most part they do what you’d expect, and they get onto your phone, and you get billed appropriately, and it all just works.
It’s obviously going to transmit good vibes to the majority of BusinessWeek readers (who likely weren’t even aware of an application approval process in the first place, never mind a problem with it) but it’s unlikely to smooth the feathers of frustrated, angry developers. See, Mr. Schiller not only defended the approval process, but said that developers actually like it.
Most [apps] are approved and some are sent back to the developer. In about 90% of those cases, Apple requests technical fixes—usually for bugs in the software or because something doesn’t work as expected. Developers are generally glad to have this safety net because usually Apple’s review process finds problems they actually want to fix.
Here’s what TechCrunch’s Jason Kincaid had to say about that:
This is a laughable statement. Developers may like the concept of having an external QA safety net that helps catch bugs, but not one that’s incredibly inconsistent and penalizes them with extended delays and notoriously bad communication.
Schiller does manage to admit that Apple has made mistakes. Sadly, he doesn’t say it loudly enough. In a Social Networking era when transparency is not only beneficial to a company but almost essential to maintaining a happy customer base, Apple still can’t manage genuine “openness” where it most counts. I’m sure Misters Jobs and Schiller grudgingly decided this interview was a necessary (if bitter-tasting) step in damage-control. But it’s dripping with convoluted and downright unfriendly corporate-speak.
Here are Schiller’s comments on the matter of Apple’s recent inconsistent approach to trademark protection (brief recap; Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil Speakers app displayed a tiny icon of the remote computer to which the app was connected — Apple initially approved the app, and it proved very successful. Then someone noticed the icons were of Macs, and Apple pulled it for trademark violation).
[Schiller] says Apple is trying to make trademark guidelines more sophisticated. “We need to delineate something that might confuse the customer and be an inappropriate use of a trademark from something that’s just referring to a product for the sake of compatibility,” he says. “We’re trying to learn and expand the rules to make it fair for everyone.”
In a twist I didn’t see coming, BusinessWeek’s Arik Hesseldahl adds that Rogue Amoeba “…will soon submit a version of the app with the Apple images intact.” That’s good to know, since it was almost universally agreed (except perhaps by the most fundamental fanbois) that Apple’s actions were not only inconsistent and hypocritical — they were just plain stupid.
Schiller’s interview highlights how badly Apple is underestimating the negative impact the App Store is having on its reputation in the developer community… Apple may not care about losing a handful of developers to Android, but their shortsighted strategy of answering developer complaints with PR spin rather than transparency and action may hurt them in the long run.
I’ll give Apple this; it’s learning. Slowly, painfully slowly, continental-drift-slowly, but remember that the iPhone is not yet three years old, the application store even younger. In a sense, Apple is making this up as it goes, and it’s bound to take some wrong turns along the winding path toward approval process nirvana. Developers don’t expect Apple to be perfect; they will tolerate and forgive occasional missteps, but only if the channel of discourse between them significantly improves beyond where it stands today; which, so far as I can see, is a slightly updated status page on the Apple Dev Center website and, when developers get rowdy enough, the occasional intervention by Phil Schiller.
Do we need Apple to act, as Joe Hewitt put it, as Gatekeepers? Apple doesn’t vet the quality and functionality of applications built for the Macintosh; though, I wonder — were the Mac to be invented today, would Apple insist on an Application Store for the desktop Mac OS X? If so, would it offer the same reasoning for its draconian regulation of its software ecosystem?
Everyone has an opinion on how best to solve the problem; I suspect it’s all about balance. An approval process is fine so long as Apple’s rules are fair, practical and consistently applied across all apps, all the time. And if or when it screws up, Apple should admit it instantly and correct its error. So, riddle me this… if it’s so easy for the community to offer reasonable solutions, why is it proving so hard for Apple?