The App Store Opus and the Unasked Question

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In a 3,000-word analysis of a paradigm shift in personal technology fit for a press release, the New York Times has declared the App Store worthy of buzzword status. Including comments from Apple executives Phil Schiller and Eddy Cue, “Apple’s Game Changer, Downloading Now” is also something of a Rorschach test on the App Store review process.

There is no shortage of praise for the App Store, starting with Lynch Smith of gaming company Freeverse, who cites the App Store as the “future of digital distribution.” That’s followed by Katy Huberty of Morgan Stanley, not the most accurate of analysts when it comes to projecting Apple’s quarterly results, saying Apple is attempting “to become the Microsoft of the smartphone market.” I guess that’s supposed to be good, but is the App Store good, as in not evil?

With the App Store, Apple has replaced a carrier distribution model for applications that was expensive, time-consuming, and mercurial with one that is inexpensive, time-consuming, and mercurial. Not a week goes by that a bizarre rejection is reported on, occasionally to be approved on appeal, and it seems that not a month goes by that Schiller isn’t defending the review process:

“I think, by and large, we do a very good job there,” Mr. Schiller said. “Sometimes we make a judgment call both ways, that people give us feedback on, either rejecting something that perhaps on second consideration shouldn’t be, or accepting something that on second consideration shouldn’t be.”

What does that even mean? Anyway, senior VP Cue is a little more cogent on Apple’s App Store efforts, noting that with music “we really don’t have to review each and every song.” According to Apple, more than 10,000 applications are submitted each week. Most “sail through with no difficulty,” with “greater scrutiny” being largely applied to apps with “bugs or glitches in the coding.” It’s a “necessary evil” to protect “customer trust.”

Which customers? That’s the real question. Who, exactly, is Apple trying to persuade that the App Store review process is not a mess? While personal technology enthusiasts and developers might care about the Byzantine nature of the App Store review process, the vast majority of iPhone and iPod touch users don’t, at least if one measures opinion by downloads. So what, or who, is Apple worried about?

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