The App Store Opus and the Unasked Question


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 (s aapl) 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?


Johann Blake

A smart app developer is going to build a great solution to some problem. While the hardware and OS will play a role in determing the target device, it can never be the primary factor. Hardware devices and even operating systems come and go like the wind. While the same can be said of software solutions, they tend to have a higher life expectancy. If your business is centered around providing a great solution to some problem, in all likelihood, it will get approved by Apple, so you really have little to worry about. On the other hand, if you’re really riding the iPhone bandwagon to just make a quick buck, then be prepared for a lot of headaches and possible failure, especially if those apps are questionable in nature and have any real value to add to the ecosystem.


Frankly, Apple is worried about developers. You know, the people who actually write all that useful (and not so useful) stuff that people want to buy to use on their iPhones and iPod touches. If the developers go, the App Store goes.

Say I’m considering developing an iPhone app. There’s a finite chance that it will be denied by Apple. There’s no chance that it will be denied by Google.

You can point out Apple’s millions of users, but if Apple–as the gatekeeper–won’t let me reach them, why should I devote the time? Perhaps I’d be smarter to develop for Android–at least initially–where I know I’ll be able to get my App to customers, where I’ll be able to fix bugs and send updates and have happier customers than I will with Apple, etc. etc. This will help generate publicity so that when I decide to bring my App to the iPhone/iPod touch, I’ll have a better chance of getting it past Apple’s gatekeepers.

So Apple is trying to appeal to people considering developing Apps more than those who already have. As you say, not a week goes by when we don’t hear about some issue with the App Store. If I were developing an App, those stories would concern me. “What if I spend all this time developing my App and Apple says ‘No’? Do I have to send Steve Jobs and e-mail? Do I need to post to some blog and try to get some publicity? Is there some procedure I can go through other than trying to get the media’s attention?”

Phil’s doing a wonderful job trying to downplay the problems that a few developers are having. The problem is that he’s not addressing how those 0.1% of developers get their problem solved. At the moment, if you happen to fall into that 0.1% camp (and, in theory, that’s 10 developers per week) you have nowhere to go but the publicity route. And that’s bad for Apple.


What Schiller is saying is that Apple is learning, and while it does, there’s room for all sorts of mistakes.

He’s already pointed out elsewhere that one area of learning is trademarks and the lack of clarity on what a company has to do to protect its trademarks while allowing others to use them. That seems to have been cleared up with the lawyers and now apps can use Apple’s trademarks, without Apple losing its ability to defend them. Another area is publicly controversial words/titles/content etc, where Apple has deferred to the publishing realm – if you’ve published a physical book, then you can reuse that within the App Store. If you haven’t, then Apple doesn’t want to make the decision, so you’ll likely get rejected.

One thing is for sure: It’s a very complex process to manage the App store shelves.


“So what, or who, is Apple worried about?”

Apple is worried about bad press. How do you diss the iPhone? You point out the draconian App approval process. The fact that over 99% of all Apps get approved, once they work properly, is immaterial.


I’d love to see the stats of how many of problematic (crashing, bricked, slowed etc.) iPhones run unapproved apps. I bet it’s the majority. OK, the rules are maybe a little too strict, but then again, it is a perfect defensive system from apps that can be harmful due to poor coding.


The problem with that argument is when you get two code-identical apps submitted (the only difference being image graphics) and one is approved the other rejected. It’s a mess.

Comments are closed.