After submitting a minor .1 bug fix for Airfoil Speakers Touch 1.0.1 [Free - iTunes link] for iPhone and iPod touch, longtime Mac developers Rogue Amoeba waited for what they assumed would be a routine App Store review. Three and a half months, three rejections, and the unsuccessful intervention of a champion at Apple, the app is finally in the store, but the developer has decided the process is too odorous to continue with the iPhone platform.
Don't stop us just because you've heard this
before over and over again.
The issue this time was Rogue Amoeba discovering the type of Mac and exact application that was being used as audio source, and displaying the corresponding Mac OS X-provided image of the machine and icon for the app.
Though standard -- intended -- behavior on the Mac, Apple's App Store policy branded this a trademark violation and they requested it be changed. Rogue Amoeba assumed the request was erroneous and tried resubmitting, tried escalating via email, even had a champion inside Apple try help get it through. In the end, the App Store policy was an immovable object, and Rogue Amoeba had to remove the Mac and app icon images. Airfoil Speakers Touch 1.0.1 was then approved and placed in the app store.
(And during the whole process, Airfoil Speakers Touch 1.0, buggy as it was, and using the exact same artwork Apple had issue with in 1.0.1 was left untouched in the App Store for users to download and use).
In the future, we hope that developers will be allowed to ship software without needing Apple’s approval at all, the same way we do on Mac OS X. We hope the App Store will get better, review times will be shorter, reviews will be more intelligent, and that we can all focus on making great software. Right now, however, the platform is a mess.
The chorus of disenchanted developers is growing and we’re adding our voices as well. Rogue Amoeba no longer has any plans for additional iPhone applications, and updates to our existing iPhone applications will likely be rare. The iPhone platform had great promise, but that promise is not enough, so we’re focusing on the Mac.
Add our voice to the chorus: fix. this. More after the break...
While many of these developers point to Apple acting as App Store gatekeeper as the issue, we'd submit right now the actual issue is Apple continuing to act as a capricious, illogical, unpredictable, often stupefying gatekeeper.
Curating a store is just a business model. It may well cost them developers philosophically opposed to the idea, even incredibly talented ones like Facebook's Joe Hewitt, but every decision has an opportunity cost. Choosing to curate a store, even one growing so fast it has 2 billion downloads and 100,000 apps, and continuing to suffer from poor communications, overzealous legal oversight, unclear guidelines, and the crap shoot that seems ultimately at the core of any given app getting approved on any given day... it just doesn't work.
Getting rid of the gatekeeper might treat the symptom but is it the cure? Apple legal could just as easily issue a DMCA demand notice for an app using artwork they felt was a trademark violation, and have it taken down -- even under Google's more open, publish-first, investigate-if-flagged App Market system. The problem is Apple shouldn't think using that artwork is a problem on the iPhone if it isn't on the Mac. That, and the dozens of other so-obvious-it-hurts-our-brains-issues, are what needs to be fixed, and what are driving developers to question the platform.
Like Palm, Apple could allow developers to skip review entirely, leave them off the storefront, but give them a direct download link to market and distribute on their own. That wouldn't fix this issue. They could extend Ad-Hoc to infinity so there'd be no update notification or over-the-air (re)downloads, but developers could make binaries available themselves and users could drag and drop them into iTunes to install, along with beefy warning flags for "unapproved apps". They could create those $900+ "pro" developer accounts, along with dedicated App Store point-of-contact and accelerated review process (levels of partnership program exist on many other platforms and in many other businesses).
Or Apple could just spend some of that 35 billion on hiring a legion of reviewers (rather than just 40ish), training them to the standards of Apple Retail, creating a second team dedicated to communicating with developers, and third team focused solely on whatever tiny percentage of cases, like the one above, spiral out of control.
2 billion downloads, 100,000 apps -- Apple touts the growth and size of the App Store in press releases, they need to start respecting that size in practice. Observably respecting. It shouldn't take a champion inside Apple. It shouldn't take emails from Apple Marketing SVP, Phil Schiller. It shouldn't take an open letter from Steve Jobs. (Though it might help restore some developer confidence at this point). It should just work, and Apple needs to invest whatever they need to invest at this point to make it work.