UPDATED: Phil Schiller Addresses App Store -- Not to Developers but to BusinessWeek

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UPDATE: As expected, Rogue Ameoba's Airfoil Touch has been approved, with the original graphics displayed from Mac OS X. Meanwhile, Gx5 tells us it took over a year to get their one-touch search portal app, iClueless approved following a string of rejections (arguably some warranted, but still incredibly time consuming given Apple's process). Again we wonder if having a "big voice" makes a big difference?

ORIGINAL: Apple Senior VP of Marketing, Phil Schiller, has once again stepped forward to address growing concerns about the iTunes App Store approval process -- but this time he's avoided developers and their complaints about opacity and inconsistency, and instead gone to BusinessWeek to get ahead of the story going mainstream.

Let's think about this for a moment. Schiller's previous, highly publicized comments have been emails addressed to bloggers and Mac developers, and wrung truthy enough to give a tiny glimmer of hope to those who just assumed Apple's upper management was oblivious to the problems around rejected apps. These comments read more like spin; like instead of fixing the App Store, they're worried concerns are spreading beyond developers and the blogsphere, and instead of earnestly working even harder to fix them, they just want to minimize and marginalize the complaints in the minds of the general press and public, who might be hearing about it for the first time following Facebook developer Joe Hewitt's high-profile exodus from the App Store.

The problem is, Apple has historically proven they're terrible at handling bad PR. From the original iPhone price cut to MobileMe's disastrous launch to Steve Jobs' health to everything involving the App Store approval process to date, they come off as wrong-headed and out of touch until it seems almost too late. Case in point, Schiller's comments to BusinessWeek today, where he cites 90% of rejections being related to technical bugs in the app (and contends developers are happy about the "safety net" Apple QA provides). 1% which fall into gray areas Apple hadn't previously considered (example given, apps that help cheat at Casino gambling), and an undisclosed amount that violate trademarks or copyrights:

  • "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."
  • "Whatever your favorite retailer is, of course they care about the quality of products they offer. We review the applications to make sure they work as the customers expect them to work when they download them."
  • "There have been applications submitted for approval that will steal personal data, or which are intended to help the user break the law, or which contain inappropriate content."
  • "We had to go study state and international laws about what's legal and what isn't, and what legal exposure that creates for Apple or the customer."
  • "We've had a lot of eyes on us. We've had inquiries from governments and political leaders asking us what we were doing to protect children from inappropriate content,"
  • "If you don't defend your trademarks, in the end you end up not owning them. And sometimes other companies come to us saying they've seen their trademarks used in apps without permission. We see that a lot."

Rogue Ameoba's Airfoil Touch rejection is used in the article, and Schiller responds in the abstract:

  • "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. We're trying to learn and expand the rules to make it fair for everyone."

Apparently it will work out, however, as Airfoil Touch is being re-submitted with the original Mac OS X-pushed artwork restored. And some of Schiller's points are fair enough, we suppose, they're just addressing the wrong forum, and overall (still) avoiding the real problem. And no, it's not Apple being a "gatekeeper".

If Apple wants to run a boutique instead of a flea market, good for them -- the market will decide if end-users ultimately prefer that to the webOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian, and WebApp alternatives. Just stop being a bad "gatekeeper*. Talk to your developers. Get a dedicated developer point man like Palm has. Take questions about the App Store (especially at WWDC). Spend less time with BusinessWeek and more talking to the great developers, so end users get those great apps. B'okay?

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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