Thoughts on the iPhone App Store review process

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Erica Sadun
August 7th, 2008
Thoughts on the iPhone App Store review process

Should Apple have approved "I Am Rich"? Pretty much everyone agrees that it's a useless application. But once approved, should they have pulled it? Jason Kottke says it should stay in the App Store. He argues that Apple should be providing an open marketplace rather than a hand-selected boutique.

Say what you will about Apple's App Store shortcomings (no shopping carts? What were they thinking!), iPhone consumers are split between those who'd prefer greater oversight and those who'd rather let the free market decide.

Follow the jump for more thoughts about the App Store review process.

For me, the bigger Apple story here is not whether "I am Rich" is for sale or not but rather how Apple should play its approval role. I've been very fortunate in having access to a wide spectrum of developers. I've been able to listen to their stories as well as to explore App Store submission on my own.

If I've discovered anything, it's that many developers are unsatisfied with the status quo of the App Store review and approval process. These conversations point to areas where Apple should focus on improvement. Here a few points to get the conversation started:

Objectivity. Does Apple uses an objective internal system for App review? Perhaps they do. Developers perceive, however, a great deal of subjectivity. Devs (myself included!) complain that Apple sometimes seems to make up rules as they go along. That's not a behavior that inspires confidence in the review process.

Apple should provide clear guidelines and punch lists to developers. They should state clearly as to what is and is not acceptable for App Store sales. A single objective review scheme would allow developers to know going in whether their application is likely to be approved or denied.

I'm not saying that apps shouldn't be flagged for special review when they fall outside the norm but rather that Apple provide the goal posts so that devs clearly know where to kick the ball. "I Am Rich" shouldn't make the cut when iPhartz can not. (iPhartz does exactly what you'd expect. It's an electronic whoopie cushion.) Yes, they're both stupid -- but I don't see a qualitative difference to the end-user.

If "I Am Rich" shows us anything, it's that a conforming application should be able to find its market, regardless of whether 99.9% of the public thinks it is stupid.

Consistency. Expanding on the notion of objective review, App Store approval should not depend on the assignment of reviewers. If "I Am Rich" passes one reviewer, it should pass them all. Subjective opinion should play a limited role in deciding what hits the shelf. With objective standards and a consistent review process, developers know that their application has just as fair a chance of hitting the shelf as their competitors.

Transparency. Developers should be know where they stand in the review process. In the current state of affairs, applications disappear behind the black walls of Apple for weeks at a time without any status as to their disposition. Should an application meet review flags, Apple should make the developer aware of the expected delays, particularly when the review system gets backlogged due to personnel shortages.

The review process transparency should extend to those situations where developers contest Apple's rulings. Apple should be sending some sort of receipt, acknowledging a challenge so that developers know they're being heard. NullRiver writes that their protests got mislaid.

"August 4, 2008 -- We've finally gotten in contact with Apple. Looks like the lack of communication was due to automated e-mail systems being employed on both ends, which resulted in e-mails being lost in transit. We're working with Apple to get NetShare back up on the AppStore."

A tracking system would certainly helped to mitigate this problem.

By any measure, App Store has been a financial success for Apple. Working on these shortcomings (and, of course, getting rid of that NDA) will only improve developer relations and increase the number of excellent -- as well as, yes, stupid -- applications. Because in the end, happy developers make a successful platform and that's what Apple is all about.

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