Latest in App store

Image credit:

Trillian's 75-day limbo: the App Store, Freewill, and the pocket veto

TJ Luoma, @tjluoma

What do United States politics, a Canadian rock song, and a California computer company have in common? Here are some hints: the Pocket Veto, Freewill, and the App Store.

When the President of the United States is presented with a bill, she or he has 10 days to sign it, or veto it. If the President does not want to be seen as having acted in favor of or against some particular piece of legislation, he or she can simply put it in a pocket and wait for the clock to expire.

Or, as the Canadian rock band Rush once said: "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."

Back in late August, Apple claimed not to have rejected the official Google Voice iPhone application. The company claimed it was still "studying" it.

Around that same time, Cerulean Studios submitted the amazing-looking Trillian for iPhone instant messaging application.

Over two months later, Apple has not taken action on either app. Neither app has (officially) been rejected, but they have not been accepted, either. In the case of the official Google Voice app, it feels very much like Apple has simply "pocketed" the application.

If you have ever served on a committee divided over a contentious issue, you know that the best way to prevent anything from happening is to suggest that the issue be "tabled" for "further study." Given the fact that Apple removed every other Google Voice iPhone application, claiming that the App Store reviewers "have not rejected" the Google Voice app seems like semantic nitpicking.

Regardless of whether or not you think Apple should accept the Google Voice apps (and so far I have heard no one give a good reason why they shouldn't), it is at least understandable that there are some potential conflicts to sort out: how would Google Voice apps change how customers use their iPhones as it relates to the monthly golden eggs -- I mean, "profits" -- that Apple and AT&T collect?

In contrast, the inaction as it relates to Trillian for iPhone is beyond reasonable explanation. There are similar applications already in the App Store (AIM and Beejive, to name two popular ones) and Trillian can hardly be accused of "duplicating functionality" already built into the iPhone.

So why hasn't it been approved or rejected? Did it roll off the table and get stuck under the couch in the break room? Is there some questionable functionality? Are they worried that hapless iPhone users might confuse Trillian with the "Messages" (neé SMS) application?

No one knows. As the developers themelves said, "Despite sending a steady stream of emails to Apple requesting status updates, we continue to receive generic form letters in response -- frustrating, to say the least."

This underscores the biggest frustration users and developers have faced with the App Store: Apple's lack of communication. Being notoriously tight-lipped about new upcoming products is one thing; leaving your customers in the dark is another thing altogether.

Apple currently enjoys unprecedented success with the iPhone. The biggest threat to that success seems to be Apple itself. By capriciously rejecting applications, the company has given plenty of fuel to the jailbreaking movement. It is driving long-time Mac developers to pledge never to write another iPhone application and causing others to frequently express frustration with the opaque policies and review process.

I keep coming back to the image (which you can see here) of Steve Jobs outlining the limitations of iPhone apps:

  1. Illegal
  2. Malicious
  3. Porn
  4. Privacy
  5. Bandwidth hog

All of those are fairly straight-forward and self-explanatory. But there was just one more thing:

6. "Unforeseen"

This is, of course, the equivalent of an excuse "junk drawer" into which Apple can throw anything they want. I still remember my first App Store "uh oh" was when I heard about MailWrangler, a native iPhone application for GMail, which was rejected because it "...duplicates the functionality of the built-in iPhone application Mail without providing sufficient differentiation or added functionality, which will lead to user confusion."

Any "power" Gmail user knows that POP3/IMAP access is great, but there are a number of features you just cannot access. There are dozens (hundreds?) of apps which "duplicate and improve" upon the iPhone "Notes" app, but Apple does not seem to think those will cause "user confusion." Nevertheless, "user confusion" was the first excuse Apple threw into the "Unforeseen" drawer. Would the developer consider trying again? No. He stated on his website that he is unlikely he will submit the app again "because of my issues with the App Store, it's hard to put in effort on something that could just be rejected again. There's plenty of stories out there and more all the time of people continuing to be rejected or ignored by Apple's review process. It just isn't worth my time to keep dealing with it."

Which brings me back to Trillian for iPhone.

I cannot fully imagine what it does to a developer (or company) who is thinking about developing an iPhone app which (by all reasonable standards) should be accepted, especially if there are similar applications already available. I am sure that they hear about these stories, about the rejections and the "pocket veto" that Apple has used on some applications. Would I want to spend that time and energy to develop an application with no assurance it would ever be approved?

Would you?

At this point the only thing more ridiculous would be if Apple suddenly held a Twitter application in this "App Store Approval Limbo" which Trillian finds itself.

I hope that Apple will realize that they are the biggest threat to the continued success of the iPhone and App Store, and come up with some better solution than what we have.

One final note: if you search for "Trillian" in the App Store? It will ask if you mean "Trillion." If you click that link it will take you to a $0.99 "8 trillion fart" app, which sort of says it all when it comes to the App Store, doesn't it?

Update: Trillian was approved for the App Store on November 18th [iTunes link]. Still no word on Google Voice yet, and the other apps remain banned.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr