Right now, the three professions that require some intermediate, time-consuming step between raw materials and finished goods are jewelcrafting and inscription, and to a lesser extent, enchanting. You can't just create glyphs or cut gems out of raw farmed materials. You can create leatherworking goods out of raw farmed leather, though.
So what's the difference? Why don't leatherworkers have to spend hours ... I don't know ... "flaying" leather in order to use the profession to make finished goods? I always assumed that having a "dull and manual" process between raw mats and finished goods was put there deliberately to protect crafting profitability.
Cutting gems and making glyphs right now have two significant barriers to finished goods going up for sale on the AH: New scribes and jewelcrafters have to invest a lot of time in recipe acquisition, and everyone has to mill and prospect. The amount they have to do is directly proportional to the market share they have, so anyone who wants a larger share of the market is going to have to make some sacrifices to do it.
If Blizzard removes milling and prospecting's manual and dull nature by giving us Prospect All or Mill All buttons, it'll in effect be allowing us to produce the same goods in less real time. I don't count smelting against my gold per hour, because I fill up my bags, click Smelt All, and come back after dinner and emails. I do consider the time spent prospecting 600 stacks of ore when I calculate gold earned per hour, though. It's time I can't be doing other activities, and it's so repetitive that I can't make myself enjoy it without a lobotomy (not unlike fishing).
A change like this would reduce the tradeoff between repetitive and monotonous work and finished goods (or rewards). This would change how the markets are split up, as anyone would be able to spam out goods onto the AH without paying too much attention to avoid running out of stock. This would spread the current margins being made among more crafters, as well as reduce prices across the board.
How could it work?
The devs' answer highlights some of the technical issues behind the UI as it stands now. Milling and prospecting could easily be made repeatable by having a special segment of the trade skill window where you could mill or prospect items the way you can currently craft items. The materials would be specific ore or herbs, and the only downside would be that you'd have to have one skill for each type of raw material. Still, this segment could be made to default to filter out skills you don't have the mats in your bags for.
Much more interesting would be some new code that would allow for a more sensible interface that could also be made to work for disenchanting, as well as maybe allow queuing of more than one type of raw material for processing.
One way it could work would be to have a separate box that would show you the processable items in your bags (and bank? please?) with a big Process All button that would mill, prospect, and disenchant everything on the list. You could also drill down and individually process items, or create a queue of items to process in a batch. For disenchanting, you'd probably want to have it automatically filter out soulbound items, as well as group items in your bag by either ilevel or rarity. While it was going, it would show you how much time was left.
Add in a persistent (and obviously configurable) permanent ignore list, and you've surpassed the level of functionality that you can find in the AutoDE function of Auctioneer!
Onward and upward
I am really glad that the UI Q&A was posted. It's comforting to know that someone's paying attention to the non-"core" parts of the game that entertain us auctioneers. Now, if Blizzard would just make the in-game AH as good as the mobile one and implement persistent want to buys, I'd be one happy AH junkie.
Maximize your profits with more advice from Gold Capped as well as the author's Call to Auction podcast. Do you have questions about selling, reselling and building your financial empire on the auction house? Basil is taking your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.