Shame and iPhone app approval

13 11 2009

Apple has been touting the relatively high number of applications as a measure of success of their iPhone OS platform since the App Store got big. However, this brings up that “quantity versus quality” argument. If you take a look at many of the applications on the App Store, you will find that many of them are lacking in features, quality, and utility. From there, we can easily lead to a discussion of Apple’s often inconsistent application approval process, where excellent applications may be thrown out for arbitrary reasons.

Apple has even started driving away some very talented developers with its App Store policies or, in the case of Joe Hewitt, developer of the iPhone Facebook app, the existence of an application approval process in general. Ultimately, who does this benefit and who does it harm. In the short term, it harms developers and consumers who live inside the Apple-approved ecosystem. In the long term, it will harm Apple, should they continue to do business as they have since the App Store went online in July 2008. However, as a publicly traded company, Apple is compelled to achieve maximum profits in the short term.

Apple relies heavily on advertising and word of mouth. While its products are increasing in popularity, the Mac and iPhone are hardly default choices in their respective markets. Apple would therefore benefit from pumping up the number of approved applications in the store to make the iPhone and iPod touch more appealing. This is probably why we see so much crap in the store. Apple is not concerned with maintaining quality on the App Store so much as they just want to help out their ad agency.

This is not the entire reason for inconsistency in the App Store approval process. I do not know first- or even second-hand how the approval process goes, but I suspect it goes something like this.

  1. Application binary arrives at Apple’s App Store offices for approval.
  2. App is installed on a device using ad hoc distribution or some other method.
  3. The lone reviewer of this app subjectively decides whether the app is worthy of the App Store.

My point is that the application approval process is very subjective. An application may have a good or bad chance of approval, based on who is reviewing it. These reviewers probably have a list of criteria thumbtacked to their cubicle walls and decided whether the app meets those criteria.

Apple needs to get on the ball with making the application approval process much more consistent and less arbitrary. They also need to clean house and get rid of all of the junk that no one is really going to need. They also need to work to retain experience developers by giving them preferential treatment in the application approval process. If a developer is on version 2.0 of their product or higher, chances are they are doing some quality work and need to be let through. It’s the newbie developers pushing free or $0.99 apps that need to be watched more closely. Also, most of us can handle swear words. There is no reason to throw out an app because of a dirty word in a screen shot.

Apple used to be the Lexus of consumer electronics companies. Only the best would do. Now here they are with a botched application approval process, letting useless crap in and driving experienced,enthusiastic developers away.

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