Regarding the AppStore for iPhone/iPod Touch

I was reading John Gruber’s piece on Opera Mini, and although, as usual, John is pretty thorough with his analysis, the last sentence made me jump.

Again, though, just because an app doesn’t violate the rules doesn’t mean Apple will accept it.

It kind of invalidates everything everybody says or writes about the AppStore. And the sad thing is that it is true. I wrote an app for Rebel Software (Spin the Bottle, in case anybody’s wondering). We were pretty happy with it, it respected what we thought were the guidelines, was pretty good looking, if not “useful” (it’s just a game, people). It was also the first app doing that on the Store.

It took 6 weeks to validate the app. And a couple more after I fixed a bug they had uncovered. So on the one hand, the validation process is actually pretty thorough, or so it seems. On the other hand, while the app was being reviewed, 4 other spins were released. They are simpler, true. But come on!

The whole mechanism looks good on paper. Apple “filters” bad applications, or buggy ones. The software developer doesn’t have to worry about the installation/update system on the device. And the user has access to everything pretty easily.

But the whole process is very opaque. How comes it took so long? No one knows. How comes some apps are rejected although they follow the guidelines? No one knows.

I’m not saying that every app should be accepted immediately, or that Apple shouldn’t reserve the right to forbid an app to be run on their device. It’s their business model, their choice. I may not agree for philosophical reasons, but from a different point of view, I guess it makes some sort of sense.

What I’m saying is that making the validation process opaque is a mistake. With a clear set of rules, some apps would not even be submitted. Less work for Apple, less work for the developers who won’t even try. When my app was stuck, a contact of mine told me I should have said something, and that he would’ve accelerated the process a bit. Why should I need that? And what happens to a developer who knows nobody within the Forbidden City?

The whole thing looks fishy. People with ideas don’t spin them up because it might get rejected (and working on something for no result costs money). People with bad ideas but having some pull might get some apps accepted although they probably shouldn’t be if you have Standards. The whole thing takes too much time and brain power from everybody.

I talked with a friend about the possibility to submit a prototype to Apple before going any further to see if the app had any chance of being rejected. He replied he wouldn’t do that because he’s afraid that someone else might take idea and implement it before he has time to do so. And while some applications get rejected because they do something too close to the built-in apps, you still can find several applications that do the exact same thing, competing against each other. Why doesn’t he trust Apple to respect the secrecy on that?

So the fog, instead of creating a healthy competition environment, looks like it’s promoting arbitrary, or network-b(i)ased decisions. Transparency is not optional here. Some rejection rules might be unfair, true. But why be ashamed? If the rule is written down in a way that non-lawyers can understand, they will be obeyed. Everybody wins.

OK, I’m naive. OK, I’m optimistic. But either you trust the users not to buy the apps that suck (don’t laugh), or you find a straightfoward way to define what an acceptable app is. Spread the responsibility around a bit. We all want the platform to the be the best there is. Why not work together?

  

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