Jason Snell at Macworld had a sad but unsurprising amount of trouble getting their app approved that contained “iPhone” in the title and a photo of an iPhone in the icon. (Mentioning or depicting the iPhone at all is problematic.) I’ll steal the same quote as Gruber:
He also said something that really irked me. He suggested — again, perfectly politely — that if we had a problem with our app rejection, we should just reply to the rejection, because app reviewers pay attention and respond to complaints. I had to explain to him that we had entered into a back-and-forth with our reviewer. It just hadn’t helped — it was like talking to a brick wall.
I haven’t written about the App Store for a while, mostly because there’s not much more to say these days. Very little has changed.
Average app review delays are getting longer, exacerbating nearly every problem. The rankings are still gamed like crazy using tricks that Apple can easily prevent, the store is still a technical embarrassment, reviewers are still brick walls, and good apps by good people still get rejected for arbitrary reasons with zero recourse.
App review is broken, and it will never be fixed.
It can’t be. If Apple is reviewing apps, they can be held liable — by both the law and angry people — if something bad makes it into the store. They need to err on the side of caution and make sure everything that gets into the store is extremely unlikely to cause legal, PR, or trademark problems. (Developer complaints are very tiny, isolated PR problems. Baby Shaker was a huge PR problem.) Apple must review apps for the iTunes Store.
And as long as they’re reviewing every app, they’re going to keep causing these problems. It can’t be done well. (Especially by secretive, hostile, paranoid Apple, of all companies.)
There’s only one solution to this, except the frustrating status quo: To allow developers to bypass the iTunes Store by enabling external app installation.
If you want to be in the iTunes Store, with all of that free exposure and publicity (…we’ll just pretend that it actually happens for most people), you go through the app review process and deal with all of its associated bullshit. To many developers, this will be worthwhile. (I’d still do it.) Apple would still get their commission on any sales from the Store, and this would still represent the vast majority of sales for most apps.
But there would be another way to get your app onto people’s phones: allowing them to download the app’s .IPA file from your website and drag it into iTunes, the same way they can import external music and movie files. In that environment, you’re on your own for payment processing, piracy control, and installation support, just like desktop software, but you bypass App Review entirely. You can develop any kind of software and update it whenever you’d like, but you can’t use in-app purchase. The iPhone OS enforces the same technical restrictions as it does today to prevent apps from running in the background or reading private data. You get no free promotion, but you get to keep whatever portion of that 30% commission is left after your hosting and payment-processing fees.
The upside for Apple: No more bad press about bad rejections (or bad approvals). Remove one of the Droid’s highly publicized advantages. Stay off the radar of the FCC (and maybe DoJ). Keep developers happier, get better apps, and strengthen the entire platform.
The downside for Apple: Less commission revenue and less control.
And therefore, despite all of the advantages, it will never happen.