I wasn’t always a fan of Apple’s requirement that all App Store submissions be reviewed by a fairly opaque process before release, which often led to confusing or unfair rejections.
But over the last year, I’ve grown to appreciate app review and the immense staff it must take to operate at its scale. We usually only see inflammatory blog posts and news articles about app review’s failures, while almost nobody ever mention its benefits. So I’m going to start.
First and foremost, the review process has created a level of consumer confidence and risk-taking that has enabled the entire iOS app market to be far bigger and healthier than anyone expected. Average people — the same people who have been yelled at for decades for clicking on the wrong button on the wrong incomprehensible dialog box and messing up their computers — can (and do) confidently buy large quantities of inexpensive apps impulsively, without having to worry that any of them will “break” their iPhones or iPads, rip them off, destroy their data, or require them to embarrassingly visit the corporate IT department, the Geek Squad, or their computer-savvy relatives (us) for help. Part of this is due to the highly sandboxed architecture enforced by the OS, but a big part is the app review process.
For software makers and trademark owners, Apple’s review process significantly cuts down on name squatters, illegal clones, piracy apps, legally risky apps (for better and for worse), and trademark infringers.1
The result of these processes is that Apple can more easily let us use their payment system without scaring their lawyers, devaluing their store’s image, or incurring high fraud and chargeback fees from their payment processors. Being in their storefront and billing system gives a lot of people an extremely easy way to pay us.
So we have a huge number of potential customers who are very comfortable installing a lot of apps and can buy ours by simply entering a password. Without app review, that market would be very different.2
Yes, they occasionally make mistakes. But these are humans — humans that, as far as I can tell, work their asses off to keep up with the massive volume of app submissions. (They seem to work a lot of overtime, too. As far as I can tell, they’re all in California, yet I’ve had apps approved late at night and on weekends regularly.)
Think of what that job must be like: plowing through an endless barrage of mostly terrible app submissions, many of which are unsuitable for the Store3, trying to evaluate people’s work against a very long list of often-subjective criteria, with the ever-present threat that an inconsistent or wrong decision might result in a shitstorm of bad press. Oh, and they only get a few minutes to decide on each app.
(And think of the email they must get.)
Despite all of that, app review gets better over time. As they’ve needed to handle ever-growing volumes of app submissions, average review times have stabilized and have actually started to get faster.
The occasional app-review mistake, in either execution or policy-making, is understandable and unavoidable. And I’d say that all of the benefits make the occasional pitfalls completely worthwhile.
App Review team: Thank you, and keep up the good work.
It’s not perfect, but compare any problematic search to the same search on the Android or Chrome storefronts and see how much Apple is keeping out. ↩
Fortunately, you can see for yourself what it would be like by looking at a competing platform’s app marketplace. It’s not pretty, and it’s not nearly as profitable. I think I’ll stay over here. ↩
Think of the crappiest iPhone app you ever saw that made it into the store. Now imagine what they must reject. ↩