App Store Review Process Drives Developers Away

Developers have been complaining about Apple's App Store policies ever since the service launched, and now concerns over the app review process are driving some coders away from the iPhone. Rogue Amoeba announced that it's giving up on iPhone apps, and only days before their statement Facebook iPhone app developer Joe Hewitt said he's finished with the App Store, too.

Every iPhone and iPod touch application that makes it to the App Store, the only Apple-approved distribution point for iPhone apps, first goes through the company's review process. That process, however, appears to be loaded with inconsistencies and at times little feedback from Apple.

The review process has, for example, led to the approval of an app that lets users shake on-screen babies to stop them from crying, but rejected an app that lists all of the members of the U.S. Congress because it included caricature drawings of each person. Google Voice-compatible apps were pulled from the App Store, and the company's own app has been sitting in limbo for months with Apple saying it's in the review process and Google saying the app was rejected.

Rogue Amoeba decided to walk away from iPhone development after spending over three and a half months trying to get their Airfoil Speakers Touch 1.0.1 update approved. According to company CEO Paul Kafasis, the update was repeatedly rejected because it included images of Apple products such as the iMac, MacBook Pro and Safari.

After several attempts at getting the update approved, Rogue Amoeba finally had to remove the images and the feature they supported to gain approval.

"In order to ship our update, we had to stop showing both the computer images and Apple's app icons. It didn't matter that Apple provided us with code expressly to enable us to show these, nor that the same functionality had been previously approved," Mr. Kafasis said. "We'd reached the end of the road -- if we wanted to ship this update, we had to remove the functionality."

In version 1.0, users saw a screenshot of the computer they were connected to along with the icon for the app that was streaming content to their iPhone. In version 1.0.1, they see a button that leads to a Web page detailing why the graphics were removed and requesting donations for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

While Mr. Kafasis saw the problems with the Airfoil Speaksers 1.0.1 approval process as strictly Apple's fault, at least one other developer had a different perspective. iPhone app developer Jeff Lamarche claims Rogue Amoeba's app violated the software developer agreement clause that prohibits the use of Apple's logos, images and icons in iPhone and iPod touch applications.

"There's simply no reasonable argument that Airfoil Speakers Touch didn't violate the SDK agreement, and we're not exactly talking about an obscure clause of that agreement. This is a term that every iPhone developer knows," Mr. Lamarche said on his blog. "It is common knowledge among iPhone developers that if you use Apple's images, icons, or logos, you run a strong risk of rejection."

Regardless of whether or not Rogue Amoeba was in the wrong by using the images in the application, it underscores one of the biggest complaints in the App Store approval process: Consistency. In this case, the original version of the app made it through the approval process with the images in place, but the bug fix update was rejected for including those same graphics.

Joe Hewitt, Facebook's coder behind the iPhone and iPod touch Facebook application, decided to hand off his work because of Apple's App Store approval process, too. "My decision to stop iPhone development has had everything to do with Apple's policies," he said.

Mr. Hewitt would rather see a system that didn't involve Apple being the single point of access to iPhone and iPod touch app distribution. "I respect their right to manage their platform however they want, however I am philosophically opposed to the existence of their review process," he told TechCrunch. "I am very concerned that they are setting a horrible precedent for other software platforms, and soon gatekeepers will start infesting the lives of every software developer."

Other iPhone app developers have moved away from the platform, too. Second Gear sold its FitnessTrack and Emergency Information iPhone apps to BitBQ several weeks ago and is now focusing just on Mac OS X apps again. Second Gear's Justin Williams said. "I no longer enjoy building software for the iPhone because of the bureaucracy and infrastructure that surrounds it."

The number of developers that are frustrated with Apple's app approval process may be growing, but that trend doesn't necessarily have to continue. Apple recently added a little more transparency to the app review process, and that seems to be making at least some developers happy.

Just how far Apple goes to appease iPhone and iPod touch developers remains to be seen. Improvements to the approval process have been coming slowly, but developer complaints are still growing and those unhappy voices could potentially scare off other developers, too.

Considering the number of apps in the App Store -- over 100,000 and growing -- and the number of developers submitting new products for approval every day, Apple doesn't need to worry about the market drying up any time soon. Working to improve the app approval process more could, however, help keep other developers from moving to competing platforms.