How Not to Get Accepted in Apple's iPhone App Store

Can any company run something like the App Store, even one so absolutely fabulous and supremely cool? Central control on a large scale has a poor track record. Just as the Soviets didn't have the time to make all of the decisions about the economy with any consistency, Apple can't afford to hire the people to enforce the App Store restrictions with the care they require. I know I've never misused the UIWebView object, but I doubt the reviewers have the time or the energy to care. Apple doesn't read the code but somehow wants to enforce rules that require that level of scrutiny.

The more I talk to other developers and look at my own experiences, the more I conclude that the reviewing process isn't any better than random. Why would one version of my app be accepted and one be tossed out the door, even after I took away all references to charity? So we just submit things, cross our fingers, and submit again.

I suppose there are a few advantages to what Apple is trying to do. Given all of the seemingly arbitrary rejections, it must be weeding out some of the bad applications. Indeed, some of the postings on apprejected.com, the Web site devoted to cataloging the whims of the dieties, includes some pretty useful bug fixes, like a TableViewCell that remains highlighted [18]. But for every bug that's fixed, a number of developers walk away dejected and bitter [19].

In my case, I've tried to guess what may be going through the reviewers' minds. What could possibly make the application better? So in the latest version I've even included a few more instructions to try to make the tapping interface more intuitive. They're still in the queue, but some day the users might see them. Meanwhile, I still don't understand how I was using UIWebView in unapproved ways.

Even when Apple's strictures are explicit, there are problems with trying to apply them. While Apple worked hard to write excellent UI guidelines, it's not clear that this is what the programmers or the users really need. They may help with the standard applications, but they pretty much forbid any kind of innovation. Many of the rejection sob stories come from developers who tried to "think different" about a user interface issue, in many cases because they were tackling a challenge that wasn't sussed out by Apple's crack team. Innovation is a real gamble with the iPhone. Sure, you could try to engineer a cool UI for augmented reality, or you could just follow the UI guidelines and put up a menu that lets you drill down into a list of fart jokes. There's no doubt in my mind that the famous I Am Rich app [20] was approved because it didn't violate any UI guidelines. It didn't do anything. This is the kind of innovation that the UI guidelines encourage.

The job of wading through the App Store submissions must be mind numbing. If you let one app through that pays a portion to charity, you're sure to hear about it when someone else in the App Store starts rejecting these things. To make matters worse, someone might submit free and paid versions of the same application. If one gets rejected and the other accepted, it might look odd. Someone's going to get scolded because someone made a mistake. Or maybe no one will get scolded because everyone's busy patting one another on the back and believing the hype that the iPhone and the App Store are the greatest things on earth.

Drop in the Bucket

In the end, I've decided that my situation is more like the anonymous grunt hit by a distant sniper. Just as war is often modeled as a game of numbers by the generals, Apple probably could care less about most applications. Not only do individual applications add little to Apple's bottom line, but the customers' spending is probably constant. If they don't buy my Gold version, they'll just download something else. Some reports suggest that the apps are usually just a distraction and people stop using them [21] after a day or so. People want a phone first and a chance to check the Web second. Everything else is just a cute or embarrassing gimmick.

There is every indication that the App Store doesn't contribute very much to the bottom line of many developers, either. If there are 65,000 apps and 1.5 billion downloads, the average number of downloads is about 23,000. If you subtract some of the irresistible free applications like Facebook and Yelp that are just fancy Web pages, it becomes clear that selling even 1,000 copies of your application is a pretty big accomplishment.

It's worth putting these numbers in context. PalmGear.com claims more than 32,000 apps available in its store alone. That doesn't include all of the other places on the Web where there are incredible things for Palm OS like a GCC compiler [22], a native PDF-rendering tool [23], and countless others. There's no magic 1.5 billion number coming out of Palm because is marketplaces aren't modeled after the old Soviet May Day parades where stuffed shirts on the reviewing stands count the obedient ones marching in step.

Apple must be missing many opportunities because the uncertainty must be killing the incentive for developers. One of the reasons the App Store may be filled with bottom-feeding apps like iFart is that developers are afraid to risk serious development time on the platform. Even the lists of serious apps [24] that "can save your life [25]" are generally populated by dutiful little virtual notepads. Most probably took 10 minutes to code and three months to get through the approval process.

There is every indication that Apple's regulated marketplace is descending into mediocrity, just like the Soviet economy. It wasn't long after the PC appeared that software packages like AutoCAD and Photoshop started costing hundreds of dollars. The old Windows platform is still a very fertile ecosystem for innovation. Today, the software for a PC can cost five to ten times as much as the PC that runs it. This kind of development and investment can't happen for the iPhone as long as anonymous gatekeepers are able to delay projects by weeks and months with some seemingly random flick of a finger. It's one thing to delay a homebrew project like mine, but it's another thing to shut down a team of developers burning real cash. Apple should be worried when real programmers shrug off the rejections by saying, "It's just a hobby [26]."

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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