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Cellphones Handhelds Apple

How Apple's App Review Is Sabotaging the iPhone 509

Posted by kdawson
from the race-to-the-bottom dept.
snydeq writes to recommend Peter Wayner's inside look at the frustration iPhone developers face from Apple when attempting to distribute their apps through the iPhone App Store. Wayner's long piece is an extended analogy comparing Apple to the worst of Soviet-era bureaucracy. "Determined simply to dump an HTML version of his book into UIWebView and offer two versions through the App Store, Wayner endures four months of inexplicable silences, mixed messages, and almost whimsical rejections from Apple — the kind of frustration and uncertainty Wayner believes is fast transforming Apple's regulated marketplace into a hotbed of bottom-feeding mediocrity. 'Developers are afraid to risk serious development time on the platform as long as anonymous gatekeepers are able to delay projects by weeks and months with some seemingly random flick of a finger,' Wayner writes of his experience. '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."'"
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How Apple's App Review Is Sabotaging the iPhone

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  • by hieronymus (763770) on Monday July 20, 2009 @06:32PM (#28763647)
    Only a billion downloads. What a disaster.
  • Re:So... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by the_humeister (922869) on Monday July 20, 2009 @06:44PM (#28763755)

    No kidding. Most phones can run Java programs. Sun even lets you download the SDK for mobile development for free!

  • Re:And yet... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BasilBrush (643681) on Monday July 20, 2009 @06:58PM (#28763917)

    Well I do have an iPhone, and there are a lot of good apps there. Certainly more good stuff than any other phone platform.

    As to the proportion that is good... if Apple didn't filter out various of the worst UI disasters as they do, the proportion of crap would be higher.

    As to the summary author... he dumped his book into a webview, and then Apple wouldn't publish it. Case in point. They've published plenty of ebooks with good UIs.

  • Author is a dumbass (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 20, 2009 @07:05PM (#28763973)

    Let's count off the ways that the author is a dumbass:

    • in the article, spells 'foreword' as 'forward' at least a half dozen times. For someone that wants others to read their work, this is ridiculous.
    • thinks that writing his own custom scrolling interface in Javascript is a good idea. There is a special place in HELL for idiots that do this (Flash devs, I'm looking at you). Unless I've missed something, the iPhone already scrolls.
    • and finally, the simple principle of "I'll write an app that shows an HTML page'. Guess what - they did it already. It's called a BROWSER. If you want to raise money, put up a donation button or something.

    If turds like this guy's app were allowed, the "too many apps" problem would be 100x worse, mostly with "MAKE MONEY FAST" (or the "Web 2.0" equivalent) versions of his idea.

  • Re:And yet... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Pigmeister (1114499) on Monday July 20, 2009 @07:08PM (#28763993)
    I totally agree. There are numerous applications getting poor reviews when the app developer has an update that's been waiting weeks or months to be released by Apple. (People don't read the descriptions.) In many cases I have personally seen app store app comments that existed weeks ago while I await an update for apps I own. In other cases I have been told this via email after writing the author. Exactly what does Apple do to test or qualify updates? AT&T released a GPS navigator app that crashes and puts my iPhone 3G into burner mode yet and doesn't even have the ability to retrieve a destination address from the iPhone address book. If there was ever a reason NOT to release an app - this is it. Missing the most basic of Apple functionality. I guess AT&T gets its own play book. (Of course Apple would never release a product without cut/copy/paste now would it?) Apple has become the evil empire. I stopped hating Microsoft years ago. My contempt is now split between AT&T and Apple (OK... I hate United Airlines, too).
  • Re:So... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MBCook (132727) <> on Monday July 20, 2009 @07:20PM (#28764097) Homepage

    That's your phone provider's fault. I've got an iPhone and I love it. I have wasted so much time with it. Trism [], Peggle [] (great control!), and Flight Control [] have taken large chunks of my life.

    Both my siblings have Palm Pres. I've played with them, and they're quite nice. My only complains were the build quality (would like it a little tighter) and navigation (you have to know the gestures, they're not discoverable). The card metaphor is very good.

    But the app store is empty. There are three games, one of which is... connect 4.

    The SDK was just released to the public, in beta. It's not meant for games, it's barely more advanced than the first way to develop for the iPhone (which was so roundly criticized). You can't get accelerometer data faster than 4 samples/sec. Palm is supposed to be making a gaming framework, but who knows how long that will be.

    So right now Palm is taking submissions for their app store, which will only be able to handle non-demanding games (no Katamari Damacy there), for it's fall opening. Even if your game is done, no one will be able to buy it for months.

    Basically, the Pre will be devoid of good apps for at least the next 6 months. The situation is really sad. They messed it up, big time. The SDK, even in alpha, should have been available months ago, so there would be apps at launch.

    Windows Mobile has tons of apps, and a tradition of tiny little utilities costing $20. Combine that with the fragmentation of device capabilities and the market is... rough for a consumer.

    Blackberries? I've heard that to develop anything on them that doesn't look like a 1996 Java applet requires you to basically do the painting for every widget on screen. There is device fragmentation here too. The app store it's self is a joke, it's very difficult to use. There is no way to browse it from a computer, which makes using it a nightmare.

    Apple proved good apps were a "killer app". No one really "got" the importance of them before the iPhone's native SDK came out. Unfortunately, after more than a year, no one else is even close to being able to foster any kind of app ecosystem. Palm should have, but botched it.

    I'm not really sure about the G1. I'm guessing it's sales are just too small for it to reach any kind of critical mass soon (where the Pre has a chance and Blackberries are there).

  • Re:And yet... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by peterwayner (266189) * <> on Monday July 20, 2009 @07:42PM (#28764307) Homepage

    Don't forget the "mirror" applications that do even less. Yet they've got a high click through rate. []

  • Re:And yet... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by BasilBrush (643681) on Monday July 20, 2009 @07:43PM (#28764315)

    He's an idiot for using a system he knows Apple don't allow. It would only be capricious of Apple if they have no reason for rejecting PhoneGap apps. Clearly they DO have reasons.

    Here's some possible reasons. []

    But really it doesn't matter what the reasons are. To keep submitting an app that uses a framework you know isn't allowed is just dumb.

  • Re:And yet... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by onefriedrice (1171917) on Monday July 20, 2009 @07:54PM (#28764411)

    Furthermore, how can Apple really make any deep decisions like this? I don't upload code. They don't compile it. They look at raw binary code.

    Do you not think it is trivial to tell which system and library calls your binary app is making? I don't know anything about which iPhone API's are allowed or disallowed, but let me assure you that it is quite simple to know exactly which calls a binary executable is making. Having the source code wouldn't make that any easier.

  • by mjwx (966435) on Monday July 20, 2009 @07:56PM (#28764431)

    Almost every phone in existence has a "market place" equivalent, which has an approval process.

    Android: pay US$25, get published.

    Android Alternative: Dont pay US$25, publish the APK on your web site.

    WinMo: for all its flaws, build app, publish. There is no marketplace.

    You were saying?

  • Re:And yet... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Monday July 20, 2009 @08:36PM (#28764707) Homepage

    > If the iPhone were properly designed it shouldn't be possible to brick via just a software installation

    I'd say the exact opposite is true. Who wants a platform that is so locked down you can't screw it up hacking it? Boooorring! It's precisely because you can brick it that Pwnage tool can exist, and I'd say the platform would be FAR less interesting if that were the case.

    Wow, such an anti-technology skew. So out of place on /.

    Don't get me wrong, the whole approval thing seems like something out of the dark ages to me. But seriously, the machine shouldn't be hackable? Yikes!


  • by mr_zorg (259994) on Monday July 20, 2009 @08:50PM (#28764841)
    Amen to all of the things you said. I'm struggling right now with the capricious nature of the review process. My app is a gesture based music player with larger fonts, designed to make using your iPhone/touch in the car much safer. It was approved at the OS 3.0 launch, but a few bugs cropped up at the last second. I submitted a bug fix three days later, but it *still* hasn't been posted. Last week Apple rejected the update claiming it duplicates the functionality of the iPod app without sufficient differentiation. Really? Then how come you didn't pull the app completely (instead of just blocking the update)? And since when has the iPod music player offered gesture based navigation to change songs, etc? And why'd you approve it in the first place? Give me a break. I love Apple, but this has GOT to change. I keep hoping it's just because they're overloaded, but let's hire more people already!

    Shameless plug:
    FlickTunes (website) []
    FlickTunes (iTunes) []
  • The Other Problem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Monday July 20, 2009 @09:14PM (#28765013) Homepage Journal

    The rich get richer. Browsing the App Store, you see the most popular apps at the top. There is no power search for apps with the highest user ratings. I really can't find what I'm looking for.

    New app developers start at the bottom and have to compete against popular apps already ingrained at the top.

    I'm writing for an App Review site right now that hopes to help alleviate that.

  • Re:And yet... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by peterwayner (266189) * <> on Monday July 20, 2009 @09:23PM (#28765093) Homepage

    Not a single version of the Apps I submitted had the ability to change themselves or allow me to change them remotely. None. Nada.

    If they really are doing more than checking for forbidden strings, they would be able to see that quickly by skimming the HTML. It's very boring. Plus, it's easier to read. It's not in binary like many apps.

    I don't see how an "external framework"-- the term they used-- has anything to do with this. The rejection note said that I was to make sure that everything was to be "interpreted and run by Apple's Published APIs and built-in interpreter(s)". It's always been that way from the start. It doesn't matter who writes the code.

    The only way I can interpret (hah!) what you're saying is to conclude that App development is meant to be like elementary school. You're not supposed to work with others. You're not allowed to use well-tested open source code. You're supposed to write your own code. Why is this wrong? Why is working with others going to give me the magical ability to change how my app works remotely?

    Ultimately, it doesn't really matter why Apple rejected my application because many others come away with exactly the same experience even if they don't use PhoneGap: it's all pretty much random. Sometimes you get a cogent rejection note. Sometimes you don't. Sometimes they're fair. Sometimes they're not. It's all a coin flip which is the main point of my piece. It's not about PhoneGap. It's about the randomness and the brick wall and the lack of communication and the absolute power etc.


  • by erroneus (253617) on Monday July 20, 2009 @09:27PM (#28765129) Homepage

    There are generally two polarized camps:

    1. Apple is too restrictive
    2. It's Apple's game, it's a damned good game, and if you don't want to play it, then go home!

    Both camps have some valid points and the biggest problem is that the second camp effectively refuses to see the validity of the first camp. The first camp's complaints have nothing to do with the [defensive] position of the second camp. In fact, you can both love and admire the iPhone and still think that Apple is a bunch of jerks with Nazi policies.

    But it is such a repetitive and pointless cycle. Neither side will convince anyone of the other side to see it their way.

    Personally, I am in the first camp. I won't voluntarily buy an iPhone until someone sets up a jail-broken app store from which to distribute the apps Apple doesn't approve of. And frankly, there are many phones that are LOTS better than the iPhone so it's a moot point really. Still -- let people complain and maybe one day Apple will listen... I have no reason to believe they will. Apple is more stubborn than Apple's fans are.

  • Re:And yet... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 20, 2009 @10:47PM (#28765683)

    Who wants a platform that is so locked down you can't screw it up hacking it?

    Your point is taken. However, it's a false dichotomy.

    I have an Openmoko Neo Freerunner. It's thoroughly hackable in all respects, except (for legal reasons) the GSM and GPS firmware. Pretty much the opposite of "locked down". Yet it's not possible for me to screw it up completely; there's a backup copy of the bootloader, which cannot be overwritten by any software running on the phone. No matter how badly the OS gets broken, I can always use that backup bootloader to re-flash and start over.

    Even this doesn't qualify as "locking down", however; if I really wanted to, I could buy a "debug board" from OM which would allow me to overwrite everything, including the bootloader. The debug board, naturally, would allow me to brick the phone much more thoroughly, but at the same time it would also enable me to undo any changes I made.

    Even without the debug board, I think the Neo qualifies as both sufficiently hackable and sufficiently unbrickable for most purposes.

  • by dafing (753481) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @12:08AM (#28766121) Journal
    I love hearing about people who swear they will buy an iPhone as soon as Apple does X, ha! I'm sure Steve Jobs sits about reading /. all day, and when he sees a comment like "i wont buy an iPhone until...." he must bolt upright and say "cripes! I'll get right on it!"

    I hope you do get an iPhone soon! I got an unlocked original iPhone before they were out in my country, I dont see a point for jailbroken iPhones (unless its to get around the activation like I needed) as the App Store is AMAZING. Im sorry there are people having problems, however there are so many gems in the App Store that I truly dont believe exist elsewhere, and I definitely dont think there are any better phones out! I love my iPhone, and wouldnt trade it just for a greater MP camera or a clamshell form factor. Its built like a piece of jewellery, even the box is amazing, the iPhone OS is far beyond other phones, I love my iPhone and couldnt consider anything else! I do see places for improvement, nothing is perfect remember! I wish multitasking were available, however the Pre etc is not available here in New Zealand, and its that crummy CDMA that 2 countries in the world use, whats up with that! Thats a far worse thing than "no multitasking" wouldnt you agree? If you cant even make a phone call on your smartphone, who cares about App switching?

    Hope you get an iPhone soon! Get it off plan, jailbroken etc. Mine cost under 500 american, I got it before it were out in my country and I only pay for what I use, my phone costs me $50 american or less a YEAR to run.

  • by essetesse (1246082) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @12:50AM (#28766295)
    a lot of these responses assume it's just TOS violations but they reject apps for many other reasons. i am a professional artist and i have made a bunch of very simple websites as part of my art practice - a domain with a simple image or animation. i made an art app for the iphone along these lines.... apple rejected it outright because it was too "minimal" for their tastes. this frustrates me to no ends... who are they to say what my art should be? that my work needs to be complex. clearly this has made me less keen on it as a platform, and many of my artfriends are second-guessing making apps. another example - an app i developed for a client - needed rating because there's a video of someone saying "girl, you looking good". this is apple's notion of what mature content is. they're pretty over the top, they make tipper gore look like g.g. allin. what makes matters worse - it took them FOUR WEEKS to tell us this. and we have adjusted the rating and have now waited another TWO WEEKS and they haven't reviewed it again yet. this is crippling to a business. this is not internet time, this is boat-trip-across-the-atlantic time. very frustrating.
  • Re:Good (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BasilBrush (643681) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @10:58AM (#28770867)

    iPhone OS 3.0 has copy/paste. And the implementation is excellent.

    Zooming where everything stays in proportion was NOT available on phones before Safari. They'd typically zoom by changing the size of a font, which caused a relayout, and the pictures and text didn;t zoom together. No other browser zoomed had iPhone's zooming method does before iPhone.

    Scrolling = scrolling by swipe/drag on iPhone. Scrollling via scroll bars or a 4 way direction pad is inferior.

    If I want to download and install an app, I just click, and it just works, unlike the Iphone where phones need to be jailbroken for this to work anywhere. Again, a major UI issue.

    There is nowhere else on mobile phones where buying, downloading ad installing an app is a simple click, other than the iPhone App Store. Or at least there wasn;t before Apple did it. And obviously you don't need a jailbroken iPhone to do it.

    There are plenty of areas it's been years behind even non-smartphones (3G, Java, video, MMS, copy/paste).

    iPhone has all those things but Java. Where iPhone is ahead is in the development environment, allowing far better apps to be written than any other phone platform. Core location, accelerometers, the quality of it's graphics (better than most handheld consoles), and the integrated model for getting apps onto phones.

    I'm speaking from experience here, I used to work for Symbian and have done contract development for Nokia in the past. Developing apps for them is a pig compared with the pleasure of developing for the iPhone development platform.

    Symbian/Nokia is bleeding badly. They are losing market share. Far from being a niche player Apple is the 3rd biggest manufacturer of smartphones worldwide. Yes Nokia and RIM are bigger, but third does not equal "niche". With the current growth rates Apple will lead before long.. []

Get hold of portable property. -- Charles Dickens, "Great Expectations"