Apple’s App Store: trouble in paradise?

It seems that all is not well in the land of honey and unicorns.  I speak of iPhone development and the iPhone App Store.  There have been tales of woe trickling out since the start of the App Store, but, lately, there have been more details about just how tightly controlled the approval process and the lack of approval or denial of approval in the App Store.

Marco, at Marco.org, has written several posts about the process and his dissatisfaction about the new rating system that Apple has employed.  He’s not the only one who has become disenchanted with the process.  TUAW, for example, has also written about the new rating system and the effect it could have on the types of applications that are approved and the new label they must carry.

In a nutshell, any application that uses an embedded browser will automatically receive the 17+ label.  Essentially, it equates to a MATURE rating.  Now, mind you, this does not just apply to something this IS adult in nature, but it also applies to RSS readers, chat applications, e-book readers, and more.  Not only that, but it also precludes a developer from using promo codes.

Marco outlines the problems he’s encountered just trying to submit changes to one of his applications.  The mechanism to submit the app, iTunes Connect, is buggy.  He writes that, on many occasions, it has posted screenshots and descriptions to an in-review update to the LIVE APP PAGE causing confusion among users and revealing features that are not yet released.  He also says there are form validation bugs that prevent him from updating his app’s information for days.

While I have seen one or two disgruntled developers write about having problems with the approval process, I’ve not seen them as detailed as Marco’s or even as openly discussed in a usually pro-Apple blog such as TUAW. 

I would venture to guess that most Apple fans won’t care or will come up with some kind of excuse to let Apple off the hook.  They would probably even label me as a ‘hater’, which I am not.  The problem, though, is that by giving Apple such breaks, they are not inclined to fix these problems.  And the danger in ignoring them is that they will drive away the developers.  A few here and there won’t matter, but, collectively, it could really hurt the iPhone.  Perhaps, though, Apple’s biggest defense here is that there could be A LOT OF MONEY to be made. Supposedly, the author of one the more popular ‘fart’ apps brings in ten grand a day.  With that kind of money dangling around, the developers will probably just put up with the mess that Apple has created.  And, I am sure, there are many ‘favored’ developers who get things in very quickly.  I am sure that Electronic Arts gets priority treatment over our friend Marco.  Apple would be stupid to treat EA the same way as Marco.  But, I think it is the smaller developers-like Marco-that are Apple’s bread and butter developers.  They are the ones who have churned out the thousands of applications that have made the App Store such a success and they are the ones that Apple should be treating well.

I sure hope that Palm takes a look at Apple’s process and does not repeat the same mistakes.  The Apple model worked well at first, but it seems to be broken now and if they don’t fix it, they could have a real problem.

UPDATE (7/27/2009): TUAW is reporting that Apple has restored the promo codes for the 17+ iPhone apps.  Seems Apple was paying attention.  Good for them, this was a smart thing for them to do.  Kudos to Apple for paying attention.

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