There’s has been a lot of discussion on the Web recently about the iPhone App Store review process. Particularly, developer dissatisfaction has gotten more vocal. So we were pleased to see Phil Schiller respond, explaining why Apple believes they have the right model – among other things, building an experience customers can trust and keeping quality high. (Business Week article, “Apple’s Schiller Defends iPhone App Approval Process.”)
We think Apple is on the right track. First, it’s their ecosystem, and they have a right to earn and lose customers (and developers) by the choices they make. And whether you like the iPhone or not, by any measure, they have been widely successful. That said, as an iPhone development company, we are experiencing some pain points we think can be addressed.
We’ve invested and built a team around mobile apps and firmly targeted the iPhone platform – for business reasons, not just because we love Apple products. However, the business model has become much riskier than we expected. I’m not talking about risk in terms of “chance of success.” Our team has years of multibillion-dollar business experience, so we know the importance of hard work and luck… and even those may not get us to the top. No, the real challenge comes in other areas – predictability and information (or lack there of).
Here are three things we think Apple could do immediately to greatly lower the risk for new businesses wanting to invest in the iPhone platform:
- Set better expectations. This gets to predictability. When we submitted our first app on October 3rd (Real or Fake? Truth Detective), the App Store cited a September statistic that 97.5% of apps are approved in two weeks. We waited and waited… and waited, and started hearing from other developers that the process was really much longer. By November, the statistic changed to 75% of apps approved in two weeks.For us, the process has taken longer. And talking with other developers and reading online accounts, we don’t feel we’re alone. That’s okay, but one of the keys to business planning is predictability. If the process is really two to three months, or even six, it’s better to know that and plan for it.The next two items relate to information sharing.
- Provide better review status. Throughout our wait, our first app was “in review” for weeks. There was no indication of how it was progressing, or not, throughout the process. Some simple, automated staging update would have helped manage expectations and provided useful information.We finally found out the app was rejected when we saw our app’s status change from “in review” to “rejected” on Apple’s developer portal. It would have been much more helpful to see what was happening as it was reviewed; for example, technical review (code works, no unauthorized API calls), legal review (no liability to Apple), appropriateness review, business review (complete marketing material), etc.
- Provide feedback and guidance. As I mentioned, our first submission was finally rejected on Nov. 11, about 5-1/2 weeks after submission. We never received an e-mail that it had been rejected, and worse, we have yet to receive any guidance by e-mail or on the developer portal as to why. So we’re left guessing – are there issues with code, API calls, artistic elements, or theme? As you might imagine, this makes it very difficult to troubleshoot and correct. When the reviewer rejected the app, could they not have indicated something – at least “bad API call” or “offensive”?According to the recent Business Week article, Apple is receiving 10,000 app submissions a week. Now, I realize that is a lot. But there must be an effective (automated) way to communicate to such a large number of developers. We’ve written asking for guidance, but as expected have received no response.
When we began investing in the iPhone platform, we decided to start small and build. Admittedly, our first app is quite simple; we’ve always planned to learn and get more sophisticated as we move along. (Note: this is from a functionality perspective. We reserve the right to continue making silly apps.) We have five to six apps currently in development. We plan to complete and submit these; however, the unpredictability and lack of feedback has significantly increased our risk – something we need to consider as we move forward.
- K. Marie, Partner, CreekFrog LLC