Apple’s app review fails to placate developers

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In January, London-based developer Jake Nelson submitted a routine update to his popular new iPhone word game to the Apple App Store for review, adding support for a list of new languages. This wasn’t his first app, but he wasn’t prepared for what followed: It took a month of frustrating discussions with Apple’s App Store reviewers and 15 more or less random revisions to his code before his update was released. was mysteriously approved.

Nelson never knew exactly why his application was first rejected or later accepted. An appeal mechanism Apple introduced in 2020 after bad press over its control of the App Store didn’t help. His game revenue had been around $1,000 a month, but it dwindled during weeks when he couldn’t keep users engaged with new updates, and he considered quitting selling iOS apps for a living. “I felt like it was a never-ending, completely opaque process,” he says.

Nelson isn’t alone among app developers. The App Store, a driver of the iPhone’s success, has long drawn complaints from app makers that Apple skews its market too much in its favor, making it harder for independent developers to survive, penalizing competitors and blocking new ideas so they don’t make it to the iPhone. owners

More than a dozen app developers who spoke to WIRED say the app review process hasn’t improved despite the introduction of Apple’s appeal mechanism in 2020, which can lead to a phone call with an app reviewer. app store. The company added the process in what seemed like a moment of contrition, following a dispute with software company Basecamp over the rejection of an email app and a lawsuit from Fortnite developer Epic Games, claiming the 30 percent cut Apple’s percent on in-app payments is unfair.

But developers commonly describe the process of convincing Apple reviewers to greenlight their submissions as “a nightmare.” They see the new appeals process more as an attempt to deflect criticism than to substantially improve review of the app, which remains slow and arbitrary. Former Apple employees told WIRED that app reviewers often have just minutes to review each app and work under a system that allows for wide variation in standards.

Adam Dema, an Apple spokesman, denied the inconsistency developers reported seeing in app reviews. “They are based solely on the App Store Review Guidelines, not on subjectivity,” he said.

Apple’s app review process underscores the asymmetry between the world’s most valuable company and small app developers, especially those working alone. When Alin Panaitiu received a rejection notice earlier this year for his app that compiled a list of music festivals in Romania, he was told only that he had to create a “lasting experience” to qualify for the App Store. After a frustrating month of speculative modifications and repeated rejections with repetitive responses, he asked for help on social media.

A few days after Panaitiu’s post gained traction, his application was approved without explanation. The app was meant to finance his brother’s freshman year of college, but when it appeared on the App Store, the summer festival season was over. Panaitiu listed it for free.

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