This time, Apple is having to battle the news of Facebook’s all-star developer Joe Hewitt quitting the platform, more high profile app rejections, and the rise of Android as an increasingly viable alternative to the iPhone. Schiller has granted BusinessWeek’s Arik Hesseldahl what the publication says is his first “wide-ranging interview on the matter”. Unfortunately, Schiller doesn’t really say anything to quell the growing unrest in the developer community — instead, he’s offered some finely-tuned PR-speak that will placate the vast majority of iPhone users, who are only vaguely aware of the App Store controversies and just need a reminder that Apple is still one of the good guys. But it may only make developers angrier.
The article kicks off with quotes from Hewitt’s recent denunciation of the App Store’s approval process, which he says sets a “horrible precedent for other software platforms” (an assertion I wholeheartedly agree with). The article then transitions into Schiller’s response to the complaints that are frequently levied against the App Store.
None of Schiller’s defenses for the approval process are surprising: he says that Apple has built a store that people can trust, and that between the downloading, billing, and transfering to the phone “it all just works.” Schiller also points out the App Store’s ability to offer parental controls because screeners can categorize apps into different age ratings. Of course, he doesn’t mention that Apple also likes keeping control over the platform because it lets them block anything that could potentially compete with its own products.
As he’s done before, Schiller did admit to some of the App Store’s faults. Hesseldahl asked about the recent Rogue Amoeba debacle, which saw the popular Mac developer’s app rejected because it used some icons that Apple objected to for clearly ridiculous reasons apparently having to do with copyright. Schiller didn’t comment on that case in particular, but addressed some of Apple’s issues with copyright: “We need to delineate something that might confuse the customer and be an inappropriate use of a trademark from something that’s just referring to a product for the sake of compatibility… We’re trying to learn and expand the rules to make it fair for everyone”. The article then notes that Rogue Amoeba will be resubmitting its application with its original icons, presumably with the understanding that it will be approved.
But to developers who have been dealing with the frustrations of Apple’s platform for many months, none of this is particularly novel or encouraging. Schiller has previously stepped in to fix highly publicized App Store blunders, but nothing changes for the vast majority of developers. Likewise, Schiller has previously said that Apple is working on improving the App Store’s submission process, and while I honestly do think they’re making some improvements, their lack of transparency makes it nearly impossible to tell how much progress has been made. And the steady stream of App Store horror stories isn’t showing any signs of letting up.
Even worse, Schiller implies in the interview that developers actually like the approval process:
Most are approved and some are sent back to the developer. In about 90% of those cases, Apple requests technical fixes—usually for bugs in the software or because something doesn’t work as expected, Schiller says. Developers are generally glad to have this safety net because usually Apple’s review process finds problems they actually want to fix, he says.
This is a laughable statement. Developers may like the concept of having an external QA safety net that helps catch bugs, but not one that’s incredibly inconsistent and penalizes them with extended delays and notoriously bad communication.
Schiller’s interview highlights how badly Apple is underestimating the negative impact the App Store is having on its reputation in the developer community, as Paul Graham recently detailed. Apple may not care about losing a handful of developers to Android, but their shortsighted strategy of answering developer complaints with PR spin rather than transparency and action may hurt them in the long run.