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App Store Needs to Change the ‘When the Shit Hits the Fan’ Approach to Review Process

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Wouldn ‘t it be nice if sometime or other Apple could get to a point where it doesn ‘t seem like crazy App Store decisions are only ‘fixed ‘ when the shit hits the fan at a bunch of high profile web sites?

This week ‘s high profile ‘WTF are they doing ‘ iPhone App Store story featured an iPhone book published by Macworld.  The app is called iPhone Superguide “ and it was initially rejected by one of Apple ‘s crack reviewers because it had the word iPhone in its title “ despite the fact that the App Store already had a similar book from David Pogue of the New York Times in it, with the word iPhone in its title.

So this rejection contained one of the long-running plot staples of App Store horror stories “ stupid, inconsistent decisions. In this case though “ as with many other recent stupid rejections “ Macworld complained about the decision (via Twitter) and their complaints were spotted and reported on by some very big sites “ including Daring Fireball and Engadget.  And then, following that coverage hey presto, the issue gets almost immediately resolved.  Apple reverses earlier decisions by their reviewers and maybe they think all is good at that point. But it ‘s not at all.  It ‘s the whole process that has huge issues “ these one-off ‘interventions ‘ (a few of them with Phil Schiller even getting in the mix recently) wouldn ‘t be needed if the system wasn ‘t so perfectly setup for producing inconsistent and ridiculous decisions.

Jason Snell has a great post up at Macworld, detailing the ‘story behind the story ‘ on the Macworld superguide book rejection and later approval / reversal by Apple.

A lot of it is all the same sort of awful stuff we ‘ve heard before about the App Store process “ an app ‘s fate decided by the whims of single reviewers, communication with reviewers likened to ‘talking to a brick wall ‘, even when pointing out obvious and clear inconsistencies in reasons given for rejections, and so on.

Snell is so frustrated by the process that he has even dubbed the reviewers ‘rejectors ‘.  Good call.

Here are just a couple slices of Snell ‘s post to give a flavor for some of the craziness of the process “ this one on the issue of the app ‘s name:

Our rejector started by demanding that we change the name of our book about the iPhone from ‘iPhone Superguide ‘ to ‘Superguide for iPhone, ‘ because apps are not allowed to use Apple trademarks as part of their brand name.

I Am Not A Lawyer, but let me try to explain this. Since Apple controls the entire App Store process, from display to sale, the company ‘s lawyers obviously feel that Apple must aggressively protect its rights. I ‘d imagine that Apple executives are also not thrilled about the idea of someone making a fortune on a game called ‘iPhone My Car ‘ or something similar. If you submitted ‘iPhone My Car, ‘ Apple would reject it and suggest you call it something else, like ‘My Car for iPhone ‘ or ‘Style my Car. ‘

But here ‘s the problem: Our book isn ‘t named ‘iPhone Superguide ‘ because it runs as an iPhone app. It ‘s named ‘iPhone Superguide ‘ because it ‘s content about the iPhone. Calling it ‘Superguide for iPhone ‘ is not only inaccurate, but it makes it more difficult to sell future Superguide books for iPhone since they’d all be Superguides for iPhone of one sort or other.

In the real world, we can publish books about the iPhone and use the iPhone ‘s name because we ‘re part of a free press, and Apple doesn ‘t have the right to restrict our use of its product names so long as we ‘re using them in an editorial context. Like, say, a book about a product. What we suddenly discovered was, according to our rejector, the real-world rules didn ‘t apply in the App Store.

And a little on what could be taken from their overall experience

What did I learn from all this? Not a lot, sadly. We’ve known for a while now that Apple ‘s submission system can be pretty messed up. We ‘ve seen versions of this story before with Drivetrain and Eucalyptus and Podcaster and Ninjawords and Tweetie and Slasher and CastCatcher and MailWrangler. The only difference was that this time, it happened to me.

If your app is rejected for good reasons (as our App Gems app was originally, more or less), the system actually works fairly well. But when you run afoul of an app rejector who has decided that there ‘s some reason your app can ‘t be approved, you ‘re completely powerless. If the person you ‘re dealing with has been given a rulebook and told to follow it to the letter, it ‘s hard to argue with that person. If they ‘ve misunderstood something, or don ‘t know the bigger picture, that ‘s just too bad. That was our situation. The person we were dealing with was polite as all get-out, but he thought he knew the rules and he wasn ‘t really interested in listening to what we had to say. He was interested in us following his orders. And there doesn ‘t really seem to be a way to push a big red button and say, ‘I need to talk to your manager. ‘

Snell also has a number of good suggestions on how Apple could improve the reviews process.  It is well worth reading his full post HERE.

One of my biggest worries with all of these App Store stories on headline-making rejections and reversals, is what happens if you are not Macworld?  What happens when you ‘re a smaller, lesser-know developer and your tweets do not get noticed by Daring Fireball and Engadget and the like? Presumably then you ‘re just flat-out screwed.

Maybe lots of great stuff is going on behind the scenes (though I doubt it) but it sure feels as if Apple ‘s approach to these problems is to focus on the PR side of things “ go blazing in to the rescue whenever a big enough fuss is kicked up on the web so that we all think good things about how responsive they are.

With all due respect to Macworld and some of the other good devs who ‘ve benefited from some of the high-profile interventions and reversals by Apple, I ‘d far rather see Apple reaching out to developers and working on ways to mend the holes in the reviews system itself.  Lay off the PR efforts and the ‘fix it when the shit hits the fan ‘ approach for a bit, and get on with just fixing it so that same shit doesn ‘t keep cropping up nearly every week.

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  • To be fair, if they fixed it before anyone noticed, how would you know?

    • If we went a month without any major 'how stupid can this get' type stories, that would be one very good sign. Also, I think developers would start talking about it if they started seeing changes for the better in the review process.