Today I’m going to share the somewhat darker side of being an app developer for Apple’s iOS platform by telling you about the black box that is the App Review. The institution within the Apple ecosystem that developers send their applications to for them to be reviewed by the wise and wary eyes of men and women working to protect he public from malicious apps that break the rules of Apple.
These men and women adhere to a set of rules that is ever changing. They’re called the App Review guidelines and they’re your bible if you decide to become a developer for iOS.
These rules help you - the aspiring developer - guess what the App Review team might find OK and what they might not quite like.
And you want to please them, oh, do you want to make sure they’re happy when opening and testing your app.
Because if they are not, your app is going to get rejected. Your update won’t be online any time soon time. Your bug fix won’t be live and you’ll receive more complaints, bad ratings etc.
There’s a process that you can use to complain about a rejection but that entering process means you cannot submit any new update in the mean time. Which is not what you’re going to do because it’ll take a lot longer than if you just change your app and resubmit it.
And you will not - ever - be able to reason with them outside of this process as you would be able to with a colleague or business partner.
Instead they will answer with almost fully predefined text blocks which most likely have been written by Apple’s legal department.
You cannot talk with them before submitting an app, you can’t ask them what they think about your implementation.
They have no telephone number. No real email address that they answer with anything else by short blurts of predefined text. You cannot send them a fax or a letter. You can call developer support and ask how to get through to App Review. They will tell you that App Review has no phone, no way to be reached. Only a little box in the submission form that you can try to squeeze in some info for App Review to maybe read - you’ll never know if they actually did.
Don’t call us, we’ll call you
Because if they could be reached, a hundred thousand development teams would try to reach App Review and try to explain why their newest update needs to be let through. Why their app is going to be awesome and thus must be approved.
It’s the one bottleneck the iOS ecosystem has and the more developers there are, the more apps there are, the more updates they submit, the more in-App Purchases they need App Review to approve, the more of a bottleneck it becomes.
It’s an understandable policy that App Review cannot really be reached, not really be reasoned with in advance and it’s understandable that they won’t answer with anything but short messages of predefined text.
But it sucks.
Boy does it suck if you’re a developer.
And it’s frustrating because in my opinion developers should be entitled to be able to have a real conversation with the person who judges their work if Apple receives 30% of the revenue (which is ok, the iOS ecosystem is great and Apple deserves that share for creating and maintaining it).
It sucks even more if you have an actual deadline. Like - as it happens - we do right now:
The biggest newspaper in Germany has contacted us to provide them with a version of our app that they can show in their next issue of the personal computer magazine section that they publish. We’re talking about roughly 600.000 readers from three countries.
So we made that special version and submitted it to Apple in time.
To make extra super sure that it’s going to be online later this month I furthermore submitted a plea to Apple via intricate means offered by their intricate contact system for developers.
I sincerely asked for them to make sure to review it fast because this one is extra important to us. And since in mentioned support system there is an option that deals with exactly that case we had high hopes to have our app reviewed a bit faster so we could prepare for the minuscule chance that we would have to fix anything that App Review doesn’t like.
My plea fell on deaf ears.
Which is almost funny because Apple seems to like us. Whenever we submit an update to our app we’re ending up in the ‘What’s hot section’ of the category our app belongs to.
Apple even had us make a special version of our app for them for internal use (though it seems like they never really ended up using it, but thanks - the request by Apple marketing was flattering enough for us to spend a week on making the demo version for them - so we could hold their deadline).
You could say we’ve got a hot-and-cold kind of relationship. Pun intended.
We’ve got a little more than a week until the special version of our app has to be approved by App Review. Wish us luck.
PS: To clarify - we’d pay almost any price for the opportunity to talk with App Review before beginning development of new feature. As it is right now it’s always a gamble to come up with a new feature or way of monetization only to have it denied by App Review after weeks of development and spending thousands of european monetary units on development. We’d like to think of our work as a craft. Gambling should not have to be a part of it.
UPDATE 1 (one day later): Just had a long conversation with developer support which seemed to have been constructive. Let’s see what comes out of it. I’ll keep you posted.
UPDATE 2: Also had a telephone call with the people at [important German newspaper] and we’ve figured out a Plan B together should we miss the deadline. Thank you people at [important German newspaper]!
UPDATE 3 (two days later): developer support called. They tried to inform me that there’s a form that developers can use to request an expedited review. Or write an email to App Review. Wow. Back to square one I guess.
UPDATE 4: SoundPrism CBE is being reviewed. Not sure if any of my mails or phone calls had anything to do with it. Most likely not since it’s happening a bit less than a week after we’ve submitted the binary to Apple which is the usual timeframe as of July 2011.
UPDATE 5: Updates to SoundPrism 2.1 and SoundPrism Pro 2.1 which we’ve submitted at the same time as this special version have been reviewed and approved. SoundPrism CBE is still in review. It shares literally all of the features of SoundPrism Standard with a special functionality for the readers of [important German newspaper] which has been used in dozens of other apps before. Oh well…
UPDATE 6: The eagle has (partially) landed. No communication with App Review but the app has been reviewed and approved.
UPDATE 7 (8 days later): I couldn’t make this up even if I wanted to. Apple approves a non-existing In-App Purchase. And informs me about it.
And App Review replies:
From: App Review <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Sebastian Dittmann
Subject: Re: Your in app purchase status is Ready for Sale
Please include the line below in follow-up emails for this request.
Thank you for contacting us regarding the review of SoundPrism CBE. In order to properly prioritize the review of your app, please let us know the reason, or reasons, for this request.