posted by Thom Holwerda on Tue 16th Jun 2009 13:25 UTC
IconDuring last week's Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple introduced a new iPhone model, the iPhone 3GS, which comes, among other things, with a faster processor and more RAM. Since this is a developers' conference, there were also numerous sessions on iPhone development, and the last session was about publishing on the App Store. Since every session at every WWDC is always followed by an open Q&A session, you'd figure this'd be the perfect opportunity for iPhone developers to ask about Apple's App Store policies. Well, no.

As we all know, Apple is a secretive company with very restrictive policies on who gets to say what to which people. As such, the sessions at WWDC are invaluable to many Mac and iPhone developers, because it's the only time when they get to interact with Apple developers directly. Every session at WWDC is followed by an audience Q&A, and more often than not also by a little mingling of Apple developers among the crowd, allowing for some face-to-face talks.

Apple saw it coming; make the final session of WWDC about publishing on the App Store, and you're going to get a lot of questions about Apple's insane review policies, slow response times, and overall shoddy treatment of iPhone developers. Chronicled by Marco Arment, lead developer of Tumblr and creator of Instapaper, it went something like this: short lightweight session, a slide that read WWDC, presenter ran off stage, Apple engineers vanished, lights went on - despite the fact that people were lining up behind the microphone, clearly waiting for the Q&A.

"It was a giant middle finger to iPhone developers," Arment writes, "And that's the closing impression that Apple gave us for WWDC. Clearly, they had absolutely no interest in fielding even a single question from the topic that we have the most questions about."

Instead of getting better, it seems like things are only getting worse for iPhone developers. Probably the lamest example yet is that of iLaugh and iLaugh Lite. The main developer made a small bugfix release to the light version, which got rejected... Without even stating why. What makes it even weirder is that the normal version of the application was approved without problems.

Marco Arment himself also details the problems he's been having, like slow response times. He explains in quite some detail what exactly is wrong with the iPhone development "community" right now:

For the most part, Apple stands between us and our customers, so the interaction there is limited: we can't issue refunds, we can only issue a few promo copies, we can't collect upgrade revenue, we can't respond to App Store reviews, we can't provide installation support, and we can't release updates to address customers' issues in a reasonable amount of time. We can't even tell them when the next update will be available, because we honestly don't know. It might be 6 days. It also might be 2 months. It also might never happen because Apple may refuse any further updates to our app. Our customers, like us, are mostly in the dark with this process, and we can't do much to help them.

For the most part, it's just us and Apple in the room.

And Apple's a brick wall.

Apple is clearly aware of the problems, but is apparently unwilling to do something about it or to listen to the valid and honest concerns from the very community that has helped the iPhone in becoming such a massive success. Since Apple has all the power in this three-way relationship (developers-users-Apple), Arment argues that the key should be trust - trust that Apple will use its absolute power responsibly. This trust, he explains, is simply not there. "As far as we can tell, from what Apple presents publicly, there's absolutely no reason to trust them at all to do the right thing," he writes, "In fact, it's quite the opposite. Most reasonable people would perceive Apple's attitude toward iPhone developers as, at best, reluctant tolerance."

However, the problem is not with the people working at Apple, Arment further explains. Basically every Apple employee he spoke to during WWDC was "helpful, friendly, and - most importantly - human"; the problems seem to come from higher up in the company. By talking to Apple employees, he was also able to find out that App Store reviews are not outsourced - they are done by full-time Apple employees, who are apparently barely able to keep up with demand, working day and night on the submissions.

Overall though, it seems like Apple still has a lot to learn when it comes to treating its iPhone developers well. Many iPhone developers are unhappy with Apple's policies, but without an alternative, they've got nowhere to go to - making it seem as if there's nothing wrong, as the number of applications in the App Store keeps rising. It's a weird situation, and really something Apple should address once and for all.

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