iPhone App Store roulette: A tale of rejection

Apple's random rules for iPhone app approval are a recipe for trivial apps and alienated developers

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It's worth putting these numbers in context. PalmGear.com claims more than 32,000 apps available in its store alone. That doesn't include all of the other places on the Web where there are incredible things for Palm OS like a GCC compiler, a native PDF-rendering tool, and countless others. There's no magic 1.5 billion number coming out of Palm because is marketplaces aren't modeled after the old Soviet May Day parades where stuffed shirts on the reviewing stands count the obedient ones marching in step.

Apple must be missing many opportunities because the uncertainty must be killing the incentive for developers. One of the reasons the App Store may be filled with bottom-feeding apps like iFart is that developers are afraid to risk serious development time on the platform. Even the lists of serious apps that "can save your life" are generally populated by dutiful little virtual notepads. Most probably took 10 minutes to code and three months to get through the approval process.

There is every indication that Apple's regulated marketplace is descending into mediocrity, just like the Soviet economy. It wasn't long after the PC appeared that software packages like AutoCAD and Photoshop started costing hundreds of dollars. The old Windows platform is still a very fertile ecosystem for innovation. Today, the software for a PC can cost five to ten times as much as the PC that runs it. This kind of development and investment can't happen for the iPhone as long as anonymous gatekeepers are able to delay projects by weeks and months with some seemingly random flick of a finger. It's one thing to delay a homebrew project like mine, but it's another thing to shut down a team of developers burning real cash. Apple should be worried when real programmers shrug off the rejections by saying, "It's just a hobby."

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There is every indication that Apple's regulated marketplace is descending into mediocrity, just like the Soviet economy. It wasn't long after the PC appeared that software packages like AutoCAD and Photoshop started costing hundreds of dollars. The old Windows platform is still a very fertile ecosystem for innovation. Today, the software for a PC can cost five to ten times as much as the PC that runs it. This kind of development and investment can't happen for the iPhone as long as anonymous gatekeepers are able to delay projects by weeks and months with some seemingly random flick of a finger. It's one thing to delay a homebrew project like mine, but it's another thing to shut down a team of developers burning real cash. Apple should be worried when real programmers shrug off the rejections by saying, " It's just a hobby ."

It's not even a hobby for me any longer. I had a list of ideas to tackle after I finished the no-brainer of dumping some HTML into a UIWebView. It doesn't look like that's going to happen. I'm starting to move away from native code and concentrate on building Web applications that can be tuned to the mobile version of Safari. Just for grins, I'll make sure they work on WebKit just to give those Android and BlackBerry users a real boost. When I make mistakes, I'll be able to fix them immediately. There will be no need to ask, "Mother may I?" If I want to use a cross-site library to reach both iPhone and BlackBerry users at once, I'll be able to do it without getting accused of using some "private API."

So if you want to read "Free for All GOLD," forget about searching the App Store. You can read it on my site in all its glory. Send the bug reports directly to p3 (at-sign) wayner.org. And by all means, donate directly to the Committee to Protect Journalists. One hundred percent of your donation will go to them; Apple won't take anything.

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