Apple just wants you to be happy. It wants your hardware to play nicely with your software, your apps to be malware free and your user experience to be as smooth as a baby’s butt.
This burning desire to deliver perfection endears Apple to its fan base. But some App Store developers say that Apple’s quest for quality cramps their creativity, and thus, has resulted in apps that aren’t living up to their full potential.
The "Dos and Don'ts" for developers are spelled out in the Terms of Service (TOS) that app creators are required to sign in order to create Apple-approved applications. But some developers say there is a capaciousness that can creep in when one is dealing with Apple--a lack of clear cut guidelines, and a surplus of seemingly whimsical edicts, can lead them to err well on the side of caution in their work. After all, if they do it any differently, they might risk crossing that sometimes invisible line and having their app rejected.
Dave Haupert, of DDH Software, says that this notion has stifled his development team, who has shied away from including an integral feature in DDH’s core product, mobile database app HanDBase, because of the fear that it might violate Apple's TOS.
“I’m still not 100% clear on whether the feature is compliant with the TOS. For that reason I held off for over a year before trying to implement it," Haupert explained in an email interview. "I have since started development on the feature, as users are clamoring for it, but still worry a little that all my work may be for naught."
Haupert has already been hit with a prior Apple rejection. HanDBase, for the iPad, originally included a feature where user hints would appear on screen, like the pop up bubbles that VH1 used to add to music videos. These pop ups provided users with helpful tips.
“Apple rejected this because they thought the bubbles were using the iPad's pop overs. There were already pop overs on the screen in some cases and they don't allow more than one pop over on the screen at a time. Even though our bubbles weren't pop overs, there was no recourse for us to argue the point, so I simply removed these valuable hints. Customers have since emailed quite often wondering how to do something that was previously explained in the bubbles. This is just one example of the many difficult decisions we’ve made due to the TOS,” observed Haupert.
Yuri Selukoff, a developer of the GoodReader for iPhone and iPad, has also had issues with Apple over an app’s use of USB functionality, but he thinks the TOS and approval process is fine as is.
“If you plan to sell your app to millions, you must be super cautious about what you do. Apple's SDK Agreement is reasonable. I don't see anything in there that really limits us doing what we want do,” Selukoff remarked in an email.
Selukoff added that he “can't imagine Apple pulling a normal legitimate app that doesn't do anything wrong” from the App Store and said that Apple behaved beautifully when dealing with his own company’s violation of the TOS.
“We were inadvertently doing some things that we shouldn't do and Apple became aware of it. But nothing really bad happened. They just called us and, in a very friendly manner, asked to remove this particular feature. Nobody pulled the app from the store, and they gave us a very reasonable time frame to fix this issue. They acted like normal people do.”
Selukoff added that he thinks the app approval process is better than it used to be. Developers can contact the app review team and ask questions, and they actually do so in a timely manner. He also praises the app review team for their fast handling of emergency fixes for critical bugs, saying that the two times his team needed to release a fix, the updated app was approved within two days.
Justin Cepelak, VP of SplashData, echoed Selukoff’s comments, saying that while Apple “definitely has some UI recommendations that are not always ideal, [they have] softened on some of those points over time. For the most part, the restrictions are trying to keep out annoying things like software that breaks when you upgrade your OS.”
These are positive changes, but they are not enough to make many developers feel comfortable about giving 100% when developing their apps, according to Kevin Duerr, president of Riverturn, a technology consulting firm that built the VoiceCentral Google Voice app. VoiceCentral was, along with three other Google voice apps, suddenly removed from the App Store on June 27, 2009 with no warning, an action that ultimately launched an inquiry into Apple, AT&T and Google’s business practices by the US Federal Communications Commission.
Duerr, who with his team continues to develop apps for their clients, remarked in an email that the biggest problem with developing for the iOS platform is “that there is no concept of pre-approval. You have to make your investment and lay all your chips on the table before you even get a chance to submit your app and play the app reviewer lottery game.”
Duerr believes that if Apple was “just a little more transparent about their rules, instead of holding on for dear life to secrecy and purposeful vagueness, skilled developers would flock to the platform.” He thinks that some of the best talent now is developing for the jailbreak side of the market.
“And why not? It’s a much smaller market of devices overall but it helps minimize developers’ risk tremendously. We released our VoiceCentral app outside of the App Store using HTML5. It’s the greatest thing we ever did. We control our own destiny now.”
Unhappiness with Apple policies isn’t (yet) fueling a mass exodus to the Android platform. Selukoff says his company “simply has no time to develop for other platforms.” Duerr says there are “plenty of problems developing for Android, too...Google has just shown that they aren’t perfectly open--as evidenced by the recent high profile removal of Easy Root.”
Haupert’s company is releasing an Android app, but will continue to develop for Apple. “While I disagree with some of the core philosophies, it's still an incredible platform and a good market opportunity,” he says. “Often, when people complain about the limitations, other people will respond with a 'then don't develop for it,' or 'buy an Android phone if you don't like it.' What I think is being missed is that this incredible platform--and devices--are a leap in technology and possibilities for us; that even with the limitations, [it's] still a platform of choice for many. But that doesn't mean that we don't see the lost potential to go from a great phone platform to a near-perfect one.”