Apple accelerates the App Store approval process

Nearly two weeks into January, most of us have long since abandoned our New Year's resolutions, but Apple's App Store continues its march toward self-betterment. In the wake of a bumpy 2009 that culminated in a handful of developers forsaking the iPhone platform while their applications lingered weeks and even months in approval purgatory, 2010 is off to a much more promising start: Developers are now reporting that the App Store is processing their software submissions at record speeds, indicating that Apple has made dramatic strides in improving how the digital storefront operates.

The Unofficial Apple Weblog reports that iTunes Connect, the portal developers use to submit their iPhone and iPod touch applications, was offline from Dec. 23 to Dec. 28. What happened during that blackout period is anyone's guess--this is Apple, after all--but whatever Steve Jobs' elves did to improve the app submission protocol, the results speak for themselves. At least one startup, Atomic Cactus, tells TUAW that its new puzzle game Artilect earned Apple's stamp of approval in less than 12 hours, while its previous submissions took two to three weeks to run the gauntlet. "Today at 4:00 am I submitted for approval our latest app, which isn't exactly a ‘fart app' (it's a pretty polished puzzle game with OpenFeint)," Atomic Cactus developer Yuri writes. "As of 1:30 pm today, the app is in the App Store."

In related news, the App Store exceeded the 3 billion download benchmark last week--the latest milestone came less than four months after the store surpassed 2 billion downloads, a moment that itself arrived roughly five months after consumers downloaded the first billion iPhone and iPod touch applications. "Three billion applications downloaded in less than 18 months--this is like nothing we've ever seen before," Jobs said in a self-congratulatory press release. "The revolutionary App Store offers iPhone and iPod touch users an experience unlike anything else available on other mobile devices, and we see no signs of the competition catching up anytime soon." It's posturing, of course, but if the App Store is indeed solving the problems that have caused developers so many headaches in the past, Jobs might be speaking the truth. -Jason