Apple defends App Store approval process, but doesn't fix it

With a small but vocal segment of the iPhone application developer segment vowing to walk away from the platform for good, Apple senior vice president for worldwide product marketing Phil Schiller went on the defensive, sitting down with BusinessWeek for his first-ever major interview on the App Store's standards process. According to Schiller, Apple's review protocol is comparable to any other retailer desiring to make certain the products on its shelves function as advertised: "We review the applications to make sure they work as the customers expect them to work when they download them," he says. "We've built a store for the most part that people can trust. You and your family and friends can download applications from the store, and for the most part they do what you'd expect, and they get onto your phone, and you get billed appropriately, and it all just works."

The problem, Schiller says, is that with about 10,000 new application submissions coming into the App Store each week, unexpected wrinkles and complexities continue to surface. He says most application submissions are approved, and some are sent back to the developer for tweaks--technical snafus and software bugs account for most of Apple's requested changes, but content is the culprit about 10 percent of the time. "There have been applications submitted for approval that will steal personal data, or which are intended to help the user break the law, or which contain inappropriate content," Schiller says. Moreover, about 1 percent of apps fall into gray areas Apple did not previously anticipate--e.g., apps developed to help gamblers cheat at casinos. Trademark violations (including unauthorized use of Apple's own trademarks) are another ongoing concern: "If you don't defend your trademarks, in the end you end up not owning them," Schiller says. "And sometimes other companies come to us saying they've seen their trademarks used in apps without permission. We see that a lot."

But while Schiller pinpoints the challenges facing Apple as the App Store continues to expand, he doesn't address what if anything the computing giant is planning to do to improve the situation. As of August, when Apple published its response to the Federal Communications Commission's inquiry into its handling of the Google Voice VoIP application, the App Store employed about 40 full-time, trained application reviewers to handle the 8,500 new app submissions and updates then coming in each week--the workload has only grown in the months since, but Schiller doesn't say whether the review staff has increased in response. Nor does he discuss the glaring inconsistencies and lengthy approval delays that are so often the root of developer objections over how Apple conducts its business. The longer Apple remains silent on the real issues at the root of the App Store controversy, the louder developers are going to voice their anger. -Jason