Dear Apple: iOS innovation should not come at the expense of App Store policies

Shane Schick

"Panic" seems like the appropriate name for an app developer when you hear about a recent App Store fracas the creator of Transmit iOS recently got into with Apple.

As the firm recounted in a strange (and no doubt sympathy-inducing) blog post, it recently removed what sounded like a popular feature in its file management tool: the ability to share files to iCloud, Dropbox and similar services. Anyone who has grappled with Apple in the past will probably not be surprised about iCloud. The company is notoriously protective of what goes in and out of its cloud-based storage service, and its App Store rules say that any data uploaded to it must have been created within the app. But complying with the change created a technological problem for Panic that affected similar cloud-based services. 

"Apple says this use would violate 2.23 -- 'Apps must follow the iOS Data Storage Guidelines or they will be rejected' -- but oddly that page says nothing about iCloud Drive or appropriate uses for iCloud Drive," the Panic blog post said. "If the issue is just iCloud Drive, why did we remove the other destinations? We had no choice." A few days later, Panic said the matter had been resolved and the "send to" feature had been restored, and Apple was congratulated for deciding to "do the right thing."

Of course, complaints about Apple's App Store submission review process are almost as old as the App Store itself, but 2014 has become noticeable as a year in which the company may be failing to keep up with the way developers are innovating. Another case in point arose a few months ago, when creators of calculator apps with notification widgets were asked to remove them. Then, after coverage by MacRumors and other sites, Apple abruptly changed course, but provided very little in the way of explanation. 

Perhaps because iOS apps tend to generate more revenue, and the related devices continue to command a premium in the market, Apple doesn't feel it has to worry much about developer loyalty. But it should care about consumers who use apps and depend on developers to create innovative uses for their smartphones and tablets. If Panic and others adhere too strictly to the App Store guidelines, they may avoid or overlook an opportunity to provide something valuable to iOS users. And for a company that provides a range of communication products, Apple seems to have no interest in a real dialogue with such developers, which is why they're turning to the media and the public instead. 

I'm not sure what the best process is, but "submit first, beg forgiveness later" cannot be the answer for app developers or for Apple. Right now developers have to fight to get their apps discovered, fight to get consumers to stay engaged with them and fight to generate revenue from them. They shouldn't have to fight Apple, too.--Shane

Note: We'll be taking a holiday break on FierceDeveloper. Our next issue will publish on Jan 6. Wishing all our readers the best of the season.