When developers talk, Apple finally listens

It's been an unseasonably cool summer throughout much of the U.S., but frustrations over Apple's App Store submission policies continue to boil over--now, at least one developer is bypassing the App Store outright, instead marketing his iPhone and iPod touch application directly from his own website. The Wall Street Journal reports that magician-turned-developer Steve Sheraton (creator of the popular iBeer application) is selling his new iHypno mind-reading app for $4.99 from his own one-man app storefront--"It's based on technology encouraged by Apple," Sheraton writes in an email interview. "It's totally legal and possibly the way you'll see other apps delivered in a year or so." That last claim seems unlikely--the iHypno purchase process appears incredibly laborious. But that's beside the point--Sheraton isn't pioneering a new sales channel, he's taking a stand.

Sheraton isn't the only one. Steven Frank, co-founder of Mac development firm Panic, announced on his blog that he will trade in his iPhone for a Palm Pre and boycott future iPhone OS-based devices. "I've reached a point where I can no longer just sit back and watch this," Frank writes. "The iPhone ecosystem is toxic, and I can't participate any more until it is fixed. As people have told me so many times: It's Apple's ballgame, and Apple gets to make the rules, and if I don't like it, I can leave. So, I don't like it, and I'm leaving."

Enter Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing and, increasingly, the computing giant's very own Winston Wolf. A week after responding to a Daring Fireball article recounting the App Store approval gauntlet run by application developer Matchstick Software, Schiller reached out to Frank via email: "I haven't sought Phil's explicit permission to republish the letter, so I won't do so here," Frank writes. "But to summarize, he said: ‘We're listening to your feedback.' Not all of my suggested solutions were viable, he said, but they were taking it all in as they continue to evolve the App Store." In addition, Schiller reportedly met with another aggrieved developer, theory11.com, after Apple rejected its "rising card" magic application on charges it created "consumer confusion." Schiller emailed theory11.com developer Chris Kenner, promising to look into the situation--still, the startup contends the App Store process never should have eroded to the point where Schiller felt compelled to step in. "It's frustrating to us as a developer to have it just sitting there and hoping that Phil could intervene," theory11.com CEO Jonathan Bayme tells the WSJ.

It's much too early to determine whether Schiller's cleanup efforts signal a larger shift in Apple's relationship with the development community. "As I've said repeatedly, communication will solve this problem--not silence," Frank concludes. "Let's push that communication down from executives-to-bloggers to app-store-to-developers and I think we've really got a breakthrough." Frank nevertheless adds that he remains unsure where he stands on Apple's policies: "I think the true litmus test will be how Apple and AT&T formally respond to the FCC inquiry about Google Voice. That is due no later than the 21st... That decision really cuts to the crux of the whole thing for me, and the great thing (for us users) is everyone has to come out and say something about what happened. No more speculation." Amen to that. -Jason