Inside the iPhone App Store acceptance process

Apple’s iPhone OS App Store is a little over two months old and already the focus of both hype and fear among members of the press. KPCB has already invested more than $30 million through its iPhone-specific fund. Established companies are writing iPhone applications for the first time. A few applications have been banned, as expected with most platforms. Apple’s relative secrecy regarding the iPhone platform and distribution policies have caused market uncertainties in need of some further clarity. In this post I will examine the iPhone OS 2.0 platform and the iPhone App Store from the point of view of Apple and other hosted storefront providers.

As I write this post there are over 3400 applications available from the iTunes App Store. 90% of those apps are available for both iPhone and iPod touch. 76% of App Store listings require payment ($1 or more). Developers may distribute an iPhone OS 2.0 application directly to handsets using their own infrastructure or distribute through Apple’s App Store built-in to iTunes and iPhone OS.

  1. Inside the App Store
  2. Podcaster rejection
    1. Submitting to App Store
  3. Ad-Hoc Distribution
  4. Summary

Inside the App Store

Apple’s iPhone App Store connects developers large and small to millions of iPhone OS devices around the world. Apple handles payment processing, international business licenses, distribution, marketing, and delivery of applications to iPhone and iPod Touch devices over WiFi, cellular data, and tethered experiences. App developers may list items for sale in Apple’s App Store in exchange for a consignment fee of 30%.

Carrying third-party content inside your store and on your devices does carry some risk. Developers pay to access the iPhone developer program, sign their applications with unique keys, and assume some of the support burden for their applications. There are a few obvious reasons why a platform such as iPhone might choose not to carry an application in its storefront:

  • Chargebacks. Buyers frequently return your product for reasons including buyer’s remorse or just receiving a different product than they expected. The “I Am Rich” $1000 iPhone app carries a heavy chargeback risk.
  • Insufficient differentiation. App authors should be able to submit an application to App Store and expect there won’t be a knock-off product sold directly alongside. Open-source applications can swap out an application title and submit the app as their own without adding new functionality.
  • Misleading marketing, including trademarks. Don’t misrepresent yourself or your product or cause obvious confusion.
  • Horrible customer experience. Apple will recommend interface designers who can assist you with visual aspects of your application. Long load times or heavy resource utilization might will make both you and the platform look bad.

Podcaster rejection

The Podcaster application was initially rejected for redistribution through Apple’s iPhone App. I downloaded a copy of the app, version 1.0.9b, directly from the developer, installed it on my iPhone, and reviewed the app from the point of view of the Apple based on existing publications and guidelines.

Podcaster navigation screen

Navigating the tab bar to content sections such as newest podcasts or featured podcasts brings up a splash advising 3-5 minute wait times before content is returned. Red flag. My previous search input does not disappear when I change navigation modes.

Podcaster for iPhone add podcast confirmation

The developer used a single button action sheet with a vibration action to confirm each new podcast download. Apple adds a badge to the Downloads tab for a similar action in iTunes. The user has to dismiss a confirmation sheet for every new addition.

Podcaster iPhone application iPod application comparison

Pictured above is a view of the same podcast in Podcaster and iPod. Duplicate functionality when tethered but Podcaster does provide over-the-air updates direct from the handset. Podcaster has some obvious errors with text display in the regular table view but the display does work. Displaying the sound disclosure indicator on every row is a bit overkill: Apple only includes this disclosure indicator when the audio file is currently playing. Small fit and polish issue.

Submitting to App Store

Podcaster submitted the first release candidate of their iPhone application to iTunes Connect, App Store’s web-based management tool, on August 14. Application release notes are available through the developer’s Twitter feed. The version submitted to Apple in mid-August had problems downloading and playing many podcasts including FeedBurner’s redirect URLs or large downloads (likely a Range issue). On September 12 Podcaster heard back from Apple regarding their App Store submission. The $4.95 application was not accepted for distribution through App because it it duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes.

The developers resubmitted Podcaster to iTunes Connect on September 13 with a new description before launching a media campaign and ad-hoc distribution.

Ad-Hoc Distribution

Apple iPhone App Store Ad Hoc distribution design

Apple designed Ad-Hoc distribution for direct distribution of iPhone OS applications. Each application build is limited to 100 provisioned handsets. Ad-Hoc distribution is a primary distribution mechanism for beta testers, classrooms, workshops, or corporate environments that do not desire worldwide distribution through App Store.

As of yesterday afternoon Podcaster had provisioned 1130 devices for distribution across 12 different copies of the application hosted on Google Code. Each new uploaded build included up to new 100 authorized devices after the publisher received payment via PayPal. It’s stretching the Ad-Hoc distribution model a bit but the application may have collected approximately $11,000 over the weekend through suggested donations of $10 per handset. At the time of writing Apple has not pulled the application or developer certificates from their central certificate authority.

Summary

It’s not always clear what Apple is up to but there are legitimate reasons to not carry an item for sale in your store. iPhone OS will continue to be a popular development platform even if Apple is overwhelmed with interest and developer support. The best developer information comes from within the confines of ADC, WWDC, and iPhone developer programs, and other privileged access forums restricted by Apple and its partners.

11 comments

Commentary on "Inside the iPhone App Store acceptance process":

  1. Todd on wrote:

    Good information. Thanks for publishing it without a lot of developer jargon – I hope it gets cached properly on Google and comes to the attention of all iPhone users ( Best chance of change is a user revolt, not just geeks complaining ).

    I wonder if we will face the same issues with T-Mobile and their Android phone. T-Mo couldn’t handle it any worse…Could they?!?!

  2. Dan on wrote:

    As more and more information about the Podcaster rejection comes out, it sounds more and more like it was actually just rejected for being not very good, and Apple could have avoided a lot of bad press regarding anti-competition and that sort of thing, if they had just been honest about why it was rejected. Since numerous applications have been approved which duplicate functionality available in apple software, perhaps the person who gave the feedback was trying to cushion the pain of rejection, and inadvertently opened up this can of worms.

  3. Robert on wrote:

    Great info, or perhaps it is more like this Joy of Tech comic… ha ha!

  4. Micky on wrote:

    No, I don’t think it was rejected because it was not very good. If that would have been the reason, Apple has to delete immediately about 95% of the App Store-content.It was (beside) mail.app my most used app today. OK, it hung two times, but after restarting (the app) everything was fine. And i was happy to have it, because i wasn’t able to sync today…

  5. Tom Harrington on wrote:

    I don’t buy the argument that Apple rejected Podcaster for “being not very good”.
    When I submitted a version 1.0 to the app store ahead of its opening, it was initially rejected due to some UI bugs. The response was very specific about what was wrong, so we fixed the bugs, resubmitted, and got accepted with no further trouble.  If the UI issues mentioned here had been the cause for rejection then I’d expect the response would have said so.  Why make something up if the real problem is something so clear and easy to explain?  What could they possibly hope to gain by this?

  6. Mike Ash on wrote:

    I second that it wasn’t rejected for “not very good.” It wasn’t just rejected, it was rejected for the specific reason of duplicating iTunes functionality. That reason is the key to this whole debacle.

  7. Christopher Lloyd on wrote:

    It is not cool for the developer to be hosting downloads at Google Code when it is not an open source project.

  8. almerica on wrote:

    Sorry for putting the files on Google Code. I have since removed the files and soon will be moving the issue and wiki as well.

  9. Shane E. on wrote:

    If Apple is rejecting software for duplicating functionality of their own apps then we have a problem. The whole idea of progress in development is looking at functionality that exists and finding a better way to do the same thing with more features, etc… I don’t think that is a valid reason to reject an app. And if Apple’s rejecting software for being buggy or having issues, then there are several apps that need to be rejected. But again, this is not a valid reason to reject something. An app should have the right to compete and improve. And if those are criteria for being rejected, then Apple should post that specifically so developers don’t invest time and money into making an app only to “hope” that it’s able to be distributed.

  10. Rod on wrote:

    I was wondering if some could point me in the right direction. I need to know where within Apple to:
    Submit a app for ipod touch/phone app store for saleThe process to register my companyIf someone could how apple additional blogs are sites it would be appreciated

  11. Ludovic Rioux on wrote:

    Hi everyone.Do we know if it is legal to sale the Apps through the AdHoc method?There are giving hard time at the moment with the store and it could be another option to explore.thanks