Apple’s open letter to the FCC has left at least one iPhone app development team “more frustrated than ever.”
Kevin Duerr and his crew at Riverturn, a technology consulting firm that built the VoiceCentral Google Voice app, have been hoping that Apple would come clean about why their app, along with three other Google voice apps, were suddenly removed from iTunes on June 27 with no warning, an action that ultimately launched an FCC inquiry.
But Duerr was infuriated by Apple’s response to the FCC, proudly posted on Apple.com late Friday afternoon. Duerr described Apple’s FCC letter as “nothing but hot air for PR purposes.” He also suspects Apple is being more than a bit disingenuous with the FCC.
“Perhaps they are assuming no one at the FCC ever used VoiceCentral or the other two Google Voice Apps that were available for months before they were removed from the App store. Or maybe Apple is banking on the FCC not being deeply familiar with either the iPhone or the Google Voice service. Because anyone who knows the services in question, or anyone who ever used our app, would be able to see the insincerity in many of Apple’s statements.”
Apple’s response to the FCC’s question about why the Google voice apps were pulled from iTunes states that the apps weren’t rejected, they just haven’t been approved because Apple is “still pondering” whether Google can be trusted with iPhone user data.
Apple explains that the Google Voice apps transfer “…the iPhone user’s entire Contacts database … to Google’s servers, and we have yet to obtain any assurances from Google that this data will only be used in appropriate ways.” Apple is also ruminating over whether it’s acceptable for these apps to replace “the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail.”
“In their entire description of how their review process works and why they reject apps they did not mention one single item that could apply to our app,” says Duerr. “And none of the explanations offered come close to explaining why our app was approved and selling for four months prior to being pulled with no warning. Richard from Apple specifically told me that our app was removed because it was not allowed by policy. He made absolutely no mention of any ‘pondering.’”
(“Richard from Apple” contacted Duerr three days after VoiceCentral was removed from the app store, but was unable to provide specific, useful information to Duerr details beyond the fact that “VoiceCentral has been removed from the App Store because it duplicates features of the iPhone… and was causing confusion in the user community.”)
Duerr says that he and his team are still waiting for responses to the emails they directed towards both the App review team and App technical support on July 27 requesting detailed information about why their app was removed and how they could remediate any problems. In their desperation to get some sort of concrete answer they even sent emails to Steve Jobs and other Apple executives, which have also gone unanswered.
Apple cheerily wrote in its FCC letter that: “If we find that an application has a problem, for example, a software bug that crashes the application, we send the developer a note describing the reason why the application will not be approved as submitted. In many cases we are able to provide specific guidance about how the developer can fix the application. We also let them know they can contact the app review team or technical support, or they can write to us for further guidance.”
“Where’s our “specific guidance”? Phil Schiller, you’ve been the App Store Angel lately… can we talk?” fumes Duerr. “When I spoke with Richard I begged him to ask one of his superiors to at least have a legitimate conversation with me about the situation. To date we have heard nothing. And I find it telling that Apple never says who “us” is in the FCC statement. Who exactly should we write to? Apple’s a pretty big company so they might want to narrow down that ‘us’.”
Unsurprisingly, Duerr has done a lot of thinking about what Apple needs to do to support its app developers more effectively. He thinks the following is the absolute bare minimum:
Non-binding pre-approval: Developers should be able to outline a proposed app’s functions to Apple and get feedback on whether the app will be approved before they invest time and money into actually building it. Apple would have the right to reject pre-approved apps if they provably deviate from the developer’s approved proposal.
Complete overhaul of the approval process and team: Duerr says that “developers often get a response that includes one esoteric section of the Developers Agreement quoted to them. That’s a far cry from the ‘provide specific guidance about how the developer can fix the application’ that they claimed in their response letter. Clearly a reviewer knows why, in layman’s terms (not Developer Agreement vague legalese), why they intend to say no. What’s the harm in just saying ‘No, but if you do X then we will probably say yes’?
Better communication: Duerr says that the emails that developers currently receive “shed little to no light on the real issue. They almost always require a hefty amount of interpretation, followed by a leap of faith that the developer knows what Apple actually meant.” He adds that emails to the app review team result in canned responses 99.99% of the time.
Appeals process: Duerr thinks there should be a defined process of appeals where a developer could speak with someone higher in the chain of command that is capable of answering questions with specific information rather than just reciting the rejection script. “Even if the answer remains no, coming to an understanding on that answer would go a long way to convincing developers that the iPhone is still a worthwhile platform. When you are completely in the dark it’s really hard to justify continued investment,” says Duerr.
Fix the refunds Issue: “If Apple decides on a whim to change their mind and remove an App from the store after it has already been for sale for any length of time, then Apple has to foot the bill on refunds that they decide to grant end users,” Duerr says.”This obviously hits close to home for us, but it couldn’t be more obvious that the party that made all of the decisions leading up to the reason a refund is being requested should be responsible for the cost of that refund.”
Duerr says that Riverturn’s own iPhone apps development effort is now on hold until further notice but the company is still performing iPhone development work for their clients. Riverturn has also begun developing for other mobile development platforms, including Android, Palm Pre and “another exciting idea that we will be announcing soon.”
- by Michelle Delio | Mac Life