Improving the iPhone app store approval process
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Improving the iPhone app store approval process

This week, Apple got a lot of bad publicity when two iPhone developers abandoned the platform because of the way the app store approval process is handled. The first was Joe Hewitt, the developer of the Facebook iPhone application. You can read his reasons why here. Back in August he expressed his frustration with Apple but said he wasn’t going to boycott the platform. Then today Rogue Amoeba announced that they’ll be focusing on the Mac going forward because of problems they’ve had with Apple’s approval process.

Like most people who aren’t calling the shots at Apple, I’d prefer it if you could install apps on your iPhone by simply going to a URL and downloading them. Even if Apple wants to maintain the vetting process for apps sold through the official store, they could provide an alternate means that anyone can use if they’re willing to assume the risks of doing so. This would, essentially, be a way to let jailbreaking go legit. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon.

As an alternative, I think Apple needs to adopt a different form of government for the iPhone nation. Right now, it’s a dictatorship. Apple exercises nearly complete control over the platform — there are a few jailbroken and unlocked phones that participate in a sort of underground, but if you want to be a legal citizen of the iPhone community, you have to play by Apple’s rules. And as in most dictatorships, Apple makes up the rules as it goes along, and isn’t accountable for enforcing the rules fairly, or offering due process, or even telling people what the rules are, exactly. It’s not surprising that so many people hate this situation — it’s not fair. And Apple’s profits say that it can get away with this behavior for awhile longer. You don’t see too many iPhone users or developers moving to other platforms but the competing platforms are slowly becoming more compelling.

Clearly democracy is out of the question. Apple is a business, and they’re not going to suddenly let the users start running the show. What I do think Apple should move toward is a constitutional monarchy. Apple’s executives remain the heads of state, and are ultimately the final authority on iPhone-related matters, but for everyday purposes the rule of law exists. Apple would write a constitution of sorts for iPhone developers and users, and get rid of the hidden, arbitrary rules. They’d create an open process for developers seeking approval for their applications, communicate reasons for denial, and give the developers a chance to appeal such rulings. This would probably be more manpower-intensive than the current process, but Apple is ridiculously profitable, and in the long term holding themselves to a greater degree of transparency and accountability would be good for the iPhone.

The current system isn’t going to work for a whole lot longer.

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