By Todd Bernhard on Wed, 08/05/2009
This has been a busy week or so for the App Store, so I thought I'd chime in with my observations, as a user and developer.
First, Apple took a major step forward toward enhancing the structure of the App Store, by adding Keywords. Now, when developers submit apps, they must include 100 characters of keywords that will be part of the approval process. Before, Digital Chocolate, a game developer, had the word "ea." as in the abbreviation of 'each', repeated several times in their descriptions. The result was, searches for "EA" as in EA Sports, returned only Digital Chocolate apps! EA complained, and Apple listened.
So now searches will be based on keywords, and Apple's reviewers will presumably ensure that the keywords are appropriate for the app. Keywords cannot be changed once submitted. They can only be changed when an app is updated, so this makes experimentation difficult.
App names are also going to be locked down. This is trickier because some developers like to add '50% off' or other notices. This is no longer possible. Names can only be changed with updates.
Apple has also posted a 'ticker' of sorts showing the average wait time for an app to be approved. They claim 96% of apps are approved within 14 days. Perhaps, but I have one app that's been waiting since May 12th (almost 3 months)!
While the above changes apply to every app and every developer, Apple has changed some things for specific developers. When Apple rejected Google's Google Voice app, they turned around and rejected similar apps from other developers. These apps had already been approved and were selling on the App Store. This is a scary turn of events for a developer. Personally, I've invested thousands not only in the development of apps, but in the marketing of apps. If Apple pulled one of my apps it would cost far more than future revenue, it would be costing me the advertising dollars I had already committed. Even worse, Apple's contract makes the developer responsible for a full refund, beyond the 70% Apple paid them. So if 1,000 users want $0.99 back, the developer is charged $999 even though Apple paid them $700! The insult to injury is that the developer did nothing wrong. Their app was approved and all was well until Google's app was rejected. The FCC is investigating because it appears AT&T was a factor in telling Apple what apps to approve or reject.
On the other hand, one developer, Perfect Acumen was banned this week. This developer had produced over 900 apps in 250 days! Do the math and you will see that the apps had to be of low quality. Indeed, Apple received many complaints because the apps, many priced at $4.99, merely had a half dozen photos or minimal text, and were typically infringing on copyrights. This developer admitted he was just using the system Apple provided and going for volume over quality. And for a long time, it worked. Another developer, with 2,000 apps, is undergoing similar scrutiny. Consider that those apps make up about 5% of the App Store and you can see why it is hard to find good apps.
As a developer, it can be frustrating because you work hard to release an app and then on the New Releases page, it gets buried among a dozen apps from a single vendor. Personally, I think Apple should only show one app per developer in such cases. For example, they could say 'AppName +11 more from XYZ developer' and link to the 'All Apps from XYZ' page. Take a look at the Reference page to see what I mean. There are a dozen apps from one developer who takes freely available government documents and publishes them as apps for $4.99. I'm sure there are uses for those apps, but it turns the New Releases page into a joke. Fortunately, my latest app, A Little Piggy, is buried in there, somewhere, but other developers will not get any exposure because of this developer.
So it's been a busy week for Apple and the App Store. I hope these represent positive steps toward making quality apps easier to find, and demonstrate a maturing of the industry.