Joe Hewitt, a software developer best known for his work on Facebook for iPhone and early Firefox, has a radical proposal about how to fix the App Store: eliminate App Store review process completely.
While I agree with the spirit of Hewitt's argument, it will never happen.
The premise (and title) of his blog post is that apps should be "innocent until proven guilty." Hewitt thinks that Apple should emulate the open and transparent model of the worldwide web and allow the market to police itself. He also states that Apple is overwhelmed and incapable of keeping up with the rapid pace of app development.
Apple does not have the means to perform thorough quality assurance on any app. This is up to the developer... Apple may catch a few shallow bugs in the review process, but let's face it, the real things they are looking for are not bugs, but violations of the terms of service.
Hewitt also takes issue with Apple's justice system of guilty until proven innocent.
They don't trust us, and I resent that, because the vast majority of us are trustworthy.
While all good points I can't help but think that a wide-open Apple Store would invite many untrustworthy opportunists all too eager to take advantage of the growing flock of iPhone owners. After all, if Apple can't keep up with the pace of apps submitted to the store, how could they keep up with all the complaints and investigations that would result from a "Wild West" approach?
What would stop developers from lodging fake complaints against their competitors in order to stifle competition? Although the "vast majority" of developers may indeed be trustworthy, what about the ones that aren't? What about the opportunists and thieves that would love to prey on unsuspecting iPhone owners?
Although I see Hewitt's point, Apple is unlikely to ever auto-approve apps, the App Store is simply too popular with too much profit potential for unscrupulous developers. That being said, there has to be some sort of middle ground between Apple's iron curtain and the Wild West.
My proposal after the jump...
Apple should implement a karma/feedback system for apps that is unrelated to ratings. The first time an app is submitted, Apple will put it through rigorous testing and guarantee a response (not necessarily an approval, mind you) within 14 days. This would eliminate the perennial "we're examining it" stunt that Apple's pulling with the Google Voice app.
Apple could assign a karma score to each app on a scale of 0-100, with an 80 needed for approval. Once the app is released Apple could implement a "feedback" button prominently in the App Stores (both in iTunes and on the iPhone) to solicit feedback from users that have purchased or downloaded the app. A carefully created feedback survey would require the user's identity and ask them to check a series of boxes (no time-sucking free-form text fields here) asking if the app violated any of Apple's Terms of Service (privacy, porn, spam, etc.). Apple would investigate each complaint and deduct points from the app's karma score. If an app's score dips below 80, the app gets removed.
The advantage to an App Store karma system is that once an apps has earned and 80+ score and been approved, subsequent releases of the same app (bug fixes and feature releases) could be automatically approved. If a nefarious developer tries to "slip something through" and users complain, the app will get removed. The same type of karma system could be implemented for developers. If the dev released five solid 80+ apps and has less than five percent complaints, for example, then the sixth apps could get fast-tracked for a 24 hour decision. In other words, once a level of trust has been established, apps would get approved that much faster.
There will always be those that will try to game the system. Nothing is perfect but something has to change with Apple's app review process -- and soon. A karma system that rewards good behavior has worked pretty well on sites like eBay for years and is worth a shot.