Apple's app approval revolt: Will it matter? Maybe

App developers begin to revolt against Apple's app approval process, clearing the way for competitors like Android to boost their own app catalogs and prove to consumers that there is an option to the mighty iPhone.

There's a revolt of sorts that's starting to put a dark cloud over Apple's App Store approval process. And while Apple - known for its my-way-or-the-highway sort of attitude - is unlikely to hear the moans of frustration coming from the developer community, there may be a bigger storm brewing behind the scenes.

A while back I noted that Apple, by signing a multi-year exclusive deal with AT&T for the iPhone, did more than just alienate the non-AT&T customers from using the device. It actually created a demand for an iPhone-like experience on other devices and gave companies like Google a reason - and the time - to develop something like Android, its own mobile OS.

Fast forward to today and Android is grabbing plenty of headlines about future growth. Motorola is placing its bets on Android with a lineup of products in the works, including the newly released Droid for Verizon Wireless. There are multiple carriers now carrying Android devices and multiple device manufacturers who are getting into the Android game, as well.

Also see: Verizon-Google changes mobile landscape; Customers have real options again

And, of course, the app developers are also starting to build that catalog of mobile apps for Android - and it's growing fast.

In recent weeks, Apple has been taking a lashing over its don't-call-us-we'll-call-you app approval process, which has left developers in limbo, unsure of whether the app is on track for approval or if there's an issue that needs to be addressed before it can go into the app store. This morning, the Read Write Web blog posted an entry about an online petition by developers who are tired of the months-long process to get an approval - or at least some feedback - from Apple. (Techmeme)

Separately, the Ars Technica blog put up an interesting post this week about how respected app developers are growing tired of Apple's app approval process and are starting to shun the platform altogether. From that blog post:

Apple's control over the App Store—which seems arbitrary at times—still frustrates developers. That much isn't a surprise, but some developers have become frustrated to the point that they have decided to simply halt iPhone development altogether. Facebook's Joe Hewitt, Second Gear's Justin Williams, and long-time Mac software developer Rogue Amoeba have all recently decided that enough is enough, and the loss of these developers and others could spell a troubling future for the App Store. True, it has over 100,000 applications, but how many of them are created with the kind of care and passion we take for granted in the Mac software world?

Hewitt, in his own blog post, called for an elimination of Apple's app approval process. Hewitt - who was behind one of the best-designed apps on the iPhone, the Facebook app - points out what he believes to be the core of the problem: lawyers. From his post:

Apple does not have the means to perform thorough quality assurance on any app. This is up to the developer. We have our own product managers and quality assurance testers, and we are liable to our users and the courts if we do anything evil or stupid. 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. This is all about lawyers, not quality, and it shows that the model of Apple's justice system is guilty until proven innocent. They don't trust us, and I resent that, because the vast majority of us are trustworthy.

With all of that said, the bigger storm I referred to earlier is the competition that's growing in the app game,  just like it did in the OS game before it. While Apple takes beatings over 1) its exclusivity with AT&T, 2) the poor service by AT&T, 3) and now this app approval process, competitors like Google's Android and RIM's Blackberry will keep working on enhancing their service, their platforms and their app catalogs.

At some point, the iPhone may find itself in Verizon stores - and while that will be welcome news to people like myself, who still have mad iPhone envy - it also may be too late. Over the weekend, I picked up a Droid - and while I'm still putting it through some tests, I am really liking it.

As many of you know, I'm a big fan of Apple products. But, by the time Apple unleashes the iPhone from AT&T and gets its act together over the app approval process, I may be so happy with Android - and its apps - that I won't be willing to trade it in for an iPhone.

That would make me another potential Apple customer who was handed over to the competition.

Related coverage:

Can Droid mask iPhone envy? Or will Verizon iPhone rumors keep users guessing?

AT&T: The iPhone's Anchor