Is Apple being too precious about the App Store?

Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president for worldwide product marketing, talks about the App Store approval process. But is the process too cumbersome, tedious and does Apple take too much responsibility for the content of apps?

Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president for worldwide product marketing, talks about the App Store approval process. But is the process too cumbersome, tedious and does Apple take too much responsibility for the content of apps?

Speaking to BusinessWeek, here's what Schiller had to say about the App Store approval process:

Most are approved and some are sent back to the developer. In about 90% of those cases, Apple requests technical fixes--usually for bugs in the software or because something doesn't work as expected, Schiller says. Developers are generally glad to have this safety net because usually Apple's review process finds problems they actually want to fix, he says.

In some 10% of cases where an app is sent back, that's because it's inappropriate. "There have been applications submitted for approval that will steal personal data, or which are intended to help the user break the law, or which contain inappropriate content," Schiller says.

About 1% or fewer of returned apps fall into some gray area that Apple hasn't anticipated--for instance, applications intended to help the user cheat at gambling in casinos. "We had to go study state and international laws about what's legal and what isn't, and what legal exposure that creates for Apple or the customer," Schiller says. The verdict: Apps that help a user learn how to play are O.K.; those designed to help a person cheat don't make the cut.

Apple is also vigilant about potentially illegal use of trademarks, particularly its own. "If you don't defend your trademarks, in the end you end up not owning them," Schiller says. "And sometimes other companies come to us saying they've seen their trademarks used in apps without permission. We see that a lot." Still, the trademark rules can be applied inflexibly, he concedes.

So let's get this straight. Apple tests the software and reports bugs back to developers. It also trawls the law books trying to figure out the legality of other apps. Oh, and it also polices trademarks.

Why?

After all, Apple's App Store is just an outlet for apps. Why is the company taking it upon itself to work its way through the 10,000 or so apps submitted to the App Store each week?

The answer: Apple likes to have an iron-fist grip on its platform.

Problem is, not everyone likes to be subject to such tyrannical policies. Take Facebook developer Joe Hewitt. Here's why he quit developing apps:

My decision to stop iPhone development has had everything to do with Apple’s policies. I respect their right to manage their platform however they want, however I am philosophically opposed to the existence of their review process. I am very concerned that they are setting a horrible precedent for other software platforms, and soon gatekeepers will start infesting the lives of every software developer.

The web is still unrestricted and free, and so I am returning to my roots as a web developer. In the long term, I would like to be able to say that I helped to make the web the best mobile platform available, rather than being part of the transition to a world where every developer must go through a middleman to get their software in the hands of users.”

When developers had nowhere else to do, it didn't really matter how much Apple's App Store approval policy annoyed anyone. But now that Android is out, as well as a revamped Windows Mobile platform, developers can look elsewhere for an outlet for their apps, outlets that don't employ the same approval procedure.

So, it it time for Apple to loosen up the App Store approval policy, add features such as a refund mechanism and free trials, and allow market forces to make the content of the App Store better?