Sunday, August 2, 2009

This Concerns Me Greatly

Yes, I'm a little behind. I've been gone for a week, so this is probably not news to any of you, but this really upsets me, so I'm writing about it. I try to give Apple the benefit of the doubt when they make decisions that seem unfair or arbitrary, fully cognizant of the fact that I'm not privy to all the factors that went into the decision.

But, this... Well..., if this is true, it would seem to indicate that maybe I've been wrong in giving Apple the benefit of the doubt. That maybe those who have let out a hue and cry over every little Apple decision they didn't like had a more accurate picture of the situation.

If it's true that Apple won't even give more than a boilerplate reason for pulling an application that had been on the App Store for four months and won't tell the developers what the specific conflicts are so they can fix them, then I think there is more than a little cause for concern. Especially troubling is that now RiverTurn, since they are unable to support or update their app thanks to Apple's decision to pull their application, would like to give refunds, but will have to pay not just their share of the income, but Apple's as well, even though they are only trying to do what's right after Apple put them in a tough situation. This means they not only lose whatever income they might have made in the last four months, but they also have pay out additional money on top of what they invested to develop and market their application.

The FCC has decided to investigate the situation. I'll be interested to see if anything comes of it. I don't have much faith in the FCC, that's for sure, but maybe they can do something good for a change.

Lately I've been bashing Microsoft a lot for making poor decisions and failing to recognize the reality of their situation. In most respects, Apple has been on a roll, making good decisions and making elegant products that people are clamoring to buy even in a poor economy. But, Apple has to realize that a large part of the success of the iPhone has been the App Store. Given that they've based much of their advertising around that single point, it's clear that they do recognize it.

From the start, third party developers have had to live with an arbitrary review process that potentially meant they could spend lots of time and money and end up completely unable to sell their application for failing to comply with some unwritten rule. That was bad enough, and certainly has had a chilling effect on third party application development. The App Store was so hot, though, that most developers accepted the risk, figuring the potential reward outweighed the risk.

This decision by Apple adds a new aspect that is almost certain to drive away some of the most innovative developers. Not only do we have to worry about whether our apps will be approved by the somewhat arbitrary review process, but now we have to worry about having their approved applications removed.

I don't have enough evidence to be able to say I know for sure why Apple did this or why they handled it in this way, but if they don't take steps to fix this and to communicate that they're aware of the problem, it will leave a black stain on their reputation in the eyes of even the most ardent fanboys.

It really concerns me and I hope Apple fixes it, quickly. Apple should, at very least, pay their own share of the refunds. If the people making the decisions have a soul, though, they should offer to pay the full amount of the refund and probably do even more. Riverturn expended time and resources to create a program that any reasonable person would believe complied with the App Store policies and SDK agreement. There are several other apps on the store that haven't been pulled that allow voice communications over wi-fi, including the iPhone Skype App. Heck, Apple's own reviewers must have felt the same way, since they approved the application and it was on sale for four months before somebody said "hey, let's pull this".

Apple, please make this situation right and then fix whatever internal policies allowed it such an injustice to happen.



6 comments:

VesperDEM said...

if Apple pulls an application due to "duplicate functionality" that had been in the AppStore selling for "any" amount of time. Then YES, Apple, not the developer, needs to refund *ALL* of the money to it's customers.

The developer did nothing wrong here. He/she put out a quality product that was widely popular. Apple decided, not during the initial review process, but later that the application duplicated functionality. Oddly, this decision was made without the developer making an update to the application, causing the review process to start again.

If I were the developer and this FCC investigation turns up nothing, I would seriously look into seeing if I could get aa lawyer interested in a lawsuit against Apple. Maybe the EFF could get involved.

The developer is, by no means, responsible here for refunding customers of his application.

Mostly Torn said...

Having personally spoken on the phone with the same "Richard from Apple" that the RiverTurn folks dealt with, I can say that I have no doubt what they report in their blog post is true and accurate.

Their paraphrasing of the phone conversation with Richard is a spot-on representation of my own experience. The Apple rep is extremely polite and well-mannered, but will only give vague "I can not comment on that" answers to any questions asking for clarification.

Rodrigo Camargo said...

Maybe this is an particular and special case that we're missing some point, since we don't have information enough about what really happened to have the app removed from the store. What I strongly disagree is the lack of information and the apparently "I don't care" behavior from Apple's side. This type of attitude could make a deep bad feeling to the future iPhone developers, and could also be a negative point for choose iPhone as first development plataform option.

Michael said...

Just another episode in the arbitrary way Apple does anything to do with the iPhone. Have you seen the new Keywords features? When the feature went live there was no information on how to use them. I now find myself in a situation where I cannot fix my "incorrectly" entered keywords and my apps can no longer be found by searching. Of course no response from Apple.

No communication, confusion arbitrary changes/decisions seem to be Apple's de facto approach with anything to do with iPhone.

DavyGeek said...

I've gotten started on iPhone app development recently, but now I'm strongly inclined to leave it behind, given this extraordinarily unprofessional and arbitrary behavior, added on top of the fact that Apple is already strikingly lacking in communication and quality help for developers helping them make money.

ScottYelich said...

I can also say for a fact that the review process favors or, perhaps rather, turns a blind eye... to some. We all know examples -- and it's sad. If there's a rule, let it be transparent and enforced equally. Section 3.3.5 anyone -- you've done something we don't like, we aren't going to give you the slightest clue what that might be, but your app is rejected.

I can't wait to see how this ultimately plays out. I have some ideas and some hopes, but I'm certainly not holding my breath.

What a joke.