Thursday, August 26, 2010

Briefs.app

My co-worker and all-around good guy, Rob Rhyne has officially open sourced Briefs.app as of today. After three months of being dicked around by Apple's review team, he's finally given up on getting Briefs.app onto the App Store.

Throughout the ordeal, Rob has taken the whole thing with tremendous grace and has only good things to say about the people involved in the entire process. I hope he'll forgive me for not being quite so gracious.

I'm pissed on his behalf, since he won't be. Make no mistake: This sucks. This is no way to treat anybody, but especially him. Rob has bent over backwards throughout the process to be nice and work within the system and to avoid saying anything negative about the problems he's faced. Rob has kept the discourse on a level I think few of us could manage. He didn't go out and raise a stink the way many developers have when they felt slighted by the App Review team. Rob just calmly and patiently worked within the system trying to make his case and get a product he worked on for months onto the app store… while working a full time job, starting a new business, and being a parent to a toddler. Oh, and his wife works too. Rob's one of the few developers I know who spends more time sitting at a computer than me.

If Apple's review team had just come out and rejected the app, it would have sucked, and it would have been the wrong decision, but it would have been an acceptable situation. The app review team's job is to make tough decisions. Sometimes they're going to make bad decisions, and sometimes they're going to make decisions that we developers are going to disagree with.

But since making decisions is, in fact, their job and they've never actually made a decision about this particular app, it's not an acceptable nor a forgivable situation. Three fucking months Briefs.app has sat in the review queue, and in that time, the app review team has allowed other prototyping applications onto the app store: applications that do the same basic tasks that Briefs.app was created to do. Interface was approved several weeks after Briefs.app was submitted to the App Store. LiveView and Dapp were both updated just yesterday. iMockups was approved about a week ago.

But Briefs still sits in the queue and nobody can be bothered to even say what the exact holdup is or what needs to happen before a decision will get made.

I don't know what reason they could have for dragging it on like this and not making a decision, but it's not right. Apple owes Rob, and all the people who want to use Briefs, an apology.



30 comments:

HowardG said...

I think you meant to link to http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/liveview/id301069270?mt=8 for the LiveView app

Ram said...

I agree. Lack of consistency, lack of transparency & delays are huge problems. They owe him a final decision and apps should never be thrown into limbo land.

That said, I expect that a number of Android enthusiasts will respond to your post with 'I told you so' comments :)

warmi said...

Speaking of Android , this sort of nonsense will only end once Apple starts facing some serious competition in terms of developers mindshare.

aahndee said...

Apple obviously doesn't want certain applications for whatever reasons yet they are scared to reject them in order not to have to deal with the potential backlash for doing so. I have an application that has now been "In Review" for over 200 days total (first submitted in December 2009!) where I yet have to receive any kind of feedback (or rejection) from the AppReview people.

I wish somebody grew the balls to come out and say that Apple just doesn't want certain apps - this "[…] Each application submitted to Apple has different capabilities, features, and complexity, which means that individual review times vary […]" business is a complete joke and doesn't reflect the truth in any way (if it does, I want the job of the reviewer who doesn't have to do anything but "reviewing" a single application for more than half a year - that sounds like a hell of a job!).

So far I have kept my mouth shut about this application but I am getting close to losing patience…

Jack Axe said...

Of all the problems with the App Store this is probably among the most serious. Apple really really needs to post well thought out and consistent standards.

Miss said...

seriously, this is NOT the first time i've heard the story... "apple is waiting on my app review because they aren't sure if they want to make money off my idea or apple is waiting to review my app and stuffs it down the queue because someone's buddy has the same idea and isn't done with their app yet."

my advice - switch to android. apple is for the "technology affluent" (not my quote; i just don't know who said it first) meaning ppl pay a premium to "look" as if they have command over or understand technology. sad.

Jay Freeman (saurik) said...

While it sucks that this application got mothballed, with no explicit rejection notice from Apple, this really is a clear-cut case of Apple not allowing development tools (or anything even remotely similar) in their App Store.

What I am finding really weird about this, though, is that Rob didn't think "I know, I'll put this in Cydia", and even now holding out hope of getting his application in the App Store, despite knowing at an intellectual level that it isn't destined for there.

Is it because he's afraid of the wrath of Apple again jailbroken developers? Because there are tons of us who list things in both stores; even high profile names like Jonathan Zdiarski and Erica Sadun have applications in the App Store, and there has never been an issue.

Is it because he thinks that this will put a glass ceiling on future success working with Apple? I mean, Tap Tap Revenge /was/ the most popular app for jailbroken phones before the App Store even existed, and now they are on stage with Steve himself.

Or maybe the problem is that it seems unprofessional: only two-bit developers go this route, rather than well known outfits? But then, what about Qik, or uStream? Both of those started out on jailbroken devices before Apple finally gave them the nod: these are well known Internet commodities.

Not enough users? Well, we hover between 6 and 12% of Apple's userbase (numbers from Flurry), on the low end when Apple releases a new firmware, moving to the high end over the course of that release cycle, and between news of the DMCA exemption and jailbreakme.com, our userbase is at a record high (I don't have new figures yet, but it is much larger than 12%). That's really not shabby.

No money in it? I guess people don't realize that there are many hundreds of thousands of paying customers in jailbreak land, having spent over $5 million over the last year between just the few most popular app purchase mechanisms?

No possibility of making it big? While I won't say that an app like Briefs is capable of making it big (may be way too highly niched or require too versatile a user), developers in Cydia have often been able to take away hundreds of thousands of dollars from their fractional-time projects.

Seriously: please educate me here, as I simply /do not understand/ what makes someone decide "I just wasted a ton of my time on this thing I was intending to sell, and since Apple spurned me, I've decided to go the route of making this app open source, openly stating that I may no longer be able to spend time on it, as I need to eat, so maybe I'll open a pitch-in fund to continue work" when there is a viable market RIGHT NEXT TO HIM waiting for his work.

Frowny /pants/. :(

Me said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Me said...

I love that saurik posted such a thoughtful reply to this article, and I'm eager to read a response. I'm not a developer (nor any sort of Apple fan as you can easily tell by looking at my twitter feed @jeffscott) but they did a great thing by advancing the industry. However, I consider Apple's behaviour here and elsewhere absolutely reprehensible, and it keeps me from respecting what is otherwise an innovative company. I jailbroke my iPhone the day I got it and bought a number of apps from Cydia and Rock that greatly expanded the usefulness and functionality of the device. Of course I've since switched to Android and am loving the freedom I have with my Nexus One, but it saddens me that Apple's unreasonable desire to control every aspect of the experience has pushed me away.

GO TO CYDIA TODAY!

iamsmug said...

Nice post Jeff, frustrations felt all around!

Pete Austin said...

Download Link
http://github.com/capttaco/Briefs

Terry said...

"apple is for the "technology affluent" (not my quote; i just don't know who said it first) meaning ppl pay a premium to "look" as if they have command over or understand technology. sad."

That is a stupid thing to say. it tells me you know nothing but want to sound like you do. Good luck with that.

2p said...

Looks like a wonderful app. Given Apple's prudishness when it comes to the store, I wonder if the problem is the underwear icon, or the promo video saying "real fucking fast".

Can't get it to compile tho. After downloading Briefs, Briefs-data and Briefs-sharedUI (the latter is not mentioned in the compile instructions), I get errors in BFActorView.m and BFSceneView.m ... "request for member 'scrollable' in something not a structure or union"

osmiridium said...

2p: use git. Install git, clone the briefs project to a local folder, cd to it and git submodule init then git submodule update. It gets all the extra frameworks and puts them in the right place.

Matt Kanninen said...

There are lots of valid reasons to prefer iPhone development to Android development, but I am curious why more Dev's who are stuck waiting on approval of their app don't start the Android version. The numbers for Android do continue to trend very steeply up, so it ought to pay off eventually :)

dennitzio said...

I hear few voices that look at this as a business decision rather than a "My platform right or wrong!" binary - this post is a nice exception. I support Apple and have an iPhone, so I want the best apps. But if I had a new idea I'd have to look closely at the pros & cons of each, and that might mean choosing Android because my idea isn't overdone on the store. And btw, "open" vs. "closed" is just an ideological distraction. Apple seems too capricious with their store, yes, but the result is very stable and most of the apps are reliable and work on everything (well, old hardware is falling behind). Android accepts almost everything, right? But the result is caveat emptor, buyer, for no one is watching out for your best interests; and developers watch out because each device isn't totally analogous with the next and you may need to do a lot of extra programming.

It's kind of sad that both Apple and Google

dude said...

I was actually somewhat turned off by Saurik's response. He's assuming his list (which reads like one huge brag) is comprehensive of every reason why someone might not want to get involved with Cydia and jailbreaking. As someone with a jailbroken iPhone, I keep an eye on cydia to see what's going on, but I'd describe it in two words: Visually repulsive. Briefs is an app that appreciates aesthetics and I couldn't possibly see it ever existing in the world of Cydia and Jailbroken development.

Nico said...

The same exact thing happened to me.

Apple is really _pathethic_ with its app store approval process: lack of policies, lack of communication, lack of transparency, lack of consistency.

I had to publish on Cydia (read the story on my blog at http://www.tranquilli.org/) after two months my PlaceTrack application was stuck in review without any explanation ("we have no information to share with you" is all they said after tens of emails and phone calls).

This is clearly the result of no competition and no antitrust laws.

franksting said...

Perhaps the reviewer "just doesn't get it" and allowed it to get lost in the "process". Sometimes it is better to kick up a stink early and often in order to draw attention to your plight.
In any case, Apple - or any other company for that matter - needs to have a 'trigger' to either bypass or accelerate any process if it just isn't working.
Processes are great for keeping things running, but when they fail, by god do they fail.

PJ said...

@dude Saurik's post wasn't a simple bragging list; although he does deserve recognition for his work.

He listed valid reasons as to why he's disappointed that the developer chose not to list in Cydia and supported them with facts that he can validate.

Your rebuttal of Cydia being "Visually repulsive" has little breathing room as I view Cydia as quite usable with a friendly interface. It's even got options to "Keep It Simple, Stupid" if you'd rather filter out packages aimed towards developers. Do you remember using Installer to install apps on a Jailbroken iPhone?

Point is Cydia is a valid and growing market that shouldn't be pushed aside or ignored so easily.

guidoh said...

I've tried many different ways to mockup an iphone app and Briefs is by far the best and I think it should be admitted in the appstore. However I do believe there is at least some merit in saying that it should be rejected for the reason that it's a development platform. Although Briefscript is nothing like a scripting language that would allow you to build an actual meaningful app, there is one class of apps that it does allow you build. I have a suspicion that the real reason Apple does not not reject or accept this app has somerthing to do with this class of apps: porn. With Briefs app in the appstore it'd be easy for anybody to start distributing their own brieflists or briefcasts that are not mockups, but just slideshows of porn pictures with nice transitions. That would make Briefs app the porn distribution platform that Apple would loathe to have on the iPhone.

numericatrophy said...

The reason why it sat in review for three months is because he DIDN'T make a stink. It's all well and good that he was nice to them, but frankly that doesn't get App's reviewed. The longest one of my apps was in review was 31 days. I didn't make a stink for the first 30. On day 30, I decided to email sjobs@apple.com. Problem solved.

Anders Borg said...

As far as I know Apple doesn't allow abstracting frameworks. That's the only reason needed (and an obvious one) for not qualifying Briefs.

Am I mistaken?

Crunchy Steve said...

Firstly, yes, this sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare. I do feel for the hard work of developers who have to also be bush lawyers to stay "on terms."

However, the usual whinging about Apple not being "developer focused" really annoys me. The key to Apple's success over the years has been the dogged commitment to user focus.

No users, no developers, right. The developer serves the user, not the other way round, OK.

Yes, Briefs has got a raw deal here, but Apple OWN the platform that a REALLY SIGNIFICANT user base wants, for this reason Apple will always serve the user first and the restrictions on rampant, open slather APIs makes the iPhone reliable and more secure - that's what I want as a user and most developers seem happy enough to abide by that.

dgcaste said...

Saurik makes very good points. There's no reason to be afraid of publishing on Cydia or Rock. Rock is even at a point where they've given pretty solid DRM to certain apps, and they're quite difficult to pirate.

But Saurik's post smells strongly similar to a guy that showed up at my office a few days ago and asked me if my team wanted to be part of the union. Maybe Jeff disagrees with jailbreaking, no matter how hard he's been screwed by the App Store. But now he sees a light at the end of the tunnel, and he probably feels like Briefs will end up in the App Store.

dreadrocksean said...

I see why he later agreed that this was wrong.

Not just wrong from being stupid as it really would not encourage Apple further but morally wrong.

Apple does not owe him anything. Love isn't always on time. Isn't that how the song goes?
It is this kind of thinking that causes monopolies as it encourages the legislation of enforcing that apparent 'owe'.
Since he has already admitted (in another post) to his love of free competition, the opposite of a monopoly and the moral, this is contradictory .

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Melvin said...

I feel that your frustration is coming out in your post. Apple is not a small company and it takes time to take a decision which application should be accepted or rejected. Of course it should not take more than enough time but they need to think twice and thrice before taking decision about it. Just have patience, your app will be reviewed soon and hope for the best.

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My blog Yo said...

We started using Briefs internally and needed a way to serve our briefcasts so we wrote briefs-caster. It makes it real easy to take your .bs scripts and serve them up.

It's open source on https://github.com/robmadole/briefs-caster for any who might need the same thing.

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