I submitted the update to Apple. Now, of course, I wait.
And what does waiting mean? As I’ve said before, it means tons of email a day and tons of bad reviews. It means answering the same question (“My GA widgets all report zero… what gives??”) 20 times a day. It means watching negative reviews pour in.
But my favorite part of this whole experience is that there’s no way for me to respond to reviews as the app creator. So I can’t go in and say, “Hey, by the way, version 1.3 fixes all this and we’re just waiting on Apple’s ridiculously slow and convoluted approval process!” I just sit by and watch.
I had a similar experience with Instapaper 1.0 — I issued an update to fix a few bugs the day after it was released, and it took Apple 17 days to approve it (granted, this was during the App Store’s launch hysteria, and approval times are now down to “only” 7-10 days). During that time, I got a number of nasty reviews that would have been alleviated if the user had the update.
I’ve received tons of App Store reviews that were unfair, inaccurate, hilariously off-base, or inexplicable (such as people writing great praise in the text, but assigning one star, leading me to believe that they may have misunderstood the form). iPhone OS 2.2’s rate-on-delete dialog has destroyed my averages. And if you look at many of the greatest apps in the store, you’ll find the same problems: despite many credible, positive reviews, many excellent apps have mediocre or poor star-averages and increasing numbers of completely invalid one-star reviews.
Apple’s fixing some of the problems… slowly. For instance, every non-free app initially got slammed with 1-star reviews from non-buyers complaining about the price, so Apple eventually prevented people who hadn’t purchased an app from reviewing it. But there are still a lot of problems.
Nearly all of developers’ complaints about the App Store, including my icon snafu yesterday, are caused or exacerbated by one root flaw: the long approval process.
If approval took 24-48 hours, rather than 7-10 days, many of Apple’s little flaws and nitpicks would be a lot easier to handle.
I’m not sure why this isn’t the case. I’ve now submitted three apps to the App Store and waited for nine approvals. All three apps interact with web services using an Apple-supplied user account for review, and for the last few reviews, I’ve checked the logs to see when the reviewers actually use the apps for the first time.
In all cases, the reviewers don’t touch the app until the day before approval or rejection. And they don’t seem to interact with the app for more than a few minutes.
The app just sits there for 6-8 days, untouched, then goes through an approval or rejection process that, as far as I can tell, takes less than 20 minutes for a complex app (and probably much less time for a simple one).
The approval delay has been remarkably consistent since about a month after the App Store launched.
I don’t believe that the delay is caused by a legitimate work overload on Apple’s end. As any developer or server admin will tell you, this is not the behavior of a queuing system that can’t quite handle the inbound request volume. If it were, the delay wouldn’t be consistent — it would grow out of control until nothing was getting served, then Apple would add more capacity, then requests would get served with no delay for a while, then they’d start queuing again. It wouldn’t be almost exactly the same delay every time.
I have a different theory: The delay is intentional. I think Apple has found some good reasons for making app developers wait at least a few days before they spend a second of their time reviewing it. My best guess is that a lot of developers find new bugs, cancel their submissions, and upload new binaries within a certain amount of time on average, and Apple doesn’t want to review them twice. Or they just don’t want developers to be able to issue new versions more than once every week or two to prevent gaming the (broken) “Newest” ranking.
If I’m right, well… let’s just say that doing this would be highly offensive to developers, and I really hope that Apple is better than that in their treatment of the people that are earning them a lot of money. But I can’t think of any other explanation that’s supported by the behavior that I see.