The Other 5%: An Update on RIL’s App Review

logopadEvery day I’m getting more and more emails asking where the app is. I’ve held off being forthcoming in respect to the app review team, but now that it’s approaching 3 weeks in review, I decided that you all deserve more details about what is happening.

At D8 this week, Steve Jobs countered any criticism of the app store by stating “we approve 95% of all the apps that are submitted every week“.  The problem with this argument is that approving apps is the easy part.  A developer submits an app, Apple approves it, it hits the app store and everyone (the developer, Apple, and the users) all prosper.  It’s all happiness, sunshine, and rainbows.  That’s where I’ve been the last year, in the 95%, and it has been awesome.

But where an app store is truly proven is how they handle that other 5%.  The other 5% is where all of the hard work is.  This is where a company’s true colors present themselves.

This is not a post to say Apple should be more open.  This is not a post to say get rid of the app review process (in fact I think quite the opposite).  This is a post to highlight that there is single gargantuan problem with the other 5%.  It’s called communication.

Read It Later for the iPad is very close to being out, but it was rejected for what appears to be a tiny misunderstanding.  One that I believe could be explained very quickly, but I’ve had no luck getting anyone’s ear at the app review team.

Here is exactly what has happened:

May 17th (day 0) – The app was submitted

May 25th (day 8 ) – A reviewer logs into the demo account (Noted from the server logs)

May 28th (day 11) – After not hearing anything, I send an email inquiring about the status of the app.

June 1st (day 14) – Apple sends a rejection email

Why was it rejected?  The iPad version uses (spoiler alert) in-app purchase to allow users to purchase Digest.  This was rejected because an in-app purchase must be able to “be re-downloaded and shared across multiple devices.”

The problem with this rejection reason is that RIL already does that.  When you purchase Digest, it is assigned to your account permanently.  This means no matter what device you log into with your account, Digest will immediately be activated and just works.

Now here’s the real kicker: The reviewer only tested the app on one device. (Again I can see this because of server logs).  This means they wouldn’t have been able to verify the actual reason the app was rejected for.  It seems that it was merely assumed.  If the reviewer had logged into the demo account on another device, they would have seen that Digest was in fact carried over.

It seems like a simple misunderstanding given the speed in which the reviewers have to race through each app.  One would assume a quick conversation would clear this up and I could be on my way to the 95% happiness land.

What happened next:

June 1st – early morning – I re-upload the application file and respond trying to clarify the misunderstanding and ask if they could confirm that Digest does in fact carry to another device.

June 1st – evening – Apple responds with a canned one-line response thanking me for uploading new binaries.

June 2nd – morning – I respond to say that the “new” binaries were unchanged because the rejection seemed to be a misunderstanding.  I restate the issue and say that I believe this whole thing could be solved by having a reviewer simply log in to another device and see that Digest comes through.

Today – Still no response

Yesterday I called Apple’s Developer Support phone number.  It rang twice before someone answered.  The guy I spoke with was incredibly nice.  I explained the situation and he was sympathetic.  Unfortunately, he said there wasn’t really anything else he could suggest beyond what I was already doing (emailing app review).  The app review team is cut off from the rest of the company and essentially works as a separate department that he could not contact directly.

This is what is so crazy and seems so unlike Apple.  If you’ve ever interacted with anyone at Apple, they are all like this guy from dev support: insanely nice.  Whether I’m in an Apple store or calling Apple Care, I’ve had nothing but fantastic support from Apple.  I’m confident that the people working in the app review department are just as nice, but for whatever reason, they’ve been forced to work behind this veil of secrecy that makes any reasonable communication almost impossible.

It took me 3 minutes to explain the issue to the guy I spoke with on the phone.  In 3 minutes, he understood and could see where there was a misunderstanding.  That is all I need, just 3 minutes of someone’s time at app review and I’m confident this issue could be resolved instantly.

The problem with the lack of communication is that it leaves me with complete uncertainty about what to fix, if anything.  It’s completely possible that I’ll wait another 7-14 days and get the exact same rejection notice again.  Without being able to speak with someone about the issue, it’s impossible to clear this up.

Overall, I’m not mad, just disappointed.  The reason I held off on writing this was because I had hoped that the next post on this blog would announce the app that provides the best Read It Later experience to date; The app built for a device I was so excited about that I started building Digest specifically for it even before we knew the iPad actually existed.

The stone cold truth is that today, I have no more information about the status of this app than the day I submitted it.

So I wait, in the 5%.

Update: At WWDC I was able to sit down and speak with a member of the app review team IN PERSON.  Just as I expected, they were incredibly nice.  We had a great conversation, I got a handle on where Apple was coming from and they got my viewpoint.  I believe we came to a solid agreement and I’m hopeful that this should be resolved in the near future.