There was an interesting story this week that triggered another round of conversation on the App Store review process. Claud Xiao wrote about an app released late last year which presented one of two sets of functionality based on your location. When launched outside China it showed a fully featured app to help you learn English, but inside China it showed an App Store style app that (ab)used enterprise certificates to install pirated apps.

App Store review is (and always has been) fundamentally flawed in this respect and there's no easy solution. This time it was the user's location that was used as the gate to the alternative functionality, but it could have used any number of other checks to appear well behaved during the review process. Unfortunately the way that app review currently works makes situations like this almost impossible to prevent. Even if it were possible, these kind of gates are used by all sorts of apps for completely innocuous, or even user beneficial reasons as well. Trying to shut this kind of hole down isn't the answer.

So, is App Store review still providing a useful service? Did it ever? My opinion is that at the very start it definitely set a tone and stopped the immediate flooding of the store with crap. However at this point, I'm not sure it's really providing many benefits. Half finished and completely useless apps still get through all the time so it's definitely not providing the quality control that was promised. More importantly, it continues to stifle innovation through fear of (and the reality of) rejection as we've seen time and time again.

I'm just not sure that the legitimately rejected apps are worth the trade off anymore.

Maybe I'm wrong and it is protecting us from a store full of malware, pirated apps and all sorts of other problems. Certainly things like trademark violations are easy to check in a human review, and so maybe a reduction in scope for the review process would be best? But as this story and many others like it show, you can trivially bypass parts of the review related to app functionality. At that point you're faced with just having to pull apps like these when they're discovered, and that already happens when apps sneak past the review process.

Note: I'm not saying that the guidelines are a bad idea, just that the review process itself is not able to enforce the. Apps that clearly violate them are still getting through on a regular basis.

Dave Verwer  






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