Apple’s app review process is extremely unpopular, and yet it works so well for the company

iPhone owners who use apps usually are not aware of the pain that the apps’ creators had to go through before they could release the software. Most developers who build apps for iOS are not big fans of the lengthy, bureaucratic review process. Some really hate it.

A post by the U.S.-based developer Kushal Dave just got a lot of attention for pointing out the various issues with Apple’s app approval process. I myself was mostly nodding in agreement while reading Dave’s piece. Even as a non-technical member of a mobile startup, I fully could relate to some of his remarks. I am sure that thousands of others feel the same (as the many likes the article received indicate).

“Slow reviews hurt reliability. It’s impossible for developers to anticipate all of the edge cases that may cause our apps to crash in the real world. Luckily, once an app is live, we get reports of bugs from real users. But when we go to fix them, the fix waits in the queue for a week or more.”

I agree with Dave’s post. Yet I completely understand why Apple has not changed its approach to app approval, despite having been aware of the long-standing frustration in the developer community.

As hard as it is to accept considering the many ugly side-effects of Apple’s review process, the reality is: It works extremely well for the company, despite the dissatisfaction among app creators and the occasionally negative headline.

Just look at the iPhone sales numbers. Apple has sold more than 700 million iPhones until today. The device is flying of the shelves and is grabbing almost all of the handset industry’s profits.

Also, despite all the justified criticism of the review process and Apple’s self-imposed role as a free speech and moral gate keeper, many of the last year’s hottest apps were released on iOS first. The most recent example: Neither Meerkat nor Periscope are available for other platforms.

Apple has created a strong lock-in effect for the iOS platform. Some developers or startup founders might be extremely irritated about that they cannot just release an app without being forced through the manual approval procedure. But they do not leave anyway. They know that being on iOS is almost essential to succeed.

Apple’s merciless exploitation of this lock-in effect deserves harsh words. But it pays off. None of the negative press about the policies has hurt the company’s sales or the iOS platform’s “popularity” among developers. From a business standpoint, Apple has done the right thing. From a business standpoint, it was the right thing when the App Store launched in 2008, and it is the right thing in 2015. The diversity of the mobile ecosystem and the open Internet suffer from this approach, but that is not what Apple cares about.

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