The App Store approvals process has been a source of controversy since it first came into being. In the last year Apple has been accused of censorship over the Ninjawords app, shoddy business ethics concerning Google Voice, and more generally of unfriendly opacity. Since last July, developers have gotten used to throwing up their hands whenever we ask them when their games are going live, declaring: "Your guess is as good as mine."
In the last few weeks things have come to a head, prompting Apple's senior vice president of marketing, Phil Schiller, to personally get involved in a series of high profile cases. His intervention has done much to mollify those directly concerned and to calm a blogosphere always quick to inveigh against big business.
However, there's one area of the approvals process that doesn't look likely to improve: the length of time approval takes. This isn't related to anything as controversial as censorial or inconsistent selection criteria: it's purely about the practical limitations on Apple's time, exacerbated recently by the number of 3.0 compliant updates churning through the system. Yet it affects a far greater number of developers than censorship or foul play.
Just a few weeks ago, Apple altered developer accounts to include estimated approval times. "Based on the current app submission," the message reads, "x percent of applications are being approved within y days."
Though vague, this is still a useful bit of information, and Apple has to be commended for supplying it. Even so, the complaints continue. Few developers or publishers dare to publicly air their displeasure, but in private they're a good deal more critical. Let's take a look at a couple of typical gripes:
1) Apple refuses to make exceptions, no matter how big or important the game is.
2) Apple refuses to give us concrete dates, which makes it very difficult to market our games.
Of course, these are both commercial issues. Gamers aren't particularly affected by App Store delays - they may have to wait a week or two longer than they thought for a game, but compared to some mainstream console game delays this is trivial. We in the press are slightly more affected, since we're often compelled to coordinate coverage with releases; of course we have to keep a close eye on the App Store for reviewable code, but it's hardly onerous.