A former head of the App Store’s approvals process has shed some light on the sometimes opaque review process of new apps.
In an interview, Phillip Shoemaker revealed how the system evolved over his time running the process, from 2009 through 2016.
According to Shoemaker, in the early days of the App Store three reviewers looked at each app. However, this resulted in long approval wait times. As a result, it was whittled down to one reviewer.
Nonetheless, Phil Schiller, Apple’s SVP of Marketing, pushed for humans to be involved with the review process — rather than handing it over to bots.
The most interesting aspect of Shoemaker’s comments regard apps which compete with Apple’s services. This is something that has become more highly publicized as an issue. Some have even suggested it represents monopolistic behavior, since Apple has the power to block apps which replicate its own functionality.
“That was a real thing,” he said, referring to apple not approving the Google Voice calling service in the iPhone’s early days. “I mean the fear that somebody would come along, a Facebook, a Google, whomever and wipe off and remove all of our items. Once they started using these other apps, they’d be thinking more about Google now.”
Today, Shoemaker said, “there is now a conflict as Apple goes into these spaces that are ripe with competition. I’m really worried about the competition.”
A blessing and a curse
Right from the start, Apple’s curated approach to the App Store has been both a blessing and a curse.
It’s been a blessing for the majority of users because it means that you can trust that apps downloaded from the App Store are trustworthy. (Well, when everything works correctly that is!). These apps are also high quality and, frequently, family friendly. However, it’s also been a curse due to the sometimes subjective way that apps can be approved or rejected. That’s despite the presence of App Store Review Guidelines.
Shoemaker says that he took this responsibility seriously. “You are what’s stopping an app from getting on the store and potentially making money for this developer to put food on the table and send their kids to school,” he said. “It broke my heart every time I had to make those calls.”