Why Apple needs to ramp up its app review team | Cult of Mac

Why Apple needs to ramp up its app review team

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Trust in the App Store is critical to the success of the iPhone.
Confidence in the App Store is so critical to the success of the iPhone that Apple needs to stop handling app review with an inadequate staff.
Graphic: Apple

The process for checking applications submitted to the App Store became the major focus of the Epic Games v. Apple court battle Friday. An important detail that came to light is that Apple employs 500 human experts checking submissions.

Epic Games used Friday’s trial testimony to bring to light fraudulent or inappropriate apps that slipped past Apple’s review team and onto the App Store. Fortunately, the problem is fixable: Put more people on the job. Double or triple the number.

So many apps, so few people

Testimony by Trystan Kosmynka, the senior director for the App Store review process, on Thursday and Friday covered the automated and manual parts of looking for problems in software that developers submit.

That’s necessary because it’s a big job. In recent years, the annual total of new and updated applications submitted to the App Store hovered around 5 million.

Kosmynka’s testimony on Friday included descriptions of automated systems for detecting malware, out-of-date SDKs and other forbidden inclusions. But the process also includes those 500 human experts.

Staff up the App Store review team

The head of the App Store review process defended the capabilities of his employees, but there aren’t enough of them. A lawyer for Epic Games got Kosmynka to admit Thursday that many of the employees put in 10-hour days.

Friday’s testimony also included discussion of bad applications that made it onto the App Store despite Apple’s oversight. The details emerged from Apple’s own internal emails.

Many of these should have been blocked by a person, not a computer. Some applications promised features they didn’t provide. One turned school shootings into a game. Another glorified killing civil rights protesters.

Clearly, humans are needed in the process. And there needs to be enough of them to not make such mistakes.

Apple argues that the App Store needs to remain the sole source of iPhone and iPad software because any other option would prove less safe. Allowing anyone to load apps onto these devices would open the iPhone ecosystem to malware, according to Apple.

But for that to be true, the App Store review process needs to be as close to perfect as possible. And for some reason, the company is trying to do that with a minimal number of people involved. A mere 500 is inadequate to be part of a process that checks about 5 million applications a year.

Apple can afford it

Apple made a staggering $23.6 billion in profits just last quarter. It made $28.7 billion the quarter before. This is a company awash in cash. It certainly can afford to double or triple the number of people who review submissions for the App Store. Give Apple employees more time to check submissions. Or take the next step and have two people independently check every application.

This is a poor area to be penny-pinching. App review is critical for customer trust. One of the reasons people spend so much money on the the App Store is that they trust it. And malware erodes that confidence. It makes headlines when someone slips a scam onto people’s iPhones.

Kosmynka’s team is already doing an outstanding job while understaffed. It could be even better with more experts and more time for testing.