Apple Revises Application Review Process

Stuart Freen is a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law Schoo

Apple recently revised some of its policies and practices relating to the reviews of its applications (or “apps”) for its iPhone and iPad App Store. The changes are aimed at improving transparency and fairness in the review process. Among the changes are a brand new set of developers guidelines that lay out which apps will be accepted and which won’t, and a new appeal process for rejected apps. Additionally, Apple has reversed an earlier policy whereby it would reject apps that were “cross-compiled” for iOS 4. Could these be signs of a new more open and developer-friendly Apple? Or are they just token gestures meant to stem anti-competitive scrutiny?

In the past, Apple had been criticized for not having any posted app review procedures. Essentially, developers would labour over their iPhone or iPad applications only to send them in to a “black box” at Apple for review. Then, the developers would simply receive an “approved” or “rejected” response. The process was inconsistent and at-times it seemed arbitrary as to why certain apps were accepted and others rejected. Developers speculated about Apple’s rationale, but the company remained mum.

Two of the three new changes (the app review guidelines and the appeal process) may make the app review process more transparent. Developers now have a written set of guidelines to refer to, and a formal appeals process they may initiate . Yet Apple’s reversal on its cross-compiled program policy may be more noteworthy still. This allows developers using Adobe Flash, a rival platform, to easily port their programs to work on iPads and iPhones.

In the past Apple has been adamant about not allowing Flash players on their devices, shutting Adobe out of a big portion of the mobile phone and tablet PC markets. In fact, Apple has been downright antagonistic of Adobe, which makes this policy reversal all the more surprising. Brian Chen of Wired.com suggests that the backpedaling may have been triggered by the threat of an FCC antitrust investigation. Whatever Apple’s motivations are, the result will hopefully prove positive for both app developers, who will now have more tools at their disposal, and their consumers, who may enjoy resultantly richer and more varied apps.

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