Apple Can’t Possibly Be ‘Surprised’ That Developers Are Unhappy

Apple Can’t Possibly Be ‘Surprised’ That Developers Are Unhappy
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Developers aren’t the biggest fans of Apple’s App Store policies — a sentiment that’s apparently left Apple “surprised” that developers have “legitimate concerns” with its infamous app review process.

The tidbit comes from Apple’s latest submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). Last year, the watchdog launched an investigation into digital platform services, including both Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store. In September 2020, the ACCC offered up a survey so that consumers, developers, and suppliers could detail their experiences with various app stores — including the review process. The interim report including those sentiments is set to go public on March 31. So, basically, what Apple’s doing here is getting in a final word on the record with the watchdog.

In its submission, Apple reiterates that its review process is “human-led” and emphasises that it’s spent quite a lot of time and moolah to “engag[e] with developers directly.” The company also cites the familiar line that its review process exists to protect iOS users from malware, bunk apps that don’t work, or “objectionable content.” As for efficacy, it says 73% of apps are either approved or rejected within 24 hours, and that developers are able to correspond with the Apple reviewer who rejected the app, as well as make a formal appeal to the App Store Review Board. It also touts its worldwide telephone support line for devs, as well as local Developer Relations teams.

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This looks to be an indirect response to several statements from various groups that have raised issues with Apple (and Google’s) app stores. Specifically, the Developers Alliance, which represents more than 70,000 devs and app publishers, wrote that “if there is a single, unified message from our developer members,” it was that the entire experience is frustrating despite Apple (and Google’s) investment in the review process. Some grievances listed included opaque or vague reasons for rejection and anecdotal evidence that popular apps and developers seem to have an easier time getting feedback. Big-name developers like Epic Games and Microsoft also weighed in, detailing their own frustrations with Apple’s App Store. There’s the whole Fortnite debacle, of course, and accusations that Apple uses the review process to screen out competitors in favour of its own services, particularly when it comes to cloud gaming.

For Apple to say it’s “surprised” is a little hard to believe. There’s no shortage of lawsuits and public beefs with Apple right now about these exact practices, from companies both big and small. The company is also undergoing several antitrust probes from various regulators across the globe. In the case of Apple vs. Epic, several Apple executives with knowledge of how the App Store works have been called to testify — including CEO Tim Cook and Craig Federighi, Apple’s software chief. Actually, Bloomberg reports that a witness list for the case provided on Friday reveals that Ron Okamoto, the longtime head of its App Store developer relations team had quietly retired. (Retirement, however, doesn’t get Okamoto out of testifying.) It’s unclear what the nature of Okamoto’s retirement was, or if the pushback from developers over the past year had anything to do with it.

Apple has made at least one small concession. In November, the company announced it would slash its 30% “Apple Tax,” or the cut it takes from developers for sales of apps and in-app purchases, for developers who earn less than $US1 ($1) million to 15%. Of course, no one expects Apple to tear down its own walled garden without regulators forcing its hand. Still, Apple’s known what developers have been griping about for years — and the Apple Tax is only one part of it. It knows its App Store, its policies, and review process are all due a reckoning. To pretend otherwise is just deliberately obtuse.