Tough Crowd

By now it’s a crazy, familiar pattern: a developer has an app accepted into the iOS App Store, the developer updates and submits the app again, and it gets rejected for some feature that was already in there before when the app was accepted.

Also part of the pattern is that people complain about Apple not being consistent, and other people complain about the complaining, complaining at the first set of complainers to quit complaining because Apple’s rules are very clear.

The problem is, sometimes the rules aren’t that clear, and most of the time in these cases, they appear to just be enforced using some random criteria. “NO, the Notification Center is for information display purposes only!”, “Yes, you can have your calculator back in Notification Center”, “No, your widget can’t start an action that is completed in the app, even though at least five other apps that have been approved for awhile are doing just that.”

Ignore the people who think rejections are always a case of dumb developers and that Apple is always in the right, because that’s just so clearly not the case that I don’t even know how you can pretend to be intellectually honest while reciting that theory. Yes, sometimes developers do push the boundaries in ways that make everyone think they had it coming. I could name one notable recent one that a few people got upset about, but it seemed pretty clear cut. Then there’s cases like Drafts, where Drafts 4 has has a Notification Center widget from day one of release, and now suddenly its functionality is verboten.

In this case, Apple’s rationale is apparently that a Widget cannot open an app or perform an action that opens the app.

This seems odd to me considering 99% of the widgets in Notification Center will open the app if you tap or double-tap the widget. Also, as Greg points out, there are a whole lot of other apps in the App Store that already have approved widgets doing the same thing:

To Greg’s credit, he’s not getting mad, he’s not demanding change, he’s not threatening to get his followers involved unless Apple changes their mind, which is what some developers have been accused of doing in the past.1

I like the Drafts widget, but this post is not me trying to yell Apple into a course reversal either, first because the problem isn’t solved if they cave to every uprising that occurs, and second because they (and most other people) are never going to read this anyway. What I am doing is lamenting the lack of consistency with which Apple attempts to clarify and/or enforce its App Store rules.

It would be bad enough to be a developer and work for a year on something and submit it, only to have it rejected right then and there. Time is money, and money is… well, it’s in short supply in the App Store these days. I think developing an app, submitting it, having it accepted, and then months later having it rejected for an update submission for an existing feature that does something everyone else is also doing would be even tougher. Making a living from selling iOS apps is hard enough that most who try can’t succeed at it, and throw in the possibility that your app will suddenly and seemingly arbitrarily be kicked out of the store makes chasing that dream seem like an exercise for people who like to gamble.

Is that overstating it a bit? Possibly. I don’t think so if you factor in both the realistic amount of money to be made by most iOS app developers as well as Apple’s drunken inability to walk a straight line on app acceptance policies.

Really, this conversation was taking place in 2009. And 2010. And 2011. And… I mean, it’s crazy. All Apple has to do is figure out what their rules mean, and then enforce them evenly to all developers. I think most app developers would care a lot more about knowing what Apple is going to consider outlaw than they would about losing some functionality in their apps right up front if that’s what it took to get the approval process ironed out sensibly.

I am not trying to argue that any one of these particular widgets is right or wrong in terms of the rules. I am trying to argue that if you have a set of rules, accept several apps with specific features under those rules, and then later start rejecting the same apps for those same specific features, you have a problem. It might involve confusion, alcohol, or an evil twin. I don’t know the reason, but it definitely makes you hard to live with, Apple.

I will say this. I think anyone who starts working on anything for the  Watch in earnest right now is crazy unless they just have spare time to burn and their livelihood doesn’t depend on it.


  1.  Although, to be honest, in several cases they were just venting or being vocally frustrated, and people decided they didn’t like seeing it in their Twitter timelines anyway. Tech people like to quantify stuff they don’t like as whining, perhaps you’ve noticed this?