Much is being made of supposed improvements to Apple's App Store, but the approval of a music service called Spotify only raises more questions. And the recent approval of Loopt was a major step backward. The approval process needs to be changed, and soon.
Spotify is a subscription music service that gives users access to a library of four million songs for a monthly fee. Some see this as a major competitor to Apple's iTunes store and are surprised the application was approved.
Loopt, meanwhile, may be the real reason there is no Google Latitude iPhone app. Loopt does much the same thing as Latitude - transmit real-time location information to friends. It is also the first third-party application capable of sending updates in the background when the app is not running.
It appears Google tried that with its Latitude app and was denied by Apple. What is the difference between Loopt and Google Latitude? Loopt has cut a deal under which its customers will pay AT&T, the US carrier, an extra $3.99 a month for the service. Google Latitude is free on the phones that support it and works in background mode.
Traditionally, carriers have charged extra for locator applications and AT&T apparently intends to continue the practice with Loopt. Charging for data use or a per-application basis sets a bad precedent for future iPhone apps.
But, if Google wasn't willing to play (or even told it was supposed to), I guess we know understand why a free Google Latitude application isn't available for iPhone users.
Secrets and lies
As for the other supposed improvements to the App Store, if it really takes Phil Schiller's personal attention to deal with unhappy developers, Apple is in a world of hurt. The App Store approval process is as secretive as anything the old Soviet Union cooked up, and makes about as much sense.
Schiller gets points for proving that senior Apple execs are actually humans. He is the number-one marketing guy (number two if you count Steve Jobs) and has recently become the fixer when App Store problems spill out of control.
But Schiller can't do that forever and he really can't do enough of it to make more than a token difference.
There needs to be a new App Store approvals process that actually makes sense and that seems to start with hiring more people. I read recently that Apple has only about 40 people working on App Store approvals.
The current approval process
Here's a quote from the New York Times article:
"Apple receives 8,500 new applications and updates to applications each week. The company employs a team of 40 full-time trained reviewers, and each application is independently evaluated by two separate reviewers before getting a green light. The company said that 95 percent of iPhone applications are approved within 14 days of being submitted."
While it is impossible to verify those claims, found in Apple's response to an FCC inquiry, it sounds like those reviewers spend very little time looking at each application.
Two reviewers, each spending 30 minutes with an application (an hour total per app) would be able to review 80 apps in a 40-hour workweek. For the whole team, that's 1,600 apps per week, yet 8,500 new apps arrive.
If they spend 6 minutes per application they can keep up with the incoming apps. But that seems an awfully short time to do any real quality or content control of the individual applications.
I am not among those who think Apple should simply give up and approve everything that is submitted. I like and appreciate Apple's work to stop offensive applications or those with technical issues.
But when Apple uses its monopoly control over iPhone apps to decide whom the winner - Loopt - and loser - Google Latitude - will be, I draw the line. Especially when Apple appears to be jerking customers around on AT&T's behalf.
The Apple monopolies must end.