This is whale week for the iPhone App Store review process. Rogue Amoeba posted a tale of woe, Paul Graham posted about developer ill-will, and now it looks like Apple is checking for private API usage with less than perfect discrimination.
(All links thanks to Gruber, by the way, because where the hell else would I learn this stuff.)
As our faithful readers know, I've been working on an iPhone game for several months now. (And I have several months of work to go. Definitely a high-end project. Hope you all like it!) I can cope with some of Apple's restrictions: I have never touched undocumented APIs, for example. I have no pictures of iPhones in my game, nor cruel caricatures of Steve Jobs.
But good intentions are no cure for App Store Hypochondria. I lie awake nights worrying that I will do everything right and Apple will still bounce me. Worse: that I will do everything right, my app will be accepted, and then I'll try to push a simple bug fix and Apple will bounce me for something I haven't changed.
That's the nightmare for me, as a developer. Negative progress. The destruction of my reputation because Apple won't let me fix my released game. That's why inconsistent rules are worse than stringent rules.
You think I'm worrying over nothing? Go back to the preview screenshot I posted for my game. On the left side of the screen is a green icon labelled "Mail". That's because the story starts with you receiving some mail. Will Apple punt me for "imitating" their Mail app icon? Or faking mail functionality? I don't think so, but my opinion doesn't count, now does it? The Application Submission Feedback blog mentions a case where Apple rejected a cracked-screen effect; I have a scene in my game where an object cracks apart. Could be rejected. I don't know. I have the App Store Hypochondria bad, man, real bad.
And these aren't user interface issues I can tweak. I'm creating an interactive narrative. I can't change that cracked object to a melting object -- I'd have to redesign some later puzzles, never mind redoing the graphics. Should I change that first scene to a phone call just because Apple dislikes fictional email? (Should an ebook author do that, or a musician, in order to be accepted by iTunes?)
All of this scares developers, which hurts Apple -- indirectly. But that's not the foot-shootingness of it all. Apple is in the same boat. We know the review process is arbitrary and inconsistent; the same UI may pass one month and fail the next. But these are Apple's guidelines! Whatever Apple wants, they're not getting it either. If Apple really, sincerely wants to reject all watch icons, they lose -- their review process is failing to do it consistently. If they want to reject all ebooks with "iPhone" in the title, they lose -- it's not happening.
If they don't want these things, of course, then they're just peeing on randomly-selected developers, and they really lose.
The App Store review process: broken for everybody.