App Store Puzzle Comes Together, but Some Questions Remain

Ever since Apple announced the full SDK for iPhone back in March, there have been many questions about details and procedures regarding development of iPhone applications and the App Store distribution model that have gone unanswered. Due to a non-disclosure clause in the SDK license agreement, developers were unable to answer specific questions about the development and acceptance process to users, and Apple has been even more tight-lipped. Even after the App Store opened to the public on July 10, the NDA was not lifted, and there are still tons of questions from developers and end users alike. Even though we still don’t have any official solutions, bits and pieces of information are beginning to leak out, and long-standing questions are being answered.

Earlier today, Martin Gordon, developer of the forthcoming Flickup app for iPhone, wrote in a frustrated blog post about his experience with App Store submission and (lack of) communication with Apple about the status of his submission. He submitted Flickup early morning on July 7, before Apple’s announced cutoff period for App Store launch availability, but his app still wasn’t in the store three days after the store launched. Finally, he received an email explaining that Flickup would not be accepted into the App Store in its current state because it lacked a feature to let a user log out of or change the Flickr account they were using with the app.

After spending some time adding this feature and fixing a few bugs, Gordon re-submitted Flickup to Apple, as well as a “demo” version of the app with some reduced functionality for those wanting to try it out. By Tuesday, he had received another response from Apple saying that they would not accept Flickup Demo due to the fact that it was “a beta or feature-limited version,” and that “the application must be a fully functional app and cannot reference features that are not implemented.”

Gordon gleaned from this response that Apple would never accept a demo or trial of applications into the App Store period, and it certainly sounds that way. But there are a few iPhone applications that, at first glance, seems to follow this very model. One well-known example is Twitterrific. There is a free version that is ad-supported, and a $10 premium version that does not have ads and includes an additional visual style, and the free version of Twitterrific also contains a link to purchase the premium version in the App Store, seemingly contradicting with Apple’s requirements not to reference or “up-sell” a paid version. So how did it get into the store? I asked a well-known iPhone developer, who wished to remain nameless. He responded by saying that after a long discussion with Apple, they made one point very clear: “They don’t want demos in the store.” This tells us that Apple will not be including feature-limited demos or time-sensitive trial versions of applications in the App Store at all, at least for now. This is sure to come as a disappointment for many users and developers alike.

But what about another App Store feature that many developers are clamoring for, beta releases? The good news is that the future looks a little brighter for this functionality. TechCrunch reported yesterday evening on a tip from an iPhone developer that Apple is planning a beta option for devs. Great news, but according to the tip, beta releases will be hard-limited to just 100 iPhones, which is a tiny, tiny sliver of the entire iPhone audience of millions. Worse still, developers have to hand pick beta testers and submit the serial numbers of the phones they want to allow testing on, which could become a hugely tedious process. This may be a variation on the already-announced ad-hoc distribution method, or TechCrunch could even have a novice developer on their hands who has confused the two.

Even though these two answers cover a lot of ground for iPhone developers, there are still many questions to be asked. When will devs be able to discuss problems and solutions openly with each other? What kinds of applications will Apple explicitly disallow, exactly? Will developers ever be able to give out copies of their application to the press for review? And what are the details of the notification service that Apple discussed at WWDC? These are just a few of the questions we’d like answered sooner rather than later, but until Apple lifts the NDA surrounding the iPhone SDK, we may never know.


11 Responses to “App Store Puzzle Comes Together, but Some Questions Remain”

  1. CaptSaltyJack on July 23rd, 2008 11:03 am

    The whole SDK/developer NDA thing is silly. Anyone who wants to know anything about the SDK can just go download it for themselves, at no cost, and learn everything they want to know. So basically, if you download the iPhone SDK, you’re legally bound to not talk about its details. But you can freely tell people to download it, and they can find out for themselves, but then they too are bound by the NDA to keep quiet. It’s quite silly.

    Bob: “Hey Steve, tell me the ultra top secrets of the universe!”
    Steve: “I can’t, Bob. But, if you go to this address, and open the door which is unlocked, go down the hall and make a left, you’ll find what you’re looking for.”
    Bob: “Gee, thanks!”

  2. Josh Holloway on July 23rd, 2008 11:17 am

    That’s true, but unless you pay the $99 to Apple, you have no way of knowing how the App Store submission process goes, and developers are really not supposed to be talking about it. Also, developers have no good way to discuss with each other how to solve issues and squash bugs in public, which is partially why most of the applications in the store right now are so unstable.

  3. paxton on July 23rd, 2008 1:24 pm

    Strange, but there is a Lite Edition of Labyrinth ( available.

  4. CaptSaltyJack on July 23rd, 2008 1:25 pm

    True, Josh, true. The details of the submission process are indeed under lockdown.

  5. Miles Evans on July 26th, 2008 5:53 am

    Very informative article Josh.

    Apple is constantly demonstrating and proving its roll as a control freak. I doubt Apple would even be pushing apps in this way without the guys behind cydia/installer leading (forcing) the way. Thank goodness we have options.

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