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Apple sheds light on App Store approval process

In response to FCC query, Apple says it did not reject Google Voice, but explains its approval process for applications.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Erica Ogg
3 min read

It's been over a year since Apple inaugurated its App Store, but we finally have a sense of how the approval process works.

Apple has been reluctant to publicly discuss how developer-created applications get approved, but the federal government forced its hand by sending an official query regarding the rejection of Google Voice several weeks ago. On Friday, Apple answered a series of questions posed by the FCC regarding the App Store and its evaluation policies, and there were several interesting revelations.

First, Apple says Google Voice was not rejected, it just hasn't been approved, and that AT&T was not consulted in that decision at all. AT&T told the FCC the same thing in its own response to the agency's questions Friday.

But, Apple said in its response letter that while AT&T is not consulted regarding submitted applications, that hasn't stopped AT&T from complaining about apps it doesn't like.

"From time to time, AT&T has expressed concerns regarding network efficiency and potential network congestion associated with certain applications, and Apple takes such concerns into consideration," the company told the FCC.

Beyond the Google Voice dustup, however, we now have a broader understanding of how the App Store works. First of all, it's a monstrous administrative challenge. Apple says it receives 8,500 new applications and updates to existing ones every week. There are 40 people responsible for reviewing every application submitted and each app gets reviewed by two people. Eighty percent are approved as submitted with no changes necessary, and 95 percent of applications are approved in two weeks or less. In total, since the App Store was opened last year, Apple says it has evaluated 200,000 apps and updates.

If you do the actual math, the task is sort of mind-boggling. Forty people looking at 8,500 apps and updates during a regular five-day work week comes out to approximately 212 apps per week. But since each app gets evaluated by two different people, that doubles the load to 424 apps per week, or about 85 apps per day. Assuming a standard eight-hour workday (which, let's be honest, is probably not what these employees are getting away with), that comes out to each member of the App Store team reviewing an app every six minutes. So, it's understandable that some apps that violate the rules might accidentally get by the reviewer.

For the controversial or otherwise special cases, Apple has established an App Store "executive review board." While there's no mention of how many members there are, we do know it's made up of senior management responsible for the App Store who meet weekly to determine review process policy as well as take a look at applications that "raise new or complex issues."

The things the reviewers check for when apps are submitted: buggy software, apps that crash too much, use of unauthorized APIs (Google, apparently, excepted), privacy violation, inappropriate content for children, and anything that "degrades the core experience of the iPhone."

Apple is also obligated by a contract with AT&T as its exclusive carrier in the U.S. to weed out apps that allow iPhone owners to make VoIP calls without AT&T's express permission, or any that violate the carrier's terms of service. This included SlingPlayer Mobile, which was rejected by Apple and only allowed to use the iPhone's Wi-Fi and not its 3G cellular signal. Apple says in the letter that the Sling app, which allows video content from a set-top box to be watched remotely, was rejected "because redirecting a TV signal to an iPhone using AT&T's cellular network is prohibited by AT&T's customer Terms of Service."

AT&T said much the same thing back in May when the application's Wi-Fi-only mode created a stir when it finally made it to the App Store.

Apple has started in recent weeks to acknowledge the often confusing and frustrating process that the App Store had become for developers and consumers, including some public communication from Apple Chief Marketing Officer Phil Schiller to developers and a blogger. But this is the first real look at how the process works.

"We're covering new ground and doing things that had never been done before. Many of the issues we face are difficult and new, and while we may make occasional mistakes, we try to learn from them and continually improve," Apple's Friday statement reads.

Updated at 3:50 p.m. PDT.