Extended Apple downtime leaves some developers in limbo

Most of Apple's developer services have been unavailable for a week, leaving some app makers in a lurch.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read

Developer Max Wheeler had to pry his old iPhone 4 from the clutches of his 11-year old son. Why? Not because his kid was misbehaving, but because one of his employees needed it to test an upcoming iOS app, and Apple's developer site was in the midst of what's turned into a weeklong outage.

That phone, which Wheeler had retired in favor of Apple's latest model, was already provisioned to run test versions of software using the company's security certificate -- something that could not be done on a new device with Apple's services down.

"I'm taking toys out of my kid's hands so I can have something to go and do development work," said Wheeler, whose company, Alminder, makes an app that augments Apple's built-in calendar software. "Otherwise, we're dead in the water. We just can't afford it."

"Now the developer is getting all the iMessages from my son's friends," he added.

Wheeler, and an untold number of other app developers, are in crunch mode, trying to get software out the door and into the hands of users. That's become increasingly difficult with Apple's developer tools down while the company reworks its security measures.

Apple took down its developer site and more than a dozen connected services last week following the discovery of a security intrusion that may have resulted in unauthorized access to some developer information. The company has still not detailed the full scope of that intrusion, which it says took place last Thursday, nor has it said who is responsible. However the company has said the developer site was "not associated with any customer information," and that customer information is "securely encrypted."

Apple did not respond to requests for comment on this story, or a request for an update on the developer site.

While Apple continues to work on bringing the developers site back online piece by piece, it's left developers like Wheeler unable to add new devices to test it out on that weren't already authorized before Apple's site went down. It's also left them unable to show off prerelease versions of the software for press -- part of the process Wheeler says could be critical to its success.

Testing apps is a business for companies like TestFlight and HockeyApp, two companies that help developers distribute early versions of their software to users, as well as solicit feedback. TestFlight declined to speak about Apple's downtime, but HockeyApp recently told The Wall Street Journal that the outage had "partly affected business." The company sells plans ranging from $10 to $300 a month, and has services not just for iOS but also for Mac OS X and for Google's Android.

The situation is decidedly less of an issue for companies that have already launched software, and that update less frequently, developers told CNET.

"This has little to no impact on us," says Greg Tseng, the CEO and co-founder of social network Tagged. The company's last big app push was Swoon, a local matchmaking app it launched back in May, and Tseng said the company was not currently in a stage of development where this could be a problem, but he called the current stretch of Apple's downtime "on the long side."

The outage is hurting developers in other ways, too. Also down are the forums where developers discuss unreleased versions of Apple's mobile and desktop software, the downloads for said unreleased software, and pages of documentation. The only service that's gone back up since last week is Apple's bug reporting tool.

Apple has not yet said exactly when its services for developers will come back to life. Thursday afternoon the company launched a special status page that shows which services are up and running, and which are down. Apple also told developers that it would be restoring certain services before others, across three stages.

The ultimate question is whether any of this has soured developers on publishing to Apple's platform, something Wheeler brushed off.

"With a certain amount of development effort you can get your app to work on all (Apple) phones," he said. "Now the question is whether iOS maintains its lead for us, or do we leave for Android instead because we don't have these bottlenecks."