July 31, 2009

Prisoner in a Fortune Cookie Factory

There’s an old Batman comic where Batman and Robin go for dinner and (I think) Robin receives a fortune cookie which says, “Help, I’m being held prisoner in a Chinese fortune cookie factory!”. While this is apparently a fairly well-known gag, Batman and Robin investigate (I forget why) and discover that in this case, that the message was actually true.

I’m beginning to wonder if the Apple app store reviewers are like these fortune cookie factory prisoners :)

I’ve blogged before about my recent troubles in getting my iPhone apps approved. That was over three weeks ago. Since then, I’ve had exactly three applications approved and all of them were updates. None of my new applications, and the list at the moment stands at five, have been approved since then. I’ve asked several times for updates from Apple but all in vain. All I’ve received has been the standard canned responses.

Last night, or early today in the morning at 4:30am, it appears that Apple called me. Of course, being asleep at the time, I never got the phone call :) They did leave a message but since nobody here in Sri Lanka ever leaves a message on the answering machine (don’t ask me why – I have no idea :p), I rarely check to see if we have any messages. By a fluke I happened to notice that we had a new message around 2:30pm.

So what did the message say? They said that, “Your app’s marketing text contains pricing information. Please remove the pricing information from the text to avoid confusing potential customers.” (Please note, I’m paraphrasing here. But the gist of the message was that.) Now when we originally went into this holding pattern, that was what I’d been told by Apple and I thought I had complied. So I was puzzled as to what was going on.

So I went through my app all over again and checked all the text. Nope, no pricing information there! Then a sneaking suspicion dawned on me. My app has links (to get more information) which take the user to my own iPhone apps site. Could it be that they were talking about that? I checked and sure enough, my site does contain pricing information and it displays in an in-app browser view. Could it be that Apple reviewers were this clueless – especially given that my site has a totally different look from the in-app stuff? Perhaps they were.

I really didn’t want to go back and forth arguing about how this wasn’t in-app content and how the pricing information was on my own site, where Apple shouldn’t be able to dictate terms to me. But I didn’t want further delays and so I simply removed the link to my product pages and told Apple that I had done so.

But what has all this got to do with a fortune cookie factory prisoner? I’m getting to that :) This whole set of exchanges makes me wonder why Apple couldn’t have let me know this via e-mail three weeks ago. If they’d simply said you have pricing information in your app and included a screenshot to show that they were actually talking about my site, then I would have fixed things at that point. So why did they wait three weeks to make me a call in the middle of the night?

Is it perhaps possible that the Apple app reviewers are deliberately isolated from the developers and they are not allowed any interaction with the developers? Maybe, like the prisoners of a fortune cookie factory, their means of communicating with the outside world is very limited? Perhaps they have a review submission system where they can only check boxes for accepted or rejected and a dropdown which generates a canned text response?

Yes, that’s very fanciful I know :) But that’s the image that comes across my mind. Of these poor, pitiful (and gagged) reviewers toiling away at reviewing apps but being effectively muzzled by the Apple powers that be. If anything more than a canned response is required, then they have to go through special channels, which requires weeks, and results in a direct phone call to the developer by a trained specialist who knows how to keep his/her mouth shut about anything other than what strictly relates to the matter at hand.

Too paranoid? Too imaginative? Perhaps so. Perhaps not. Since I’m not privy to how Apple runs their review department, I guess I’ll never know :) But in the meantime, I’ll wait again hoping that my five poor apps will finally see the light of day (or at least get released to the app store) some day soon …

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Tags: Coding
Posted by Fahim at 5:40 pm   Comments (0)