I’m a big fan of all things Apple, and as you can tell from my past blog posts I’m a big fan of iPhone development. I’ve even dusted off my aging C skills, and have learned to love Objective-C. The one thing I haven’t learned to love, like all other iPhone app developers, is their application release process, and the seemingly arbitrary app store acceptance department.
Don’t get me wrong, I think how Apple fiercely guards the App Store to prevent bad, buggy, or offensive material from getting on there is a great thing. Some of my mother-in-law’s students in the class she works in have iPhones or iPod Touches, and these little 10-year-olds love the little apps I’ve put out. They’re fun, light-hearted, and they get a lot of enjoyment out of these and other apps. It’s reassuring to know that if I install an app, it won’t crash my phone (too badly) or that a child won’t be offended by them (too much).
However, the level of detail they give in their rejections seem both arbitrary and unnecessary. You develop an app and have to throw it over the fence to Apple, after which you wait with no level of detail as to the status, or success, or any sense of progress through whatever queue they have. Finally, you more often than not get a big fat rejection letter that gives you no detail as to why your app didn’t meet their secret criteria.
In my experience so far, this has actually been a virtue. My apps actually did have minor race conditions, or problems on specific platform versions. So, fair enough, I fix my changes and submit them in. But recently, the framework I work with and have been helping develop seems to be under fire from Apple for no apparent reason. And it’s the contradictory nature of their message that is what gets under my skin.
In a long thread on the PhoneGap mailing list, a number of developers writing their applications under PhoneGap have been given rejection letters saying something like:
Upon review of your application, cannot be posted to the
App Store due to the usage of private API. Usage of such non-public
API, as outlined in the iPhone SDK Agreement section 3.3.2 is
” An Application may not itself install or launch other executable
code by any means, including without limitation through use of a plug-
in architecture, calling other frameworks, other APIs or otherwise.
No interpreted code may be downloaded and used in an Application
except for code that is interpreted and run by Apple’s Published APIs
and built-in interpreter(s).
The PhoneGap API implemented in your application is an external
It seems though that Apple constitues the use of their own controls as a 3rd-party library. Apple’s own developer documentation includes code sample projects, much like PhoneGap’s, intended to get a developer started on using their SDK. Is it incorrect to assume that others can do the same?
Additionally, there are 3rd-party companies such as AdMob, Medialets, and a number of others that provide ads, application tracking, and other resources to iPhone developers. Their code is given to you as pre-compiled libraries, that are most certainly not included on the iPhone when you pull it out of its shrink-wrap. So how is it that all these apps are released to the App Store with these 3rd-party libraries linked in, and an app framework whose source code is freely available and uses officially documented features can’t be?
I decided to put an end to the speculation, and wrote a letter to Apple’s developer support on this matter. I’ll give it a chance to percolate through their support department, and if I don’t hear an answer back via email, I plan to call their support department until I can get an answer.
For future reference, and in the interests of keeping the discussion open, here’s a copy of the letter I sent in to Apple.
From: Michael Nachbaur
Date: May 17, 2009 6:04:28 PM PDT (CA)
Subject: Library classification clarification
Hello, I’m an iPhone software developer, and one of the core developers of the PhoneGap project. A number of users of PhoneGap – a set of Objective-C classes aimed at leveraging the UIWebView to access iPhone-supported hardware features – have reported that their apps have been rejected from the App Store because they supposedly use a “3rd-Party Library”. I wanted to get some clarification about this, as this is not only untrue, it is completely at odds with the goals of our project.
PhoneGap only uses officially-supported features of the iPhone, as documented within XCode’s iPhone SDK documentation. We even make sure that we don’t even use deprecated features of the iPhone, as we want to ensure 100% compatibility. All the software we use is exposed natively by the iPhone, and is in use in many other apps on the App Store.
So I wanted to get an official clarification from Apple as to why these apps are being rejected, and what, if anything, we as the maintainers and developers of the PhoneGap project can do to rectify the situation. We are trying to empower developers with quality starting-blocks for developing their own applications, much as the Apple sample applications do.
So please, if there’s anything we’re doing wrong, we would more than happily change our code to accommodate Apple’s policies. As far as we can tell, we support Apple’s licenses even better than other apps on the App Store, because we don’t import 3rd-party libraries such as AdMob, Medialets, or any of the other ad and tracking libraries that are obviously featured on almost every app in the App Store. And these are quite plainly 3rd-party libraries, and as such should they not be even more restricted than we are?
As a community, of both software developers and of business-people, we are very anxious to hear back from you, and would like to discuss this with someone at Apple to get an official answer, instead of the conversation being one-sided and filled with speculation.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing back from someone soon.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Can anyone reading this find some reason why Apple would target PhoneGap?
Update: I got an update on this problem from Steve, one of the app reviewers, over at Apple.