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Inside the Apple team that decides which apps get on iPhones

Before a developer can sell an app on the App Store, it must be approved by Apple’s app review team. There are over 2 million apps on the store, but many have been rejected since it opened in 2008.

tech Updated: May 29, 2019 11:48 IST
Mark Gurman
Mark Gurman
Bloomberg
Apple,Apple App Store,Al Gore
In the early days, Apple had three reviewers look at each app.(AFP)

Apple Inc.’s former head of App Storeapprovals said he’s worriedaboutcompetition between the companyanddevelopers, and evenrecalled board memberAl Gore asking abouta controversialapp approval.

Phillip Shoemaker, who ran app reviews from 2009 to 2016, made the commentsin the latest episode of Bloomberg’s Decrypted podcast ahead of Apple’sannual developers conference in early June. He also opened up about the personal toll of being the App Store’s “regulator.”

Before a developer can sell an app on the App Store, it must be approved by Apple’s app review team. There areover2 million apps on the store, but manyhave been rejectedsince it opened in2008.

“You are what’s stopping an app from getting on the store and potentially making money for this developer to put food on the table and send their kids to school,” Shoemaker said. “It broke my heart every time I had to make those calls.”

ALSO READ: iPhone sales are falling, and Apple’s App Store fees might be next

In the early days, Apple had three reviewers look at each app. That led to long review times, which eventually decreased after the process shifted to one set of eyes, he said.Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of marketingwho oversees the App Store, pushed for humansto review all apps, rather than just automatedtools, to limit improper or buggy apps, Shoemakersaid. Still, he said “there’s a lot of stuff in the store that shouldn’t be there.” Apple declined to comment.

App reviewersworkedin small conference rooms withMacs, iPhones, and iPads to test applications. Reviewers would come in each morning, pick 30 to 100apps from a web tool, and downloadthem devices for testing. It was ajob that required long hours, Shoemaker recalled. Apple has hired more reviewers since then, and the work spaces in California are more open and collaborative now.

“It broke my heart every time I had to make those calls.”

Apple made sure that Shoemaker’s review team treated all third-party developers equally, even if they were giant technology companies supplying important apps for iPhones and iPads.“I was calling out Facebook all the time” on Twitter, he said. “Even though they were one of these privilegeddevelopers, they had some of the worst code at the time.”

ALSO READ: Apple suspends another spyware app from App Store

Shoemaker also spoke about Apple not approving the Google Voice calling service in the early days of the iPhone. He said there was concern inside Apple that companies like Google or Facebook could create a slew of apps that would replace core iPhone functions.

“That was a real thing. I mean thefear that somebody would come along, a Facebook, a Google, whomever and wipe off and remove all of our items,” he said. “Once they started using these other apps, they’d be thinking more about Google now.” Ultimately, Google Voice and similar third-party callingservices were approved for Apple’s App Store.

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Shoemaker also discussed Apple’s own applications competing more with apps from outside developers. This wasn’t a problem in the early days of the iPhone because many of the things Apple did were so new. Nowadays, the company sometimesaddsin-house software to the iPhone that is similar to existing offeringsfrom other providers.“There is now a conflict as Apple goes into these spaces that are ripe with competition,” he said. “I’m really worried about the competition.”

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conferenceis where the company must strike adelicate balance betweenpartnering and competing with developers.Shoemaker described preparations for the annual event, saying it’s likely “chaos” at Apple right now as the company finalises presentations and other details.He also discussed the early days of the Apple Watch App Store and how it could improve with a store built into the watch itself.

First Published: May 29, 2019 11:46 IST