Bloomberg has posted an interview with Phillip Shoemaker, the former head of App Store reviews for Apple from 2009 to 2016. The extensive interview talks about why apps are rejected from the App Store and the toll the responsibility took on him.
Shoemaker reveals that initially, a team of three reviewers went through each app before it was approved. However, in a bid to reduce the app approval times, it was reduced to just one person. This was in conjunction with some automated tools. But Phil Schiller still pushed for human reviews as he wanted to limit buggy and scammy apps on the App Store. Despite the team’s best efforts, Shoemaker realizes that there are plenty of apps on the store that should not be there.
While the initial app review team was small, it has since expanded. Reviewers selected around 30 to 100 apps every morning when they would come to the office and then test them on Macs, iPhones, and iPads.
App reviewers worked in small conference rooms with Macs, iPhones, and iPads to test applications. Reviewers would come in each morning, pick 30 to 100 apps from a web tool, and download them devices for testing. It was a job 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.
Despite being in a position of great power, it was important that the App Store review team treated apps from all developers — whether big or small — equally. Shoemaker reveals that he saw “some of the worst code at the time” in Facebook apps.
Shoemaker also reveals that while Apple own apps never competed with third-party apps back then, things have changed now.
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 sometimes adds in-house software to the iPhone that is similar to existing offerings from 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.”
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the interview is that the App Store team realizes what happens when they reject an app and the effect it has on the developer.
“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.”
You can find more interesting tidbits from the interview in the podcast linked in the article. Among other things, Shoemaker reveals that Apple Watch apps have been an embarrassment for Apple, with developers not being interested in them. Apple is perhaps hoping to change that with the release of watchOS 6 next week with its own dedicated App Store.
If you are an app developer or follow the App Store closely, you should definitely listen to the entire interview. It gives a good insight into how Shoemaker took his job seriously and how the App Store approval team worked.