CarrierCompare – Approved, Removed, and Approved Again

Ever since Apple launched the App Store almost four years ago, some applications are [mistakenly] approved and then suddenly removed.

CarrierCompare has a unique story to tell regarding Apple’s approval process, which first approved their app, then removed it and then approved it again.

CarrierCompare is an iPhone app that aims to tell users the best carrier in their area. The app analyzes your carrier against results from the other competing carriers based on data collected from you and other users, and then ranks the top three in order from great service to poor service.

On the 13th of April, the application beat out seasoned apps in the Utilities category of the App Store by becoming the most sold app in the Utilities category and rose to the Top-25 free apps in the App Store, undoubtedly catching Apple’s attention with its popularity. Then, it was removed from the App Store that same day along with its sister iPhone app.

An Apple representative working for the app review board got in touch with the developer to tell SwayMarkets why their app was removed from the App Store.

They used an application programming interface — essentially a way for the app software to talk to the iPhone’s operating system — that Apple hadn’t approved. […]

[…] The API allowed CarrierCompare and its sister app to collect signal strength data from iPhones. Gathering that information isn’t a cut-and-dry no-no per se, but since the code hadn’t received Apple’s thumbs up, it was a no-go.

According to the developers, the API code was originally found on a developer forum. Since the code was used in their last application, NetSnaps, which was approved last December, they didn’t see any problems with using the code again.

Within two weeks ago, their app was re-approved in the App Store after it removed the signal strength measure leaving only speed and response time. Though we didn’t take the app for a spin prior to its initial removal, users were disappointed when signal strength was removed from the latest version of the app.

According to SwayMarkets founder Amos Epstein:

We’ve been very cooperative and thankful that Apple kept the free version of the app in the store. It’s been difficult as a developer to not feel supported in trying to help both Apple and consumers. However, I recognize Apple is running a very successful business. It’s a momentary hurdle.

There’s really no telling why or how Apple both rejects and approves apps for sale on the App Store. Other than the apps that blatantly infringe on Apple’s developer agreement and obviously face a dead end, we’ve seen numerous ripoff applications to get Apple’s seal of approval.

Epstein says that SwayMarkets isn’t alone when it comes to Apple approving an app, seeing it go viral and then removing it “for some previously unforeseen coding goof that Apple later discovered.”

Although the developer claims that the signal strength indication had little influence in the ranking of the three carriers, SwayMarkets are actively working on a workaround to once again satisfy their customers. Their solution?  They have just launched a new version of their iPhone app that displays the signal strength based on data collected from Android users as Apple took issue with collecting signal strength data, but not displaying that information. Android’s mobile app marketplace, known as Google Play, not only allows them to access the signal strength, but it will also allows developers to include additional functionality to find out whether or not a 4G connection is available in your area.

Google has generally been known to be more lenient with its approval process for apps in its marketplace. SwayMarkets intends to use the information from the Android counterpart to supply iPhone users with signal strength in a user’s area.

The issue that SwayMarkets faced in the approval process highlights that there is still quite a bit of subjectivity in approving apps due to manual nature of the process. And if you hit the top 25 apps in the App Store, then expect another round of review and scrutiny.

Without doubt, though, whatever the fix may be, apps need to be rejected in the first place rather than later. By all means, if it means hiring more reviewers to thoroughly test the thousands of apps submitted each day, do it. We also hope that Apple opens up its APIs so that developers like SwayMarkets can access information like signal strength as it’s a irony that a developer has to rely on Android users to provide iOS users information.

A free version (link), which is ad-supported and premium version ($1.99) of CarrierCompare are available in the App Store.

[Via CNNMoney]