As I often do with my rants, this one sat in the draft folder for 24h before I hit the publish button. That cooling period was probably a good thing, and even though my general feeling on this issue has not changed all that much, the need to vent sorta went away thanks to an afternoon of Taiwanese beer and delicious dim suns near Orchard Rd (Japan’s awesome and all, but Singapore definitely has nicer outdoor bars)…
Anyway, I still feel like I should [briefly] sum up some of my recent annoyances with Apple, iTunes Store and iPhone development app, for posterity’s sake.
And because I’m still a bit pissed at them
iPhone Application Development
…in one word, is Hell. Indentured servitude, at best.
Considering my ample experience with proprietary frameworks and “gated software community”, working on Kanjibox for Facebook, I thought I could expect about the same level of minor annoyances and constraint when I set up working on KanjiBox for iPhone.
The truth, however, is that developing on Facebook is a freakin’ careless walk in the park, compared to the number of hoops and leashes that are involved in iPhone development. From the impossibly slow and constraining sign-up, all the way to the final application review process, every step of the way seems made to remind you that you are but one expandable peon who should feel lucky that Apple deigns accepting your money and work.
It’s bad enough that you have no control over your update cycles: release an application and notice it has a fatal, yet easily-fixable, flaw… expect to gnash your teeth for two weeks, while the update sits in Apple’s reviewing queue. But on top of that, every update candidate is still subject to a rather arbitrary reviewing process, with the ominous prospect that Apple might just decide overnight to remove your application without so much as a justification, thus making your entire coding effort completely worthless (iPhone application code is not code you will re-use anywhere else).
Although I am sure most Apple reviewers are well intended and try their best, it is the mere principle of a universal “reviewing” of applications (same guy is supposed to vet “BubbleBalls from Hell”, “iFart 2.0″ and a Japanese quiz application) that is utterly flawed. To which the obvious understaffing issue at Apple’s team and ensuing delays in resolving issues only add more irritation (merely finding Apple’s iPhone dev support email, requires hours of navigating regurgitated FAQ entries until the one path, twenty levels deep, that will relinquish it as if was the company’s most precious asset).
Need I mention none of this is free? Unlike Facebook’s API, Apple charges developers $100 a year, for the privilege of posting applications to the store. Applications from which they will also take a healthy share of the sales profits (roughly 30%). Basically a “tails: I win, heads: you lose” kinda deal.
Where am I going with all this?
(beside Crankyville on the Rant-Whining Expressway)
KanjiBox 0.5 became available publicly on the 14th of July. At that time (and actually since the 3rd of July), a couple major bugs had been fixed, and were finally made available to users on the 21st of July. Somewhere between the 14th and 21st (closer to the former), another critical update was tested and ready. This update (version 0.5.2) is currently still sitting in Apple’s reviewing queue, while users get stuck using a halfway-working version that dates back to more than 2 weeks ago.
And then, the proverbial icing on the crap cake, courtesy of Apple’s Reviewing team:
“Thank you for submitting KanjiBox to the App Store. We’ve reviewed KanjiBox and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store at this time because it is not appropriately rated. Our review indicates that the application content is not consistent with the current rating because it contains profanity in the binary.”
Which essentially means:
1) “Even though your application looks perfectly fine to a regular user, it does contain bad words, somewhere in the files. Files that users might never be able to access or see, for all we know. But we like to be thorough and think ourselves as the Disneyland of the Digital world.”
Think of it as the equivalent of banning a dictionary from schools because it contains the word “penis” somewhere in it. Or as an even more accurate analogy, because it contains letters that could be rearranged to spell “penis”.
2) “Sure you can bite the bullet and just update your application’s rating to reflect ‘light profanities’ (even though you really shouldn’t have to in the first place). But it will be another 1 or 2 weeks from now until we get around to reviewing it again. Possibly we’ll find yet another seemingly innocuous issue to reject it again by then. All while your users are using the same exact version with the same freaking content, minus the important bug fixes.” PS: Merry Christmas!
Just in case the liberal use of emphasis didn’t give it away in the text above: all this is very, very irritating.
What does this all mean for KanjiBox’s future
Not much, really. Please do not worry, I am not giving up on iPhone development (yet). I will keep working on improving KB for iPhone, patiently add new features and wait weeks for them to be released, and the rest of the time, bend over while thinking of England.
Nonetheless: my experience of the past couple weeks and the countless roadblocks that prevent me from providing the full-quality product that users deserve (leading, as a result, to less positive feedbacks than I could hope for otherwise) has considerably dampened my enthusiasm for the platform and the future of this application. I have already toned down my short-term ambitions a lot with regard to the next few versions of KanjiBox. Future versions and new features will come, but I definitely won’t be spending nights and weekends as I might have in the past. We will see how things improve and if future versions (when Apple finally deigns releasing them) bring about better feedbacks and more interest from the Kanji-learning iPhone community. For now, I think it’s time to take a few steps back from my domestic-abuse of a relationship with Apple, before it leads to a permanent divorce.
If you are still reading this, please know that I am most sincerely sorry for those 10 minutes of your life you just wasted on my pointless whining. If it can make you feel any better, I don’t think I’ll get those back either (but at least it was therapeutic for me).
Seriously, though: thanks for your support!