Apple to (Some) Angry iPhone Devs: ‘We Hear You’

Apple is trying to assuage some developers frustrated with the company’s App Store approval process by reaching out in e-mails sent by its top marketing exec — an unprecedented move.

For the second time in a week, Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide product marketing for Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), e-mailed a developer venting about the company’s approval process for iPhone apps.

Traditionally, Apple does not publicly provide any details on why an app gets rejected beyond saying it violates its developer agreement, or it duplicates existing functionality of the iPhone.

Apple’s iPhone App store boasts over 1.5 billion downloads and 65,000 programs in just over a year of operation, but there has been increased public grumbling from developers that the sanctioning process is arbitrary and secretive. Some coders frustrated by the vetting process have said so in blog postings over past months, noting they aren’t always told specific reasons for being rejected or that there seems to be no consistent criteria.

News of the Schiller e-mails come after Apple blocked the Google Voice iPhone app, which prompted a swift government inquiry into the process.

The latest app flap involves developer Steven Frank who publicly boycotted his iPhone over the app endorsement process after his e-reader was rejected and also because of Apple’s decision to push back the Google Voice app.

On his blog, Frank reports that Schiller e-mailed him, saying in essence, “we hear you.”

“I haven’t sought Phil’s explicit permission to republish the letter, so I won’t do so here. But to summarize, he said: ‘we’re listening to your feedback.’ Not all of my suggested solutions were viable, he said, but they were taking it all in as they continue to evolve the app store.

“He went on to say that the rumors of widespread e-book app rejection I’d heard were false – that specifically one e-book app had been rejected because it facilitated iPhone-to-iPhone sharing of (potentially copyrighted) books. But that otherwise, there was no sweeping ban on e-book readers,” Frank said in a blog post.

Apple disputes censorship

A week earlier, Schiller directly contacted the tech blog Daring Fireball writer John Gruber over the assertion that Apple was “censoring” a “Ninjawords” dictionary iPhone app. In that case, developers said they had to remove offensive words before getting the green light and they say the app still got tagged with a mature rating once it was made available.

Schiller’s lengthy response, posted in part at the Daring Fireball blog, takes issue with Daring Fireball’s original post point-by-point.

“Contrary to what you reported, the Ninjawords application was not rejected in the App Store review process for including common ‘swear’ words…The issue that the App Store reviewers did find with the Ninjawords application is that it provided access to other more vulgar terms than those found in traditional and common dictionaries, words that many reasonable people might find upsetting or objectionable,” reads the Schiller response.

Both Gruber and Fank responded with posts thanking Schiller for taking the time to respond and expressing optimistic opinions about the issue moving forward — but the app issue doesn’t end there.

In what could be called a meta-backlash, now some critics say Schiller is picking and choosing cases, responding only to those where Apple’s actions are put in a positive light as they are warranted moves.

Furthermore, some industry observers say that two e-mails is not enough to signal a change in the company’s overall approach to how apps are accepted.

Apple did not return calls for comment by press time.

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