App Review Times

App store review times, since as far back as I’ve been working on iOS apps, have been about a week. I’m starting to think this is intentional.

Traditionally, software developers (at least, ones who sell software through some mechanism that allows downloads of the final product) would release new versions of their apps on their own schedule. This meant that if there was a bug fix that needed to be pushed out, that could be done at any time.

With my own iOS apps (primarily MealPlan and Resume Designer) , I’ve run into the situation where I released a version that had an issue that I wanted to fix right away. Fixing and testing the problem took just a few hours. Uploading the new version to iTunes took just a few minutes. But then the update was in the review queue with everyone else, waiting a week for Apple to bless it before I could release it. Meanwhile, I’m receiving emails from users who are running into the problem and all I can say is “I’m sorry, I’m waiting for Apple”.

Well, there is one other option. You can request an expedited review from the App Review Board. I did this once, and I was approved (and my app was updated within just a few hours), but the email I received made it clear that I shouldn’t try to do this again any time soon. So this isn’t an option for a minor bug fix – save it for when you really need it.

Anyway, back to my point: If Apple wanted app review times to be shorter, then they would make it so. The review process scales out. Adding more reviewers would shorten review times.

“But app quality would suffer!”. I don’t believe the reviewers are there to check the quality of your apps. Apps (and I’m not just talking about mine here) get through all the time with major bugs, features that don’t work, crashes, and other problems you’d expect the reviews to catch. No, I think the reviewers are there to check for things like whether the URL associated with your app working? Is the icon or description offensive? Is it in the right category? In other words, things that protect the integrity of the store, not necessarily the users.

These are easy things to check for. It’s almost a Mechanical Turk job, except for the secrecy involved.

So why doesn’t Apple do this? My theory is that it’s because the current process is working for them.

If there were no built-in waiting period in the review process, then I could post an app, have it reviewed, and have the update in the store in hours (or even minutes – typical “In Review” times are about a half hour).

If this were the case, then I could release a new version every few hours, if I wanted to. And some developers would do just that. Add a minor feature, release. Fix a bug, release. I’m pretty sure Apple doesn’t want that.

For one, Apple pays for the downloads. If your app is 200mb, then that’s 200mb times the number of customers you have worth of bandwidth every time you release an update. The review time is a gating factor that prevents you from releasing more than about 50 updates a year.

And frequent updates would also frustrate users. When you publish an update, thousands or millions of phones get a little badge on their App Store icon. Lots of users like to keep all their apps updated. I know I’m a bit compulsive about hitting the Update All button whenever the badge says there’s an update, but lately it seems like I’m doing that every day.

Imagine how much worse it could be.

So that’s why I think the review process will stay exactly as it is. At least it’s predictable.