About a month ago we launched a newsletter publishing app – Publisher HD – on the iTunes App Store. We were really pleased with the response we got to the app, and were jazzed that it even spent some time in both Apple’s “What’s Hot” and “New & Noteworthy” sections for productivity apps.
Publisher HD allows you to hook in to your free Google Reader account (or your professional InfoNgen account) and use content you find there to assemble and customize newsletters for redistribution. It lets people act as web curators, picking out things of interest that they find, commenting on them, and packing them up for redistribution to a targeted audience. (This is effectively the same model some popular publications like the Huffington Post use to serve their readers).
About two weeks ago, Google decided to make a change to the technical methodology they use to authenticate with Reader. Since Google doesn’t publish a formal API to access Reader, this change ended up breaking Publisher HD in a significant way – feeds from Google Reader would no longer refresh. Once we found out what happened, we were able to push out an update, test it, and upload it to the app store all in less than three hours.
Unfortunately, the rest of the App Store process doesn’t move as quickly.
We had to wait about 9 days before the updated version of Publisher HD became available for download. During that time, our download count went way down, and those folks that did download it ended up with an application that probably didn’t work for them. We had to modify our application description on the iTunes Store to let people know that there was an issue and that an update for it was done and awaiting approval. (We didn’t want to pull the App from the store since our professional InfoNgen clients were not affected). It was incredibly difficult to watch all this play out, knowing that we’d already made the fix but were powerless to influence it’s release.
While the App Store’s 7-10 day review window is manageable when dealing with planned updates and enhancements, it can end up being incredibly damaging when something urgently needs to be updated. There should be some avenue made available to developers for the delivery of critical fixes, even if it involves additional costs or an upfront certification that would let them do this directly. Perhaps it would make sense for Apple to allow a certain number of updates with a ‘post release’ review, and with severe penalties for anyone that abuses it. Though situations like this will ideally be infrequent, their typical severity when they do arise should earn them some special consideration.
The fixed version has now been available on the app store for about a week. Even though this episode dampened some the incredible momentum we had from the initial app launch, downloads have started picking up again and I’m optimistic that everything will get back on track. We’ve been lucky in this regard.
Despite having gone through this, I still love the entire app store concept. It provides a delivery and service platform that we could never realize alone as a small development shop – especially in the mobile space. Hopefully, Apple will consider the impact of these kinds of situations as they evolve their app store policies. I’m sure many other development teams have found themselves in a similar situation and have their own tales of woe to tell.
Sadly, some of them probably have a less happy endings.