Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

40 staffers. 2 reviews. 8,500 iPhone apps per week

August 21, 2009: 8:20 PM ET
App Store billion celebration

Image: Apple Inc.

It took the heavy hand of the Federal Communications Commission to pry it loose, but we finally have a clearer picture of how Apple's (AAPL) App Store approval process works.

The details are contained in Apple's response to the FCC's July 31 letter of inquiry into why Google's (GOOG) Google Voice app has not been approved. AT&T's response fills 16 pages with legalese and footnotes, but the bottom line is short and sweet: it wasn't us.

Apple's response is a little more artful, starting with a six-paragraph preamble about revolutionary interfaces and seamless user experiences.

When it finally gets around to the FCC's first question -- why  was Google's app rejected? -- Apple claims that contrary to published reports, Google Voice it still "under consideration," although the app as Apple describes it does such violence to those revolutionary interfaces and seamless user experiences that it seems unlikely the thing will ever see the light of day, except perhaps as a Web app.

The meat of the document, however, comes later, in answer to the FCC's question "what is the approval process?" Apple's reply tells us more about how the machinery works than we've learned in a year of hits, misses and developer hissy fits.

The procedure, as the company describes it:

  • Apple looks at every app it receives -- 200,000 so far -- pouring in at the rate of 8,500 new apps and updates per week.
  • The company employs 40 full-time reviewers; at least two reviewers study each app.
  • Apple has established -- it doesn't say when -- an App Store executive review board that sets policy and reviews app that have escalated to the board because they raise new or complex issues.
  • Apps are reviewed for just what you'd expect: bugs, instabilities, privacy violations, stuff that little kids shouldn't see.
  • Apps are also reviewed for the stuff that gets to the heart of the matter: use of unauthorized protocols and "applications that degrade the core experience of the iPhone." This presumably covers Apple's contractual obligation not to overtax AT&T's (T) fragile 3G network with TV or VOIP.

Apple says its reviewers spend most of their time making sure the apps function properly and working with developers to fix bugs and quality issues.

Arrington to Apple: Liar liar pants on fire

But the amount of time they spend is pretty limited. CNET's Erica Ogg has done some quick back of the envelope calculations and determined that 40 people looking at 8,500 apps and updates during a regular five-day week works out to something like six minutes per app per reviewer.

No wonder these guys make, as Apple concedes, "occasional mistakes." It's a wonder they get anything done at all.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for

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