What Apple Should Do To Fix The App Approval Process And Why It Matters

Last week, Apple rejected an update to Audanika’s SoundPrism music app, because of the way Audanika offered MIDI support only as an in-application purchase.

It was a controversial app rejection.

Many agreed with our view, that a “MIDI tax” is a bad for both users and developers, in the long run. Others, though, thought that it should be completely up to developers to decide what they charge for.

So we asked Sebastian Dittmann, right, the CEO of Audanika GmbH, to explain his side of the rejection of the SoundPrism update, to share his thoughts on how Apple could improve their approval process and to explain why it matters.

Synthtopia: First, for context – what’s Audanika SoundPrism, in a nutshell?

Sebastian Dittmann: SoundPrism is an app for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. It’s an instrument that is based on the idea that arranging notes in a different way than a keyboard helps people not only understand but also use harmonic theory, without having to study it for years. At the same time, accomplished musicians can use it as a new approach to composing.

SoundPrism – by default – arranges notes in a circle of thirds which is embedded in the well known circle of fifths. Every key has a different color and you can scroll through them. We’ve just launched an interactive guide.

SoundPrism

Synthtopia: The latest update to your iPad synthesizer SoundPrism, right, was rejected last week by Apple, because they thought your decision to treat MIDI support as an in-app purchase failed to comply with their developer guidelines.

What are your thoughts on this decision, and how is your company going to respond?

Sebastian Dittmann: It’s Apple’s store, it’s their rules. We’re using their ecosystem to distribute our software and therefore we have to adhere to their guidelines since Apple has the final say in things.

We’re responding by doing what many other developers do – we’re going to release different versions of our app with different feature sets at different price points.

Synthtopia: We agreed with Apple on this decision. We thought that treating MIDI as an optional paid add-on would be be confusing and even aggravating to musicians.

We want developers creating music apps to get paid for their work, but don’t think that a “MIDI tax” is the way to do it. What are your thoughts on this?

Sebastian Dittmann: Before answering your questions, let me say that we only tried to come up with a solution to only have those of our users pay for a feature who actually want it. We didn’t want all of our new customers to pay for something only a small percentage of them actually makes use of.

At the same time we couldn’t just ‘enable CoreMIDI’ like flicking a switch. Our application has some specifics that make it different from other music apps.

In SoundPrism you might want to send out on different Midi Channels with each of your fingers. Also you might be playing the same note at the same time with two fingers or even three or four. SoundPrism is a harmonic instrument which sends out more MIDI notes than a regular instrument. It takes more thought and development resources to implement MIDI in SoundPrism than it would in a regular keyboard application.

Also, I think musicians read the features listed in the description of an app on the App Store before buying it. If the feature they want isn’t listed there they’re free to not buy the app.

Synthtopia: Do you think that Apple needs to give developers more freedom to explore more business models?

Sebastian Dittmann: I think you have to consider the price of applications on the App Store and the amount of work it takes to create a good application. Of course Apple needs to give developers more freedom because the current model won’t work for much longer after the hype about iPads and iPhones wears off.

The typical current business model of selling apps on the App store looks something like this: you create a lot of buzz around an upcoming app, then you release it, get a huge spike in sales and after a week or so it usually goes down to a lower level and stays there. From there on you can either invest in marketing and new features, hoping that you can recreate that buzz or you’ll simply have to release a new application that does something different or a better 2.0 version of your initial app.

Releasing a new app usually generates more revenue than releasing an update to an old application. That’s the reason why many applications don’t see any updates after their initial version. Which is bad in my opinion. We need more quality applications and we need ways to charge for new features, without having to always create a new app.

A very good solution to this are InApp Purchases (IAP) as they are offered by Apple. But implementing a store in an app that uses this IAP framework takes time as well and many developers aren’t up for that.

MIDI rejected by apple

Synthtopia: We view full MIDI support as a requirement, now, for most serious iOS music apps. Is that realistic, or are musicians asking for something for nothing?

Sebastian Dittmann: That depends on the price of the application. Serious music apps can be relatively cheap  (like Bebot or our own app) and expensive (like Nlog synths, the KORG apps etc.).

From a business perspective, it would be clever for a developer to offer apps for little money or even free to have users try to get those customers who are just looking for something fun to play with for a little but don’t want to invest serious money. And with serious money I mean up to $30 USD which isn’t really a lot, when you compare it to what serious soft- and hardware for musicians costs outside of the iOS ecosystem.

Coming back to the initial question: if the app is on the expensive side, then yes, it should probably offer MIDI out of the box. But then it won’t get introduced to all the casual users who don’t want to pay that much just to have a look.

Synthtopia: The bigger issue here is Apple’s app approval process. Some Synthtopia readers view Apple’s process as a form of censorship or monopolistic control, while others see benefits. What are your thoughts on Apple’s app approval process? Do you think a more open approach, like that of the Android platform, would be better in the long run?

Sebastian Dittmann: I think Apple needs to add some sort of indication about what’s going on during review.

It’s impossible to find out what’s wrong while you’re waiting for weeks to get a green light from App Review. This time could be used a lot better by developers. Also, App review is not answering questions about possible reasons for a rejection during the time of the actual review. I’ve asked them multiple times via email if they can give me a hint me what the problem is. After 20 days of waiting we just got rejected and pointed to section 11.8 of the review guidelines.

Questions raised by us after the rejection didn’t get answered either.

Synthtopia: Finally, what would you like to see Apple do differently, in order to make life easier for music app developers and to make iOS a better platform for music apps?

Sebastian Dittmann: First of all they need to be consistent.

Our update got rejected because section 11.8 of the Review Guidelines says that you cannot use IAP for “access to built-in capabilities provided by iOS”. Other applications offer saving/exporting features as an InApp Purchase which is exactly the same thing in my opinion.

Then, Apple doesn’t allow developers to charge for updates when at the same time they’re (sometimes) charging for updates to iOS, Garageband and iLife (iPhoto etc.) themselves.

I’m agreeing with this policy of not charging for updates because it’s good for users. It makes them feel safe from getting ripped off which strengthens the platform.

But Apple has to give developers a way to add value to their applications and get paid for it. Nobody needs new applications, when extending existing apps would be feasible, instead. Users don’t, developers hate managing multiple apps if they could stick with one and just focus on that.

There has to be a way to monetize new features, based on ‘features of iOS’. That means developers need to be able to think about a cool implementation of a new feature of iOS, implement it even if it takes a lot of effort and offer it for sale at a price that justifies development costs. And then let the users/customers decide about its success, not Apple.

Every app is based on something that iOS provides. Why does it make a difference if you sell it as part of a new app or within an existing application? Flooding the app store with new apps only makes Apples statistics look prettier but doesn’t help users or developers.

I think that people have a wrong idea about how much it costs to build and maintain a good music app. Also, in your initial article you compared our application to some hardware synthesizer that costs hundreds of US$. SoundPrism costs about as much as a coffee at Starbucks.

The MIDI feature that we tried to sell would have cost a tiny fraction of what any hobbyist pays for VST plugins or DAW software. We already know from our beta testers that they’re having a lot of fun with it, so we’re sure we’re giving users something that’s worth their money.

We’ve built a feature on top of Apple’s CoreMIDI framework and we’ve spent a lot of thought and effort doing that. If you don’t want to pay for that feature – don’t buy it.

Stopping us from offering it to the many musicians who want it and at the same time forcing us to either create a new application or raise the price of our initial one to make up for development costs is just not helping anyone.

Synthtopia: Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, Sebastian!

Sebastian Dittmann: Thanks for offering a way to express my views on this matter.

21 thoughts on “What Apple Should Do To Fix The App Approval Process And Why It Matters

  1. Devs are free to do as they please in terms of upgrades or whatever – as long as they play by the rules.

    But charging extra for full CoreMIDI functionality – something that, at this point, should be a basic part of all music apps, is just SICK and WRONG.

    We're at a point when MIDI implementation is sketchy at best. Only a handful of devs have truly gotten it right, or have recently taken steps like adding MIDI thru to their apps so that they can function like any piece of external MIDI based gear. Then we've got an overall WRETCHED state of MIDI connectivity. Devs are finally adding clock sync, but sync via wifi is utterly unreliable. Sync via the CCK and a USB to MIDI cable is also all over the place; with many cables like the M-Audio UNO not able to receive clock. Same goes with the Line6 MM – very sketchy results at best. In fact, it's so bad that it's hard to even pinpoint where a MIDI problem lies – is it the app? Is it the hardware? Is it both?

    And now we've got a dev who wants to charge extra for something that may or may not work – depending on the luck of the draw in terms of what the user has?

    omfg.

  2. And yes. I see the irony in saying that something that may or may not work should be a basic part of music apps.

    Grr.

  3. I believe it’s fair to charge for extra features that allow a user to PRODUCE and oppose to just PLAY. Especially with the cost of the applications. If a user wishes to just download apps like disposable toys, he can have a price for that, but if a user wishes to further his creative process and production, that should be at whatever price the developer sees fit.
    Anyways – the apple store is rubbish and I wish developers would stop crowding it as this is furthering the monopoly apple is setting up for distribution. LARGE multitouch, pressure sensitive, penabled LCD monitors are a gigabytes throw from being commonplace and will settle the hype of the ipad.

    TL;DR : fuck apple

    1. Multi-touch monitors won't change things by themselves. Operating systems and applications will have to be updated to support multi-touch, which is a huge undertaking.

      I'd like to see more free apps that offer basic functionality, but then have more advanced features available for $5-10. Like a drum machine – offer it for free or cheap, and then have the hip-hop library or the techno library be $5 in app purchases.

      I'd be more likely to try something out and then pay if I liked it.

    2. Wow, you really don't get it, do you? Most people love the iPad for it's portability and amazing computability for its size.

      What you are talking about is completely different. Not relevant whatsoever.

  4. Your approach is so black and white, Sebastian. All in-app upgrades are not equal. Selling core functionality is completely different than selling extra features, or additional functionality. If you had included basic midi support and then added bells and whistle midi support as an in-app add on, I bet you would have passed without incident. But the way you are approaching this, it's like selling a car but then expecting the user to pay extra for the steering wheel. Sure, charge for electric windows or a fancy stereo, but not the basics. Midi input is without a doubt, one of the basics, regardless of what you think it costs to produce.

    You also have so many options available to you for how to work within this restriction, but instead of taking opportunities you are just whining about Apple and creating a lot of bad impressions among potential and future customers. That's going to hurt your bottom line more than the rejection did!

  5. FWIW, I'm totally with you on that Fairlight app! Seems like paying a premium price to throw away decades of user interface improvements! LOL

  6. i think its hilarious for all these apple obsessed robots to cry about all inclusive feature support, considering how much of a ripoff apple hardware is to begin with, before you even think about the hundreds of extra dollars for applecare…

    this app is THREE FUCKING DOLLARS.. THREE! how much is it going to hurt you to pay TWO MORE???

    but then again youd expect this kind of whiny shit from spoiled little rich kids

  7. MIDI problems are most likely due to the app. Most developers don't understand the need for a devoted MIDI thread and probably use the wrong APIs in order to make their timers. If USB audio can work over the CCK, it clearly has solid sync at 44.1khz. If it didn't have solid sync, then you would hear pops and sync jitter. MIDI is a much slower protocol so it should have amazing sync – if it's programmed properly.

  8. Have you seen the problems with the Android store? Pirating is rife on the official store, not to mention the stupid ranking rules. Chuck the spyware/worms into the mix and Apple are most defiantly the lesser of two evils.

  9. Apple is under fire for approving a controversial iPhone app created by a religious organization that seeks to help gay individuals become heterosexual.

    The application, "Exodus International," was created by a ministry of the same name that says its mission is to "[mobilize] the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality."

    It received a "4" rating from Apple, which indicates the company considered the app to contain "no objectionable material."
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/18/apple-ex

  10. Apple is under fire for approving a controversial iPhone app created by a religious organization that seeks to help gay individuals become heterosexual.

    The application, "Exodus International," was created by a ministry of the same name that says its mission is to "[mobilize] the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality."

    It received a "4" rating from Apple, which indicates the company considered the app to contain "no objectionable material."
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/18/apple-ex

  11. Apple is under fire for approving a controversial iPhone app created by a religious organization that seeks to help gay individuals become heterosexual.

    The application, "Exodus International," was created by a ministry of the same name that says its mission is to "[mobilize] the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality."

    It received a "4" rating from Apple, which indicates the company considered the app to contain "no objectionable material."
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/18/apple-ex

  12. Apple is under fire for approving a controversial iPhone app created by a religious organization that seeks to help gay individuals become heterosexual.

    The application, "Exodus International," was created by a ministry of the same name that says its mission is to "[mobilize] the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality."

    It received a "4" rating from Apple, which indicates the company considered the app to contain "no objectionable material."
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/18/apple-ex

  13. Apple is under fire for approving a controversial iPhone app created by a religious organization that seeks to help gay individuals become heterosexual.

    The application, "Exodus International," was created by a ministry of the same name that says its mission is to "[mobilize] the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality."

    It received a "4" rating from Apple, which indicates the company considered the app to contain "no objectionable material."
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/18/apple-ex

  14. Apple is under fire for approving a controversial iPhone app created by a religious organization that seeks to help gay individuals become heterosexual.

    The application, "Exodus International," was created by a ministry of the same name that says its mission is to "[mobilize] the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality."

    It received a "4" rating from Apple, which indicates the company considered the app to contain "no objectionable material."
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/18/apple-ex

  15. Something like 50 apps got yanked from the Android marketplace earlier this month, after infecting about 200,000 phones.

    Definitely a downside to the wild west approach.

  16. They rejected this app the first time because it was objectionable, but then accepted it after the developers made revisions.

    Makes me wonder if the developers intentionally put offensive material into the app to generate publicity for something nobody would care about otherwise.

  17. Money grab "hidden" as an upgrade to keep Apple happy.

    You give away an app I paid for to everyone, and now want everyone who bought the first version to pay $10 to get a midi update?

    Money freaking grab.

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