Apple's iPad App Approval Rules: One SMB's Tale

ShareFile's native iPad app took two months to pass Apple's approval process. The CEO shares his insights into surviving the in-app purchasing test.
Apple iPad 2 3G Teardown
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Slideshow: Apple iPad 2 3G Teardown
"Apple has so much power right now that there's not a whole lot we can do about it," Lipson said. He added: "From a business standpoint we considered it essential to get the iPad app out there. If we needed to implement IAP, we were going to implement IAP, because we had to have the app out there."

The Apple review board finally weighed in that while it would rather ShareFile implement IAP, it would give its blessing without it--as long as every link to sign up for a trial subscription on ShareFile's site was removed. ShareFile removed the links; Lipson said several users have already downloaded the app and then emailed the company asking why they can't sign up. Although Lipson would rather have an embedded sign-up link for prospective customers, he said the app is primarily for current subscribers and he's happy it is finally available to them.

SMBs concerned about the fate of their own iOS apps can glean a couple of lessons from ShareFile's approval experience.

First, don't forget the human element in the review process. There could be some luck in who you draw: "The sense I get is there is a lot of variability between reviewers," Lipson said. "We may have just gotten a certain reviewer for the iPhone app who interpreted things a certain way and let us through, and for the iPad app we might have gotten somebody who had a very different interpretation."

Second, if your app is rejected, don't fear the final review board--it's not a doomsday scenario. Though ShareFile had to make key revisions to steer clear of IAP, the board ultimately stamped its approval. In the end, Lipson found the final review process reasonable.

The real problem was how long it took for that to happen, Lipson said. Speed is often a key competitive advantage for a smaller business like ShareFile. In this case, they were hamstrung by a giant company. Lipson has an idea for his fellow CEO Steve Jobs that might produce a nice ancillary revenue stream for Apple: He said ShareFile would have gladly paid a fee to expedite the review process and facilitate better business-to-business communication--perhaps as much as $500--because the app was a strategic priority.

"It still feels like there's a real arbitrary nature to the speed of the review process and the conclusions that the reviewers come to," Lipson said.

Lipson said it took 30 minutes to publish ShareFile's Android apps, and he likes that his company can offer its BlackBerry app for direct download outside of the RIM ecosystem. For the time being, though, Apple holds the cards when it comes to mobile apps.

"It will certainly be nice if [Apple] starts having a little bit less power and a smaller market share, and they have to start falling in line with what the other guys are doing," Lipson said.

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