Phil Schiller won’t automate or fix app review processes as long as he’s in charge of the App Store, says his former colleague Phillip Shoemaker.
Shoemaker was hired in 2009 to draw up the app review guidelines alongside Steve Jobs, Phil Schiller, Eddy Cue, Ron Okamoto, Scott Forstall, Greg Jozwiak, C.K. Haun and others. He ran app review until 2016, and is now boss at web3 nonprofit identity.com.
Apple’s app review process remains a huge problem for mobile game-makers as they navigate vague guidelines and inconsistent rulings. So we asked Shoemaker for his thoughts on how Apple can fix it:
“The way to solve that inconsistency – and I hate to say it – is: let’s take a page from Google,” he told us. “Especially now with the AI tools that are out there. You can do probably 80% of the work the review team does.”
Phillip Shoemaker created Apple’s app review division in 2009, and ran it up until 2016.
Why Apple still hasn’t fixed app review
Unfortunately, Schiller is against the idea, says Shoemaker. “Any sort of automation was out, there was management push back on that.”
“Phil [Schiller] wants a set of eyes on every single app. I believe he is still basing that on one of the last things Steve [Jobs] told him, which is that you’ve always got to have a set of human eyes on every app that goes in the store. And Phil maybe carries that with him all the time.”
Schiller appears to be the last holdout when it comes to automating app review compared to Apple SVPs Eddy Cue, Greg ‘Joz’ Joswiak and App Store VP Matt Fischer.
See also: App review is still broken, and developers are angry, from April this year.
“I think the way to radically improve the App Store is have Phil be an Apple fellow and get his hands off the App Store,” says Shoemaker. “That’s what they really need to do. Eddy’s more progressive, Joz is more progressive, and we know Matt is as well. Phil just needs to get his meaty paws off the App Store.”
“If Phil doesn’t step back, it’ll absolutely be the courts making changes,” Shoemaker continues.
“We’ve seen what’s happened in the EU with sideloading. But look, Apple’s not going to be split up, the App Store is not going to be pulled down, at least not by the US government. That’s not going to happen.”
Phil Schiller relinquished some responsibilities when he became an ‘Apple fellow’ in 2020, but still retains control over the App Store and Apple Events.
“Phil needs to step back, I think that’s the main thing – new blood needs to come in there and make some changes because cutting the price and opening up the guidelines to allow new interesting things is going to be critical.”
Why review guidelines are deliberately vague
Shoemaker also questioned why app review guidelines have somehow become more vague over time. “The guidelines were written in a very grey way,“ says Shoemaker. “We wanted to have wiggle room to be able to shift our approvals or rejections…the idea was to start that way and then refine them over time.”
“They were rewritten in 2017 and they did none of that. In fact, they opened up more grey areas – it should be pretty solid right now, the guidelines should be very black and white.”
See also: Game developers tell Apple how to fix app review
Shoemaker also believes that Apple is no longer doing enough to earn its 30% cut of most in-app purchases. “Apple deserved the 30% in 2009 but look, it’s 2023, things have changed a lot,” he tells us. “Tim [Cook] doesn’t want to give up this 30%, this is just a cash cow, especially as people aren’t upgrading their devices as they once were.”
“I agree with that developer you spoke to – this is a utility and they need to be charging utility prices, not innovation prices. I think they would do amazingly well if they dropped it down to 5%, something closer to credit card prices.”
“Apple could do that and would still make a good amount of money. The whole App Store operation, the review team, the marketing expenses from that team, they should all be able to be covered by that easily.”
‘Phil would insult your children’
Shoemaker also told us some eyebrow-raising anecdotes from his time working at Apple under Schiller. As part of the executive review board, Shoemaker, Schiller and several other top Apple execs would meet every week to debate whether certain edge-case apps and games would make it through review or get rejected.
Shoemaker described these meetings as “four hours in a room arguing about apps”.
“It was tough working for Phil…he was one of those guys that would love to throw insults at people, right? I mean he had no boundaries – he’d insult your children and you’re like: ‘why am I working at this company again?’”
Shoemaker would regularly get feedback from his kids on apps and games and use that feedback in the ERB meetings. “Phil would say things like, oh, that’s a stupid thing to say, are your kids that dumb? And you’re like, are you freaking kidding me?”
Schiller and the remote-controlled cockroach
Shoemaker also describes one bizarre flashpoint with Schiller around an experimental app that allowed users to control a real-life cockroach.
“I spent nearly 30 minutes arguing with Phil about an app that he wanted us to approve…when you bought the app, the company sent you a box with a live cockroach in it and some wires, and you put the wires into the cockroaches’ skull and you could literally control it…”
“I was like, no way – PETA will be picketing outside, this is just one step away from people doing that to cats and dogs…and Phil was saying that science is going to lose out because you’re afraid of hurting a cockroach. And cockroaches aren’t animals, they’re not warm blooded…they ultimately approved it and sure enough, we had PETA arguing about the use of this app.”
We’ve contacted Apple for comment on this article and will update if they offer any response.