The long road to the App Store

Apr 6

What a month it’s been here at Paperlabs. We thought we were organized, planned out and prepared for any eventuality – boy were we wrong.

It all started months ago when we drew up the idea for our first iPhone product. We already had a beautiful iPad app called Tapfolio behind us, but we knew it would be extremely tricky to downscale Tapfolio to iPhone screens and the mobile usage model. So we made a decision to focus on what mobile users want: information and news delivery, quick and in bite-size chunks for easy digestion on-the-go.

With the change of focus came the new name: Trending, to highlight the focus on news.

Unlike some of our past endeavours, Trending’s initial spec, mockups and timelines were solid, and the team had a great project to sink their teeth into. We allowed the development a couple of weeks of overrun, just in case, and booked the launch for early April. This meant booking some advertising ahead of time, as sites like Daring Fireball are sold months in advance.

Amazingly, our submission deadline of March 19th came and we were not just ready, but actually had time to sneak in some eye candy scope-creep and a more robust back-end architecture for news delivery. So we submitted and started getting ready for launch in two weeks.

And then the fun started…

Hints of trouble ahead

Around the same time the new iPad came out and a slew of app updates descended onto Apple’s review team to take advantage of iPad’s new retina screens. But we didn’t worry, we had plenty of time.

Then the UDID controversy started brewing, with Apple no longer allowing certain type of user-tracking by app developers. This of course meant another wave of app updates flooding those poor reviewers. Still, we were confident in our timeline.

We have a problem

Eight days into our submission we got landed a doozy: our review started and ended a few hours later, with a meta-data rejection. This meant our app was ok, but some of the information in our listing was not accurate.

Since our app delivers curated news, we thought we were safe from the dreaded 17+ rating requirement for apps that access the open web, but the reviewer managed to find a way to circumvent it: by using our stock news search powered by Blekko, and the search bar buried on the results page.

Now, if you ever think of searching for naughty images Blekko would definitely not be on the top of your list. But the open search was definitely there, and able to take a child away from the app and into the great unknown.

It was too late to resubmit the binary with neutered Blekko search as that would restart the review clock, so we relented and gave ourselves 17+ until the next update. The app went back “In Review” a day later but now we were already at Thursday, March 29th, with only three days until our release.

Stress levels rising

Still, we felt positive we would meet our deadline, as reviews generally take only a few hours but Friday came and went and our app still sat idly In Review. Emails to Apple just acknowledged that they had all the info they needed for our review and to sit tight. By Monday morning, our now-to-be-missed launch date, the stress levels were sky high.

While we were able to put off most of our promotional activity, our sponsorship of Daring Fireball was happening whether we were ready for it or not. I’m sure the person who sponsored the week after ours would be sympathetic to our woes but they had a product to launch too.

The happy ending

Then we got our first life-line: John Gruber offered to postpone our promotion until Wednesday, buying us two full days we sorely needed.

Just to be on the safe side, we filled out Apple’s Expedited Review forms that same day. We didn’t think we’d qualify as this is not an urgent update nor are we a big time developer with a huge event waiting for our release. But lo and behold, Tuesday morning we got a note that Apple was sympatico to our predicament and would grant us an expedited review.

Later that Tuesday the app was approved with hours to spare before our new Wednesday deadline. We were truly grateful to Apple for having real humans involved in this process, and John for his help.

Lesson learned: you never have the time you think you have. Now, go ahead and see what all the fuss was about – Trending is free for iPhones everywhere, as long as you’re 17 or older.

Paperlabs is @benjaminfox and @slaven.

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