Phillip Shoemaker’s name might not be especially well known these days, but after a pre-WWDC podcast and accompanying blog post, Apple’s former director of App Store reviews is back in the spotlight with a timely suggestion: Following a Supreme Court ruling that it can be sued for monopolistic practices, Apple needs to start playing fair with its direct competitors, particularly ones with low-margin businesses, or it’s going to risk the wrath of international regulators.
During a Bloomberg Podcast largely focused on the internal minutia of the App Store approval process, Shoemaker discussed his early role in giving the thumbs up or down to various apps, interestingly including calls he received from former Vice President Al Gore and late Apple CEO Steve Jobs after controversial apps slipped through the evolving approval process. A 2009 baby-shaking app was among the more provocative and troubling examples, while variants on 2008’s $1,000 “I Am Rich” app — actually purchased by a small handful of wealthy users — were also denied, either before or soon after hitting the Store.
Noting that his bosses at Apple were generally focused on fairness to developers regardless of their size, Shoemaker suggested that in the early App Store days, big developers such as Facebook were submitting particularly bad code, while he wrestled on a daily basis with app denials that might deprive small developers of the income they needed to survive. But these days, the former director’s concern is over what Apple might do to developers by deciding to compete with their businesses.
In a Medium post, Shoemaker said that “Apple has struggled with using the App Store as a weapon against competitors” for years, naming Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, and Google as just a few of the companies with rival businesses. During the podcast, he explained that Google Voice and its iOS predecessor, GVoice, fought lengthy battles to win App Store approval, largely because Apple thought its own apps would be displaced in the process.
Back then, Shoemaker explained, “Apple just didn’t know how to respond.” But he noted that its latest subscription services are moving into new categories with existing competitors — or in Apple Arcade‘s case, “a type of app that Apple has consistently disallowed on the store,” and would violate existing guidelines if distributed by anyone else. Since the App Store is the only way to add apps to iOS hardware, “Apple has complete and unprecedented power over their customer’s devices,” he said, and their third-party app decisions need to be beyond reproach — but they “currently are not.”
One solution: craft an App Store approval exception to allow directly competitive, low-margin apps — news services, books, movies, music, and cloud storage — to publicize their non-App Store purchase mechanisms. Another, the podcast suggested, would be to allow basically any type of third-party app to become the “default” replacement for an Apple core app if the user wants, providing Apple with an incentive to keep pushing its own apps forward.
The last time Shoemaker was in the news was back in 2010, when he was revealed to be selling his own lowbrow apps in the App Store, and using a Twitter account to anonymously pillory Apple rivals. He’s now the CEO of security company Identity.com, while the App Store today boasts over 20 million developers and over $120 billion in generated revenues.