Tuesday, December 13, 2011
"Slower than Christmas" - what happened to the MWN iPhone app?
Without detailing the early days of the MWN app in great detail, Cirrus Weather Solutions began development of an iOS app early in 2011 in response to multiple requests from our friends and followers. On March 2, version 1.0 of the app was released. We have since provided a few updates to fix minor issues and add new features. All updates have gone smoothly with Apple. [For those that are not aware, those with Apple Developer accounts can upload apps and updates to those apps to Apple, which then go through a required review process (see below for simplified schematic) by the Apple App Review Board. Once the App Review Board has checked the app out, they release it for sale to the public. In our limited experience and learning through research, there is generally a lag of a couple of days from submission of the app/update to when the Review Board picks up the app for review. Then, a few more days pass before it is approved (or rejected if they find an issue) for sale.]
This summer, version 2.0 of the app was conceived, which would include StormWatch+, our customized weather warning technology that uses Apple's push notification service to alert users of impending severe weather. StormWatch+ was designed as an "in-app upgrade," meaning that those who wish can purchase the premium service from within the app itself. Version 2.0 itself is a free update from previous versions. In early September, after a couple of months of development, testing, bug fixes, and an extended period of beta testing with volunteer testers using their personal devices, the app was deemed ready for submission to Apple and it was uploaded for review. The App Review Board placed the app into "In Review" status on September 15 and approved it an hour later - the fastest we had experienced to this point! We released the app to the public, downloads commenced, and then almost immediately, so did the crash reports. Users were unable to launch the app without it crashing immediately.
Since the release of the app was broadcast via our large social media following, we had no choice but to pull it from the App Store to prevent users from downloading the "bad app" and losing faith in us. (Never did we imagine that three months later nothing would have changed.) We immediately got to work on the issue, found the problem within a couple of hours (that did not manifest itself in either extensive beta testing or, apparently, Apple's one hour of testing), and provided a software fix. The corrected app (version 2.0.1) was uploaded to Apple for review that evening (September 15) and was accepted into the review process on September 20. So far, everything was on track. Then the waiting began........
The only correspondence from Apple was an unsigned e-mail on November 1 indicating that "the review process will require additional time," another automated e-mail following a status request on November 11, and a signed status update on November 16 (following another status request) saying: "Your app is still in Review. Occasionally we encounter circumstances that require additional time to complete a review, and this is one such time."
Finally, on December 2, I located a toll-free number on the Apple Developer website (that I later found out was to the Enrollment Department), which I called. Jared was very responsive and apologized for the extensive wait and assured me that this was unusual. He documented the case, took follow-up case numbers I had been assigned on each e-mail received from Apple, and promised a response of some sort in 30 minutes, as well as an "escalation" to the App Review Board. I received the promised response, as well as an e-mail on December 5 indicating that the inquiry was being handled. I once again called the toll-free number and was told by another very helpful individual that the MWN app was in "Active Review" but they could not provide additional information. A couple more calls since the 5th have revealed that the Enrollment Department actually has no contact with the App Review Board and is not able to get any information on the status of the app other than that which had already been provided. The App Review Board is only accessible via e-mail (an address which we have used). Jared had gone above and beyond, which I was grateful for, but we still do not have a satisfactory resolution.
It has been nearly three months since the MWN app has been in the App Store, thanks to a review process at Apple that is severely lacking in many areas. While the individuals I have spoken with on the phone have always been very courteous and helpful, their hands are apparently tied. The only way to reach the App Review Board is via e-mail and they are either understaffed, overburdened with reviews, or just plain unresponsive. As we approach the end of the calendar year and the designated "Apple Holiday Shutdown" from Dec 22-29 (in which no apps are reviewed and no new or updated apps are accepted), there is no doubt that the workload has increased. The MWN app should never have been a part of that workload if it had been approved in September as expected. If the app can be approved in AN HOUR with a bug that causes it to crash on launch, why does it take three months to approve a FIX to that bug??
To all of you who have been waiting for an update to your crashing app, who have expressed an interest in purchasing the app, or who have been waiting for months to upgrade to StormWatch+, our sincerest apologies. We'll continue to work towards a resolution, but make no promises other than as soon as the app is released to us for inclusion in the App Store, we will make it available to you and let you know. Please stay updated on it's status by following us on Facebook or Twitter (@memphisweather1 and @mwnstormwatch), follow this blog, keep an eye on the MWN website, and/or subscribe to our newsletter. All methods will carry the announcement as soon as it is available.
We are trying to be patient and we ask for you to be as well. Then, as soon as it's ready, get it! StormWatch+ offers the most advanced mobile weather alerting technology available anywhere and we're very proud to be able to offer it!
Owner, Cirrus Weather Solutions
MWN App Developer
Deming Design and Development