iTunes App Store Incubation Period Increases In Most Categories

Over the last few weeks, media coverage of the iTunes app store often touches on concerns about Apple’s approval process. Some apps drew enough complaints that Apple pulled them off the app store. With thousands of developers wanting to launch apps and Apple unable to come up with a more efficient vetting process, I’m revisiting an earlier post on the duration of incubation periods by category:

Individual apps also have release dates, which based on Apple’s recent changes to the app store, represents the date developers upload their apps to iTunes Connect. The period between the release date of an app and the date it first appears in iTunes is when Apple performs a series of undisclosed QA tests. Because it translates to a more favorable position when users sort by release date, most developers prefer this incubation period to be as short as possible.

The number of new apps has been on a steady upward trend since February. The spike that occurred during the holidays (12/21/08), which I highlighted In my earlier post, now pales in comparison to the number of new apps that are being launched weekly. (Over 3,000 apps launched the week ending 6/7/2009.)


With many more apps being launched each week, Apple is surely having to sift through more apps. Not surprisingly, the incubation period (i.e. time between release date and the date an app actually appears on the app store) has gotten longer. In all but the Travel category, the MEAN incubation period has been trending upward:


Note the difference in the incubation period across categories: while many more Games are launched each week, on average Music apps spend a few more days locked in Apple’s approval process. (It probably doesn’t help the Music apps that the iPhone already comes with a music app!) In June, the typical Navigation app spent 3 weeks waiting to get approved.

As Symbian recently found out, when it comes to evaluating mobile apps, relying purely on automatic scanners isn’t sufficient. Human inspection is important, but Apple needs to figure out how to meet the growing number of new apps being submitted. A combination of more transparency (allow developers to communicate with Apple referees via email, interactive chat session, …) and crowdsourcing (have the thousands of developers and avid users flag questionable apps) could help shorten the incubation period. Any other suggestions on how to improve and speed up the iTunes app store approval process?

Data for this post was through the week ending 7/26/2009, and covers the U.S. iTunes app store. Click here for a larger version of the Incubation By Category chart. In my previous post, I computed the MEDIAN incubation period in days.

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