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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  • Ben, Brilliant!

    This really helps my launch strategy. 1 week from subbing my app.


  • nathan

    Yes. Pare back the control freak rules. If the app doesn’t harm the device or the network, and is properly rated, approve it. Save the more thorough review for what apple recommends.

    The “duplicates existing functionality” is the just weasel words. Completely subjective and anti-innovation.

    “The application ‘Photoshop’ cannot be approved because it duplicates the functionality of the built-in application, ‘MacPaint’ resulting in user confusion”

    “The application ‘Microsoft Word’ cannot be approved because it duplicates the functionality of the built-in application ‘MacWrite’ resulting in user confusion.”

    Duplicating existing functionality in novel and interesting (and yes potentially stupid that’s the price of innovation and creativity) is how a platform evolves to greatness. Control is long term decay. Remember Soviet central planning was created with the same idea… control, just the smartest people making good decisions will be more efficient and productive and scientific. While the west just inefficiently duplicated efforts as a secondary effect of chasing decadent goals. Well the soviets built beautiful subways I am told…

  • Glenn

    Perhaps Apple can farm out app testing to existing registered developers who are willing to run a check list of tests as provided by Apple and sign off on them. The pay back might be getting your own apps pushed through a little faster if your willing to pitch in. Of course Apple still has the final say. These assistant checkers might also provide the inital seeding of the app feedback/rating. I am sure this idea has some holes in it but something surely needs to be done to improve things. :o)

  • Mike

    When did the rules change on the definition of release date? As of a couple of weeks ago (my last release) the release date was still defined as the date Apple approves the app or the date listed by the developer as “Availability Date”, whichever is earlier. The FAQ in iTunes connect still says as much.

    If this has changed, then how is it that there are still games listed as being released “today”? The incubation period for games is at least a week.