New Android App Review System Could Drive Devs Nuts

Google has introduced a new, more stringent review system for Android apps, which is causing no small amount of irritation among a subset of Android developers.

An updated page within Google’s Android documentation says that the company will take more time to review apps “to better protect users.” Developers will receive a note on their app dashboard stating how long the review process will take.  

“We recommend that you adjust your planning to include a buffer period of at least three days between submitting your app and going live,” the documentation added.

A short review period might not sound like a big deal—especially since Google is trying to stem a tide of malware onto Google Play, its app storefront—but the move nonetheless enraged some developers, especially those who have spent the past few years building Android apps yet nonetheless find their releases stalled for review.

“We’ve been a developer on the Google Play Store since 2010, so we didn’t think this would impact us. We were wrong,” Choice of Games, a development house, wrote in a widely circulated blog posting, which also included a transcript of its conversation with Google Play Store developer support. “App updates may go through quickly if the app itself has earned Google’s trust, but each new app starts with an empty track record.”

According to the posted transcript, a Google customer-service employee told the Choice of Games developers that there was no way to expedite the process: “Unfortunately, there is no escalation path… I completely understand your frustration, and I would love to be able to help you get your app approved immediately, but there is nothing I or my team can do.”

On a Reddit thread, Google’s Android Developer Relations team didn’t dispute Choice of Games’ findings. Indeed, there is no way for a developer to expedite a review. However, the team claims most reviews are “fast.”

“While reviews for established developers are generally quite fast, there are a variety of factors that can add to the review time,” the team added. “So we recommend submitting early and taking advantage of Timed Publishing if you want precise control over publishing time.”

On the thread, some developers pushed back. “I would like to request that Google publish public statistics on this,” one wrote. “Specifically, I don’t believe app reviews are fast today, August 16, 2019. Scroll up and down on this thread; there are at least a dozen reports of apps taking 12-24 hours to go live; it’s not just us.”

For Android users, the benefit of a more stringent review process is obvious: less malware and cruddy apps. So in that sense, Google’s latest move is a good one, especially as it aligns with a greater tech-industry push toward better code screening (GitHub, for instance, just announced that it would add Dropbox, Discord, and Atlassian to its token-scanning efforts.)

But from a developer perspective, Google’s move adds a layer of potentially aggravating difficulty, especially at a time when app developers are moving to subscription-style apps with regular updates. If a developer tells users that an app or an update will drop on a particular date, they’d like it to do so. Inserting greater uncertainty into the process will only lead to undue stress.

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