In the June of 2014, MIT alum Matt Arbesfeld released an iPhone game called Marble Drop to some success: Some positive word-of-mouth on sites like Hacker News and Y Combinator led it to 200,000 downloads in the first few weeks.
Like a lot of smartphone games, Marble Drop had a referral feature to get your friends to play with you.
The problem was that when the game first came out, it just didn’t work, Arbesfeld says. Nobody was actually getting referred by the referral function.
Arbesfeld came up with a quick fix, and submitted it to the Apple App Store for what he hoped would be a speedy update, so that he could continue growing his player base.
Three days later, Apple finally accepted and rolled out the update.
This isn’t uncommon: A crowdsourced App Review Times site finds that the average wait time for getting an app on the App Store is 6 days while Apple scours the app to make sure it doesn’t violate any of its dozens and dozens of rules.
And in the meanwhile, Apple is famously sparse with details on where you’re at in the process. It’s a huge frustration for Apple iOS and iPhone developers.
To solve the problem, Arbesfeld teamed up with a childhood friend and founded AppHub, a new startup that lets developers skip the Apple app update process entirely and roll out the updates themselves.
“If we had developed our app using AppHub, it would have been fixed instantly,” Arbesfeld says.
For app developers, the way it works is simple: Drop a few lines of AppHub’s code in your own iPhone app, and then you can just drop new code into the app whenever you want.
“This is something that’s impossible with the current Apple App Store process,” Arbesfeld says.
There’s one additional benefit to doing it this way, too, Arbesfeld says. Under the traditional Apple process, apps go out to everybody, all at once. With AppHub updates, a developer can choose how many of their users get an update, to test features and changes in a more controlled environment.
There are some caveats here.
Second, you can’t use AppHub to completely circumvent Apple’s screening process: To get the app onto the App Store in the first place, you need to go through the usual channels.
Third, Apple’s stance on this is a little ambiguous. It seems to be allowed by Apple’s rules, so long as you don’t use your newfound app-updating superpowers to “turn your Dora the Explorer app into a zombie apocalypse app,” Arbesfeld says.
Still, Arbesfeld’s previous job was with Meteor, a popular service for developers that also did similar, but different, approaches to updating iPhone apps on the fly. And they never ran into any problems there, either.
Right now, AppHub’s service is on waiting-list only. But for brave developers who want to try messing with the code and doing it themselves, AppHub released its code to open source, too.
“It’s something I’ve wanted in every app I’ve ever made,” Arbesfeld says.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment at press time.