Thursday, November 8, 2012

Getting Hacker News Reader Approved, 5 Months of Rejection

At the end of May I was looking for a good Hacker News app for my iPad. I hate using Safari. I don't even just go to the site on my computer, I have a plugin that puts the front page in a list on the left in a frame, and the comments and story on the right (Hacker News OnePage). I wanted something similar and I noticed an app on the front page that day so I went ahead and got it.

Sadly, the comments weren't threaded, and there was no way to comment at all. As the discussion is a big part of HN for me I ended up wasting a few bucks. I ended up trying several others and none of them satisfied me. All I wanted was a few tabs with the comments in one and the article in the other, with the ability to do everything you could want on HN, like comment and vote.

This is really a pretty simple app to make, so I decided to sit down and write it. Just make a parser for the RSS feed (I used the bigrss link because I hate the expiring more button. 10 pages of stories instead of 1). Throw the stories in a table on the left and then setup a tab on the right side with a webview. If they click on comments they go to that, article they go to that website. Switch back and forth effortlessly.

I was done. This is the app I wanted, and I used it everyday. I went ahead and submitted it, not expecting much, but I figured I might as well. I have a few friends that wanted it, and surely a few people will pick it up. Might as well make a few bucks for my efforts. Rejected.

Too similar to Safari. Apparently my reviewer doesn't read Hacker News. Click article. Read Article. Go Back. Can't find it, not in the same place, or even on the same page. Find it. Click comments. Read comments. Want to refer back to article. Back, can't find it, got it, new tab this time.

Or with my app. Click on article. Click tab for comments. Click tab for article. Oh well. They don't see it I guess. (This is of course, even though there are other apps with this functionality, they just fail at allowing me to comment which is what drove me to make my own.) Remember, it doesn't matter what's on the store, it may have been approved under different rules. They weren't, just at a time when we wanted more apps on the store so we could say our store had "REALLY BIG NUMBER" of apps.

Oh well, I'll add some small features that Safari doesn't have. I tried Instapaper on vacation this summer when I didn't have much internet access and loved it. It was great, so I decided to add support for that. Click a button, login, save article. Perfect. Rejected again. Seriously? When did Apple add Instapaper support.

This time, in addition to being too much like Safari, they said the app was crap. I.E. not pretty enough. It's a table and a webview. Those are built in, but I guess I can improve the look of the table cells.

I decided that the Safari problem might not be so bad if I made a great looking table cell. So I redid that. Added a comment button so you can go straight to the comments from the table, added word wrap, and dynamically sized the cells so everything was uniform. Rejected.

At this point I gave up. This was about 2 months in, with me spending a few hours to a day on each rejection. I just kept using it on my iPad, and gave test copies to my friends. Oh well. Fast forward a few months and the app I used on my iPhone suddenly stopped working. So annoying. No idea what happened. So now I have to find a new one, or make my own. Well, after trying almost every other one, I decided to make my app universal. And this time, I know how to get approved.

I decided I'd bite the bullet, and make a new page for the comments, parsing them out and making my own page. I put them in a table with an indentation to keep the threading. Clicking on the top of the comment takes you to the website, and I added 1 cell at the very top to take you to the whole comment page website. Now it's, IMO, actively worse than just showing the website, but I have the button at the top so it just adds 1 click to get what I really want to see.

While I was at it, I decided to add sharing with Twitter and email just to satisfy a very small desire of mine to do that once in awhile.

Approved. Finally, after 5 months, it's on the store. You can check it out here, Hacker News Reader! I'm not sure if it's better or worse than it was 5 months ago, but it's out there and I enjoy using it everyday.

P.S. There's a slight bug in the iPhone version I found after submitting that will get fixed in the next version. Something is going wrong in my sizing function and a few long comments end up having the last line cut off. I mostly just go the website, and it only happens on a few comments, so I didn't notice it right away. Hopefully I'll get that update in soon.

If you've read this far and are interested in the mobile app market you may want to check out my newsletter. It's periodic emails (no more than 1-2 a month) on mobile app sales and the different markets.


  1. How have sales gone with the hacker news reader since release?

    1. Not as well as I'd hoped. And HN changed some of their rss formats shortly after it did get released causing a crash in the comments part of the app.