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Saturday, March 07, 2009, 09:05 am PT (12:05 pm ET)

Would-be iPhone developers "pulling their hair out by the roots"

Apple's ability to process iPhone developer contracts is quickly turning into a minor crisis as what was once a smooth process is rapidly turning into a months-long backlog that threatens to keep new developers out of the App Store.

Previous reports that the earliest third-party iPhone app developers are facing expired contracts are also being joined by stories from those who have yet to have their very first contracts approved.

Where requests for an agreement once took as little as two days for Apple to handle in the early days of the iPhone SDK, coders speaking to AppleInsider and on the iPhone development boards are increasingly reporting delays in initial approval that have changed from days into months — even for free apps, which require less paperwork than commercial software.

"Many developers are pulling their hair out by the roots," one such producer tells AppleInsider. "Our corporate contract, submitted around December of last year, has yet to be approved after more than two months. And this is merely for a free app!"

This and other sources also report that many messages to Apple are either given a stock response apologizing for the wait or else receive no answer at all.

It's quickly becoming clear that the long hold times and silence on the matter stem from unpreparedness on Apple's part for the popularity of the App Store and the pressure it creates to renew its relationships with developers. A call by Ars Technica's Erica Sadun to the Apple Developer Connection has not only revealed that the company knows there are "many developers" either without contracts or facing expiry but that there isn't even a system by which Apple can renew its existing deals.

When that system will be put into place isn't known, though the ADC representative promises that Apple will at least avoid a crisis that would see older apps gradually vanish from the store as existing agreements come to an end. Any software that has already been approved will, reportedly, remain on the store even after its associated contract runs out.

That's little comfort to first-time developers, who are increasingly being discouraged by a process that in many cases prevents them from getting their first real foothold in the App Store. Without clear signs that Apple is addressing the problem, companies and individuals alike are questioning whether they should continue to produce iPhone apps in the first place.

"It makes it really tough to continue development," one developer says.