Update: The Pebble Time iPhone app is now available in the App Store. Original story below.
Backers of the new Pebble Time smartwatch are getting a foul whiff from Apple's walled garden, which currently has the watch's iPhone companion app in review limbo.
In a post on its Kickstarter page, Pebble claims that it gained approval for the Pebble Time's iOS companion app on May 18. The watch maker than submitted a minor update with bug fixes on May 22, which has not been approved yet. Without the companion app, users can't perform initial setup or receive any data from their iPhones. (Android users can download the app from the Google Play Store and start using their watches right away.)
Additionally, an update to Pebble's original smartwatch app is also caught in the review process, where it's been for more than six weeks.
The story behind the story: The review snafu conveniently fits Pebble's narrative that it's the David of smartwatches taking on the Goliath of Apple, and it's tempting to call shenanigans on Apple for kneecapping a competitor. But there may be more to the story here, as Pebble itself has been playing down to the wire with a less-than-stellar app submission history.
Don't hate the player
Pebble's blog post points out that it requested an expedited review for its latest App Store submission. The company has only done this once before, for the original Pebble app, and received approval in under 24 hours. The implication is that Apple should have approved Pebble Time's app well ahead of the watch's May 27 ship date.
But as Pebble's own Status History indicates, the situation isn't so simple. On the same day that Pebble submitted its update, Apple rejected it. It's unclear why the rejection happened--Pebble doesn't say in its blog post and hasn't yet responded to my inquiry--but if the update contained something that bothered Apple's reviewers, it's understandable that Pebble would have to wait. (Correction: As noted in Apple's documentation, the term "Developer Rejected" means that Pebble withdrew its initial release on May 22. It was not rejected by Apple as written above.)
None of this explains why the original Pebble app has been held up for so long, but in that case users can still download the older version and use their watches. The fact that Pebble was submitting its new app so close to release date, with no way to make the older version available, adds some murkiness to Pebble's story of app store imprisonment. All we can say for sure is that the App Store's review process has some inherent drawbacks, for which Pebble wasn't fully prepared.
Hopefully this can all be resolved soon. Because while it makes no difference to Apple, and is great publicity for Pebble, it's a letdown for Pebble's most loyal backers.