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Apple’s App Store Manifesto

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Developers of iPhone apps have often wondered about the process for getting their apps approved. Apple has now introduced their App Submittal Guidelines which provides a little more clarity into the app review process. Apple provides itself with a great degree of latitude when accepting or rejecting apps but insists that most apps are approved. Apple believes that most developers are well-intentioned and want to create a valuable app that provides benefit to the buyer and user.

In September, Apple released its App Store Review Guidelines, or as I like to call it a manifesto, in an attempt to bring some clarity to the mysterious process of getting your app approved for sale on the App Store. It’s been several years (and 300,000 apps) since the App Store opened for business and it’s about time Apple produced a document that helps clarify the review process. The document is written in a very conversational tone with lots of commentary as it sets out to describe and define its policies and the decision process for your app to make it into the App Store.

Most developers will get their apps approved even if they have to make a few revisions to get through some of the restrictions and to meet other development guidelines. Besides having developers avoid inappropriate types of apps, Apple seems to be looking more at whether your app provides any value to the buying public. No more bodily function types of apps and no more useless, pointless, and otherwise worthless apps will be allowed into the club as deemed by the Apple judges. You will have to write an app that worthwhile and useful. But, isn’t that what you want anyway?

So, let’s take a look at the initial section of the Review Guidelines. The first set of comments in the guidelines is listed below, covering the law of the land, so to speak. This section describes Apple’s intent as they review each app and is taken directly from their review guide found at: (http://developer.apple.com/appstore/guidelines.html) :

  • We have lots of kids downloading lots of apps, and parental controls don't work unless the parents set them up (many don't). So know that we're keeping an eye out for the kids.
  • We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store. We don't need any more Fart apps. If your app doesn't do something useful or provide some form of lasting entertainment, it may not be accepted.
  • If your App looks like it was cobbled together in a few days, or you're trying to get your first practice App into the store to impress your friends, please brace yourself for rejection. We have lots of serious developers who don't want their quality Apps to be surrounded by amateur hour.
  • We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, "I'll know it when I see it". And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.
  • If your app is rejected, we have a Review Board that you can appeal to.
  • If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps.
  • This is a living document, and new apps presenting new questions may result in new rules at any time. Perhaps your app will trigger this.

Just as it’s always been in the app review process you’ll have to pass the sniff test for appropriateness, usefulness, and suitability. You will then have to meet the more technical requirements for your app which are pretty straightforward. Your app will be put through functionality tests to ensure that it doesn’t crash for starters. They will also review the app for stability and bugs. Any apparent bugs in your app will send you back to the drawing board to get the bugs fixed. Each time your app must be repaired will cost you several weeks in time fixing the bugs and then getting Apple to review the app again.

One of the biggest gotchas for approval is developers using non-public API’s in their apps. Apple will catch this in their testing every time and your app will be rejected. Apple can easily check an API call to see if it’s a public API or not. If it’s not public and supportable then your app will fail the approval process until this is corrected in your app. Apple will also reject any app that uses location data without first obtaining consent of the user. Apps that use push notifications without consent of the user will also be rejected. Apple will also not allow push notifications to send advertising, promotions or marketing of any kind. I still get push notifications from some apps so I wonder if this is being grandfathered in to app updates and new apps?

Apple also spells out certain requirements for game developers:

  • Apps that display any Player ID to end users or any third party will be rejected
  • Apps that use Player IDs for any use other than as approved by the Game Center terms will be rejected
  • Developers that attempt to reverse lookup, trace, relate, associate, mine, harvest, or otherwise exploit Player IDs, alias, or other information obtained through the Game Center will be removed from the iOS Developer Program
  • Game Center information, such as Leaderboard scores, may only be used in apps approved for use with the Game Center
  • Apps that use Game Center service to send unsolicited messages, or for the purpose of phishing or spamming will be rejected
  • Apps that excessively use the network capacity or bandwidth of the Game Center will be rejected
  • Apps that transmit viruses, files, computer code, or programs that may harm or disrupt the normal operation of the Game Center service will be rejected

There are two other important standards that appear to be fairly new with Apple in the review guidelines. These two standards, should they be met, will cause the app to be rejected. First, apps that utilize a system other than the “In App Purchase” (IAP) to purchase content, functionality or services in an app and second, any apps using IAP to purchase physical goods or goods and services used outside of the application. What these two rules are saying is if you have an app that directs the user to your web site to make an additional purchase (products, services, cellular minutes, coupons, etc.) your app will most likely be rejected. Why? Because Apple wants you to run all purchases through their App Store which is subject to their 30% commission. In other words, everything in your app must be done through an In App Purchase so that it can be tracked and charged through the App Store. There are many developers who have developed apps that try to get around this by directing the user of the app to the product web site to make additional purchases related to the app.

Although there appears to be a longer list of hurdles to jump through in this new set of review guidelines to get your app approved, the approval process and time still seems to be relatively fast. A year ago, it was taking 3-4 weeks to get an app approved. In most cases, the approval time appears to be 1-2 weeks now. I still wonder how much time is spent reviewing each app given the enormous volume of apps that come through Apple’s doors each day. Regardless, it’s still in your best interest to follow the guidelines strictly so that you can get your app approved and up on the App Store quickly. The sooner you get your app posted, the sooner you’ll know if you have a hit on your hands.

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