Incipia blog

Who’s Responsible for Knowing the App Store Guidelines?

Gregory Klein | September 21, 2016

Feature Image Credit: Apple

With some pretty major updates to the App Store Guidelines, an interesting question arises: Who is responsible for knowing about the guidelines?

My short answer is: If you're the one developing an app, then it's your responsibility.

We don't expect our clients to know about the guidelines because we assume that it's up to us. Sometimes it's easy to tell if the App Store guidelines are being abused without much thought, but even if it takes some effort to understand, ensuring that your app is in compliance is one of the most important parts of maintaining good status as an Apple developer. In the unfortunate event that the wrong boundary is overstepped, it could result in expulsion of the Developer Program.

This post highlights some rules that we find to be among the more interesting, and fairly relevant to the world of iOS contracting work.

Amateur Hour

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.
Outsourced development could easily fit right into this category. The chances of an app looking "cobbled together" will increase if the developers and designers involved only see their work as an insignificant means to an end.

Although I will admit that I was eager to submit my first app just for the sake of being able to tell my family and friends that they could download it from the App Store, I strongly agree that the App Store is not the place for that.

Also, with this rule in place, the challenge for high-quality apps to become noticed among the vast majority of their competitors will be reduced to some extent.

Cheating the System & Business

If you attempt to cheat the system (for example, by trying to trick the review process, [...], or manipulate ratings) your apps will be removed from the store and you will be expelled from the Developer Program.

3.1.2(a) Permissible uses: If you offer an auto-renewing subscription, you must provide ongoing value to the customer. In addition:
  • Apps must not force users to rate the app, review the app, download other apps, or other similar actions in order to access functionality, content, or use of the app.
  • As with all apps, those offering subscriptions should allow a user to get what they’ve paid for without performing additional tasks, such as posting on social media, uploading contacts, checking in to the app a certain number of times, etc.
The first update we made to our to-do list app, Goalie, was rejected for overstepping this exact boundary; we used the "rate to unlock" pattern that was seemingly popular among mobile applications at the time. When I read the rejection notice, I initially thought that we were being expelled from the Developer Program, and panicked; however, when we submitted a new binary with an updated user experience, Apple thankfully accepted the update without further issue.

Safety

1.2 User Generated Content: To prevent abuse, apps with user-generated content or social networking services must include (among other things):
  • A mechanism to report offensive content and timely responses to concerns
  • The ability to block abusive users from the service
I want to point this out because I think it could easily be overlooked. For projects where a significant amount of money or effort has been invested into building a special flavor of a social networking application, don't leave it up to chance that these features will be included in scope planning.

Design

Apps that stop working or offer a degraded experience may be removed from the App Store at any time.

4.1 Copycats: Don’t simply copy the latest popular app on the App Store, or make some minor changes to another app’s name or UI and pass it off as your own.

4.2 Minimum Functionality: Your app should include features, content, and UI that elevate it beyond a repackaged website. If your app is not particularly useful, unique, or “app-like,” it doesn’t belong on the App Store.

4.3 Spam: If your app has different versions for specific locations, sports teams, universities, etc., consider submitting a single app and provide the variations using in-app purchase.
Even though some of these rules may seem obvious, there are companies that do not see any issue with "repackaging a website" and converting it into a mobile application – we have gotten requests to build those types of apps before.

Another interesting rule to note is that it's not permitted to distribute multiple apps that only differentiate one another by some sort of theme, location, etc. Similar to repackaged websites, we have also gotten requests to build apps that could be redistributed depending on certain variables, which at first glance did not seem like a violation to the rules.

The Bottom Line: If you are building an app, and especially if you're building an app for a client, then make sure that the scope of the project aligns with the Apple App Store Guidelines. It's your professional responsibility to know the rules of the environment in which the app will be distributed.

That's all for now folks! Be sure to bookmark our blog, sign up to our email newsletter for new post updates and reach out if you're interested in working with us.

Incipia is a mobile app development and marketing agency that builds and markets apps for companies, with a specialty in high-quality code architecture and keyword-based marketing optimizations. For blog/video or speaking requests, business or press inquiries please contact us or send an inquiry to hello@incipia.co.