Prior to building Tapdaq, the team here were all indie developers. In our portfolio we had a number of applications ranging from social networks to gimmicky entertainment products. Over the course of 5 years we launched over 50 applications, so we would like to think that we are fairly well prepared for the challenges that launching an app presents, including app review.
However, there is always one thing that always stumps us; Apple’s Review Team.
To be clear at this point, this is not a rant about the need for guidelines when developing for the App Store. We appreciate the need for rules and regulations, as they are key to ensuring the quality of applications on the App Store remains high. However, the way Apple enforces their app review guidelines has certainly raised a few eyebrows for us over the years.
Let’s talk a little bit about our experience.
A great example of our own mind boggling experience with Apple’s review process came in August last year. At the time, our interest was in a brand we developed called ‘App Store Millionaires’. To put it simply, the app contained a range of interactive slides and videos, as well as a portal through which developers could get feedback and advice on their product from our team. We crowdsourced information from successful developers to help others build a truly engaging product.
After months of development, we submitted the application and as you’ve probably guessed, the app was rejected. The grounds for it’s rejection are shown below:
Absolutely perplexed with the reason for rejection, we sent a counter argument:
After a few other exchanges, in our eyes Apple soon saw sense, and approved the application.
The above is actually just one example of our time being absorbed by Apple’s inconsistency. It would appear applications are reviewed by different people, even after appealing a review. We have also had many other cases which have led to us losing time, downloads and most importantly, money.
We believe that because of the ambiguity surrounding the App Store guidelines, even some of their reviewers have trouble defining what’s acceptable and what’s not.
We Are Not Alone
We are not a unique case. One of the most famous examples to date is that of AppGratis, a story that everybody is now fairly familiar with. In short, AppGratis were removed from the store as their app broke two clauses. These two clauses state that an app can’t mimic the App Store’s basic functions or use push notifications for advertising and marketing purposes.
This in itself is fine. However, the boundaries continue to blur when you look at other apps in the store that do exactly the same thing. For example, AppMap and AppZapp remain in the store today, whilst clearly mimicking the App Store’s basic functions.
Another highly public example of Apple’s double standards and inconsistent review process is the Vine app. Vine was allowed to stay in the App Store after it was discovered that it was easy for users to find pornographic content. That happened shortly after Apple removed photo-sharing 500px from the App Store for the same offense.
What’s the Problem?
Firstly, just take a look at a few of the bullet points that can be found at the top of the document we linked to above. Before the guidelines even start, Apple make several statements, including:
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.
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.
All three of these are subjective and could vary hugely from app to app based on an individual’s interpretation of each. What Apple are basically saying is: ‘It’s our platform, and we will do what we want’. Some people will say it’s fair enough but actually, when you speak to indie developers about the current state of the App Store there seems to be a lot of negativity around it. Much more then there used to be.
We will leave you to ponder on whether this mindset could snowball…
Again, we can appreciate the need for a ‘live document’, as developers will inevitably find new ways to provide controversial content which will upset Apple, so Apple obviously need to accommodate this in their guidelines.
However, where the problem arises is in an individual reviewer’s interpretation of the open ended guidelines like the ones listed above. The guidelines themselves are most likely to be the main reason why there is so much inconsistency within the app store.
So, how can I bypass a rejection?
The first thing we think is most important to realise as an indie developer is that a lot of developers are in the same boat – so when the inevitable red light comes, you shouldn’t worry. There are ways around it.
Submit an appeal, and use notes from the guidelines to back up your argument. Be sure to submit an honest and well written rebuttal and they’ll respond.
The aim is to get your application overturned and escalated to the top so to do that, don’t lose patience and treat Apple with respect because remember, you need to work with them, not against.
As with all businesses, persistence pays off.