App Review inconsistency and the fear of updating

There has been a lot of talk lately about Apple’s App Review, especially since iOS 8 brought us Notification Center widgets and developers started pushing the boundaries.

Today I don’t want to dwell on what’s already been said and done. There’s been plenty of press coverage over some high-profile apps that were asked to remove features then later told they were allowed. I believe this was just a case of Apple not knowing where the boundaries should lie.

I’d like to talk more about the inconsistency that happens with App Review. I’m not posting this in the hope that Apple will reverse a decision like has happened a lot lately, I’m quite capable of fighting my own battles, I’m just getting completely fed up with the whole game. Yes it feels like a game I play every time I hit the submit button.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for the last 2 weeks while on vacation, then last night I came across this tweet. A 2 line bug fix update that ends in the loss of an app. 1

 

So here’s what’s got my back up lately.

App Review rejected
3 apps rejected

3 rejected app updates. 3 rejections that have nothing to do with the actual updates. 3 apps now sitting there with nowhere to go. 3 apps on the verge of extinction because updating them has become a chore.

First of all, 2 of the apps are identical. One being a paid (Pro) version and the other being free (Lite) with ads. They entered ‘In Review’ at different times, so I assume they were reviewed by different app reviewers. Both were rejected for completely different reasons.

The Lite version was rejected because of its app name. Supposedly containing keywords. Ok, maybe the name was quite descriptive (Nothing like some of the blatant ridiculous ones you see), but what’s frustrating is that the name has been the same for 18 months and had many approved updates. What’s more frustrating is that the Pro version’s name is allowed to stay as it was because the reviewer didn’t see it as an issue. They had the same names but with Pro/Lite being the only difference. It’s taken one over zealous App Reviewer to force a name change after 18 months and an Appeal went nowhere, forcing me to change the name to get an approval. 2

The Pro version was rejected for data storage issues. Downloading and saving content. Exactly the same code base as the Lite version and nothing changed in this regard since v1.0. I’ve had this rejection before and had it overturned, yet here I am facing a battle with the appeal process which after 2 weeks since rejection isn’t looking too promising.

The third app I have sitting in my Rejected queue is Iconical. Just like Matt Cheetham in the post linked above, I submitted a 2 line bug fix. In fact it might not even be a bug fix. It was in response to 1 user that said the latest update crashed on launch. I’d had no Crashlytics log for the crash and couldn’t reproduce it, however the only recently added code was wrapped in a big IF statement to see if it would fix it for him.

App Review has rejected this app
App Review has rejected this app

 

So what could cause App Review to reject an IF statement?

—– 3.14 —–

Your App Preview includes content that does not sufficiently reflect the app in use, which does not comply with the App Store Review Guidelines.

Specifically, your preview:

– Displayed other apps.

It is necessary to remove this content from your preview.

Here’s the App Preview in question which demonstrates the exact purpose of the app. Creating custom home screen shortcuts that can launch an app. The very last second shows Snapchat launching. How else can I show potential users what the app is capable of? 3

Immediately I knew that I can no longer possibly submit any more updates to this app unless I take the time to edit the app preview. 2 lines of code results in me needing several hours to redo a video that has been sitting quite happily on the App Store for the last 3 months.

Could it be possible to make this situation worse? Of course, let’s appeal…

After explaining to the reviewer that the App Preview was not new, and receiving the usual candid response ‘existing apps on the App Store might have been approved for other reasons blah blah’ I decided to fire off an appeal. Oh boy was I in for a shock…

The response from the appeal was that the original rejection was valid and the change needs to be made.

In addition!…

In addition, the following issue/s were also discovered during our evaluation:

8.5: Apps may not use protected third-party material such as trademarks, copyrights, patents or violate 3rd party terms of use. Authorization to use such material must be provided upon request

Your app preview includes content or features that resemble a well-known, third-party mark, The Simpsons.

Pursuant to your agreement with Apple, you represent and warrant that your application does not infringe the rights of another party, and that you are responsible for any liability to Apple because of a claim that your application infringes another party’s rights.

Accordingly, please provide documentary evidence of rights to use this content.

The App Preview shows a few Simpsons icons that I’d created, so instead of clipping a section from my video, I now need to redo the whole ending. Why not tell me this when it was first submitted and I had my video editing techniques and tools at the front of my mind? Where’s the consistency?

But they weren’t finished! It continued…

PLA 3.3.1

We found that your app uses the Touch ID API in a manner not prescribed by Apple, which is not in compliance with the iOS Developer Program License Agreement, as required by the App Store Review Guidelines. It would be appropriate to remove the Touch ID API from your app.

What! So now you want me to remove a feature from the app also?

I complained that the app uses only public API’s and there is no documentation to say how TouchID can and cannot be used. It’s simply used when Iconical launches from a home screen shortcut to allow it to proceed. However the response was simply that it is not an appropriate use of TouchID.

Who says so? Has this reviewer just made that decision? This isn’t documented anywhere. I’m communicating with the appeal person, and there’s no line of appeal for an appeal.

I really don’t know what to do with it now. The previous version is still available on the App Store. Do I just leave it there with the update rejected and never update it again, or do I annoy a lot of users, that have paid for the app, by removing a feature?

I’m sure you can sense my frustration. Iconical was perfectly happy when left alone for the last 3 months, and now after a silly little update I have to redo the App Preview and remove a killer feature.

These are just the most recent app rejections I have received. Over the last year I have had many silly rejections that have been approved after appeal. Nobody knows exactly what goes on inside Apple HQ, but some of the results coming out of App Review are on par with it being outsourced to a company that simply follow a script instead of using their brains.

Is it so hard for App Review to compare an update to the previous release? Especially for Meta Data, surely they can see that an App Preview hasn’t changed and therefore was already pre-approved and doesn’t need re-assessing.

They are simply creating a fear of updating.

I am not the only person experiencing this. You can see it a lot on Twitter:

 

 

I read a tweet a few weeks ago that hinted that even Apple’s own apps had to pass through App Review. Could the fear of rejection be the reason why so many bugs still exist in Apples own software?

 

 

  1.  GIF Finder eventually made a comeback
  2. The Lite version is no longer Rejected as I changed the name as requested
  3. Maybe I could get away with showing one of my own apps.