Committing time and investment to native application development is a big step for any business. Imagine the chagrin at spending what could amount to thousands in development fees, and hundreds of hours of valuable time, to find your application is rejected by Apple’s App Store or Google Play Store. That time and money will have gone to waste! Today, we will see some of the biggest reasons why app store rejections happen. And most importantly, how to avoid them.
There are a number of industries which will almost automatically see their developments rejected for app store listing. This includes adult oriented content, vaping and e-cigarette applications, no matter how legal the content itself is.
App store rejections don’t stop here, though. Apple has been purging its App Store, and applications can even be rejected on the vague terms of having been built using a template which makes them too similar to others. Or simply of being of too poor-quality build.
Of course, there is an alternative to facing app store rejection, and that’s building a progressive web application (PWA) instead. PWAs are in essence websites rather than apps, but they can have all the functionalities of a native application. They run in a browser accessed straight from a URL, and do not need to be listed in an app store. Which means that app store rejection simply isn’t a possibility.
Deploying a PWA means that your website visitors decide whether they wish to access your content or not. This means that you are no longer at the whim of Apple, Google, or any other powerful third-party arbiter. However, before we discuss PWAs as an alternative to native mobile apps, let’s take a look at some of the problems faced by application developers in getting their software listed.
There are no clear guidelines for acceptable content
Our research has discovered that there are no clear rules published by application stores for acceptable or unacceptable content. However, there do seem to be content restrictions, especially from the Apple App Store, which has somewhat vaguely written “App Store Review Guidelines”. From our research and sources, we discovered that the following types of application are likely to be restricted or rejected:
1. Apps with adult-oriented or explicit content
As far back as 2010, Apple purged its store of “adult content.” At the time the developer of “Wobble iBoobs,” received the following email, as per TechCrunch and Macworld:
“Your application, Wobble iBoobs (Premium Uncensored), contains content that we had originally believed to be suitable for distribution. However, we have recently received numerous complaints from our customers about this type of content, and have changed our guidelines appropriately.
We have decided to remove any overtly sexual content from the App Store, which includes your application.”
When Steve Jobs launched the App Store in 2008, he was clear that pornography would be banned, but restrictions have been less clear for PG-13 and R-rated content. Apple did add mandatory age ratings for all applications and warnings for content for aged 17+.
Again, back in 2010 Apple began hiding screenshots of some applications rated 17+ in a blanket approach that affected more innocuous applications like Instapaper and NetNewsWire.
Restrictions based on adult content are still a grey area for Apple – some get through and some don’t.
SimpleWeb published a post in 2016 detailing a developer’s experience building an adult sector application for one of the largest e-commerce merchants and distributors in the UK.
After repeat suggestions and many adjustments which at one point both developer and company thought would ruin the engagement value of the application, it was eventually accepted. Others are not so lucky, and developer forums are full of ongoing discussions regarding app store rejection.
2. Vaping and e-cigarette applications
Applications related to vaping and e-cigarettes have been suffering app store rejection since 2017. This has presented a big challenge for the industry, as many vaping devices have their own applications as a marketing and engagement tactic.
The app store rejection also affects applications designed to be paired with a vaping device and not just applications that promote vaping. With 43% of mobile users using an Apple device, this has a significant impact on products like the “Firefly 2” which requires the use of an app to change temperature, switch to concentrate mode, and download firmware updates.
Around the same time that Apple banned vaping applications, it emerged that Apple itself had filed an interesting patent. Vaping.com founder Oliver Kershaw wrote:
“Around the same time, news broke that Apple has patented a “vaporizer”…This led many people to put two and two together and impugn a highly anti-competitive motive: Apple bans vape apps then moves in with its own iVape to corner the market. After all, is this the kind of thing Apple would do?”
For now, it’s just a patent. Only time will tell whether Apple moves forward with the development CNN wrote at the time of the patent filing:
“The vaporizer joins Apple’s patented inventions including a foldable phone and a wraparound iPhone screen, neither of which we’ve seen in product form.”
Kershaw, of Vaping.com, also wrote:
“For all the talk about connected health devices, the fact that they (Apple) won’t support alternative nicotine products speaks volumes about the ethics of this deeply cynical company.”
Of course, today Vaping is facing its own emerging health concerns, which will only compound the issue of getting related applications listed in an app store.
Apple also hasn’t made it clear as to whether vaping product restrictions apply to all products, or just those intended for or targeted at cannabis users.
3. App store rejection also affects apps related to drugs and illegal substances
There are again obvious reasons here why there are restrictions. However, cannabis, and the increasing legalization of cannabis, creates a grey area for developers building applications in markets where use is legal.
Apple had banned social marijuana application MassRoots taking its anti-drug stance which, as per Cult of Mac stated:
“Apps that encourage excessive consumption of alcohol or illegal substances, or encourage minors to consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes, will be rejected.”
MassRoots fought back, calmly, penning a letter that said the App Store strict rules limit consumer choice to dispensary locators and strain guides, preventing the innovation that the App Store has spawned for countless other industries:
“In the cannabis sector, these innovations will allow patients to more effectively communicate, to have their medicine delivered directly to their homes, and will allow the industry to operate in a safer and more efficient manner.”
The letter added:
“We are not asking for Apple to endorse cannabis-related applications or their content; we are simply requesting that Apple’s customers have the right to download marijuana Apps if they so choose.”
The MassRoots application was reinstated but restricted to the 23 US states which at the time permitted medical or recreational marijuana use. The case is a useful example of an App Store rejection. In this case MassRoots had their application re-listed but with restrictions. Many other companies have not been so successful with Apple.
4. Gambling applications
Companies in the gambling sector are among the ones that most often suffer app store rejection. Apple’s updated guidelines this summer stated that HTML5 games distributed within apps “may not provide access to real money gaming, lotteries, or charitable donations, and may not support digital commerce”.
As per iGaming Business, Apple abruptly announced that it would only allow native iOS gambling applications. Giving existing developers just months to comply or be de-listed. And, Apple implemented a mandatory age rating of 17+ for all social casino applications, including those that didn’t allow real-money gambling.
With most gambling applications being HTML5 sites in a “native wrapper” or “container apps” which are much cheaper to develop than native iOS applications, this left sports betting, poker applications, bingo, and horse racing applications scrambling. Degree 53, said:
“Three months to build a fully featured native sportsbook app from scratch for a major operator is a massive undertaking and potentially unrealistic.”
5. Apps related to violence or religious content
We’ll touch on these last two themes briefly. As with illegal drugs, some content and access to it, of course, warrants app store rejection, and even removal. We would be the last people to say that hateful content or content which promotes violence should be tolerated or disseminated.
The problem for legitimate and conscientious application developers, however, is where the content or theme steps into the grey area created by blanket restrictions. Just like in the examples we’ve already mentioned.
A perfect example of this is the mobile game “Liyla and the Shadows of War”, a game based on actual events which “tells a story of a little girl who lives in Gaza during the war in 2014. The minimalist, story-driven platformer challenges players to avoid bombs, drones, and other dangers while guiding a family through the hazardous Gaza strip.
You must solve puzzles, respond to changes in the environment and make brave, difficult decisions in order to survive. The game allows players to experience war from the perspective of a civilian and see the devastating effects of war on children. (Games for Change).
At first, Apple rejected this game – a decision questioned by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) who wrote:
“The notion that an App making political commentary could not be sold on the App store was so unpopular that, after receiving pushback from both consumers and the media, Apple reversed their decision. Sadly, this process has become increasingly regular with Apple, after at least six years of similar incidents, it is arguably apparent that Apple struggles with the idea of complete free expression for their vendors in the App Store.”
The NCAC adds that:
“Complaints of app censorship, games in particular, are commonplace, and the often irrational, erratic, and selective nature of these removals and rejections is concerning to say the least.”
It discovered the following “fine print” in Apple’s App Store Guidelines regarding “objectionable content”:
“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.”
Apple did eventually revise its decision and allow the game into its store. A move which, if anything, shows that the “line” Apple refers to so confidently might be less clear than it claims, and more motivated by politics, profit, or both than it admits.
The NCAC described Apple’s app store rejection as often “nonsensical” and “mysterious” and referred to Google and Android app stores as “more liberal.”
The bottom line of what all this means for developers is that costly native applications, which might be perfectly legal and credible, may still suffer from app store rejection without explanation.
6. Apps with a lot of bugs and crashes
Another common reason why an app can suffer app store rejection is because it doesn’t provide a smooth app experience. In other words, it contains a lot of bugs, and crashes so often that it causes a frustration to the users. In fact, more than 12% of apps in the App store are rejected for these reasons.
For this reason, you should only submit your app for review once it’s complete, clean of any technical issues, and ready to be published. Apple suggests that developers perform comprehensive tests across all devices to discover and fix all bugs before publishing.
7. Apps that violate legal requirements & intellectual rights
Undoubtedly, some of the most common reasons why app store rejection happens is incompliance with legal requirements, and violation of intellectual rights.
Before submitting your app for review, you must insure that:
- Your app is unique with its name, icon, and interface. App stores are very strict when it comes to the imitation of other app providers.
- You don’t have a fraudulent or misleading interpretation of your name or content.
- Your content is not in violation of any intellectual property rights, such as suggesting that Apple is a supplier of your app. If your app allows to download content from third-party sources, such as Spotify, you should also ensure that you have all the necessary authorizations.
Avoid App Store Rejection with Progressive Web Apps
PWAs have emerged both technologically and in popularity in recent years. They are built and work in a similar way to websites, but have the interactivity and functionality of native, mobile applications.
They don’t have to be listed on any application stores at all, meaning companies are not at risk of falling into Apple’s grey area of app store rejection risk. Or indeed that of any other application store.
They are also cheaper to develop and easier to update than native applications, and a user does not need to commit device space, as with downloading a mobile application.
We look at some of the other drawbacks to native applications here and detail exactly what a PWA is and their benefits in detail here. As a recap here’s a list:
- You only need to build one PWA instead of separate mobile and desktop solutions;
- A PWA works across all operating systems– no need for separate development for Android & Apple;
- PWAs can be search engine optimised;
- They have much lower development and maintenance costs;
- PWAs allow the use of both website and mobile application functionality;
- They deliver better overall website performance and user experience;
- PWA marketing and delivery is easier;
- Brand stories show higher conversion rates than for mobile applications or websites;
- And of course, the fact that they are not published in App stores means that there is no possibility for app store rejection.
Here at Beezer you can build your PWA yourself, simply – you don’t even need a developer. Beezer is a drag and drop PWA builder for creating PWAs without massive design, development, and maintenance costs. And updating your Beezer PWA is instantaneous!
Not convinced? Other important arguments on the advantages of PWAs over IOS native apps include:
iOS native applications should be updated at least once a month. And, developers can’t edit an App Store description of their application without releasing a new update. Not only are consumers getting tired of device storage hungry applications, they are tired of hitting “update” all too often.
In comparison, a Beezer PWA enables a seamless user experience when it comes to deploying updates – the new content reloads automatically when the user re-opens the PWA. And, they open the PWA via a website URL, which is super-easy. PWA users can also add icons to their devices for a standard “native-app-like” experience, and content is cached for offline use.
Don’t forget that to thrive – or even be found at all – in an app store, an application needs good reviews and high ratings. For application developers and companies this is a never-ending battle for first place. Marketing a native application is costly and can even include paying for application store advertising.
With a Beezer PWA, an application owner is not at the mercy of app store ratings or restrictions and doesn’t need to compete with other similar apps. With Beezer you can easily develop your PWA and distribute it directly to your target audience allowing you to achieve much higher view and install rates.
Ready to develop your Beezer PWA and stop worrying about app store rejection? Try our 30-day free trial here.