Six weeks ago guest author Brian Stormont posted an article here titled Avoiding iPhone App Rejection From Apple. While writing a rejection story is almost a rite of passage amongst iPhone developers, Brian took a prescriptive what not to do angle.
Brian’s story elicited a big response. Dozens of people contributed comments and wrote privately to supply additional gotchas, tips and approaches. While some weren’t helpful — e.g., “Be Trent Reznor,” in reference to the rejection then approval, unchanged, of the Nine Inch Nails app — many were.
We’ve collated, consolidated, summarized and (except when the authors asked us not to) attributed the collective wisdom to present it to you here:
1. Trademarks, Particularly Icons — Numerous apps, including Bump, the Billionth App ran into delays and rejections for including icons and imagery that a Apple deemed a trademark violation. Common culprits: iPhone-like icons and Polaroid-like image frames.
2. Giveaways/Prize Apps/Contests — While not expressly forbidden in the contracts, Apple rejects prize applications and apps that contains contests or giveaways. There are exceptions to this policy. For example, Apple seems willing to let game applications tie into an on-the-web leaderboard with prizes, though an in-app/embedded leaderboard with prizes is likely verboten. However, as the policy is either unwritten or unavailable for review outside of Apple, trying to create an app that narrowly fits within the inferred acceptable parameters or operates similarly to existing giveaway apps already in the store is risky.
3. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — Sometimes being above-board doesn’t pay. An example: Alan Francis wrote to tell us about his experience submitting an app that included the Pinch Analytics, an package used in thousands of apps that collects anonymized usage data. As a courtesy to his users, Alan stated that he was collecting this data and provided an opt-out mechanism. Either one of these measures is unusual; combined, almost unheard of. His app was rejected until he added a giant warning label on first run, while thousands of other applications that failed to mention including analytics were allowed in.
4. Avoid Humor Where It’s Not Expected, Or Where It Violates The HIG —
An update to the Instant New York app was rejected when its developers jokingly included the phrase “extra dragons” in their release notes — though, as noted by Jeff Richardson, Apple did approve an update to Google’s app with release notes containing “longer version number” and “ninja.” Carl HerrMann’s intentionally silly BellyButton app was rejected for a disabled “lint” button, the HIG violating joke being that nobody would want link in their bellybutton.
5. Inadvertent “Objectionable Content” — Last week, the story of the rejection and then later approval of Eucalyptus — a library app featuring over 20,000 classic books — was widely reported upon. The app sourced freely available content from Project Gutenberg. Buried in the archives was a Victorian, text-only translation of the Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana. Apple rejected the app on “objectionable content” grounds. Its author, after first trying to resolve the issue with Apple, blogged about his experience whence it was picked up widely. Shortly thereafter Apple reversed its decision. Eucalyptus was the latest in a series; previous examples: Tweetie, the popular Twitter client, rejected because people swear on Twitter; Jesse Tayler’s Craig’s List Browser because, well, take your pick — it’s Craig’s list!; and Jelle Prins’s Lyrics because not all songs are PG. Wired’s story about Jelle adding a dirty-word filter, and the easter egg to disable it, is worth reading.
6. Update Spam — There’s some indication that Apple frowns upon publishing no-change updates in an attempt to keep your app appearing in the what’s new listings. Noel Llopis provided a humorous example: “I submitted an update for Tea Time. The update was just a bug fix with the images in the picker, so in the what’s new field I wrote. ‘Fixed a bug that would occasionally display the wrong image for a tea type.’ Apple rejected the update a week later saying that they ‘tried it, but the image never changed for different tea types’. I was totally baffled until I realized they were testing the countdown screen, which has a static image of a tea cup, not the images on the picker. So I had to resubmit the same binary adding ‘in the picker’ to the what’s new description.”
7. Doesn’t Work. Doesn’t Work As Advertised — Reportedly, the most common reason for rejecting an app is that it simply doesn’t work or doesn’t work as advertised. Seems obvious, and I wouldn’t have bothered to report it if it wasn’t apparently so common.
8. Public Figures — Brian’s original article included “political lampooning.” I’ll extend that to include association or portrayal of public figures. Two examples: around Obama’s inauguration, CodeMorphic created an app called Obamify that manipulated photos to appear like those iconic posters from the campaign; the app went into infinite review. Yak Apps had to remove imagery containing Mr. and Mrs. Obama before their “First Dog” app was approved.
9. Too Few Potential Consumers (Or The Appearance Thereof) — Memo Akten produced remote control software that conforms to the TUIO protocol for sending multi-touch events over WiFi. Apple rejected it on grounds that its market was too small and suggested, instead, Ad Hoc Distribution. I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out how small this niche is and was ready to write it off until I discovered that this field is connected (conceptually, at least) to Microsoft’s Surface technology and is covered by the analyst firm IDG. Would an overtaxed app reviewer at Apple spend the time to make this determination? Best bet is to save them the work by supplying them with evidence in your submission has a vast, mainstream audience — or at least a sizable niche one.
Updated: 10. Don’t Include Price In Your Description — Just minutes after I originally posted this article Michael Kaye added a very good additional tip: “Don’t mention pricing in the App Description. For example mentioning ‘now only $1.99′ will according to Apple, ‘potentially confuse users’…and they have a point as its 99 pence in the UK, €1.99 in Europe etc.” Thanks for the great comment Michael!