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Apple's New App Store Review Guidelines Annotated & Explained

Apple's New App Store Review Guidelines Annotated & Explained

September 9, 2010
As we recently announced, Apple unveiled its App Store review guidelines today. The guideline document can be found on Apple's website, but we thought we would try to give you more insight on these rules, and why they're here. Despite what you may think, the document is written in layman's terms. As you'll see, it reads nothing like a law book. It also does leave Apple some room, so they're not completely giving up on their freedom to reject you. Furthermore, you'll see that this new transparency comes at a price, as it seems that Apple will be much stricter regarding what it approves in the future. First, here are the the main leading ideas of the approval process:
  • We have lots of kids downloading lots of apps, and parental controls don't work unless the parents set them up (many don't). So know that we're keeping an eye out for the kids.
This means, as Steve said before, freedom from porn. Yet, they only enforce this to a certain level and you'll still find some hot stuff, but they keep it pretty clean.
  • We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store. We don't need any more Fart apps. If your app doesn't do something useful or provide some form of lasting entertainment, it may not be accepted.
This is actually welcome news. Apple, for example, approves 20 to 40 new flashlight apps every single day. This is going to put an end to this  "artificial" growth due to crappy apps we've seen lately.
  • 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.
This again is a change and Apple seems to really want quality from now on, just like on the Apple TV.
  • 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 one is a bit unclear and they're leaving a lot of room for rejections. This means no offensive or pornographic content. Also, you can't make fun of Steve.
  • If your app is rejected, we have a Review Board that you can appeal to. If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps.
This is new, you can now appeal if you believe your app was rejected unfairly. Apps are rejected by mistake, and an appeal board will allow Apple to stay away from bad press, which they don't seem to appreciate.
  • 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.
Rules are adapted as new apps appear. For example, policital satire was not allowed at first, now there is an exception for that.
  • Lastly, we love this stuff too, and honor what you do. We're really trying our best to create the best platform in the world for you to express your talents and make a living too. If it sounds like we're control freaks, well, maybe it's because we're so committed to our users and making sure they have a quality experience with our products. Just like almost all of you are too.
Translated: We are the good guys, but don't mess with us.

2. Functionality

2.1 Apps that crash will be rejected Obviously, you don't want buggy apps. Yet, all apps crash every now and then, so this is more of a general rule reiterating that they want quality. 2.2 Apps that exhibit bugs will be rejected Again, it's about quality. Nobody would argue with that. 2.3 Apps that do not perform as advertised by the developer will be rejected You can't scam people into buying your apps by saying it has certain features when it doesn't. 2.4 Apps that include undocumented or hidden features inconsistent with the description of the app will be rejected You can't add secret features and hide them from Apple. With the exception of easter eggs, which need however, to be disclosed to Apple's review team. 2.5 Apps that use non-public APIs will be rejected You can't use iDevices, their features and the OS in a way Apple doesn't sanction. For example, you can't make a camera app that uses the volume button as a shutter. Also, you're not allowed to use certain functions reserved for Apple's own apps. 2.6 Apps that read or write data outside its designated container area will be rejected Your app can't mess with the system or with other apps. 2.7 Apps that download code in any way or form will be rejected Your app can't get new features over the air, or updates and new features without going through Apple. All code that runs on your iOS device needs to go through Apple. 2.8 Apps that install or launch other executable code will be rejected Your app, again, can't mess with the system and install other apps. Enterprise apps can however do that with a dedicated special Apple certificate. 2.9 Apps that are "beta", "demo", "trial", or "test" versions will be rejected You can't submit an app that is not completely finished or doesn't stand on its own. You can do a lite version which is cheaper or ad-sponsored with less features. However you can't do an app that turns off after a couple days. 2.10 iPhone apps must also run on iPad without modification, at iPhone resolution, and at 2X iPhone 3GS resolution You must make sure your apps can run correctly on all of Apple's devices. You can't prevent your app from working on the iPad in compatibility mode to better sell the iPad version of your app. With the exception of GPS navigation apps. 2.11 Apps that duplicate apps already in the App Store may be rejected, particularly if there are many of them Like they said in the introduction, Apple will now try to limit the clutter in the App Store. No more new fart or flashlight apps. 2.12 Apps that are not very useful or do not provide any lasting entertainment value may be rejected Your app must do something, and it must be somewhat good. It can't just be an RSS reader for your blog. This rule has been around for a while, but it's not enforced very strictly. 2.13 Apps that are primarily marketing materials or advertisements will be rejected This seems to be new, as a lot of new apps are just doing advertising. It seems that just like with 2.12, you need to add something more to your app. It must provide some sort of game, or extra information. It can't just be an infomercial PDF. 2.14 Apps that are intended to provide trick or fake functionality that are not clearly marked as such will be rejected This is an extension of 2.3. If you want to make an app that makes people believe you can localize other phones, it's ok. You must however say that it's fake in the description very clearly. 2.15 Apps larger than 20MB in size will not download over cellular networks (this is automatically prohibited by the App Store) This is more informational, but it's not new at all. 2.16 Multitasking apps may only use background services for their intended purposes: VoIP, audio playback, location, task completion, local notifications, etc This means you can't trick the multitasking into doing something else. For example, you can't add music in the background of your app, just so it can continue running and do something else. Pastebot tried to do that, they got rejected and here is the resulting rule. 2.17 Apps that browse the web must use the iOS WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript This is an interesting one. Apple doesn't want third-party browsers on iOS. However, we think that if your app is just pulling websites rendered on a remote server, like Opera mini, then it's ok. Yet, this might mean Apple wants to put an end to third-party browsers. 2.18 Apps that encourage excessive consumption of alcohol or illegal substances, or encourage minors to consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes, will be rejected Again, Apple wants to protect children and doesn't want apps that are over the line in terms of content. 2.19 Apps that provide incorrect diagnostic or other inaccurate device data will be rejected I believe this means you can't do a stethoscope app that gives false results. Again, it's about enforcing quality and fighting against scams. 2.20 Developers "spamming" the App Store with many versions of similar apps will be removed from the iOS Developer Program You can't submit multiple apps that are very similar to each other just to have more presence on the App Store.

3. Metadata (name, descriptions, ratings, rankings, etc)

3.1 Apps with metadata that mentions the name of any other mobile platform will be rejected They don't want you to promote the competition in your description. For example, this means you can't mention that your app is also available on the Android. 3.2 Apps with placeholder text will be rejected You can't submit unfinished apps. 3.3 Apps with descriptions not relevant to the application content and functionality will be rejected Your description is about your app, you can't hold a blog in there or use it as a platform to talk about your company and other apps. 3.4 App names in iTunes Connect and as displayed on a device should be similar, so as not to cause confusion Your app can't have a different name on the App Store and on the iDevice. It's about clarity. 3.5 Small and large app icons should be similar, so as to not to cause confusion Keep it clear, again. 3.6 Apps with app icons and screenshots that do not adhere to the 4+ age rating will be rejected While parents can prevent kids from getting Apps that are R rated on the App Store, they can't prevent them from seeing app descriptions. Therefore, the icons and the screenshots need to be family-friendly. 3.7 Apps with Category and Genre selections that are not appropriate for the app content will be rejected 3.8 Developers are responsible for assigning appropriate ratings to their apps. Inappropriate ratings may be changed by Apple 3.9 Developers are responsible for assigning appropriate keywords for their apps. Inappropriate keywords may be changed/deleted by Apple Don't try to use the keyword system to lure people into seeing your app. You shouldn't use the name of your competitors applications 3.10 Developers who attempt to manipulate or cheat the user reviews or chart ranking in the App Store with fake or paid reviews, or any other inappropriate methods will be removed from the iOS Developer Program Don't try to take advantage of the system or to cheat. This means no keyword or app name spamming, and no messing with the reviews.

4. Location

4.1 Apps that do not notify and obtain user consent before collecting, transmitting, or using location data will be rejected You need to protect your users' privacy. 4.2 Apps that use location-based APIs for automatic or autonomous control of vehicles, aircraft, or other devices will be rejected 4.3 Apps that use location-based APIs for dispatch, fleet management, or emergency services will be rejected You can't make apps to watch your employees, or make apps that rely too heavily on location. Nobody wants an accident to happen because the device was not precise enough or didn't work correctly. Also, you can't use the iPhone to spy on people.

5. Push notifications

5.1 Apps that provide Push Notifications without using the Apple Push Notification (APN) API will be rejected You can't push notifications without going through Apple. 5.2 Apps that use the APN service without obtaining a Push Application ID from Apple will be rejected 5.3 Apps that send Push Notifications without first obtaining user consent will be rejected 5.4 Apps that send sensitive personal or confidential information using Push Notifications will be rejected You can't send out sensitive things over Push notifications as these can be easily intercepted. 5.5 Apps that use Push Notifications to send unsolicited messages, or for the purpose of phishing or spamming will be rejected Push notifications are here to provide something for the app, not anything else. 5.6 Apps cannot use Push Notifications to send advertising, promotions, or direct marketing of any kind Again, you can't use push notifications to promote your other apps and so on. 5.7 Apps cannot charge users for use of Push Notifications 5.8 Apps that excessively use the network capacity or bandwidth of the APN service or unduly burden a device with Push Notifications will be rejected You can't overuse and put strain on Apple's servers. However, if you're just running a big app with a lot of users, Apple will contact you directly to help you make your systems better. Not much to worry about regarding this. 5.9 Apps that transmit viruses, files, computer code, or programs that may harm or disrupt the normal operation of the APN service will be rejected As usual, you can't misuse Push notification maliciously.

6. Game Center

6.1 Apps that display any Player ID to end users or any third party will be rejected Game Center players should be kept anonymous. 6.2 Apps that use Player IDs for any use other than as approved by the Game Center terms will be rejected You can't use Game Center for other purposes than it what it's meant for. 6.3 Developers that attempt to reverse lookup, trace, relate, associate, mine, harvest, or otherwise exploit Player IDs, alias, or other information obtained through the Game Center will be removed from the iOS Developer Program You can't use Game Center to find out things about your users. You must respect their privacy. 6.4 Game Center information, such as Leaderboard scores, may only be used in apps approved for use with the Game Center 6.5 Apps that use Game Center service to send unsolicited messages, or for the purpose of phishing or spamming will be rejected 6.6 Apps that excessively use the network capacity or bandwidth of the Game Center will be rejected 6.7 Apps that transmit viruses, files, computer code, or programs that may harm or disrupt the normal operation of the Game Center service will be rejected

7. iAds

7.1 Apps that artificially increase the number of impressions or click-throughs of ads will be rejected You can't try to hack the system to make more money. 7.2 Apps that contain empty iAd banners will be rejected Your app must hide the iAd banner when no ads are being served to you. You don't want to confuse people with blank iAds. 7.3 Apps that are designed predominantly for the display of ads will be rejected iAds are only here to help you make a living from your app, they shall not be the only purpose of your app. For example, you can't make an app that just shows off iAds.

8. Trademarks and trade dress

8.1 Apps must comply with all terms and conditions explained in the Guidelines for using Apple Trademark and Copyrights and the Apple Trademark List You must respect the law, and you can't use Apple's trademarks. For example, you can't use trademarked brands in your application's name. 8.2 Apps that suggest or infer that Apple is a source or supplier of the app, or that Apple endorses any particular representation regarding quality or functionality will be rejected You can't tell people Apple is behind the app. 8.3 Apps which appear confusingly similar to an existing Apple product or advertising theme will be rejected You can't do what Apple already did. This means you can't duplicate core functionality or steal Apple's ideas and ads. 8.4 Apps that misspell Apple product names in their app name (i.e., GPS for Iphone, iTunz) will be rejected We'll be very upset if you don't know how to spell our product's names correctly. 8.5 Use of protected 3rd party material (trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, otherwise proprietary content) requires a documented rights check which must be provided upon request 8.6 Google Maps and Google Earth images obtained via the Google Maps API can be used within an application if all brand features of the original content remain unaltered and fully visible. Apps that cover up or modify the Google logo or copyright holders identification will be rejected You can't mess with what Google is providing us through the API. For example, you can't adapt the maps and make them look like your own.

9. Media content

9.1 Apps that do not use the MediaPlayer framework to access media in the Music Library will be rejected You can't try to access system files unless going through the official iOS way. 9.2 App user interfaces that mimic any iPod interface will be rejected 9.3 Audio streaming content over a cellular network may not use more than 5MB over 5 minutes In an effort to limit strain on the wireless data network, the quality of the audio you're streaming over 3G can't be higher than 160 kb/s 9.4 Video streaming content over a cellular network longer than 10 minutes must use HTTP Live Streaming and include a baseline 64 kbps audio-only HTTP Live stream You must use our own streaming technology that can adapt for the network so we can guarantee a better experience and limit strain on 3G networks.

10. User interface

10.1 Apps must comply with all terms and conditions explained in the Apple iPhone Human Interface Guidelines and the Apple iPad Human Interface Guidelines Your apps must look and feel like Apple apps. This is not really enforced. 10.2 Apps that look similar to apps bundled on the iPhone, including the App Store, iTunes Store, and iBookstore, will be rejected You can't try to copy what we already did. 10.3 Apps that do not use system provided items, such as buttons and icons, correctly and as described in the Apple iPhone Human Interface Guidelines and the Apple iPad Human Interface Guidelines may be rejected You can't use the interface elements provided to you in a way people are not familiar with. Like 10.2, it's about keeping the experience user friendly. 10.4 Apps that create alternate desktop/home screen environments or simulate multi-app widget experiences will be rejected This one came at the release of the iPad. Apple doesn't want the iPad to be like a desktop computer. 10.5 Apps that alter the functions of standard switches, such as the Volume Up/Down and Ring/Silent switches, will be rejected You can't use the buttons or the iDevice in a way it was it was not intended. 10.6 Apple and our customers place a high value on simple, refined, creative, well thought through interfaces. They take more work but are worth it. Apple sets a high bar. If your user interface is complex or less than very good it may be rejected It's about quality.

11. Purchasing and currencies

11.1 Apps that unlock or enable additional features or functionality with mechanisms other than the App Store will be rejected You can't have your own in-app purchase system. Apple wants you to use their own system as they feel they keep you safe doing so. Also, they get a 30% cut. 11.2 Apps utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase API (IAP) to purchase content, functionality, or services in an app will be rejected Same as 11.1 11.3 Apps using IAP to purchase physical goods or goods and services used outside of the application will be rejected You can't use in-app purchases for something other than unlocking new features. You can't buy a real world product through an in-app purchase. 11.4 Apps that use IAP to purchase credits or other currencies must consume those credits within the application 11.5 Apps that use IAP to purchase credits or other currencies that expire will be rejected 11.6 Content subscriptions using IAP must last a minimum of 30 days and be available to the user from all of their iOS devices 11.7 Apps that use IAP to purchase items must assign the correct Purchasability type 11.8 Apps that use IAP to purchase access to built-in capabilities provided by iOS, such as the camera or the gyroscope, will be rejected 11.9 Apps containing "rental" content or services that expire after a limited time will be rejected This doesn't really make much sense. Apps like Netflix do it, and it's alright. 11.10 Insurance applications must be free, in legal-compliance in the regions distributed, and cannot use IAP 11.11 In general, the more expensive your app, the more thoroughly we will review it

12. Scraping and aggregation

12.1 Applications that scrape any information from Apple sites (for example from, iTunes Store, App Store, iTunes Connect, Apple Developer Programs, etc) or create rankings using content from Apple sites and services will be rejected You can't make an app, for example, that scrapes trailers off Apple's website. You can however scrape that from other sites. 12.2 Applications may use approved Apple RSS feeds such as the iTunes Store RSS feed You can use some of Apple's content, but there are limits on what. 12.3 Apps that are simply web clippings, content aggregators, or a collection of links, may be rejected Your app must do more than be a reader for your blog. It must add some added value.

13. Damage to device

13.1 Apps that encourage users to use an Apple Device in a way that may cause damage to the device will be rejected Don't make apps that push people to do something bad with their device. Hand-warming apps that force your iPhone to work a lot and get hot won't be allowed anymore. 13.2 Apps that rapidly drain the device's battery or generate excessive heat will be rejected See 13.1

14. Personal attacks

14.1 Any app that is defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited, or likely to place the targeted individual or group in harms way will be rejected You must stay respectful 14.2 Professional political satirists and humorists are exempt from the ban on offensive or mean-spirited commentary This is something Apple introduced after rejecting a lot of cartoonists. However, you still can't make fun of Steve apparently.

15. Violence

15.1 Apps portraying realistic images of people or animals being killed or maimed, shot, stabbed, tortured or injured will be rejected 15 is all about protecting kids. It's self-explanatory. 15.2 Apps that depict violence or abuse of children will be rejected 15.3 "Enemies" within the context of a game cannot solely target a specific race, culture, a real government or corporation, or any other real entity 15.4 Apps involving realistic depictions of weapons in such a way as to encourage illegal or reckless use of such weapons will be rejected 15.5 Apps that include games of Russian roulette will be rejected You can't encourage people to shoot themselves.

16. Objectionable content

16.1 Apps that present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected 16.2 Apps that are primarily designed to upset or disgust users will be rejected

17. Privacy

17.1 Apps cannot transmit data about a user without obtaining the user's prior permission and providing the user with access to information about how and where the data will be used 17.2 Apps that require users to share personal information, such as email address and date of birth, in order to function will be rejected 17.3 Apps that target minors for data collection will be rejected

18. Pornography

18.1 Apps containing pornographic material, defined by Webster's Dictionary as "explicit descriptions or displays of sexual organs or activities intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings", will be rejected No pornography will be allowed. 18.2 Apps that contain user generated content that is frequently pornographic (ex "Chat Roulette" apps) will be rejected Even if your app doesn't contain pornography, if it will likely lead kids to being exposed to it, Apple won't accept it.

19. Religion, culture, and ethnicity

19.1 Apps containing references or commentary about a religious, cultural or ethnic group that are defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited or likely to expose the targeted group to harm or violence will be rejected 19.2 Apps may contain or quote religious text provided the quotes or translations are accurate and not misleading. Commentary should be educational or informative rather than inflammatory

20. Contests, sweepstakes, lotteries, and raffles

20.1 Sweepstakes and contests must be sponsored by the developer/company of the app You can't run contests for third-parties in your app. 20.2 Official rules for sweepstakes and contests, must be presented in the app and make it clear that Apple is not a sponsor or involved in the activity in any manner 20.3 It must be permissible by law for the developer to run a lottery app, and a lottery app must have all of the following characteristics: consideration, chance, and a prize 20.4 Apps that allow a user to directly purchase a lottery or raffle ticket in the app will be rejected Again, you can't purchase real-life goods inside the app. 21. Charities and contributions 21.1 Apps that include the ability to make donations to recognized charitable organizations must be free 21.2 The collection of donations must be done via a web site in Safari or an SMS 22. Legal requirements 22.1 Apps must comply with all legal requirements in any location where they are made available to users. It is the developer's obligation to understand and conform to all local laws Make sure your app is not doing anything illegal wherever it's sold. Basically it's about keeping Apple's responsibility out of it. 22.2 Apps that contain false, fraudulent or misleading representations will be rejected 22.3 Apps that solicit, promote, or encourage criminal or clearly reckless behavior will be rejected 22.4 Apps that enable illegal file sharing will be rejected This prevents bit torrent clients and similar programs from accessing the App Store. It's about preventing Apple from helping piracy. 22.5 Apps that are designed for use as illegal gambling aids, including card counters, will be rejected Apple is apparently trying to preserve a good reputation for its iDevices. Also, it has to respect the law. 22.6 Apps that enable anonymous or prank phone calls or SMS/MMS messaging will be rejected 22.7 Developers who create apps that surreptitiously attempt to discover user passwords or other private user data will be removed from the iOS Developer Program You can't make an app that tries to steal people's credentials. That's it for now. We're still working on certain sections however, so feel free to come back later for more. Anything to add in the meantime?

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