Over the past ten years, the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store have played a key role in the birth of multiple billion-dollar industries. Obvious examples include ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft along with delivery services like InstaCart, GrubHub, and Postmates. The app stores have transformed gaming, social media, health/fitness, and entertainment to name a few. With so much riding on these two app stores, changes to policies and procedures can have large consequences.
Types of Policies
There are a number of different policies that the app stores require developers to abide by. The main categories include how applications are bought and how in-app purchases are made, privacy and security policies that must be followed, as well as policies on the quality and content of an application. From very specific guidelines such as showing specific keyboards for different types of inputs, to more broad requirements like having a high quality user interface and unique content within your application.
- Permission must be asked before apps can use device sensor data (GPS, camera, Bluetooth)
- Targeting children requires special consideration when collecting analytics/personal information and when displaying ads
- Applications cannot be a simple wrapper around a website, they must make an effort to use native functionality and follow certain mobile app user interface standards
Apple and Google review all new app submissions and app updates before iPhone and Android users can download them. The review process, which can take as little as 12 hours and as much as 2 weeks, is the primary way policies are enforced. Apple’s review process typically takes longer and appears to be stricter than Google’s, with 40% of app submissions being rejected by Apple for various reasons. Applications that require a password must give the app store reviewers access so they can test as much of the app’s functionality as possible. If an issue is found developers have an opportunity to provide an explanation, appeal their case, or submit another update to fix the problem.
The Balancing Act
As with all platforms, things change and evolve over time and the app stores are no different. The thing to remember about changes in the app stores is how many companies and independent developers stand to be affected. Entire industries can be approved or rejected during the review process based on changes to these platform policies. Both app stores are aware of this issue and so they regularly tweak their policies to reduce the impact.
Both app stores have made changes to more tightly control apps that target kids. Apple announced new policies which would ban the use of all external analytics and advertising software. Panic set in throughout the development community for a short time because most developers use these types of libraries in their applications. Over the next couple months Apple revised their rules to allow a specific set of advertisers with child approved ads as well as allowing some external analytics libraries as long as personally identifiable information is not collected.
Template Based Apps
Apple has always required new applications to contain unique content and a unique user experience as much as is possible. They decided to implement a policy banning all templated applications and app-generator services. These types of app builder platforms are often used by small business and non-profits. They are a low cost option that often requires little to no technical expertise. Once Apple realized all of the local churches and small business that this change would actually affect, they decided to clarify the rules by only banning the templating services from submitting the application on the company or organization’s behalf.
Daily Fantasy Sports
In 2014, the first daily fantasy sports applications showed up in the Apple App Store. Apple allows these types of applications as long as the entity publishing the app has a gambling license and they must restrict the app from being used in areas where gambling is illegal. One year later, days before the NFL season started, the Play Store quietly allowed two of the most popular daily fantasy sports platforms to publish full versions of their applications even though Google’s policies stated that they did not allow gambling at the time. Today the Play Store has adopted similar policies to Apple.
There are many more examples of the app stores evolving over time and the effects this can have on certain industries or groups. Whether positive or negative, developers and companies must keep a close eye on policy changes that might affect their mobile applications and their business. Companies that heavily rely on the app store ecosystem to get access to their customers, companies in controversial industries, or those that are not building fully native applications must pay particularly close attention. Having enough time to react can make the difference between getting kicked out of the app store and ensuring that your application continues to be available to the billions of users around the world that these two massive platforms support.