Apple's App Store review guidelines: Cheat Sheet

Attention iOS developers! Don't do this, this, this, or this...
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor

Attention iOS developers! Don't do this, this, this, or this...

I'm hoping this is going to be a bit more fun than it sounds.
Never fear, there are a few rules in Apple's App Store review guidelines that raise a smile - or an eyebrow.

Rules you say? What's this about then?
Developers of apps for Apple's iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch have to jump through the Apple review hoop before their app is published on its iTunes App Store. Apps that fail to make Apple's grade are rejected and thus go unpublished.

Sounds fair enough. It is Apple's App Store after all.
It is. However, up to now, the whole process has been conducted behind closed doors and the tens of thousands of developers who write third-party apps have been left in the dark as to what actually happens during the review. As a result, some developers have complained that they don't know why their apps were rejected, or why it took so long to get through the review. Unsurprisingly, others have objected rather publically to how secretive the whole thing is.

So now Apple's published a guide for developers?
It has, explaining more about what developers can do to make sure their apps meet Apple's approval. Complaints about the process' apparent lack of openness have not gone unnoticed, with Apple noting in a statement: "We hope it will make us more transparent and help our developers create even more successful apps for the App Store."

What's the guide like then?
The App Store review guidelines are more a list of what not to do for developers, setting out the kind of features, functionality, content and even "themes" that Apple will not tolerate on its platform.

Such as?
Porn for one. No surprise there - Apple CEO Steve Jobs has previously made public his opposition to having adult content on a platform used by children.

Apple notes in the guide: "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."

But porn is just the tip of Apple's iceberg of app no-nos - the list of don't-dos includes: buggy or crashing apps; apps that have been poorly coded or don't do what they say they will; beta apps or "amateur hour" efforts from first-time coders; apps that aren't "very useful" or "do not provide any lasting entertainment value"; apps that attack religions, promote illegal drugs or encourage binge drinking or underage smoking; apps that are defamatory or offensive; apps that portray realistic violence or cruelty to animals or children.

Just good clean fun then basically?
That's right - however, Apples says "professional political satirists and humorists" are exempt from the ban on offensive or "mean-spirited" material. Phew.

Anything else Apple doesn't like?
The company also gives the thumbs-down to apps that rapidly drain the battery or generate excess heat; apps that encourage users to damage the hardware in any way; Russian roulette apps - presumably even those that don't involve a live firearm - along with apps that contain "objectionable or crude content" or which "are primarily designed to upset or disgust users".

Oh and fart apps are specifically vetoed.

Fart apps: there are way too many on the iTunes App Store, reckons Apple

Enough already: No more fart apps please, says Apple
(Screenshot: Natasha Lomas/silicon.com)

Fart apps?!
Apple says there are already more than enough virtual Whoopee-Cushions on its platform. Apps that...

...duplicate existing apps may also be rejected - "particularly if there are many of them", the guide says.

Other banned apps are those that create alterative homescreens for Apple's devices. Cupertino also says apps which fail to live up to its standards for UI design and usability may also get the heave-ho, noting: "If your user interface is complex or less than very good it may be rejected."

Jobs and friends also frown on apps that imply Apple has endorsed them in any way; apps that "appear confusingly similar to an existing Apple product or advertising theme"; apps with descriptions not relevant to their content; apps containing metadata that mention the name of any other mobile platform; and apps that "are primarily marketing materials or advertisements".

Apps that download code are completely off limits too. There are also plenty of other security and privacy restrictions listed in the guide which developers must comply with.

The Apple iPhone 4: Apple has published a guide for iOS app developers

Apple has warned developers not to make apps that risk damaging its hardware
(Photo credit: Apple)

Is there anything in the guide to say how long the review process should take?
No specifics. However, Apple does say, in general, the more expensive an app is the longer Steve Jobs' minions will spend poring over it.

What happens if I submit my app and it's still rejected even though I've followed all the guidelines?
There is an appeals process for apps that get the cold shoulder - Apple has a Review Board for disgruntled developers to appeal to. However the guide also contains a veiled warning about sounding off publically after a rejection, saying: "If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps."

It's all still a bit vague isn't it?
Yes - something Apple seems to acknowledge, with the guide saying: "We will reject apps for any content or behaviour 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."

I'm curious, why is Apple publishing app guidelines now? What's going on here?
Good question. There is the aforementioned issue of Apple trying to ensure it keeps developers on side. After all, the rival Android mobile OS platform does not have...

...an app review process so Android developers can publish their apps without jumping through any hoops. Android is also an open source platform, which serves to further underline the closed nature of iOS, Apple's mobile OS platform.

By publishing a set of guidelines - however vague and mutable - Apple is showing it's trying to help developers get through the app review, and so counteracting criticism about secrecy and faceless control-freakery in the process.

There's a practical side too: with a published guide, Apple will be hoping developers will be better able to toe its line - making its own life easier by cutting down the amount of apps it has to reject.

Cutting the time it takes to get apps reviewed and up on the App Store is an issue that some iOS developers have complained about publically. With better guidelines Apple will be hoping developers are able to jump through its hoops more quickly, rather than stumbling at an obvious first hurdle.

Anything else?
With more than a quarter of a million apps on the App Store, Apple's biggest app issue is not quantity, it's quality and originality. Early on in the guide, Apple notes: "We have lots of serious developers who don't want their quality apps to be surrounded by amateur hour."

By flagging up the fact that duplicate apps are not welcome on the iTunes App Store, Apple looks to be attempting to encourage developers to think more creatively in order to stem the tide of app clones - as duplicate apps risk watering down the user experience by making it harder for iPhone owners to find new and useful content.

One more thing: Apple is currently being investigated by the US Federal Trade Commission - following the company's earlier decision not to support Flash on its platform - so cultivating a more open image might be politically prudent for Cupertino at this time. Apple has also now changed the terms of its iOS Developer Program licence, relaxing restrictions on the development tools developers can use to make iOS apps.

Any word on the kind of apps Apple does want developers to make?
A few words, yes, albeit vague ones.

An app with "polish" - in terms of its functionality and user interface - is what users want, according to Apple. "Go the extra mile. Give them more than they expect. And take them places where they have never been before. We are ready to help."

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