Under the Radar

Under the Radar 21: App Store Rejection

 

  welcome to under the radar a show about

  independent iOS app development I'm

  Marco Arment and I'm David Smith under

  the radar is never longer than 30

  minutes so let's get started so today we

  wanted to talk a little bit about app

  review and specifically avoiding App

  Store rejection I've run into some

  recent challenges with app review and

  this is just sort of par for the course

  and it seems like a good opportunity to

  talk about this like it's a as much as

  it's easy and nice and fun to talk about

  the building an app process like the

  part of actually you know designing it

  implementing it testing it and even in

  some ways even like submitting it that

  process like avenge at some point your

  app is going to go through the app

  review process if you're you know if

  you're an iOS developer and there's you

  know a very reasonable chance that at

  some point one of your apps is going to

  be rejected and it's probably worth

  saying that this is very common

  like I've been rejected I've been

  rejected many times over the years I've

  been doing this for seven years and it

  isn't like you know somehow and I get

  rejected it's always been sad and and

  and complicated but it isn't something

  that that's like and life-shattering and

  like oh no this is terrible because you

  know it's a process and you can usually

  work your way through like for the with

  a very few exceptions almost all the

  times I've had an app rejected I end up

  working with without review that's

  either a misunderstanding or I just need

  to change something small and subtle in

  my app and you can work your way through

  but there's a lot of things that you can

  probably do to avoid it in the first

  place and then just sort of some things

  that I think we're going to talk about a

  - of things - how to respond in an

  appropriate and constructive way when

  things don't go quite your way because

  it's a big part of the process and it's

  also certainly something you want to

  keep in mind when you're planning your

  release

  like if you're especially if you're

  trying to release something with a

  specific date in mind I think right now

  Apple quotes that like 98% of new apps

  are reviewed within five days right now

  click on the on their support website

  which is probably I think you don't take

  them at the word that's probably true

  but you that doesn't mean that once you

  submit your app will be ready in five

  days

  is you know every time you get rejected

  you kind of have to restart that clock

  and so I tend to expect things to take

  at least two weeks like 14 days to be

  you know from when I submit it when it

  will be ready for the store and by and

  large unless you know things are going

  very problematic or it's a really really

  really busy time of the year that

  usually sort of seems to work out yeah I

  mean it you know it this is probably a

  bigger problem with consulting where you

  have to where the client wants to know

  like when's it's gonna be ready and you

  kind of can't give them a guaranteed

  date but you know anytime you're

  planning any kind of marketing push

  which you probably should be with almost

  any kind of app you make these days it

  is kind of a problem to not know when it

  will actually be released and you know

  if if you can if you can have everything

  kind of like uncommitted and just kind

  of like in draft mode you know with all

  your marketing and everything then you

  can you know just release it whenever

  you get approved or you know within that

  ideal day of you know if you want to

  wait till it's on a weekend or wait till

  it's not midnight or whatever that's

  probably a better idea but otherwise if

  you have to commit to a firm date to

  somebody the only real way to do that is

  to set the app for hold for developer

  release and get it approved first and

  then set it to 8:00 and of course that's

  very time-consuming because then you

  have to basically write the entire app

  like maybe a month before you want to

  actually release it because you have to

  allow all these padding for everything

  so I think it's just you know anything

  you can do both for your for your client

  if you're a consultant or for yourself

  if you're not - and anything you can do

  to kind of reduce people's expectations

  of having a precise release date for an

  app store app will help you if there

  because that's that's the reality of

  what we're dealing with here with that

  review and it's always been that way and

  it's always been you know it's always

  been you can get it released within a

  week most of the time but not all the

  time and you can't guarantee that and it

  might be long or you know and you can't

  even say oh well maybe we'll get

  rejected once and then second time well

  it will get through you can't even say

  that because the second time you know

  first of all it might take longer there

  there's occasionally times where you get

  stuck in i purview for weeks and you

  don't really know why and maybe you got

  a like email developer relations to have

  kik-kik it for you and get it going

  again or something and sometimes things

  require manager review if you're like

  kind of on the edges I mean which we'll

  get to so there's you know you can never

  really be sure how long it will take and

  so anything you can do to not depend on

  that or to not guarantee that to anybody

  else the more you can do that the better

  yeah

  and it's just sort of part of the

  process and it's probably one of the

  things to keep in mind with like the

  number one rule of app review in some

  ways is to like keep calm and try and

  not have it be a pressure thing because

  it was just very easy much easier said

  than done and I'm speaking that from

  very specific experience where it's hard

  to not be calm but anything you can do

  like you're sort of like to take

  pressure off that process to have it not

  be like but I have to have this out by

  this particular day like that is a

  makeover asking for trouble because this

  is the process we have like app review

  exists for a purpose

  you could disagree with that purpose or

  not but like it exists so this is the

  like these are the rules of the store

  and so it's just something that we have

  to as developers keep in mind and plan

  accordingly yeah it's not going anywhere

  like if you if you're sitting I mean

  even the most hardcore developers who

  were really super against the idea of

  the App Store in the early days I don't

  know anybody who is still fighting the

  fight of saying there shouldn't be a

  preview like everyone fought that fight

  in 2008 and I don't think anyone is

  still is still expecting that to change

  and ultimately I like the idea of a

  preview and I usually like the imitation

  of it there are parts of it that I think

  need to be reconsidered or need to be

  improved but overall the concept of app

  review and most of the execution of it I

  think is actually beneficial to both us

  and our customers and as an app store

  customer also I appreciate that as

  they're exactly because it's you know

  it's its goal is to try and maintain

  sort of a certain like be this line in

  the sand to try and say like you have to

  meet this bar and we can argue about

  where that bar is but yeah I'm very glad

  that there is a bar and both it's

  helpful as a developer to you know have

  some have a goal in mind and I think in

  general I wish the bar were a bit higher

  for a lot of in a lot of

  cases but it's the bar that exists that

  we have to at the very least reach

  so let's probably start talking about

  that bar and there's a couple of links

  we'll have in the show notes about this

  that Kapil is pretty helpful in terms of

  their documentation about app review

  about what to expect and they have a

  really helpful page that if you haven't

  looked at your of kind of doing this

  wrong of common a projection reasons and

  they have a page where they list out

  like what are these our most common

  reasons and they even include at the

  bottom like for certain periods of time

  they'll say what the most common reasons

  were for a projections before we get

  into those first thing you always have

  to do when you think about app review is

  read the actual app review guidelines

  like if you haven't read the rules

  there's really no way that you could

  reasonably expect for your app to pass

  review except by luck and there's a lot

  of them I counted them up but in

  preparation for today's show and there

  are currently a hundred and eighty-two

  app review rules and they're broken down

  into all kinds of different categories

  they're all different kinds like there's

  ones that are functional there's ones

  that are more privacy related there's

  ones that only apply to certain apps you

  know so if you're a health app there's

  certain rules that apply to you if

  you're a insurance company there's

  certain rules like there's all kinds of

  very some of them are very specific some

  of them are very broad and it's one of

  these things that periodically you

  should probably just like read through

  the app review guidelines and make sure

  that you at least know what begley

  what's going on there it's good you know

  sort of ignorance of the rule isn't

  going to be a particularly useful

  defense if app review comes back and

  says hey you know you need to change

  this like oh I didn't know it's like

  well you know it's it's in it's in the

  guidelines but on that page the most

  interesting thing that I see that when

  they break down kind of the typical

  reasons that people get rid get rejected

  like at least a quarter of them are in

  some ways entirely avoidable

  so fourteen percent they said of a

  projections happen because the developer

  did not provide enough enough

  information that's like the service

  catch-all more information needed which

  I would take to me like you didn't

  complete you didn't do something

  complete and you're

  like episode description your

  screenshots or your doing something

  funny that they need more clarification

  on which is a just as a side note is

  when you submit an app there's a little

  box that says review reviewer notes and

  if you don't you're not putting anything

  in there you're probably like way sort

  of doing doing it wrong because I'm

  doing that I think that's your

  opportunity if there's anything that's

  weird or edge KC or that your reviewer

  could get confused by like you can write

  a little note and review will row but

  will read it before you before they look

  at your app and so anytime you're doing

  anything that could be problematic like

  kind of preempt that by saying hey I'm

  doing this in this app you know maybe

  like in if it requires a certain kind of

  permission or you can explain why it

  requires that permission you know so

  like in pedometer plus plus it's like I

  have a little note that I usually submit

  along with it it says like it requires

  motion tracking permission and that's

  what it uses to come you know to counter

  steps if you don't provide this

  information it shows you an

  informational screen in the app

  indicating that you know it needs that

  permission in order to gather the data

  or something like that but like 14% of a

  projections are because you didn't

  provide enough information and then

  another 10% our apps that exhibit bugs

  which is typically I in this case I

  think crashes is probably the biggest

  category of um of bugs but like

  ultimately if you're submitting an app

  that's crashing in the brief window that

  the app reviewer is looking at it like

  something's got missed in QA probably

  because they're probably really not it's

  not the kind of bug that they're going

  to be like importing you know 10,000

  records into your database and really

  working I like pushing your app to the

  limit like I expect they're probably

  sitting down with your app and using it

  for five minutes at most and so if it

  crashes in that first five minutes like

  you've probably done something not quite

  right in your testing phase like you

  should probably have been able to

  replicate the crashed if they're having

  in the first place

  yeah I mean it this is and this is one

  of the reasons why a projectionists or a

  preview is so good for work for

  everybody because yeah I mean there are

  there are lots of crashes that get

  through review and that shipped to

  customers but I know a lot of developers

  myself included who

  who a preview has saved us from

  accidentally shipping something that

  would have affected a lot more people

  like you know they test a lot about the

  app like you know for instance like if

  you if you're new user registration or

  login process is broken and you ship a

  bug fix update that you think it's just

  a bug fix and you don't test new user

  logins because you didn't hit that

  during your like hour of testing on your

  own phone they will hit that and and

  then you don't accidentally break the

  app for all of your customers during the

  next week while you can get in while you

  can't get other bug fix out so this is

  like the the guideline where like if

  your app crashes or exhibits obvious

  bugs during review you will definitely

  get rejected that is great and I think

  that's totally unarguable like whether

  that should be there or not exactly yeah

  like that's the kind of and it will a it

  certainly happened to me too yet where

  you it's it's a lovely thing where

  they'll catch something that you just is

  it's usually not hard to recreate but

  it's just a situation that you may not

  you may have missed like it's on a

  particular device or like on a fresh

  install on a particular device you'll

  have an issue or are things like that

  and it's certainly the nice thing that

  it's like there's this last sort of

  sanity process like definitely don't

  rely on it as a QA process like app

  review is not a like it's not like oh

  you know I don't need to worry about

  doing basic QA because f of you will

  find it like that is entirely the wrong

  way to look at it it's more like it's

  this last chance to catch a bug that may

  otherwise get through but once we're

  through kind of like that was those

  first two like you just didn't provide

  enough information to app to Apple or

  there's like obvious and clean sort of

  glaring bugs in it like we'll then we

  start to get into rules and things that

  become much more I don't know like

  squishy you know things like they like

  got a guide let rule 10.6 is one of

  these like apple and our customers place

  a high value on simple refined creative

  well-thought-out interfaces they take

  more work but they're worth it annapolis

  that's a high bar if your app is user if

  your user interface is complex and less

  than very good

  it may be rejected and like six percent

  of apps are rejected for not meeting

  that criteria

  I wonder I'd love to see those six

  percent because if you look if you look

  at what's in this store I would describe

  many apps that I come across in the

  store as having you eyes that are less

  than very good it's so you've got to

  wonder what else they're seeing that

  gets that six percent rejection because

  this is one of those areas where I would

  love for the bar to be higher yeah

  exactly like it's been it's just this is

  these are they're like there's some of

  the guidelines that are like negative

  and there are some that are almost like

  more positive like a more like

  aspirational like I like the concept of

  this rule and like I like the way it's

  written even like I think that's a

  really good thing and like being more

  strict on that is certainly something

  that could be helpful but it's certainly

  something to keep in mind that like yeah

  like Apple is going to look at your app

  and if you really is just kind of like

  shoddy and thrown together there's a

  good chance that it'll be rejected as a

  result and so you know like work hard on

  your app make it look good you know try

  your best like especially an ice since

  like at the iOS 7 stuff like a lot of

  these things are much easier to do then

  they may have once been to kind of make

  an app that looks and feel that you know

  feels at home on the platform and you

  know is is good in the in that kind of

  visual sense but you know like know that

  if you don't you might get called on

  this yeah and it's this is one of those

  rules that it's it's very hard to

  enforce consistently by a large staff of

  a whole bunch of humans and and this is

  part of the problem that review well you

  know one of the biggest problems they

  have is just inconsistency of

  enforcement and you know we can sit here

  and we have and say like we'd love for

  that for the bar to be higher on like

  the UI quality rule but the higher they

  make it the the more we're gonna see

  people getting rejected for things that

  are arguable or that they shouldn't have

  been rejected for and we don't like that

  and we blog about that so you know I I

  don't know I think it this is one of

  those things where it I wish the rule

  was more strict but if it were it might

  just cause more problems

  maybe yeah and then it's like it's

  probably also worth it's like the

  reality with app review is and this is

  something very important when you are

  dealing with the rejection is the

  understanding that like the people who

  are doing app review

  our people like their individuals whose

  job it is to go to work every day and

  they sit down and they go through

  applications and they try make decisions

  about them and you know people are

  flawed and make mistakes and if they

  make mistakes and my experience half of

  you is very good about correcting those

  mistakes but you know you're there some

  inevitably there's going to be

  subjective decisions that someone has to

  make they have to look at it and it's

  like is this good enough is this good

  enough like it's there's something like

  if your app crashes like it's a binary

  thing like it as soon as I grab crashes

  it's failed for a review like that's

  just sort of like the rule it's

  something like a you know a refined

  quality interface like finding that line

  is inevitably going to be more difficult

  and so just sort of give a preview some

  grace about if we're having a Miss if

  you have a misunderstanding with them

  about what that might be

  then you know just kind of have to have

  to work through that at a human level

  that you're just trying to convince

  somebody who's doing their job you know

  that your app is actually good enough

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  course there are many other rules that

  we could talk about oh yeah

  and just like kind of like as a guiding

  principle like in general I feel like a

  lot of people look at the app store

  rules as though they as though it's like

  a legal contract you can try to really

  wiggle your way around and it's very

  important to consider that the app store

  rules are not laws an app review is not

  a court of law

  and you know while while you can like

  whether there are parts of it the kind

  of sound like it like there's the appeal

  process and everything but it's always

  important to remember that these rules

  are broad usually they're vague they are

  made to be subjectively interpreted by

  the app reviewers and their managers and

  they also are not the complete list of

  rules and the rules can change over time

  so really what matters is the spirit of

  the rules not the letter of the rules

  because they're all being subjectively

  evaluated and you can't guarantee that

  if you if you are trying to skirt around

  a rule by using some kind of

  technicality in the wording or

  interpreting something differently

  that probably won't work and if he gets

  through once it probably won't get

  through the next time you gotta do an

  update and so it's it's wise in general

  to just avoid being near the edges of

  the rules you know avoid relying on

  things that are almost disallowed or

  almost against the rules but you're

  living on the edge because it's going to

  bite you eventually you know again you

  might get through this time but then

  when you need to submit an urgent bug

  fix that might get rejected for

  something the first

  past four that wasn't even included in

  the bug fix but like it you know just so

  happened Oh like Oh your login screen

  plays weird tricks that are kind of

  against the rules so we're gonna reject

  those important bug fix so generally

  speaking this is not a place to to try

  to play fast and loose or try to live on

  the edge of a certain interpretation of

  a certain rule because that's not how

  this works

  yeah exactly and like and especially

  when you start to get into like the next

  most popular reasons that people are

  rejected or become start to become

  things that are very obvious that aren't

  good like they tend to start to get into

  things around like to being fraudulent

  or misleading be not dealing with

  people's personal information correctly

  like having misleading or inappropriate

  trademark violations like things that

  are kind of obvious and problematic and

  if you're doing those things like you

  really are in trouble like the place to

  push the boundaries in your application

  is not on the policy side it's almost

  certainly going to be on the technology

  side like doing something new and

  interesting functionally rather than

  trying to like find some new way to sort

  of game the App Store because like you

  said like Apple at any point like it's a

  very one-sided relationship and you

  could argue back and forth about whether

  that's a good thing or not

  but at the end of the day if Apple

  doesn't like your app they don't have to

  publish it it's not a situation that

  even if if we know if like you could

  you're you in your heart of hearts could

  thinks this app belongs on the App Store

  if Apple disagrees that's where the way

  it is and by and large I think they're

  fairly good stewards of that power but

  ultimately that's the reality and so

  trying to do things that are gaming or

  being aggressive with the you know

  against the rules is just never going to

  work and it's just not productive yeah

  you you basically you can't rely on

  getting away with it you know like this

  like if if you if you think you can get

  away this thing's another you know

  they're parts of your life because you

  can live on the edge of rule or you can

  find a little loophole Apple doesn't

  care if what you do technically is

  allowed by the wording of a certain rule

  if it violates what they believe to be

  the spirit of the rule you're gonna get

  rejected simple as that

  and you can complain as much as you want

  you can you can blog about it you can

  get pressed about it but ultimate

  yeah they they make the final call and

  you you just have to accept that and you

  can you can you can argue about it but

  that arguing about it won't usually get

  your app back in the store unless it's

  really unless it's like really truly

  arguable and they are undecided

  internally about what the policy should

  be and then you can you can argue for

  certain things to be changed like when

  things are new and they're still

  figuring out the rules around certain

  things but stuff like the 30% cut and

  trying to get around that which

  everybody wants to try to get around

  these days trying to have like an in-app

  purchase through your website that's not

  running through their system and

  everything like stuff like that the

  rules pretty the rules are pretty clear

  and you you won't skirt them by some

  technicality exactly and so lastly I

  think the place to talk through is the

  process of when you get rejected what

  that's like and then maybe some

  recommendations around like constructive

  approaches to it you know and so you

  submit an app and you put it in out in

  the App Store and you're you know you

  kind of it goes into waiting for review

  like as its status and then eventually

  it'll pop over into in review which is

  always very exciting and it's terrifying

  terrifying yeah it's it's that's you

  could use that word it's it's it's very

  it's very similar so you're in this

  terrified state just waiting for and if

  you probably should have the iTunes

  Connect app installed on your phone in

  that you can turn on push notifications

  so you can be really aware of if

  anything's happened with your app and

  then you're hoping for it'll probably

  come back to pry the processing for App

  Store or pending developer release if

  it's been approved that's like those are

  the good ones or you may get your app

  has been rejected which is a bit of a

  harsh thing that can mean a lot of

  different things it could be rejected

  there's what's called metadata rejection

  which is the app is fine but there's

  some issue with your screenshot or

  description or something along those

  lines or your keywords aren't quite

  right or those types of things where

  it's more of a very minor fix like you

  don't have to resubmit your app you can

  just change the metadata and resubmit

  but you know it when it happens

  usually Apple bullion though they'll

  provide you a reason in what's called

  the resolution Center in iTunes Connect

  and you know they'll just basically

  usually though excited

  like I have pretty much always had a

  rejection that's always - always ties

  back to some rule sometimes the rules

  are the very like sort of catch-all

  rules sometimes they're very specific

  they'll say like this is what you know

  this is what the rule that you violated

  they give you like a one or two sentence

  description about your specific

  violation and then they'll usually give

  you a couple of sentences about you know

  what you'll need to change if anything

  could be changed to be in compliance

  with the rule and when this happens like

  number one advice and this is

  hard-fought advice that I've learned

  over the years is like the first thing

  you need to do is like calm down because

  there's so easy I this for myself for

  this to be a very emotional thing that

  like someone has it's kind of like when

  you read a one-star review in the App

  Store or something like that where it

  can be very emotional like you can

  become very attached to your software

  and then suddenly someone is saying they

  don't like it it's rejected it's a

  pretty harsh thing and so you kind of

  have to just like take a step back take

  a deep breath like you don't want to

  just like immediately you know go to the

  Resolution Center open that up and start

  yelling and screaming and saying AHA you

  know I can't believe you did this like

  the reality is you need to be

  professional you need to be polite

  understand that there's just someone

  doing their job at the other end of this

  so being polite considerate patient like

  writing in full sentences with not full

  all caps like these are things that are

  probably going to help your case because

  shouting at them isn't going to help

  your case being clear and constructive

  might might be or at least will help and

  the thing that I found most helpful to

  is to take a step back and try and put

  yourself in the app reviewers shoes and

  see why they rejected you like if it

  isn't immediately obvious like if

  obviously if they just said like your

  app crashed but that's not a big

  surprise but if you're on one of these

  things where it's more subjective just

  being like well you're wrong like that's

  not what I'm doing there or that's

  different or you're you know that rule

  is stupid none of those are gonna help

  but if you can understand why they're

  doing it like where they're coming from

  what that the spirit of that rule is

  probably around and frame your response

  to them accordingly you probably have a

  much better chance of kind of clearing

  it up and just sort of having it be a

  misunderstanding that gets fixed rather

  than being

  like a confrontation that just began and

  beyond that you just kind of have to

  work the process like it'll take time

  you you know you write them a message

  and then within you know a few hours a

  few days you'll get a response back if

  you need to you can go to the app review

  like appeal board which I think would

  take even longer when if you really are

  like pushing up against something that

  is kind of gray in the policy but in

  general you just kind of have to state

  you know sort of keep calm and just like

  work the process and understand that it

  happens it's nothing like personal in

  that way like it's not like oh man

  you're a failure you got your app your

  app was rejected initially like I've had

  a lot of apps many of whom went on to be

  very successful that their first

  submission was rejected for all kinds of

  reasons and so it's just part of the

  process Keep Calm be respectful and

  it'll probably work out okay in the end

  yeah I mean because we all go through

  this

  everyone gets rejected and you know even

  not just your first version like it

  updates can get rejected for all sorts

  of reasons too and I mean my ass get

  rejected all the time like you know

  probably I would say maybe 10 to 20

  percent of my submissions get rejected

  for some reason and that's because and

  it used to be a higher rate like I've

  just gotten better over the years of

  trying to avoid this issues you know it

  just it happens right and we all deal

  with that I mean right now like I'm on

  edge right now against all the advice

  you just gave I'm not calm right now

  because I have a bug-fix update for

  overcast that's been in review through a

  night boundary and usually what that

  means like in review is fine when it

  last one day when it crosses a night

  boundary and you and you're in review

  for multiple days what that sometimes

  means is they're busy but what most of

  the time means is you're being kicked

  back to a manager for something and

  that's usually not good I'm probably

  about to get rejected for some reason

  that I consider like BS but I'm just

  gonna deal with it and I'm resubmit and

  I'll move on and that's life that's just

  being app developer and it's you know

  it's no big deal

  exactly and we just you know we just

  make them make the best of it like maybe

  and it's a kind of an example of a place

  where it's just like part of being like

  what you use the kind of the word

  professionalism or something like this

  is a very an area where that comes very

  much into play that like okay it happens

  like let's just move on try and make it

  on as unemotional as we can let's be

  respectful as best we can and in the end

  like I said I've been doing this a long

  time I've been rejected many times I've

  had some very I've had a lot of feelings

  about it at times but by and large I can

  look back and like the reason I'm still

  doing this you know seven and a half

  years later is because in the end I care

  Li look back at the way that app review

  has behaved and look at it in - but you

  know and sometimes I'll disagree with it

  but the I can respect it and I can

  understand where it's coming from and

  that helps a lot in keeping well handed

  and you know being reasonable in this

  process well said

  all right thanks like for listening

  everybody and we will talk to you next

  week bye