Acerbic Resonance

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Apple Seems To Hate iPhone Developers

For some time now (more than a year) I’ve been working on a side project creating guides for all the state parks of various states in the US.  These guides are written for iOS, and have been released on the Apple App Store.  To date, 12 states have been completed and released, and have been received well.  A few weeks ago 5 more states were completed and submitted to Apple.  After the obligatory 10 day wait to get the new states approved, I received notification from Apple that I was “spamming” the store with the same application, just full of different content.  This sort of behavior would get me booted from their developer program, and my 5 new states were flat-out rejected.

We found that your app provides the same feature set as other apps you’ve submitted to the App Store; it simply varies the content or language.  Apps that replicate functionality with different content create clutter in the App Store, hindering users’ ability to find apps, and do not comply with the App Store Review Guidelines.  Apps based on a common feature set should be combined into a single container app that uses the In App Purchase API to deliver different content. For example, it would be appropriate to consolidate the following apps with your existing Parks apps, using In App Purchase:

New York Parks
Colorado State Parks
North Carolina Parks
Virginia Parks

I appealed this decision, with some of the following logic:

Given the geographic disparity from state to state, someone in Ohio is not likely interested in the state parks available in California, Texas, or Alaska.  We have heard from many users who love the strict focus and clear delineation of purpose from one state to another of our existing state parks apps.  I would further like to point out that many of the states in the US have several hundred state parks, and attempting to combine all the parks from several states into one application will make the user’s experience confusing and inelegant, as well as force the application size to become very large.

Someone interested in the state parks of New York would not buy the California Parks application so that they could then perform an In App Purchase of the New York Parks information.  Someone interested in New York will look for and find apps specific to New York.

There are 50 states in the US, and we have planned only 1 app for each state.  We have gone to a lot of trouble to ensure that our applications are feature-rich, complete, and compelling for the user.  We further strongly believe that given that Apple has already accepted apps for 12 other states, the remaining states should be accepted in similar fashion.

A week later (today) I received a phone call from someone at Apple regarding this, and they were adamant that the In App Purchase route was the only way to go for our business model.  I pointed out that so called “shell” apps that are free but require In App Purchases to install anything useful are universally disliked by users of the app store.  I also explained that consolidating all our state parks information into a single app would limit our exposure on the app store, make it more difficult for users to find the information we offer, and did not make sense for someone looking for state parks information specific to a single state.  I further discussed another developer that I found to have more than 300 applications that are simply maps for various parks around the country, and questioned how that could happen… The guy I was speaking with sounded dubious about whether I was telling the truth, and persisted that no such applications have been accepted for a long time.  He further insisted that In App Purchasing was a much better business model, and that we do it that way or don’t do it at all.  When I indicated that we were not interested in pursuing an In App Purchase model, his response was “well, then we’re not interested in having you in the app store.”  It was clear that I had no negotiation power at all, and that he really didn’t care what I was going to say or how insane his position sounded to me.  His reasoning was circular and nonsensical, and really felt as though Apple has some other reason to push In App Purchase rather than allow multiple applications.

So here is what Apple is saying:  If you write an excellent app framework or architecture that could be applied to more than one domain of information, tough.  Use In App Purchase model or go find somewhere else to sell your app.

So, what do you think?  Have you used In App Purchasing to buy more content for an app you already own?  How would you feel if you downloaded a free app purporting to be a guide for all the state parks in the US only to find that all the content has to be paid for individually?


8 responses to “Apple Seems To Hate iPhone Developers”

  1. I never use in-app purchasing, and if I were looking for a state park app, I would search by state name, not for a generic state-parks-of-the-nation app. This is exactly what I did when I purchased two separate apps for two separate subway maps: New York and DC.

    This is a mistake by apple.

    I can see what they are trying to prevent, but in this case it seems like they are preventing spam at the expense of legitimate apps.

    Do your apps seem spammy?

    1. I don’t think they are spammy, no. They are actually quite good – chocked full of useful information. We hear from users all the time about how useful they are.

      I’d be happy to send you a code for a free copy for any of the 12 states they allowed, if you like. Just drop me a line.

  2. I agree with dave, that’s just idiotic by that reviewer. I would never reject an app which is localized to one area, it’s like trying to sell a map of sahara in siberia.

    Although i would understand if they rejected an app, let’s say a game which uses the exact same engine+gameplay but with different art, but this is just ridiculous!

    I’m ashamed to be working with you apple!

    1. Interestingly, there are several prominent apps that are the exact same engine + gameplay but with different art, which Apple gleefully allows and encourages.

      AngryBirds is the first that comes to mind… but I guess since State Parks are not as exciting as flinging cartoon birds to kill piggies, I lose.

  3. I agree that in-apps purchasing are universally hated, but I also think that they are becoming accepted. I must admit that I have made a few purchases in the app. What I haven’t liked is where it was forced: i.e. here is something free, oh but you have to pay to have something useful. Always felt like a bait and switch.

    Being somebody who has the goal of seeing all the National Parks, and somebody who just moved to Boise, I think that I would prefer to have a container app than a bunch of states icons cluttering my phone.

    To be clear, I am not trying to justify Apple’s position, their control of the Store kept me from buying an iPhone for a long time, and why my phone is still jailbroken. But, I also think that if done right, that model can work successfully.

    My advice: you have put in the work, don’t give up.


  4. Apple doesn’t just treat developers like this, it’s the same mindset they use on their customers.

    Jump the fence and develop for Android, I’ve found it to be a more pleasant experience for everyone.

    1. Have you found it to be profitable to develop on Android? Everything I’ve heard and read indicates that it is:

      a) difficult to cater to all the different types of android devices and capabilities
      b) a pain in the neck to deal with refunds / complaints about problems out of your control (installation errors, store download problems, etc)
      c) nearly impossible to actually make a buck.

      What has your experience been?

  5. Hi, I know this is an old post but I wanted to chime in, having recently gone through this myself.

    My position is that if you are offering legitimate, targeted content that is not spamming and the Apple position is BS. Its also BS that the reviewers and that guy who calls people (The infamous Steve Rea) are so inflexible and unable to distinguish between spam and something like you are doing, which is providing users with what they want for their own specific needs.

    As far as Android, my experience is its a waste of time for developers. That is unfortunate, I do agree with J.D. it’s hassle free but the reality of the market is I receive $100 for iPhone apps for every $1 I get from the same Android apps. My view is forget Android at this point. I am hoping that over time the Kindle Fire and Amazon store might catch on, but I am not seeing much evidence that’s helping developers much yet.

    It would be nice if developers could stand together and get Apple to be more reasonable but since they are the cash cow they are in control. Many of these decisions are arbitrary and even seem to depend on who the reviewers are at the time you submit your app. Something that gets approved one time gets rejected another.

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