Apple & App Store guideline 4.2.6


During the Summer of 2017, the creation and management of iOS apps with GoodBarber was interrupted. This interruption followed a change made by Apple in their guidelines for publishing apps in the App Store. This had no impact on the creation of Android apps and on the creation of Progressive Webs Apps, beside the temporary suspension of V3 / V4 migrations.

This post blog retraces the precise chronology of events and specifies the consequences of Apple's new rules on GoodBarber's commercial offer.

June 2017

On June 8, 2017, Apple added the Rule 4.2.6 in its publishing guidelines for the App Store.

"4.2.6 - Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected." 

Rule 4.2.6 has been inserted at the end of the section "4.2 Design> Minimum Functionality". We interpreted this addition as a way to moderate poor apps, equivalent to a corporate site, without real recurring engagement by the end-user. On June 21, 2017, Techcrunch published an article that gave a similar interpretation. Techcrunch wrote that the purpose of this rule was to allow the removal of clones, spam, and all the other apps that were trying to mislead the user from the App Store.

GoodBarber and its customers continued their activities as they had always done.

Public distribution of native apps

Each store has review systems whose primary purpose is to protect end-users from adult, hateful, and malware apps.

On Android, to publicly distribute an app, there are alternatives to Google Play (direct installation, alternative store).

On iOS, the App Store is the only way to publicly distribute an app.

July 2017

On July 21, 2017, Apple rejected the update of the My Goodbarber app. They contacted us by phone to let us know that, in accordance with the new rule, applications currently created with GoodBarber would be rejected. That is indeed what has happened since then.

We were very surprised by the content of Apple's phone call. A person from the review team told us that:

- Apple no longer wanted a user to access an online tool in order to retrieve a binary file (the .ipa file containing the app) and send it to the review team;
- Apps mass production was a problem;
- Applications created with an App Builder were considered as spam because they all had the same template.

Nevertheless, the review team maintained that Apple would be very happy for GoodBarber to continue sending apps as long as they were customized to make them unique.

To meet Apple's requirements, GoodBarber made the following changes:

- The client would no longer have access to the .ipa file allowing distribution in the App Store (for the iOS version of GoodBarber)
- The unlimited reseller offer disappeared from the commercial portal (for iOS)

At the same time, we took immediate precautionary measures. We would rather not put our clients in a difficult position unnecessarily:

- We stopped V3/V4 migrations, which were involving a submission of an app update in the App Store. At this time, there was no guarantee that updates would be accepted.
- We stopped compilations for iOS. Users were no longer able to retrieve an .ipa file to submit a new app or to update an existing app.
- In the back office, we created a page dedicated to iOS to keep our customers informed about the situation. This page has been updated as often as possible.

For more information about this decision, we contacted Apple's Developer Relations Manager. He knows GoodBarber well. For 5 years, we have been collecting his feedback, at least once a year, on our product evolution. He thinks we have the ability to find a solution, because we are a reliable partner. However, he told us that decisions were made by the Review Team only.

On July 25, 2017, we sent the first formalized document to Apple that explained how GoodBarber would now work, taking into account all the review team's requirements.
From that date onwards, it has been very difficult to obtain an opinion on the various elements that we produced to explain the changes we were making. Despite the insistence of our requests, it was a very long time before we could get a commitment from Apple.

We performed quality checks on the 15,000 iOS apps created with GoodBarber. Our goal was to detect possible spammers. We found no spam, but among reseller accounts, some have created almost identical apps.

Part of our customer base includes 800 active resellers. The majority are agencies specialized in the creation of apps and sites. 10 of them have more than 100 iOS apps created with GoodBarber. Of these ten, only 2 have an acceptance rate of apps in the App Store between 80% and 90%, the others have a rate higher than 90%.

We also noted that Apple sometimes were using the Rule 4.3 - Spam to reject apps from resellers using their own developer account, not their client’s.

August 2017

We tried to contact Apple on a regular basis, but we were not making any progress. In the brief exchanges we had, we noticed that the proposals we made had not been examined yet.
The review team was just repeating what it was opposed to:
- online tools that allow users to retrieve an .ipa file
- mass production
- copycat apps
- the use of templates

Apple told us what options were available:
a / producing customized and unique apps.
b / grouping similar apps into a container app.
c / making web apps and distribute them outside of the App Store.

a / Calibration of the quality assurance process. Unique apps.

There was still no guarantee that our customers' applications would be accepted. Therefore, the compilation of iOS apps remained closed. Our Team offered some clients to work on their projects. Our goal was to test the quality assurance process we designed in July. We worked on the design and functionalities of those apps to make them unique, and we submitted them to Apple.

At this stage, only 47% of the August submissions and resubmissions were accepted, and we collected information to try to answer our questions:
- Apps uniqueness? GoodBarber V4 has a modular system allowing 64! combinations (factorial 64 = several billion) to customize an app. This system prevents 2 apps from being similar.  
- Using templates? Templates are designed to respect ergonomic concepts. Can a news app avoid displaying a list of articles? Should a shopping app abandon the top right corner to display the shopping cart shortcut? 

b / Container app

The subject of the container app had not been discussed in July by Apple. We discussed this with our resellers. Those who operate in a clearly defined niche told us that this solution could make sense. Some even told us that they had obtained from Apple the possibility to continue updating the apps already accepted in the App Store, for the time to transition to this new solution.

c / Web app

When rejecting a project under Rule 4.2.6, Apple was encouraging some projects to switch to web apps. Well, before the 4.2.6, GoodBarber decided to bet on the Progressive Web Apps. They represent a huge opportunity. It has been 2 years since we invested intensely in this direction. Since April 2017, GoodBarber has been the first PWA builder in the world to market an offer. PWAs are a credible alternative to native apps. Web technologies are evolving rapidly. On Android, using service workers in Chrome allows you to browse the web app offline, to receive push notifications and to install your web app easily on the home screen. However, on iOS, although PWAs are perfectly displayed on Safari, service workers are not yet supported, so for the moment, offline consultation through this medium and push notifications are not possible. Nevertheless, beginning of August, Apple announced they had begun to work on the implementation of service workers in Safari

However, our contact at Apple had no information to give us regarding push support for web apps; and if this would coincide with the support of services workers. The only certainty is that you will need an Apple developer account to have push notifications in your web app, as it is already the case with Safari on OSX. 

Other app builders and crisis communication

Apple insists that there will be no exception to the application of Rule 4.2.6.

We read here and there that direct competitors were not impacted by the Rule 4.2.6. We conducted our own tests and found this to be largely untrue. On the other hand, Apple is finding it more difficult to identify those who use non-native technologies (especially Cordova). We were in touch with other app builders CEOs. Even the highly specialized services that were producing 300 apps per year were impacted. 

Our communication during this time has been transparent. At no point did we pretend, unlike some competitors, to have no problem at all. Some criticized us for not communicating enough, even if to say nothing. We could have discussed our various hypotheses and analysis of the situation. We preferred to stay focused on solving the problem. Every time we had reliable and communicable information, we were sharing it with our customers.

September 2017

At the beginning of the month, we had a better view of the Rule 4.2.6 impact on our business. We observed a 30% drop in new subscriptions for the month of August. This was a consequence of the blockage of the iOS part of the platform. 

Beginning of August, we continued working on redefining GoodBarber’s road map and commercial offer. 

On September 7th, during a final discussion with the review team, the situation  evolved positively. We agreed on a suitable solution for existing customers. Apple allowed the update of apps that were already validated in the App Store. This means that GoodBarber’s customers who already had an app in the App Store could update it without falling into the 4.2.6 Rule. Successfully, the day after, several app updates were validated, some of which had been pending for weeks.

We now are gradually reopening back offices to allow compilation and submission for users willing to update their already published iOS apps. We also are gradually reactivating V3/V4 migrations. 

We are currently finalizing the new version of the GoodBarber portal. It is scheduled to be live on September 25th. On this date, GoodBarber's commercial offer will change. It will reflect the Rule 4.2.6 impact on our business. Here are the three main points: 

1 / Existing customers, who already have an iOS app published in the App Store, will be able to continue maintaining and updating their app. Apple guaranteed us that they won't be impacted by the Rule 4.2.6. The subscription they currently have won’t change.

2 /  For the distribution of a new iOS app in the App Store (including for resellers), GoodBarber will perform a review, in order to maximize the chances to be accepted by Apple. A fee will apply, if successful.

3 / The unlimited reseller offer will remain for Android and the PWAs, at no extra cost. For iOS, however, it will only be available for distribution outside the App Store, with an enterprise developer account (Apple Developer Enterprise Program ).

The future belongs to apps

Today, in terms of usage, apps represent 90% of the time spent on smartphone but the web is even more popular with 3x more traffic.  

There is a convergence between apps and websites thanks to Progressive Web Apps (PWA). They provide a similar experience to native apps in many cases while at the same time offering visibility and ease of access, like we experience on the web. Operating systems like Android and Windows place them on an equal footing with native apps. They even allow them to benefit from features so far only available on native apps, such as push notifications.  

We also are very excited about Android's Instant App, which offers the possibility to stream an app and use it before installing it. 

Several technological paths are therefore open for the future of apps and it is difficult to predict which option will prevail. But one thing is certain, the democratization of apps is a groundbreaking phenomenon, to which app builders like GoodBarber have largely contributed, by dividing the cost of ownership by 10. 

Unlike a website, the distribution of a native application to the general public is not free and immediate. It must go through the Store. If, when purchasing a domain name, there had been a systematic check of the associated website, would the Web be better today? We don't think so.    
The Stores must, obviously, protect users against malware and abusive content, but because of their significance, they also have the duty to maintain the major achievements of the Web and especially its neutrality.