4 Little-Known Tips For Getting Your App Through Apple’s Store Review

Building and publishing an app is a complex process. One of the last things you have to do before your app can go live on the App Store is passing Apple’s App Store Review.

The challenge is that Apple isn’t always completely clear about the Review process. You would think Apple would want greater clarity on its Store, but given the complexity of all the different kinds of apps in the Store, it’s impossible to not have exceptions or at least grey areas where it’s not clear which rules might apply.

Here are four tips to help you avoid some of the trickiest things that might come up in a Store Review.

An Example of In-App Purchases

Set Up Your In-App Purchases

It shouldn’t come as any surprise, but Apple is quite particular about the use of In-App Purchases. They are, after all, how Apple makes money.

For your first-ever Store Review, your In-App Purchases must be complete and integrated into the app. Not having them complete, up-to-date, and clear about what the customer is paying for is essentially going to guarantee your app will be rejected or declared incomplete.

What usually trips up a lot of developers is that the Store Review is not just a quality check on your app’s functionality and usability – it is also an assessment of the validity of your business model. If the reviewer can’t easily discern what your model is, they’re not going to pass you.

You should include an explanation of your In-App Purchases in your App Review Notes, including any supporting documentation that might be needed. This includes things like purchase icons, screenshots, and what will be visible in an app preview.

If You Want To Use Auto-Renewing Subscriptions…

There isn’t a lot that needs to be said about this, only that if your app offers auto-renewing, in-app subscriptions, Apple requires you to provide ongoing value to subscribed users.

This means that you need to be regularly delivering new content, updates, features, or services to these users. Apple is pretty flexible about what qualifies as ongoing value, only that it must be there, and users should be able to access it without needing to perform additional tasks (i.e. they don’t need to download anything, rate the app, etc.).

Dealing with Copyrighted Material

Be Careful About Your Use of Copyrighted Content

Legal copyright issues are often one of the things that catch out developers when it comes to content on their apps. This isn’t strictly a problem with Apple: copyright law has a lot of grey areas, and often doesn’t become clearer until someone gets sued.

Apple’s official line is:

Don’t use protected third-party material such as trademarks, copyrighted works, or patented ideas in your app without permission, and don’t include misleading, false, or copycat representations, names, or metadata in your app bundle or developer name.

Apple App Store Review Guidelines – 5.2.1 Intellectual Property

What commonly happens is an app will get rejected or delayed because it uses content – usually videos, pictures, music, or literature – that is not owned by the developer. 

Be sure to include, when submitting your app for review, that you have documentation that shows that you are either the owner of the content in your app, or that shows you have permission from the copyright owner to use their content in your app. That last little bit might be a little hazy, as there are a wide array of different copyright permissions you can be authorized for (and these might change depending on your legal jurisdiction), so be sure to read the fine print before you submit your app for review. That said, this is not legal advice, and you should consult with a lawyer if you have questions or aren’t sure about something.

New Privacy Controls in iOS 14.5
New Privacy Controls in iOS 14.5

Make Sure You’re Using the “Right” 3rd-Party Plugins & Libraries

Along with copyrighted material, Apple is also strict about what libraries and plugins you can use in your app. You are responsible that everything in your app, including third-party services, complies with Apple’s guidelines.

This is especially true if you’re using analytics libraries. The principal reason is their concern for data security and privacy. Apple recently updated its guidance regarding data privacy. I recommend you give it a read, but some notable highlights include:

  • If your app is collecting any data from your users, you need to provide a detailed explanation of what data is being collected and how, and all the ways you’re going to use that data.
  • If you’re collecting data, you must have the consent of the user, and there will be no tolerance for coercing consent for unnecessary data collection.
  • You may only request data collection if you can show that the data is relevant to the core functionality of your app

Something that gets overlooked is that in the case of very popular third-party services there may be multiple libraries of them, including many that might use “hacks” to get the data you want.

In many cases, only the use of the service provider-approved version will pass the Store Review. For example, you might want to use embedded YouTube videos, for which you might be able to find several libraries that facilitate them, and while you might find one that perfectly fits your needs, there is only one approved YouTube library (that is also assured to comply) that will be allowed to pass the Review.

Don’t Try to Cheat Apple – There’s Probably A Better Way

You might remember the controversy surrounding the Hey app, that made industry headlines last year trying to get around the normal 30% cut that Apple takes from In-App purchases. Without going through the entire story Hey tried to avoid paying Apple by declaring itself a reader app like Netflix or Spotify (it’s an email service), and Apple (eventually) said no. After that, Basecamp, Hey’s developer, added a feature allowing for free randomized temporary email addresses that you could get through the app, which appears to have satisfied Apple.

Regardless of the way you stand in the debate, the takeaway is it’s a losing fight to try to cheat Apple (unless you’re just looking for publicity or have a squad of lawyers backing you up). But, if you’re confronted with a dispute with them, there may well be a creative solution to your problem.

In this episode, Leo chats with Paweł Madej, pharmacist turned iOS developer on his learning experience and what pitfalls devs should know about App Store reviews. We talk about what he learned during the submission process of his app CodeConf, as well as the major App Store stories of the year: Hey, WordPress, xCloud and of course Fortnite.

What are your experiences with App Store Reviews?

So there you have it, five things that you should know before submitting your app for an App Store Review. Do you have any uncommon or little-known challenges you’ve had trying to get your app through the Store Review? I’d love to hear your stories — feel free to email them, or reach out to me on social media.

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I put out a newsletter twice a month, where I write about Apple, iOS and iOS-related content and news. I aim to make sure you know what’s going on in the rapidly changing world of Apple. If you want to join them, click here to subscribe, and enjoy!