The Skinny on the New iPhone Guidelines

Yesterday Apple updated various pieces of its developer rules/requirements. The change that got the most press was that Apple was “opening up its popular App Store to products made using Adobe Systems Inc.’s (ADBE) Flash program,” according to The Wall Street Journal. That description is somewhat misleading — there is clarification later in the article, but the casual reader might assume that iPhones/iPads now support Flash. They don’t. All that happened is that Apple is now allowing apps to be compiled from non-Apple software.

The most common will likely be Flash CS5, where developers can export programs as iPhone apps. The theoretical advantage is that programmers can work in CS5 and build apps for a variety of platforms. That said, there is a long way to go yet in proving this model, especially for high-functioning apps. What’s interesting is that while Apple is relaxing these constraints on one end, on the other it released its first ever “Store Review” guidelines. Historically, when we submitted apps to be approved, we didn’t have much to go on except Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, which are typically very focused on UI and certain technical/design attributes. Now for the first time, we are getting much broader guidelines.

Apple’s guidelines, available at TechCrunch, start off with a bang — the second bullet says “We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store. We don’t need any more Fart apps.” Further down in the intro, “if you’re trying to get … into the store to impress your friends, please brace yourself for rejection. We have lots of serious developers who don’t want their quality Apps to be surrounded by amateur hour.” Cheeky stuff. But as developers, we agree with Apple — the more “trash” gets into the App Store, the worse for everyone. One of the things consumers love about the App Store is that most of the stuff there is good, unlike surfing on the Web or the blogosphere, where the opposite is often true.

Apple then gets serious with seven pages of small print rules. There are a few highlights that matter to any business considering an app:

— Lots of duplicate apps will be rejected — this confirms the day of every SMB having its own app is probably never going to happen — not that it would have made sense anyway.

— Apps that enable additional features/functionality outside of the App Store will be rejected — so you cannot send someone to a Web site to pay for new levels of a game, for example, thereby circumventing Apple’s system (and 30 percent revenue share).

— You MUST use the In App Purchasing API to purchase content, functionality, or services within the app — so you cannot use a credit card to sell anything that is part of the app.

–You CANNOT use the In App Purchasing API to purchase goods or services that exist outside the app — so you cannot sell your old record collection using in-app purchasing (presumably because Apple has no interest in getting into the messy chargeback world, among other reasons).

— Subscription sales must last at least 30 days and be available on all iOS devices.

— Apps need to inform users before collecting location information (this is not new) and obtain user consent for push notifications.

— And finally, “We will reject Apps for any content or behavior we believe is over the line.” And yes, that’s defined as “I’ll know it when I see it.”

At the end of the day, on the content side, Apple is giving itself lots of wiggle room to reject virtually any app it doesn’t like. What’s really interesting is how e-commerce is evolving in the apps — the divide between what MUST and what CANNOT be done through Apple’s In App Purchase is becoming clearly drawn. That’s where the money is.

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Tobias Dengel is CEO of WillowTree Apps Inc., a mobile applications developer. He is also BIA/Kelsey’s new technical editor and will be posting regularly on mobile-related topics. The views he expresses are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of BIA/Kelsey.

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