Following its Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple released updated App Store guidelines that included a new rule allowing it to ban apps created by a “commercialized template or app generation service.” The understanding at the time was this was part of Apple’s larger App Store cleanup, and the focus was on helping rid the marketplace of low-quality clone and spam apps. But things have since changed. A number of app-building companies that had earlier believed themselves to be in the clear are now being affected, as well.
Many companies have recently been given a January 1, 2018 deadline, after which point any new apps they submit will be rejected by the App Store Review team, they’ve been told by Apple. In the meantime, some have been able to maintain their existing apps, but it’s unclear how long that will last.
Example of Apple’s App Store rejection notices for rule 4.3.
What’s unfortunate about the expanded policy enforcement is that these app makers specifically target the small business market. They build apps for businesses that don’t have the internal resources to build their own apps or can’t afford to hire a custom shop to design a new iOS app from scratch.
Instead, these companies help small businesses like local retailers, restaurants, small fitness studios, nonprofits, churches and other organizations to create an app presence using templates, drag-and-drop wizards and various tools to put together a more basic app that can then be customized further with their own branding and images.
These may not be the most-used apps, to be sure, but for the niche audiences they serve – say, for example, customers of a local pizza place that would rather have its own app rather than paying the fees associated with being on a food ordering platform like Seamless/GrubHub or Uber Eats – they serve a useful purpose.
As one app builder put it, the decision to limit these small businesses’ ability to compete on the App Store is as if a web hosting company said that they would no longer allow web pages built with WordPress templates or those made using website wizards from services like Wix or Squarespace.
Apple’s move, which appears to be blocking a large number of small businesses from the App Store, has now caught the attention of Congress.
In a letter dated December 1, 2017, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (33rd District, California) has asked Apple to reconsider its expanded enforcement of its 4.2.6 and 4.3 guidelines. The former bans the template-based apps while the latter is more of a catch-all for banning spam – a rule Apple is now using if it can’t prove that the app was built using some sort of wizard or drag-and-drop system.
“Recently, I was informed that Apple’s decision to more stringently enforce its policy guidelines regarding design and functionality may result in the wholesale rejection of template-based apps from the App Store,” wrote Lieu. “It is my understanding that many small businesses, research organizations, and religious institutions rely on template apps when they do not possess the resources to develop apps in-house.”