Earlier this week, a minor hullabaloo was started when developers noticed new language in Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines concerning the marketing and promotion of apps. There is some worry that clause 2.25 endangers a practice common among iOS app marketers.
Clause 2.25 was spotlighted first in an article in PocketGamer citing concerns of several app developers. The new language first appeared in the Review Guidelines of iOS 6.
PocketGamer noted that clause 2.25 probably is aimed at app-promotion services such as AppoDay, Daily App Dream, AppShopper -- all third-party app marketers within the App Store that compete or divert the central experience out of Apple's hands.
App marketing has grown with app markets since the launch of the App Store in 2008. As the App Store has grown, marketing firms have expanded to help clients with monetizing products and analytical services.
These are new aspects of the technology industry and a certain amount of market correction is inevitable. This is one of the reasons that Apple has instituted clause 2.25, to mitigate the influence of certain marketing practices that compete with its core App Store experience. Third-party aggregators like Appshopper become a destination for users and the deals they offer could unfairly influence Apple's rankings.
Clause 2.25 is supposed to protect the integrity of App Store product rankings. Low-ranking apps are all but invisible potential buyers. So, some app marketers use nefarious tactics to boost app visibility, such as hiring people to download apps to drive up rankings.
“It's always difficult to interpret Apple's clauses,” Apsalar CEO Michael Oiknine wrote in an email. Apsalar, a San Francisco startup, focuses on mobile analytics, engagement and retention of app users.
"I am not sure who is going to be affected, but my view is that Apple is sticking to its position of closing loopholes around the gaming of the download charts," wrote Oiknine. "This is very much consistent with their banning of incentivized downloads."
Incentivized downloads are when app promoters offer some type of reward, such as a virtual currency, to consumers who download their apps. The most notable circumstance of Apple cracking down on incentivized downloads was when it banned Tapjoy from the App Store because its virtual currency encouraged people to download apps and thus influenced the rankings within the market.
"Upon close reading of the TOS changes, it seems that Apple is merely bolstering its long-held position that you can't make an app that appears to users to be an app store," wrote Sam Abadir, CTO of HTML5 development studio appMobi and a intellectual property attorney, in an email.
“We don't see anything here that limits or prevents TapJoy-style cross-promotional ads in apps - Apple is well aware that freemium apps use ads to make money, and they have no control over what is being promoted in those ads," according to Abadir.
"The target of this refinement seems to us to be app-promotion services that display their apps in an ‘App Store-like’ way,” he wrote.
The key words in clause 2.25 are, “similar to or confusing with the App Store.” Companies like Apsalar and Flurry focus on “re-engaging” mobile users either through in-app promotions or advertisements for other developer apps within apps. Neither of the companies’ approach could be confused with the actual Apple App Store.
“From our point of view, Flurry services do not promote apps similar to or confusing with the AppStore, and no Flurry services will be affected,” wrote Peter Farago, Flurry’s VP of marketing, in an email.
Apple rejects apps for a variety of reasons. Much of the language in the App Store Review Guidelines is intentionally vague which gives Apple a lot of leeway to cite certain clauses for rejecting any variety of applications or services. In its introduction to the App Store Review Guidelines, Apple describes how it handles the review process with a succinct statement on how it views behavior and content in the App Store:
“We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, ‘I'll know it when I see it’. And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.”
With this statement in mind, app marketers and developers should approach clause 2.25 with the mindset that anything that takes might compete or otherwise control an aspect of the App Store experience away from Apple will not be tolerated. Fair or not, Apple makes the rules. The App Store is not a democracy and Apple has every right to enforce its own standards to protect the App Store experience, and its botton line.