Published on 2021 the updated version of App Store Review Guidelines from Apple created a bit of a storm mainly due to the 4.2.6 rule, which states that “Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected”. Suffice to say that many apps take advantage of development assistance tools like PhoneGap and since many small business owners use app generation services or independent contractors to build customized apps, this new standard could be alarming.
Apple is known for causing a decent amount of consternation over the years for developers as they try to read into how Apple might interpret one rule or another. While we can’t say for sure that Apple’s new guidelines won’t change the app creation process for small business owners, it’s reasonable to guess that most rejected apps will be in violation of more than just guideline 4.2.6. However, Apple is unlikely to be clear as to why your app has been rejected or ejected from the store.
Does the new rule apply for hybrid mobile apps only?
Apple decided to go on a bit of a tear and clean out the store. The new rule is tougher and more explicit in order to back up those removals. This cleanup has resulted in hundreds of thousands (yes, multiple hundreds of thousands) of apps being removed from the store over the past year. That includes clones, but also things like apps that aren’t 64-bit compatible, apps that are unused (haven’t been downloaded in years) and other scammy boat trash.
QuHarrison Terry, an iOS developer and Marketing Director at Redox explains:
There are many companies providing platforms that make it easier to create and build apps. I made my first few apps utilizing commercialized templates which saved me an enormous amount of time. Using a template isn’t a new “hot” thing, most professionals do it every day in Word, Excel, Photoshop, Google Docs, Xcode, etc.
Apple is certainly making a power play here. It’s fine to inspect and validate apps for their App Store. However, when you examine apps based on the template it originated from and not the value provided to the end user it’s pathetic. If they are very aggressive on how they enforce this rule then it will put a lot of small agencies and developer shops out of business. This will also have an impact on the restaurant industry as many restaurants utilize white labeled app templates for their iOS menu and food ordering apps.
For example, if you’re a publisher with 5 publications in your portfolio, and you are publishing 1 app for each individual publication, Apple could ask you to build 1 app representing all the publications (if you’re using a development method called “copy-paste” 😃 ).
What does “commercialized template” mean?
The phrases “commercialized template” and “app generation service” at first seems to apply across different segments of apps. It’s important to differentiate between what Apple calls commercialized templates (meaning carbon copies of existing unique apps) and apps that use templates (meaning unique apps created from existing sets of functions). By acknowledging the differences between the two, we can understand how certain types of apps will start getting rejected by Apple right off the bat.
A carbon copy app is essentially copy-and-paste. It’s like when that kid in your class used the Wikipedia page as their entire book report. Meanwhile, a template app is like when you Googled “book report template” and wrote about your book based on the format that you found online. The features and names of the sections may be from the template, but you picked and chose so that everything is tailored to your book.
Can I have a progressive web app instead?
Under this context, building a progressive web app instead might be a better solution in the long run since no single authority is going to impose restrictive rules on the World Wide Web. Not to mention that technology these days allows for building capable progressive web apps that provide an app-like experience.
Obviously, this shouldn’t be interpreted as PWA being the solution for building spammy applications and getting by with it. PWAs can be the alternative to providing your mobile users an exceptional experience on the Web without going through an App Store and exposing yourself to the risk of investing a huge budget only to see your application being removed from the App Store for whatever reason.
Progressive Web Apps vs. App Store Apps?
The term ‘Progressive Web App’ was introduced by Google and it refers to “reliable, fast, and engaging” applications that “use modern web capabilities to deliver an app-like user experience” or “take advantage of new technologies to bring the best of mobile sites and native applications to users”.
Here are some of the key features of progressive web apps:
- Apps load nearly instantly and are reliable, no matter what kind of network connection a user is on
- Web app install banners give users the ability to quickly and seamlessly add the web app to their home screen, making it easy to launch and return to the app
- Web push notifications make it easy to re-engage with users by showing relevant, timely, and contextual notifications, even when the browser is closed
- Smooth animations, scrolling, and navigation keep the experience silky smooth
- Secured via HTTPS
This concept brought the promise of providing an experience that combined the very best qualities of the web with native apps. The most important and also the one that is most apparent is that developers will no longer need to develop multiple apps across multiple mobile platforms. Even for those who develop only for iOS and Android, this means huge savings in app development time and effort. PWAs offer the promise of being able to develop a single app and have it work perfectly across all your platforms and devices. Without submitting it to any App Store!
Will I have push notifications if I use a progressive web app?
Yes & No!
As of Chrome version 42, the Push API and Notification API are available to developers. The Push API in Chrome relies on a few different pieces of technology, including Web App Manifests and Service Workers. Unfortunately, iOS and Safari are not yet 100% into the PWA game because they don’t fully support Service Workers – the feature being “under development”. This is currently available in the nightly version of Safari which means that it won’t take long for them to release it to production.
Is my progressive web app going to be added on the home-screen?
Similar to the push notifications situation, “Add to Homescreen” prompt requires Service Workers support, which means that it will only work on Chrome, Opera. Firefox supports nearly all of the features of Progressive Web Apps and Microsoft Edge is working on them. However, even with Safari (iOS) you can still add the PWA to the home-screen by navigating to the browser’s menu – the only difference is that you’ll not be prompted to do so when loading the app.
Another important aspect to understand about the “Add to Homescreen” notification is that it is handled by Chrome. The browser displays the banner when your app meets the following criteria:
- Has a web app manifest file with: a short_name (used on the home screen); a name (used in the banner); a 144×144 png icon (the icon declarations must include a mime type of image/png); a start_url that loads.
- Has a service worker registered on your site.
- Is served over HTTPS (a requirement for using service worker).
- Is visited at least twice, with at least five minutes between visits.
If you’re a publisher or an e-commerce business, it might not even make too much sense to go for the App Store in the first place since most of your mobile users are already on your website where they can immediately access your PWA. Consider the pyramid below and figure out where exactly you fit with your business – you may realize that going for a PWA is more cost-efficient in the first place and guarantees a bigger return on investment on all fronts.
There’s nothing wrong with app templates (or starter kits or app themes) to speed up the development process, as long as the result is tailored to your business needs. That’s why, through our suite of products, we offer dozens of hybrid mobile app themes, progressive web app themes and accelerated mobile pages themes to choose from and customize.