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Apples Are No Longer on the Menu: Apple's Move to Clean up Its App Store

Beautiful hardware and a thriving application ecosystem have made Apple the consumer electronics company to beat. As part of its pursuit of perfection, the Cupertino Colossus has strictly controlled the contents of its App Store. The latest victim? Templated apps.

According to Apple’s App Store Review guidelines, “Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected.” This language has been in place for months, but Apple has recently indicated that it’s going to enforce the rule by sending notices out to businesses that are in violation.

In response to the criticism it received, Apple has clarified its policies, and has committed to allowing templated apps to remain in the App Store as long as content providers submit them, not the templating service. Those services are also required to make sure their applications don’t look too much like one another. While not as burdensome on small businesses, the clarified policy is still an additional hurdle for small businesses to overcome.

Apple’s justification

The App Store is the world’s largest mobile application marketplace by revenue. A cash cow, it has attracted rock star developers as well as those who put out low-effort, low-quality content in pursuit of easy money. Apple is a premium brand. Premium brands prioritize user experience (a corollary: they abhor spam), and Apple has always included provisions in its review guidelines prohibiting spam and spam-adjacent content. Apple’s fondness for a curated customer experience (its hardware is not user-serviceable, and the company insists on controlling the experience from end to end) makes this development unsurprising.

What is new, however, is the focus on generally legitimate applications. Copying a mobile game, sticking a new skin on it, and generating as much ad revenue as possible before the man catches wind is clearly an undesirable behavior. But using a templating service to streamline ordering from a local pizza joint? That seems like a pretty good idea, actually. And since it can cost more than $10,000 to build a new application from the ground up, templating services (that can cost less than $200 per month) are an attractive alternative for businesses that don’t operate at a large scale.

Well, they used to be, anyway. With Apple’s new rules, individual businesses will have to be more involved in the application submission process.

Implications

The big guys have application development teams or can afford to hire external consultants to build their applications from the ground up. McDonald’s and Pizza Hut are unlikely to have their operations impacted by this decision. Smaller outfits, though, are at risk. If they have any IT at all, it’s probably an overwrought infrastructure/operations specialist without enough time for a proper haircut, let alone development of an application from the ground up. This tension is the whole reason the templating services popped up in the first place, and it is this segment of the market that is most likely to be disturbed by Apple’s new rules.

Several important consequences to note:

  • Apple will not accept new applications, and existing applications are on an uncertain footing.
  • For smaller businesses, a standalone mobile app on iOS may be out of the question. It takes capital to build an app from the ground up, and, absent the monthly payment model used by the templating services, financial barriers may simply be too high.
  • Templating services are going to have to put more money into their development practices in order to sufficiently differentiate the applications they develop from each other. This could raise costs for the businesses they keep as clients.

Hope!

Fortunately, all is not lost. The fact is that, in general, people don’t like using mobile applications all that much anyway. Who wants to download an app for every restaurant he/she plans to patronize? This is one of the reasons that middlemen like JustEat and GrubHub have been so popular.

But the problem is more fundamental, even, than this. When it comes to online ordering, I would wager that most consumers don’t start in the App Store; they likely prefer to use a search engine and order online. This gives smaller businesses an opportunity to stand out by optimizing their mobile web browsing experience. No more poorly sized websites with unreadable layered text, incomplete information, and App Store prompts. Include relevant information like menus and hours, and watch the money roll in.

Recommendations

  • Work on your website. Apple is firing a shot across the bows of every small business it deals with. Why deal with that? Improve your web experience, and your customers will flock to your website (driven by search engines, which are the primary sources of information for hungry customers anyway).
  • Clarify your existing agreements in light of changes. If you’re using a templating service, make sure you’re not going to get caught up in an Apple crackdown. Contact the service and ask what they are going to do to ensure your app stays within Apple’s lines.
  • Pivot to Android? Google’s Play Store is unlikely to introduce similar restrictions, and while there are some disadvantages to the Android platform, at least you can be relatively sure that your app won’t get pulled with no notice.

Bottom Line

Apple is going to change how it evaluates the applications in its app store, potentially to the detriment of smaller businesses. Make sure you know how you’re going to be affected; contact your app development service about their response to the changes; and take the opportunity to work on your website. Apple’s taking a swipe at some of its app store clients. Use the opportunity to jump ship – if it makes sense.


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