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Guidelines for reviewing the App Store updated: What developers should know



Apple has updated its App Store Review Policy and added new information about app clips, streaming services, and more. While some of these changes are clarifications of existing rules, there are other new guidelines that may affect the presence of apps in the App Store. What should developers know about the new rules, and how will they affect App Store optimization?

Review guidelines

The updated review guidelines were announced on Apple’s website ahead of the upcoming “Time Flies” event. These include new guidelines for app clips, changed rules for online games and new quotas for in-app purchases.

App clips

One of the new additions to the review guidelines is rules for app clips. According to the updated guidelines, app clips (as well as other related widgets, extensions and alerts) must be “related to the content and functionality of the app.”

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In addition, app clips may not contain features or functionality that are not included in the main binary app. Since app clips are meant to be selected examples of an app, it is natural that it can not contain any features the app itself lacks.

App clips are also prohibited from including advertising. This means that the clips must provide nothing but the functionality, and that ad-based revenue generation must be kept within the main app.

Streaming games

Apple was recently criticized when it announced that the App Store policy bans online gaming apps. The changes to the guidelines now provide guidelines that can allow cloud streaming games, with regulations.

Section 3.1.2 (a) of the guidelines now states:

“Games offered in a streaming service subscription must be downloaded directly from the App Store, must be designed to avoid duplicate payment from a subscriber, and should not disadvantage customers who do not subscribe.”

Apple also added section 4.9 to the guidelines. These provide several rules for streaming games:

  • Streaming games are allowed, but every game on the service must be reviewed and approved by Apple.
  • Games available on the service must be submitted to the App Store as an individual app, including its own product page (similar to how Apple Arcade games all have App Store lists)
  • Streaming game services can offer a directory app in the App Store to help users sign up for the service and find games, as long as they adhere to all guidelines.

Although these allow game streaming services in the App Store, they add a new level of complexity for mobile game developers. Any company offering a cloud gaming app must submit each game individually, including the design of App Store lists, which could potentially include hundreds of games.

App developers hoping to offer their games through streaming services need to look at the App Store Optimization for each of their mobile cloud streaming games as they submit.

Subscription services

Another issue that has been a source of controversy between Apple and app developers is how Apple handles subscriptions and payments through the App Store. Although the App Store Tax has not changed, there are some new guidelines regarding in-app purchases.

Apple has added section 3.1.2 (a) with information about music and video subscription services:

“Apps that offer automatic renewal of music and video subscriptions with pre-approval from Apple can also be included in predefined packages of mobile data plans offered in mobile operator apps.”

There are also apps that enable person-to-person transactions between individuals, such as tutorials or personal training apps. In these cases, the payment does not need to be made via the App Store. Users can pay each other in person, through online payment services and so on.

It is important to note that this only applies to one-to-one transactions; group transactions, such as multiple users paying to access a video course, must still be made through in-app purchases.

If an app acts as a standalone companion to a paid online tool, such as web hosting or cloud storage, the app does not have to offer in-app purchases. However, if the app should offer additional in-app purchases, it must use in-app payments. The app can also not direct users to make payments outside the app.

Loan apps

Apple has also added specific guidelines for apps that offer personal loans. Store listings for these apps must:

  • Enter all loan terms
  • Include equivalent maximum annual percentage rate (APR)
  • Include due dates
  • Can not charge maximum April higher than 36% (including costs and fees)
  • Can not demand full payment within 60 days or less

Borrowing app developers need to check their apps and store listings to make sure they follow these guidelines. Those who do not want to risk removal from the App Store.

Guidelines Clarifications

In addition to the broad guidelines, Apple’s new App Store review guidelines include some clarifications for existing rules. These include:

  • No hidden or undocumented features in the app
  • When you submit an app or update, the Notes for Review section must be specific to new features, functionality, and changes
  • Keywords should be accurate for the app, not packed with “trademarked terms, popular app names, pricing information or other irrelevant phrases just to play the system.”
  • Apps may not encourage users to make non-in-app purchases, including via email or text alerts
  • Business services can use purchasing methods in addition to in-app purchases
  • Apps that work across multiple platforms (for example, via a web browser) can allow users to access content, subscriptions and features acquired in the app or other websites as long as they are available as in-app purchases in the app
  • Data collected from APIs and similar tools may not be used for marketing, advertising or use-based data extraction, including by third parties

These are not new rules, but they provide additional information to existing guidelines. Developers who may have followed the line of some of these guidelines in the past will check to make sure their apps are still compatible.

Why this means something to ASO

Some of these new or updated policies include specific app metadata information, such as overuse of keywords targeting trademarked terms or loan app brands and descriptions. These are important parts of App Store Optimization that can affect which searches an app appears in and how well it converts users.

Developers will check their app listings to make sure they are compatible, and if they need to make any changes, they should make sure the changes are optimized.

For cloud games apps, ASO will be especially important for every game in the service. Since all the games offered through the service must include their own list, mobile game developers with cloud game features need to research and optimize their listings.

This will help their games (and the cloud gaming service, by extension), to appear in more searches and potentially appeal to more users.

For all apps, it is important to follow the guidelines for reviewing the App Store. If an app does not comply with the policy, it is likely to be rejected or removed from the App Store. This can be a major setback that will cost the app its ranking in the store. At the same time, developers have to struggle to get back in the store while the competition is ahead.

Want to learn more about App Store Optimization? Contact Gummicube and we will help you start your strategy.


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