A minor change in its App Store guidelines this week concerning template apps doesn’t sound like much. But if you’re one of the many, many iOS developers running a small business who rely on the App Store for a living, either directly or indirectly, it was a major triumph.
Here’s why it’s given developers another reason to celebrate this holiday season.
The perils of the app economy
Apple regularly talks about the app economy, which has created hundreds of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars for developers. But as the company at the top of the ladder, even slight changes on Apple’s part can have enormous impact on those further down the food chain.
This is what happened earlier this year when Apple amended clause 4.2.6 on its App Store guidelines to note that, “Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected.”
Not so bad, right? The move was designed to attempt to crack down on low-quality apps and spam of the sort that Apple has always been fearful would pollute the App Store. (This was the exact reason Steve Jobs was skeptical about opening an App Store to begin with, before he was convinced otherwise.)
Unfortunately it also came at a cost: the threat of wiping smaller businesses from the App Store.
“I believe Apple was sincerely trying to solve a real problem for the App Store [in the form of] cloned and spammy apps,” ChowNow developer Christopher Webb told Cult of Mac. “However, in doing so they didn’t realize the immense negative impact Guideline 4.2.6 would have on small businesses, non-profits, universities, churches and others whose only viable path towards having an app is through the use of templates. In many ways, it’s similar to SquareSpace and GoDaddy in the website builder world. Can you imagine if Google refused to index websites built using templates?”
Apple gave a developers a January 2018 deadline to make sure their apps were bespoke, otherwise they would boot them out of the App Store. For those with limited funds, it would have been a death knell.
What followed was a Change.org campaign to have Apple reverse its stance on templated apps. “Apple could have taken a more targeted approach in order to give small businesses a fair chance,” Andrew Gazdecki, one of the leading figures behind the campaign, told us at the time. “They could have removed these types of apps from its respective categories and allowed them to only be searchable through direct search.”
Apple’s amended wording
Fortunately, Apple has now amended that policy to read as follows:
“4.2.6 Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected unless they are submitted directly by the provider of the app’s content. These services should not submit apps on behalf of their clients and should offer tools that let their clients create customized, innovative apps that provide unique customer experiences.
Another acceptable option for template providers is to create a single binary to host all client content in an aggregated or ‘picker’ model, for example as a restaurant finder app with separate customized entries or pages for each client restaurant, or as an event app with separate entries for each client event.”
What this means is that small businesses and non-profits will now need to publish their own apps, rather than having them put through a template agency. To help with this, though, Apple is waiving the $99 developer fee for government and non-profits in the U.S.
“I think [the] revision to 4.2.6 is much needed and will go a long way in making iPhone apps once again accessible to small businesses who need them to be competitive,” Webb continued. “However, the new guideline will make the apps slightly more expensive. It’s a compromise we’re good with when faced with the alternative. There may be additional obstacles we discover shortly, like difficulties implementing Apple Pay, but I believe Apple will be reasonable in helping us resolves these issues.”
Good for Apple! And good for its developers, too.