Developers: Apple's app promo crackdown all about wrestling back App Store control

Looking after its own interests

Developers: Apple's app promo crackdown all about wrestling back App Store control
Little over 24 hours after broke news of a change to the App Store's App Review Guidelines, Apple is remaining typically tight-lipped about the affair.

Such is the vague wording of clause 2.25 – Apple outlawing any apps that "display apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store" - that a whole slew of apps could potentially be viable targets.

Apple's continued silence means speculation about how the rule will be implemented (rather than fact) now rules the roost across the web.


However, a number of developers have already been in touch with to detail their experience with the Cupertino giant since the clause came into force.

Clause carnage

One such developer is Mustafa Tan of – one of the most popular iOS blogs in Turkey.

The offending clause 2.25

The blog also boasts a sister app – iTurkeyBiz – which was updated back in September sporting a new category consisting of reviews posted by selected writers.

Tan claims Apple rejected the app, citing clause 2.12 – which clamps down on apps that make app recommendations that offer no features that "provide greater value than the App Store" - as the reason.

"We decided to revert to previous version and submit another update containing some bug fixes and iOS 6 compatibility, but Apple rejected again," added Tan.

However, this time Apple cited the now infamous clause 2.25, claiming Tan needed to make changes to ensure his app was "visually distinct from the App Store", including filters such as location or socially-based app recommendations.

In the end, Tan simply removed a top 10 category that listed apps via country - "this was our most requested feature," he adds - and, magically, the app was approved.

The controller

So, if clause 2.25 is being used to preserve the status of the App Store rather than against all forms of app promotion, why is Apple being less than candid about its implementation?

Byron Atkinson-Jones of Xiotex Studios believes it's because it doesn't show the company at its finest: this, he claims, is a case of Apple wanting to control all elements of its ecosystem.

"Even if an app does dress itself up to look like the App Store, there is only one way to (legally) download or buy apps and that is through the App Store," adds Atkinson-Jones on his blog.

"So what has Apple got to lose by allowing an App that looks like the App Store to exist? What does it lose if somebody goes to another app store to indirectly buy apps? The answer is simple: control. Control over what we see."

Atkinson-Jones suggests this is about Apple holding all the levers of power when it comes to app promotion, so that – for example – apps featured by Apple on the App Store are seen by as many people as possible.

"A 'fake' app store has to eventually pass control back to the 'real' App Store, but what could be different is the apps that are presented to the user," he adds.

"In my early days as an iOS developer I naively called Apple to ask what a developer needed to do to get featured on the front page of the App Store.

"I was told by the kind developer relations operative that nobody had any control over what appears on the front page of the App Store and that I should just make the best app I could and wait for the day that an App Store editor might call me.

"I wonder if EA got the same answer?"

A matter of choice

Atkinson-Jones is not alone in his view. Another developer – who wishes to remain anonymous – told us clause 2.25 is yet another symptom of a company determined to hold onto its authority.

It's implementation, he suggests, taps into the exact same motivation that led to Apple removing the pre-installed Google Maps and YouTube apps from iOS 6.

In short, Apple wants to control "all parts of the process" - and it isn't keen on others profiting from the areas it doesn't control, either.

"We launched our first app last week and had 13,000 downloads in 5.5 days," said the developer.

"It's free, and Apple actually does not make anything from us since we use Chartboost. Apple may not like that it is not getting money due to these third party services like Flurry, Tapjoy and Chartboost."

Said developer suggests squeezing third-party options would, in time, force developers back to Apple's own tools, since they would effectively have "no choice".

All for the best?

Whatever the reasons, not all developers believe tools such as clause 2.25 are necessarily a bad thing for the App Store.

Bolt Creative co-founder Dave Castelnuovo thinks people are getting carried away with potential uses for 2.25. In truth, it's all about Apple preserving the integrity of its app rankings.

"It doesn’t apply to a non-promotional app that is just promoting another app through their news feed, otherwise Apple would have to ban all mobile advertising," adds Castelnuovo.

"Apple wants the top spots to go to the apps that are most deserving - the ones that users actually enjoy. App promotion services can interfere with these efforts. Every now and then a service comes along that has the power to radically shape the rank lists outside of Apple’s control."

Castelnuovo describes the likes of Tapjoy, which "allows developers to buy their way into the top of these lists", as a "disservice to consumers."

"I think that these apps, as a whole, are starting to make an impact that Apple can't manage," he adds.

"On the other side, you have developers with legitimate concerns about discoverability and getting their app out to the masses. If you take away their ability to effectively market and promote themselves, then they are at the mercy of Apple.

"They can't get sales unless they appear on a rank list, and they can't appear on a rank list unless Apple features them."

What's next?

Developments such as clause 2.25 shouldn't surprise anyone, of course.

The App Store has always existed within a closed ecosystem, and it's understandable that, after building up its empire, Apple is unwilling to hand over control of it – however slight – to third-parties.

What appears to have angered developers, however, is that Apple has brought in yet another rule with potentially huge ramifications without any form of warning.

Clause 2.25 will likely be used against only a small number of apps, yet the wording of the clause itself and Apple's unwillingness to clarify its intent means developers, yet again, are worried that the business model they rely on is under threat.

With iOS continuing to dominate, that's a feeling that's not likely to dissipate any time soon.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.