Unapproved Client Apps

The apps have been re-approved. Details at the end of this post.

I’m not going to go into the complete history because you can read about it here, here and here but last autumn Don McAllister asked me to write a video player app for him so that he could sell some training videos in the Mac and iOS App Stores. Recently the iOS apps were pulled out of the store by Apple and today Don finally decided to give up the fight to get them back into it. The whole saga got me thinking about whether I, as the developer, could have done more or should perhaps have done less.

An important part of my job is having an idea of what is going on in the App Stores. This can be something like telling a prospective client that their app idea definitely won’t be accepted because if contravenes Apple’s guidelines. Similarly I have and would again tell someone that they need to go and look at existing apps before commissioning their own because an almost exact match already exists. If a Mac app idea might not fit into the Sandboxing model then it is my job to talk to the client about it and help them work out what their options are.

Don’s case obviously didn’t fall into any of these areas and before we started work on the projects we knew that there were other video training courses available in the App Stores. As expected the apps were approved and were well received. The question I have in the back of my mind is whether I could or should have reacted differently when Apple decided to remove the apps.

I think that the key problem was mis-understanding Apple’s rejection notes. They were essentially saying that movies were not allowed in the App Store and that they should be sold in the iTunes Store. We focused on trying to make it clear that Don’s apps weren’t movies and that Don wasn’t eligible to sell movies in the iTunes Store even had he wished to.

Don’t take the rejection notes too literally. The reason will be in there but it may be obfuscated and other boilerplate text might divert you from the real reason for rejection. Had Apple simply said that movies or long videos, including training or educational videos, were not allowed in the store then the matter would have been resolved much more quickly.

Also don’t assume that because other similar or identical apps are in the store that yours should be allowed in. Your app might be better than the others, have better content or better functionality, but Apple aren’t going to compare and contrast apps. Nor are they suddenly going to pull a whole class of apps suddenly just because they have decided to start the clamp down with yours.

So apart from learning that rejection notes can be unintentionally misleading what else can I take away from this experience? I think that whilst they don’t immediately appear to be relevant to my work as a developer, I need to learn a lot more about the iBooks Store and iTunes U because both of these may be viable outlets for potential customers and their material in the future.

Don’s handling of the situation was exemplary too. He was calm and rational and never reacted emotionally which was fantastic to watch and a very good lesson for me. I tend to be quite hot-blooded and quick to send off emotion-filled emails but Don was very careful and deliberately didn’t. I think that for people like me, having someone you can trust and rely on in these situation is very important. Get them to proof-read things or at least remind you not to react in the spur of the moment. An objective blog post or email can be much more powerful than a passionate one.

Lastly, I plan to speak to Don to see if I can get a copy of his original walkthrough video for the app as well as some screenshots and some of his marketing material. The app may no longer be in the store but it can still hopefully form part of my portfolio for prospective clients. Don’t let any of your work disappear and be forgotten.

Update on 23 August 2012

Twenty four hours is a long time in computing. A day after a I posted this article Apple reversed their decision and the apps have been reinstated. You can read more about it on Don’s blog.