Every time Apple’s developer conference rolls around we get a modicum of changes to the App Store Review Guidelines. This body of rules can be, in turns, solid and explicit, and has caused a decent amount of dismay over the years for developers as they try to read into how Apple might construe one rule or another.
This year the big issue appears to surround rule 4.2.6, which states that “Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected.”
Essentially, there are questions about how far-reaching this rule would be when applied to the App Store. Was it purely about improving quality by reducing copies? Or is it rooted in some deeper protectionist play?
The first thing to remember is that Apple always had a “do not clone” guideline in the document. It was never “OK” to straight-up copy an app, changing names and images and re-posting it as yours. Unfortunately, the increase in the prevalence of mass production tools for apps, one-click templates and other enabling factors means that cheap junk apps have gone off the rails in the App Store over the past couple of years.
There are all kinds of schemes based around flooding the store with “templatized” apps. Some of them are clear — if a popular game like Flappy Bird or Red Ball hits the charts, there will be hundreds or thousands of clones within weeks that attempt to exploit on the initial wave of popularity. But there are also other kinds of scams. There are hundreds of copies of music-streaming apps that shill pirated content to make it harder to track them down one by one and allow for single-shot bursts of revenue capture before they’re found out or retired.
So, Apple decided to go on a bit of a tear and clean out the store. The new rule is tougher and more explicit in order to back up those removals.
It’s been discovered that this resulted in hundreds of thousands (yes, multiple hundreds of thousands) of apps being removed from the store over the past year. That includes clones, but also things like apps that aren’t 64-bit compatible, apps that are unused (haven’t been downloaded in years) and other scammy boat trash.
This rule doesn’t apply to some apps though. Basically, if we get to a point where you or I can build an original and customizable app that feels unique without writing a single line of code, this rule would not prevent it. Given that the coding industry (especially in the AI space) is veering toward the practice of program synthesis, this future-proofs the App Store somewhat, while not diluting Apple’s protectionist powers.
So the rule isn’t necessarily the doomsday scenario for app creators that it may have looked like, but it does give notice to the clone factories that Apple is trying to end that particular plague.