Dave Bell, Co-founder and CEO of Gummicube, offers a detailed guide to the points you need to consider to avoid having your app rejected by the App Store.
Submitting an app to the iOS App Store can sometimes be a lengthy process riddled with rejections. Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines outline many objective reasons an app may be flagged for rejection which are not open to interpretation, such as bugs that cause the app to crash upon review. Other guidelines are more subjective in nature, and ultimately up to the reviewer and their interpretation of Apple’s rules in relation to an app.
It can be frustrating to have an app rejected when it was carefully constructed to adhere to the App Store Review Guidelines, and possibly even more so when it is resubmitted and accepted with no changes. While there is no definitive checklist that will assure an app’s successful submission no matter the reviewer, here are some concepts to keep in mind when submitting your next app or update.
Apple lists creatives as one of the main basic things to consider on their review page. Obvious standards include making sure the screenshot text is legible and the screenshots accurately reflect the in-app experience. If there is any doubt about the accuracy of an app’s screenshots, a rule of thumb is to place an actual in-app image in a prominent handset frame, and refrain from obscuring the image with superfluous content like callouts or emojis.
This is not to say you should not include any design treatment at all, but rather that the screenshots should accurately reflect the app in use. By properly framing the in-app image, there will be ample room in the margins of the screenshot to add text callouts and popped-out user interface elements.
One basic consideration for creatives is making sure the dimensions of the screenshots match the dimensions of the device that they are being submitted for. If these dimensions are even a pixel off, then they won’t be able to be uploaded to the App Store Connect. In portrait orientation, for the 6.5-inch iPhone X, dimensions are 1242 x 2688 (or 2688 x 1242); for the 5.5-inch iPhone 8, the dimensions are 1242 x 2208 (or 2208 x 1242); for both required iPad Pro sizes, the dimensions are 2048 x 2732 (or 2732 x 2048).
When it comes to App Preview Videos, one common issue that leads to a change not being viable – even before submitting for review approval – is using the wrong App Preview dimensions. While it may seem to “make sense” to make App Preview videos in the same dimensions as screenshots, given that they appear in the same area, the dimensions for App Preview videos are slightly smaller. iPhone 6.5-inch is 886 x 1920 (or 1920 x 886); iPhone 5.5-inch is 1080 x 1920 (or 1920 x 1080); both iPad sizes are 1200 x 1600 (or 1600 x 1200).
For the App Store Review process, Apple is much more strict about what is acceptable to include in an App Preview. Even the aforementioned handset frames which are acceptable in screenshots will most likely get an App Preview video rejected. Videos submitted to the App Store should only show accurate, high quality footage from within the app, with minimal additional elements like an intro, transitions between scenes and an outro.
In-app Content Rejections
In-app content is another common area that leads to rejection from certain reviewers. There are aspects of in-app content that are more objective in terms of rejection, such as broken links, incomplete apps, and the failure to clearly and completely explain the purpose of data collection to users.
One commonly overlooked issue is including Sign In With Apple functionality, if needed. If an app has account login features that use a third party, such as signing in with Google or Facebook, it will also need Sign In With Apple enabled. This does not apply to apps where a user can only sign in with an email address, phone number, or other proprietary login – only if other third party sign-ins are implemented.
One of the more subjective gray-area guidelines for in-app content is outlined in Apple’s App Store Review Guideline section 4.3, “Spam.” This section states that a newly submitted app under certain categories, such as “fortune telling” and “dating”, must be “unique and high quality” since, in Apple’s eyes, these (among others) constitute “a saturated category.”
It’s important to stay up to date on what Apple calls a saturated category to see which apps it may scrutinize more heavily. Currently, the categories mentioned by Apple in their guideline include “fart, burp, flashlight, fortune telling, dating, drinking games, and Kama Sutra apps.” As with any review guideline, this list will evolve over time as more developers release apps into the store.
“Unique” and “high quality” are extremely subjective terms. As with any submission, adding notes on what makes your app “unique” and “high quality” can help build a case to avoid rejection. It is also ideal to provide a way to allow the reviewer to experience the full app if a login is required by providing it for review. Stating your case, providing direction and opening the app up with a fully enabled account login can help Apple’s review team see why your app is a unique, high quality experience that they should have on the App Store.
As opposed to a specific, common issue, one of the most common issues leading to rejection is not staying up to date with Apple’s latest guidelines and being unknowingly subject to a new issue. These issues can range from minor inconveniences which need to be addressed and resubmitted, to larger changes that require edits to the app at a fundamental level.
Apple regularly updates its App Store Review Guideline to change with laws and market trends. Sometimes this means expanding what developers are able to provide to their users, such as the recent addition on 7 June, 2021 allowing cannabis sales as outlined in Sections 1.4.3 and 5.1.1. Other times they may set further limitations on what is acceptable, like expanding the aforementioned “saturated categories” list.
It is important for developers to stay informed about these changes so they can avoid rejections and expand offerings to stay relevant and competitive in the mobile app market. Typically, these rules are more strictly enforced when they are newly enacted. Since repeated rejections can lead to longer review times in future submissions, making sure new version releases are in compliance with current regulations will lead to a smoother review process.
While Apple does outline many objective guidelines that can lead to an app being rejected, there are often times that an app is flagged for rejection based on the specific reviewer’s subjective interpretation of Apple’s guidelines. While this can lead to frustration in some cases, there are a few steps developers can take to minimize the chances of having their apps flagged. Developers can appeal a rejection, but unfortunately “just because someone else is doing it” does not mean your update will be approved.
Keeping updated on Apple’s newest guidelines, reviewing the extensive documentation available to developers on developer.apple.com, and following some tried and true best practices can lead to a smoother review process. Furthermore, it is important to avoid getting rejected multiple times as this can flag the app and lead to longer review times in the future. Long review times and rejections could mean a delay in getting an important feature or new keywords live, impacting an overall App Store Optimization strategy.
About the Author
Dave Bell is Co-founder and CEO of Gummicube. Gummicube is a global leader in App Store Optimization with more than 11 years of experience optimizing and marketing apps. We offer the leading enterprise ASO technology and agency services, providing support to clients around the world. Our company is trusted by thousands of enterprise brands and leading startups including Microsoft, LinkedIn, Bethesda, SWEAT, GrubHub, McAfee and many others.