Surprises In The Apple App Store Review Guidelines

We get asked about a myriad of crazy and wonderful ideas for App Development for iOS / iPhone / iPad / Android. My first piece of advice to all new customers is to read Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines. They contain some wonderful hidden gems that can completely blow an App idea out of the water. Here’s a few of our favourite hidden secrets from the guidelines.

No Emergency Services

Section 5.1.5 of the guidelines contains the sentence “Location-based APIs shouldn’t be used to provide emergency services…”. This means that you should not submit an App to Apple for approval that uses the GPS sensor (or other location detecting mechanisms) for providing the location of the user to emergency services. Presumably the reason for this is so that Apple can (sensibly) avoid being sued if someone dies or suffers serious illness or injury because the location services on their iPhone failed to report the location correctly to the emergency App. If you are thinking that no-one would ever want to create an App that does this, you would be wrong! About five years ago we were approached to build just such an App! Fortunately our knowledge of the guidelines meant that we could immediately tell the customer this before they invested any money in their App idea!

Bypassing Apple’s Digital Subscription Model

Section 3.1.3 (b) of the guidelines says “You must not directly or indirectly target iOS users to use a purchasing method other than in-app purchase, and your general communications about other purchasing methods must not discourage use of in-app purchase.” This means that if your app allows a digital subscription or other digital purchases, you can’t entice the users away from the App to purchase directly on your web site or anywhere else! You could not, for example, provide a link in your App to your web site that allows users to sign up for your service there. Apple want their 30% and you have to give it to them!

No Copying!

Section 4.1 has the wording “Don’t simply copy the latest popular app on the App Store, or make some minor changes to another app’s name or UI and pass it off as your own.” This means that you should not create a new App called “Wingy Birds” just because you like the popular “Flappy Birds” App. Having said that, there do seem to be an awful lot of clone Apps out there on Apple’s store, so many attempts at copying do seem to sneak through. We would strongly advise our clients to never attempt this though!

Do Not Be Creepy

My favourite from section 4.2 is “If your App doesn’t provide some sort of lasting entertainment value, or is just plain creepy, it may not be accepted.” I think that this speaks for itself!


The Apple guidelines are not technical and anyone intending to have an App created should be able to read and understand them. Always be cautious and assume that Apple will reject your App if you are sailing close to the wind. You can always call Apple if you want to get their view, however, they are unlikely to give you a definitive answer, but you will probably be able to read between the lines in their response!

Nick McKenna
Nick McKenna is a (polymath) computer programmer and scaled Agile consultant. Nick has been a professional programmer for over 20 years and an Agile guru for nearly as long! Nick's specialities include progressive web app development, mobile app development, the Internet Of Things, Azure cloud development, systems integration, Scaled Agile Framework, Scrum, Lean, LeSS, Scrum At Scale and much much more.

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