Fear And Loathing In The App Store 18 - Apple Bans Templated Apps
Written by Mike James   
Friday, 22 December 2017

This story isn't clear cut black and white, Apple is evil or Apple is good. What you think of the action depends on which side of the fence you are on, but it is a clear indication that once you accept a walled garden approach to software you give the control to a central entity, for good or bad.


After this year's Developer Conference, Apple changed its app store guidelines. The key change, however, was the new rule allowing it to ban apps that were created from a template or app generation service. 

  • 4.2.6 Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected unless they are submitted directly by the provider of the app’s content. These services should not submit apps on behalf of their clients and should offer tools that let their clients create customized, innovative apps that provide unique customer experiences. Another acceptable option for template providers is to create a single binary to host all client content in an aggregated or “picker” model, for example as a restaurant finder app with separate customized entries or pages for each client restaurant, or as an event app with separate entries for each client event. 

We all know what templates and app generation is all about. You offer to create an app for a company that will get their customers on board. Having a presence as a mobile app isn't quite as important as having a website, but with a bit of sales talk you can convince people that it is important. Delivering apps of this sort at a reasonable price requires some sort of templating technology or the ability to modify a generic app to suite the particular situation. Taking this approach means that every corner store can afford to have an app promoting their business and perhaps even providing some sort of additional service.



As users, however, you also must know that this sort of app is rarely worth installing and if you do install one then it doesn't stay installed for long. Template apps are very easy to categorise as app spam. So at this point you might well burst into applause at what Apple is doing as an appreciation of another anti-spam action. However there is another slightly broader view.

The programmers creating low cost representational apps are making a living satisfying a need. OK, they may create some of the need by advertising their services, but no-one is forcing the local deli to put its catalog of cold meats into an app and no-one is forcing you to download said app and install it. Why should Apple decide what is allowable and what isn't? The answer is because it's Apple's app store and Apple always has the last word. This is the deal we do when we accept a walled garden approach to software.

What is odd is that when Microsoft was trying to get its Windows phone off the ground it actually encouraged "template" apps to try and swell the numbers of apps in its store. I even created one for I Programmer as part of news coverage of the idea in about ten minutes. I deleted it and no reader of I Programmer was ever harmed by my fairly useless, but quite good-looking, app. The same sort of thing seems to be currently going on in the Amazon Alexa store. There are a great many trivial skills that simply seem to serve the purpose of inflating the number of skills that Amazon can claim are available.

The point is that sometimes the store gatekeepers want such templated apps, and sometimes they don't. It all depends on their whim and what stage of development they perceive their app store to be in.

Of course, in the days when programmers were free to create anything they liked and run anything they liked nothing like this could arise. Yes you were free to create "spammy" template apps that users could equally feel free to ignore.

Some small software companies are going to go out of business when Apple starts to reject their creations. You may say that this is a good thing, but what is stopping Apple from banning "templated" web apps and who is to say that your next app isn't going to be judged as being produced from a template?

As I have said a number of times, when you accept a collar and a lead you might be able to forget it's around your neck until some faceless apparatchik decides to yank it. It is not so much that the app store shouldn't be curated, it is more that the curation should be open and accountable, and probably not performed by Apple.


More Information

App Store Review Guidelines



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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 19 September 2018 )