Avoiding iPhone App Rejection From Apple, Part 2

On May 28, 2009

Six weeks ago guest author Brian Stormont posted an article here titled Avoiding iPhone App Rejection From Apple. While writing a rejection story is almost a rite of passage amongst iPhone developers, Brian took a prescriptive what not to do angle.

Brian’s story elicited a big response. Dozens of people contributed comments and wrote privately to supply additional gotchas, tips and approaches. While some weren’t helpful — e.g., “Be Trent Reznor,” in reference to the rejection then approval, unchanged, of the Nine Inch Nails app — many were.

We’ve collated, consolidated, summarized and (except when the authors asked us not to) attributed the collective wisdom to present it to you here:

1. Trademarks, Particularly Icons — Numerous apps, including Bump, the Billionth App ran into delays and rejections for including icons and imagery that a Apple deemed a trademark violation. Common culprits: iPhone-like icons and Polaroid-like image frames.

2. Giveaways/Prize Apps/Contests — While not expressly forbidden in the contracts, Apple rejects prize applications and apps that contains contests or giveaways. There are exceptions to this policy. For example, Apple seems willing to let game applications tie into an on-the-web leaderboard with prizes, though an in-app/embedded leaderboard with prizes is likely verboten. However, as the policy is either unwritten or unavailable for review outside of Apple, trying to create an app that narrowly fits within the inferred acceptable parameters or operates similarly to existing giveaway apps already in the store is risky.

3. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — Sometimes being above-board doesn’t pay. An example: Alan Francis wrote to tell us about his experience submitting an app that included the Pinch Analytics, an package used in thousands of apps that collects anonymized usage data. As a courtesy to his users, Alan stated that he was collecting this data and provided an opt-out mechanism. Either one of these measures is unusual; combined, almost unheard of. His app was rejected until he added a giant warning label on first run, while thousands of other applications that failed to mention including analytics were allowed in.

4. Avoid Humor Where It’s Not Expected, Or Where It Violates The HIG
An update to the Instant New York app was rejected when its developers jokingly included the phrase “extra dragons” in their release notes — though, as noted by Jeff Richardson, Apple did approve an update to Google’s app with release notes containing “longer version number” and “ninja.” Carl HerrMann’s intentionally silly BellyButton app was rejected for a disabled “lint” button, the HIG violating joke being that nobody would want link in their bellybutton.

5. Inadvertent “Objectionable Content” — Last week, the story of the rejection and then later approval of Eucalyptus — a library app featuring over 20,000 classic books — was widely reported upon. The app sourced freely available content from Project Gutenberg. Buried in the archives was a Victorian, text-only translation of the Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana. Apple rejected the app on “objectionable content” grounds. Its author, after first trying to resolve the issue with Apple, blogged about his experience whence it was picked up widely. Shortly thereafter Apple reversed its decision. Eucalyptus was the latest in a series; previous examples: Tweetie, the popular Twitter client, rejected because people swear on Twitter; Jesse Tayler’s Craig’s List Browser because, well, take your pick — it’s Craig’s list!; and Jelle Prins’s Lyrics because not all songs are PG. Wired’s story about Jelle adding a dirty-word filter, and the easter egg to disable it, is worth reading.

6. Update Spam — There’s some indication that Apple frowns upon publishing no-change updates in an attempt to keep your app appearing in the what’s new listings. Noel Llopis provided a humorous example: “I submitted an update for Tea Time. The update was just a bug fix with the images in the picker, so in the what’s new field I wrote. ‘Fixed a bug that would occasionally display the wrong image for a tea type.’ Apple rejected the update a week later saying that they ‘tried it, but the image never changed for different tea types’. I was totally baffled until I realized they were testing the countdown screen, which has a static image of a tea cup, not the images on the picker. So I had to resubmit the same binary adding ‘in the picker’ to the what’s new description.”

7. Doesn’t Work. Doesn’t Work As Advertised — Reportedly, the most common reason for rejecting an app is that it simply doesn’t work or doesn’t work as advertised. Seems obvious, and I wouldn’t have bothered to report it if it wasn’t apparently so common.

8. Public Figures — Brian’s original article included “political lampooning.” I’ll extend that to include association or portrayal of public figures. Two examples: around Obama’s inauguration, CodeMorphic created an app called Obamify that manipulated photos to appear like those iconic posters from the campaign; the app went into infinite review. Yak Apps had to remove imagery containing Mr. and Mrs. Obama before their “First Dog” app was approved.

9. Too Few Potential Consumers (Or The Appearance Thereof)Memo Akten produced remote control software that conforms to the TUIO protocol for sending multi-touch events over WiFi. Apple rejected it on grounds that its market was too small and suggested, instead, Ad Hoc Distribution. I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out how small this niche is and was ready to write it off until I discovered that this field is connected (conceptually, at least) to Microsoft’s Surface technology and is covered by the analyst firm IDG. Would an overtaxed app reviewer at Apple spend the time to make this determination? Best bet is to save them the work by supplying them with evidence in your submission has a vast, mainstream audience — or at least a sizable niche one.

Updated: 10. Don’t Include Price In Your Description — Just minutes after I originally posted this article Michael Kaye added a very good additional tip: “Don’t mention pricing in the App Description. For example mentioning ‘now only $1.99’ will according to Apple, ‘potentially confuse users’…and they have a point as its 99 pence in the UK, €1.99 in Europe etc.” Thanks for the great comment Michael!



0 responses to “Avoiding iPhone App Rejection From Apple, Part 2”

  1. Michael Kaye says:

    Here is another one:

    Don’t mention pricing in the App Description. For example mentioning “now only $1.99” will according to apple, “potentially confuse users”…and they have a point as its 99 pence in the UK, €1.99 in Europe etc.

  2. Chorusline says:

    Does someone know if you get kicked out of the App Store if you sell your up additional over a jailbroken site? I know you are not allowed to have a jailbroken iPhone as a developer, but testing could do someone else…

  3. Maniacdev says:

    Apple actually suggested someone distribute their app ad hoc because they didn’t like it? interesting.

  4. pTracker says:

    Great list Dan.

    There is an ongoing effort to document causes for app rejection at:

    The problem with a static list is that Apple’s rules seem to evolve over time, so what may have been approved in the past is no longer acceptable.

    Still, despite that fact Apple can’t keep the approval hoop steady for us to jump through, it helps to know the hoop’s general direction and dimensions. So, these rejection reasons can serve as hoop edges the rest of us can try to avoid, or risk getting burnt. Did I mention it’s a flaming hoop?

  5. Ken Baer says:

    Number 8: “Public Figures” almost exactly explains why my ObamArt app is still in limbo. I originally submitted it on October 17. I re-submitted in in January after calling ADC 3 times about it. I called them 2 more times, still nothing. Then in early April I finally got an email about the submission, and all it said was that unfortunately, there would be a delay in reviewing it. In fact, there’s every indication that it was an automated message. “Infinite Review” is exactly where it is. Here it is June, and still nothing. I’ve given up. But, I feel better knowing the reason. I’m hoping I have a better experience with the app I submitted last week.

  6. aristocrat says:

    Section 3.3.3 is the most obvious piece that has been politically overridden behind the scenes…. Look at all of the credit card apps that are free to download(obv the huge payment processors) but require an additional account and monthly pricing from a third party.

  7. Bret says:

    I am new to developing Apps, and am begining to contact a company to develop my app. Could anyone provide a link to the HIG so that I could read it?

    These tips are great

  8. Drew says:

    One thing I learned is to never include pricing of ANYTHING in your app. If you have to do a comparison of pricing, use a range of symbols like ‘$$’, ‘$$$$’ etc. Including direct pricing of things can be confusing to people in other regions.

  9. Tarun Sharma says:


    Recently i have posted an application on apple store. Apple reject it with a message.
    “it does not achieve the core functionality described in your marketing materials, or release notes. Applications must adhere to the iPhone Human Interface Guidelines as outlined in iPhone SDK Agreement section 3.3.5.”.

    Can some one help how to fix this issue?

    Tarun sharma

  10. Pavel says:

    I am surprised that nobody mentioned a cure-all solution to AppStore rejection problems : not to use the AppStore at all. While the “jailbroken” pool of potential customers is much smaller, they will grow if more applications are only available this way. Do you think this is a viable option ?

  11. The solution is simple and has always been part of the software engineering process.

    Apple needs to add an additional approval step based on submission of product goals, descriptions and some preliminary design specifications even BEFORE development starts. This way, Apple still has control; only now, since no code is even written yet, an app can be declined without a life-altering negative impact on the developer. Designs can be altered and can be resubmitted. When the product description, goals and specifications are approved, then development can begin!

    No more spill, no more mess! A win-win situation. Someone tell this to Apple. Please.

  12. Bert says:

    Tarun recently asked what “does not achieve the core functionality described in your marketing materials, or release notes. Applications must adhere to the iPhone Human Interface Guidelines as outlined in iPhone SDK Agreement section 3.3.5.” actually means. I got exactly the same rejection response so it’s reasonable to assume this is probably a boilerplate response. You can forget getting any clarification from the reviewer; at least in less time than it takes for you to figure out what’s behind the rejection, fix it and resubmit it.

    In my case it was due to an in appropriate default setting. My “marketing materials” indicated the addition of sound. Unfortunately, the default was to have the sounds disabled, requiring a gesture to enable them. If you read the HIG very carefully you’ll realize that avoiding unnecessary gestures is important.

    Hopefully, if it is relevant, you’ve figured this out already.

  13. Tarun sharma says:

    Thanks Birt,

    My application finally got accepted by apple . I have put an image on a Navigation Bar button that convey “New Search” i simply remove the image and put the text “New Search” and my application is accepted now. Need to be very carefull with Iphone development.

    Tarun sharma

  14. Matthew says:

    Hey guys, I have a question:

    will Apple refuse to put an app in the new and what’s hot sections if their AppStore if it contains a “bad” word, like death?

  15. P Gupta says:

    Does anyone have any idea how long it takes for Apple to review a re-submission, after it’s been rejected? Does it go back down to the bottom of the queue? Also, do they review the entire app the first time, and give you feedback on everything, or do they simply reject it with the first problem they see?

  16. Sam says:


    I may have a story here….

    One of the features of my app is to allow the user to send emails. I’d tested the app on various devices (iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPod Touch) and OS’s (3.0, 3.1.1) before submitting it for the review on 10/7. OS 3.1.2 had not come out at the time of this initial submission.

    My app was rejected yesterday (10/27). There were two points for rejection:
    1. Use of Apple proprietary image (of an iPhone) in the splash screen
    2. The tester mentioned that the app email part of the phone on iPod Touch on OS 3.1,2 on a WiFi network did not work

    So, to test their claim – yesterday I downloaded OS3.1.2 on my iPod Touch and sent an e-mail to the review team- to show that the e-mail functionality worked. Almost immediately they told me to resubmit the rejected binary for re-review.

    Now, I know that I am at the bottom of the pile


  17. Rebecca says:

    Here’s my issue, looking for insight:
    Apple rejected our App last Friday based on their search for a store location that didn’t appear (stores are not in CA), so we emailed them back with search suggestions, but the “red” dot & rejection status is still on iTunes Connect.

    If you have communication with Apple and you clarify instructions to them and they find the App to be working according to the Marketing materials, does Apple go from rejection to approval, or are people finding Apple is having them resubmit? Are we in resubmitted rejected binary re-review hell like Sam?

    Any insight?


  18. Zahi says:

    Don’t use undocumented API such as TerminateWithSuccess!!!

  19. ashfalt says:

    you didn’t mention making an app that rivals one of there products ala itunes 😉