App Store rejections can be discouraging and downright puzzling. We’re here to help.
According to Apple, 51% of App Store rejections fall into just 3 categories in their somewhat cryptic guidelines. We’re addressing each category, offering some explanation and suggestions you can use to get your app accepted.
First thing’s first: you need to know that rejections are common. In 2012, Tim Cook said that 30% of apps submitted to the App Store were being rejected. IOS developers we spoke to told us that even full-time, iOS devs still face rejections from the App store. If you need to fix some issues and resubmit, don’t be discouraged! The cycle of submission-rejection-fix-resubmit is so common that UpWork has a category of App Store freelancers for hire to help with App Store resubmission. It’s not you. It’s an imperfect process.
Getting to acceptance is all about knowing Apple guidelines. We asked two iOS devs to help demystify the jargon below.
Subject matter experts: Ish Shabazz, an independent iOS developer, and Melanie Ehasz, an experienced web developer and freelance iOS dev.
REJECTION REASON #1: PERFORMANCE
- 25% of app rejections cited this reason
- What does it mean? — Your app is crashing or buggy
- What’s the problem? — Sometimes your app is trying to do too many things at once and it’s slow or unpredictable. It might happen while using the app, or before the experience even begins. “If it takes too long for our app to launch, that’s no good,” Ish warns.
- What can I do? — You need to do lots of testing. And we’ve got tools for that! You can test multiple devices right at your computer, using Simulator. You can also send your app to other people using a new tool called TestFlight.
“I always recommend testing on a device if you can, before submitting to Apple for review,” Ish says. He only tests small features using Apple’s Simulator, “during the early stages of building an app.” What he likes about the simulator is that “you can look at how things will respond on a number of different devices right away,” without owning or switching between physical devices.
“Have as many people as possible test the app,” urges Ish. “It doesn’t guarantee you’ll be fine, but it gives you a better shot.” And it’s definitely better than sticking with Simulator alone.
Melanie’s also feels that she benefitted from testing. Her testing approach for her first app included two processes. She says, “I wrote a couple of unit tests, but mainly, I got feedback from people trying the app and letting me know what didn’t work and where there was user experience confusion,” she says. We won’t cover unit tests here, but to learn more about them, go here.
“Now that Apple has purchased TestFlight, it’s getting easier to test,” Ish says. TestFlight is a beta testing tool. It lets you build a “beta” version of your app, which means a version that’s still being worked on and probably has lots of bugs. It’s still in testing mode, and not quite production ready. Unlike a simulation on your computer, the TestFlight version of your app will be ready for sharing!
You can send an email invitation to up to 2000 testers. Your invitees will receive a link to download your beta app to their phone, like a regular app. Be sure to ask them for feedback and follow up with reminders. They might forget! But this information is incredibly valuable because every user has their own history and preferences. They’ll use your app differently from how you use it, and catch bugs you might miss.
Getting honest, and sometimes tough, user feedback from beta testing can be scary. But remember that feedback isn’t about finding out whether your app is “bad” or “good”. It’s about giving your brain a break and crowdsourcing ways to make your app even better.
REJECTION REASON #2: DESIGN
- 16% of app rejections citing this reason
- What does it mean? — Functionality, originality, and visual appeal all count here, in ways you might not expect as a beginner.
- What’s the problem? — Reviewers reject apps that look boring, and those that seem to be duplicating a website. Apple expects developers to make use of all the cool features our phones have.
- What can I do? — Take the time to read Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines. Ish says that sticking to this set of guidelines will help you steer clear of most design missteps. “If you follow the guidelines, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be okay for the design category,” Ish reassures us.
If you’re looking at these guidelines for the first time, they might be a bit intimidating. The guidelines are long. Some of it’s highly technical, like the part about resource usage and managing interruptions from other apps. Some of it just might take a while to digest because it leans on buzzwords and designer jargon. For example, what is a “refined, innovative” and “app-like” app with sufficient “deference”?
We asked Melanie and Ish for more information about high-level takeaways from the guidelines, and the importance of having a “mobile designer” mindset. Here’s what they told us about how thinking about a mobile app was different from planning web apps.
Melanie’s first app is called “Pet Cemetaries”, “a place to memorialize a pet that has passed”. She says that, “The user interface (UI) of Pet Cemeteries differs from the UI of general web design in that each page is much simpler, but the overall navigation is more complex.”
For example, moving from one page to the next is different in an app. “It is important to think about how a user will get back to a certain page, whether a hamburger menu (three stacked lines) is necessary and what clues will guide them to progress through the areas of your app.”
UI and visual appeal go hand in hand. Melanie shared some advice on visual appeal, as well.
“The aesthetics of web development are different from the aesthetics of app development,” she says. “For one, apps make much less use of background images for visual enhancements. This fact forces you to think about how to make your design appealing without falling back to images.” So, stock photos: less important. Color schemes and meaningful single-color icons: more important.
“The same goes for animation,” Melanie adds. “There is some ability to animate in apps, but it does not measure up to web development animations.” Simplicity is essential.
Simplifying will help when you’re in the early stages of design planning, too. Melanie advises breaking interactions down into single goals. “In developing an app, it is useful to think of one page as having one function. Ask yourself, what decision do I want my user to make on this page?”
Also, look to other apps for design cues. Fundamentally, “if it looks sloppy, it’ll get rejected,” Ish notes.
If it looks too much like other existing apps, that could also be cause for rejection. Give yourself time to browse among apps similar to yours. Think about what you like, and what you could do differently. Find a niche and make it your own.
REJECTION REASON #3: METADATA
- 10% of app rejections citing this reason
- What does it mean? — Reviewers think you need to improve the screenshot previews of your app, or your description of the app.
- What’s the problem? — This one’s a bit subjective. Ish warns that because reviewers are human, they’re sometimes inconsistent. An app description that passes today might not pass in a month, even though you’ve submitted the exact same description.
- What can I do? Melanie says: “You can’t always guess what small thing will get your app rejected. Just keep trying.”
Words that look potentially offensive — even if you don’t intend them to be crude — are best left out. For example, Ish had “WTF” in an app, and that was flagged, even though it appears in other apps currently in the App Store. Save yourself some time. Cut words and abbreviations that could be misinterpreted. Keep it PG.
Melanie recalls how her app was rejected because the reviewer “didn’t think my screenshot matched the functionality of my app.” Melanie had used a screenshot of a “lush green cemetery.” She says, “I believe it did accurately reflect the purpose of my app,” but she replaced it with a picture of a pet anyway.
HOW YOU CAN GET STARTED
Haven’t built an app yet? Here’s some advice from Melanie and Ish to help you get started.
Ish: “Beginners can try things on their own phones... you can get full functionality on small projects just for yourself. Make a notes app, todo app, weather app. Just give it a shot. My biggest piece of advice: don’t be afraid of failure! It’s alright. It might not compile. Just try it anyway.”
Melanie: “Start simple. Get an idea. Simplify that idea. Sketch it out and then decide if you could simplify it further. There is an overwhelming amount of information out there, and that can inspire you to build things that you are not ready to build yet. Once you’ve built your basic app you can add a few flourishes to it. The most important thing is to get the first one out there.”