Apple today posted an update to its App Store review guidelines document for developers. The updated information pertains directly to App Store subscriptions, SiriKit, and iMessage apps including Sticker Packs.

Previously, clarification about what developers could and could not do with regard to the new subscription enhancements announced just prior to WWDC 2016 was a bit ambiguous, but with today’s document update, guidelines become a lot more black and white.

Now that App Store subscriptions are available to every app category, including games, updated information pertaining to guidelines is well warranted.

Subscriptions will likely prove to be popular, as it is a way for developers to establish better customer relationships via free trials and auto-renewability, and it will allow for developers to make more money via an 85/15 automatic adjustment of the revenue sharing ratio after a year (per subscriber).

The biggest priority related to App Store auto-renewable subscriptions, according to Apple, is that developers provided ongoing value to customers. Section 3.1.2 of the App Store guidelines states the following:

If you offer an auto-renewing subscription, you must provide ongoing value to the customer. While the following list is not exhaustive, examples of appropriate subscriptions include: new game levels; episodic content; multi-player support; apps that offer consistent, substantive updates; access to large collections of, or continually updated, media content; software as a service (“SAAS”); and cloud support.

Apple additionally lays out six bullet points highlighting the dos and dont’s for developers planning on implementing App Store subscriptions into their apps:

  • Subscriptions may be offered alongside a la carte offerings (e.g. you may offer a subscription to an entire library of films as well the purchase or rental of a single movie).
  • You may offer a single subscription that is shared across your own apps, but these subscriptions may not extend to third party apps or services. Subscriptions must work on all of the user’s devices where the app is available. Learn more about sharing a subscription across your apps.
  • Apps must not force users to rate the app, review the app, download other apps, or other similar actions in order to access functionality, content, or use of the app.
  • As with all apps, those offering subscriptions should allow a user to get what they’ve paid for without performing additional tasks, such as posting on social media, uploading contacts, checking in to the app a certain number of times, etc.
  • Subscriptions may not include consumable credits, gems, in-game currencies, etc., even when combined with other offerings, but you may offer subscriptions that include access to discounted consumable goods (e.g. a platinum membership that exposes gem-packs for a reduced price).
  • If you are changing your existing app to a subscription-based business model, you should not take away the primary functionality existing users have already paid for. For example, let customers who have already purchased a “full game unlock” continue to access the full game after you introduce a subscription model for new customers.

These guidelines seek to protect the customer and the overall perception of the App Store and the new subscription model. For example, it should protect customers from shady apps that continuously charge for in-game currency. Such a practice would get an app rejected from the App Store, because not only is its value highly questionable, but the motives behind such a subscription would be suspect as well.

Apple is also looking to prevent developers from restricting content that was previously available through the app’s initial purchase or in-app purchase. Again, the theme here is customer protection.

These are all good ideas and guidelines, but you can be sure that gray areas remain. As such, App Store subscription guidelines will need to be tinkered with and adjusted as reviewers, developers and customers adjust to the updated subscription model.

Apple has also provided guidelines on SiriKit:

2.5.11 SiriKit

  • (i) Apps integrating SiriKit should only sign up for intents they can handle without the support of an additional app and that users would expect from the stated functionality. For example, if your app is a meal planning app, you should not incorporate an intent to start a workout, even if the app shares integration with a fitness app.
  • (ii) Ensure that the vocabulary and phrases in your plist pertains to your app and the SiriKit functionality of the intents the app has registered for.
  • (iii) Resolve the Siri request in the most direct way possible and do not insert ads or other marketing between the request and its fulfillment. Only present interstitial UI when required to complete the task (e.g. asking the user to specify a particular type of workout).

iMessage apps including Sticker Packs are touched on as well, albeit briefly. Head over to Apple’s App Store review guidelines document for more information. You don’t need to be a paid developer to access this information.

Since Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller took over App Store management duties, we’ve seen numerous changes aimed at bettering the experience for both customers and developers. For example, just today it was reported that Apple would be removing problematic and abandoned apps starting next week, and would be limiting app names to 50 characters to avoid keyword spamming.

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