My App Store Rejection Story

This week we received our third rejection notice (in a row) for the first update of Bear on a Wire - Free Ride. It's closing in on two months since the update was originally submitted and it's becoming very frustrating.

Rejection one

The first rejection was due to "inappropriate keywords." Apparently they started checking keywords sometime between the initial release and the update. Or, more likely, it just depends on who reviews the app and their mood that day, because the keywords were unchanged between versions and the paid version update which was submitted the day before had the same words. I can see the issue with the keywords in question though which are "tony" and "hawk." I added these in because a lot of people mentioned that the gameplay reminded them of the Tony Hawk video games. Here is the first rejection letter in full:

Dear Dreamsocket Inc.,
 
Thank you for submitting Bear on a Wire - Free Ride to the App Store.  We've 
reviewed Bear on a Wire - Free Ride and determined that we cannot post this 
version of your iPhone application to the App Store at this time because of 
inappropriate 'Keywords' used to identify your application.  We cannot post 
applications that contain irrelevant keywords in their search criteria. 
Keywords must be applicable to the application content.  It would be 
appropriate to remove tony,hawk.  
 
Please visit iTunes Connect, Manage Applications to remove the inappropriate 
'Keywords', and resubmit your binary for review.  
<http://itunesconnect.apple.com/> 
 
Note: Keyword terms must be related to your application content and cannot 
contain offensive terms.  It is not appropriate to reference other 
applications.  Keywords can be single words or phrases; keep in mind the 
text field is limited to 100 characters.  All Keywords must be separated by 
commas otherwise the system will see it as one keyword.
 
Regards,
 
iPhone Developer Program
***************************

Rejection two

OK, fair enough. I fixed the keywords immediately and resubmitted the update to the black box of the app approval process, ready to wait another two weeks... Like clockwork, the next rejection notice was spit out about 14 days later. This time it was rejected for being a "feature-limited version." Um, yeah it is a FREE version of a paid game, is that not the point??? Almost all the free games I have played are essentially demos for their paid counterparts. The original free version had almost all the tricks locked and a message saying "trick locked" would appear if you tried to pull one off. However, this update changed that and unlocked all but three tricks and even added more levels. It is far less "feature-limited" than the version that is live on the App Store right now.

Yet, the specific issue was entirely unrelated to the gameplay and they got us for a screen that lets the user know that the full version contains OpenFeint which allows them to unlock achievements and save their high scores among other things. Here is the rejection email along with the image that was attached:

Hello,
 
Bear on a Wire - Free Ride cannot be posted because it is a beta or 
feature-limited version.   The application must be a fully functional app and 
cannot reference features that are not implemented or up-sell to the full 
version. Tapping on the scores button displays an invitation to purchase the 
full version.  Please refer to the attached screenshot. 
 
Please upload a new binary and correct metadata using iTunes Connect 
<http://itunesconnect.apple.com/>.
 
Regards,
 
iPhone Developer Program
********************************

Obviously, they did not play through the whole game (which is reasonable given the amount of apps in review) because, in addition to the "trick locked" messages, at the end of the three short levels a message pops up letting the player know that there are more tricks and levels available in the full version. This probably also makes the game "feature limited" in Apple's eyes. Here is an image of the screen that is currently in the game which they have had no problem with so far:

Seeing how this process has gone until this point, the update will probably be rejected two more times, one for that screen and one for the "trick locked" messages. I say two times because obviously they feel no obligation to cite more than one reason for declining an app or provide any information about other things that may also need to be changed. If there are multiple issues with your app you just get one reason every two weeks at the least and rinse and repeat.

Rejection three

That brings me to the latest rejection and the one I have the biggest issue with because I can find no way to fix it and so far it appears to be a problem with the cumbersome mess that is iTunes Connect. The issue is with keywords for the UK English version, yeah the words tony and hawk are still in there, on the "Review" page. They were also still there in the second submission but they didn't mention it.

This time we actually received a call from Apple citing the issue with the app. However, they made the fix seem simple. The guy said to just submit a new binary with and change the UK English keywords. After hearing this, I was frustrated with myself wondering how I could have overlooked something that sounded so simple. After rejecting the binary, I was still unable to find anything that mentions UK English. So, we sent them an email asking how we are supposed to change the keywords. Here is their response.

Hi,
 
For each language that you have activated in iTunes Connect, you will find 
the keywords field that you can modify. Please note that you can only modify 
keywords when you submit an update.
 
For more information can be found in the iTunes Connect User Guide which is 
located at the bottom of the “Manage Your Applications” page in iTunes Connect.
 
Regards,
 
iPhone Developer Program
****************************

This email makes it seem like we need to cancel the update altogether, not just submit a new binary. However, there is no visible option to cancel an update and none at all as far as I can tell. So, this is were we are now, waiting on another response from the review and then probably another rejection after that.

Moving forward

Because of this experience and Apple's ever present and suffocating need for control, I have become disenchanted with iPhone and the App Store and have started to look into the Palm and Android platforms. We are a small company, with only these two games and a couple more apps in development but we have heard several large companies voice their concerns about the app approval process lately and some have even scraped their iPhone projects altogether. A quick search reveals many more companies and individuals who have given up, most notably the guy behind the Facebook app.

That said, I will continue to develop for the iPhone and enjoy it as much as possible. For all the faults of the system there are other things they have done extremely well. Even though the core of the approval process stems from Apple's incessant control issues, a lot of the other issues are simply the result of growing pains which I can look past for now. Hopefully, all the negative press lately in addition to the increasing competition will force them to address the issues with app approval sooner rather than later.

Rejection three update

Shortly after writing this I finally realized how to change the UK English keywords. I am not sure why they are separate to begin with, I will assume I did something wrong when initially submitting the app or update. I overlooked it so many times because the link to edit it is not very visible, I guess because a combination of the bland colors, looking at it on a large monitor and not being sure what part of the site to look in to begin with. Not to mention that the select box on the page says "Select a language to update" but does not contain UK English. The link looks so obvious now but I stared at this page a lot of times before realized it was there. Here is an image of the page.

Hopefully the fourth time is the charm and the update will finally get accepted. Ironically, since this app has been in review Apple has changed the way they handle updates. Updates are no good for making apps visible anymore. This is very bad news, mainly for indie developers, essentially giving only one day of visibility on the App Store to become popular, after which the search engine or outside advertisement are the only means of getting an app known, but that's an issue for another day.