Is Apple Taking Aim at Event Apps?

Apple's recent rule changes for the iOS App Store have many association pros wondering about whether event apps are in danger of getting rejected. The answer is yes and no, really. In short: Apple doesn't want its developers to cut corners.

What happens when you run a store, and the product lines have gotten confusing and out of control?

You clean up the inventory, obviously. And that’s what Apple has been doing in recent months with the App Store on iOS, in part because of a move to a 64-bit architecture (which I covered less than a month ago) and in part because the weeds have gotten really hard to miss.

But in the process of this entire saga, Apple made a rule change that has gotten many in the association and event space wondering whether their organization just wasted a lot of money on a big investment.

Here’s what happened: Back in June, Apple updated its review guidelines to say this: “Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected.”

This line drew a lot of notice upon the recent release of iOS 11, because it seemed like it was going after a lot of legitimate apps, among which were event apps, white-labeled but generally designed using an existing framework.

Some immediately read between the lines and saw that this included event apps.

Back in July, the vendor DoubleDutch said that, based on conversations it had with Apple officials, branded event apps would be transitioned out, in favor of a single dedicated app. In other words, your attendees would download an app from DoubleDutch, EventMobi, or any number of vendors, rather than for your own conference.

In a blog post back in July, the company’s CEO, Lawrence Coburn, argued that the move was actually a good thing for the app ecosystem, as it would lead to a stronger experience, as well as an app that gets used year-round, rather than one that fades out of view after a couple of weeks. He compared the experience to that of Slack or Gmail.

“All of this considered, the biggest winner in the death of the white label event app will be the attendee,” Coburn wrote. “No longer will they have to find and download a disposable app, and they will soon have access to more powerful, year-round, cross-event functionality.”

Other vendors, like Pathable and Eventbase, quickly took aim at this assessment, noting that vendor-driven apps would have a negative effect on the conference experience. And some of the comments even seemed to contradict Coburn’s take. (Part of this may be differences in approaches—some vendors may customize things more than others.)

“You will be relieved to hear that we have already received confirmation from Apple that they will continue to support our approach provided we continue to deliver unique and high-end mobile apps,” Eventbase CEO Jeff Sinclair wrote on LinkedIn. “That is our specialty, and why you rely on Eventbase.”

The Event Manager Blog, citing unnamed sources, even claimed event apps were already getting rejected.

(For my part, I reached out to Apple for comment on this issue multiple times, but alas, no response. I even emailed Phil Schiller as something of a Hail Mary.)

To be honest, I’m struggling to see how Apple could get away with kicking something like the Women’s March App, for example, off of the App Store without stepping into some major controversy in the process.

This situation is a reflection of something that I’ve seen a lot over the years: Everyone wants to get into the App Store, but we want things to be easy.

But I do think it’s worth contextualizing exactly why Apple might add a rule like this in, even if it seems annoying or frustrating. There are a few issues at play here:

Low-quality apps hurt the App Store. The main issue for Apple here, ultimately, is that there have traditionally been a lot of examples of developers putting nearly identical apps on its platform dozens of times. Think, instead of an English-Italian translator, it’s an English-French translator. Or instead of Flappy Bird, it’s Flappy Goose. You get the idea—low-quality products devalue the App Store, and that’s something Apple needs to get fixed. As Cult of Mac notes, the company has been dealing with this issue for many years—this is simply the latest front. If that’s the case, event apps are getting caught in the middle.

Plug and play? No way. If you’re publishing an app through a system that allows you to simply plug and play information and it spits out an app, that means it looks the same as hundreds of similar apps—and Apple wants to avoid that. Among the firms that have been directly affected by the new rule is GoodBarber, a service that lets you download a completed app that then could be submitted to the App Store. That company ended up having to tweak its model to meet Apple’s requirements—a process it wrote about on its website.

Frameworks are still safe. Earlier this year, Apple made an agreement with the software firm SAP to help developers produce “enterprise-grade” apps, which rely on prebuilt components to help ease the development process. This seems to suggest that “commercialized template” doesn’t mean “development framework.” If your event app is built using a framework like PhoneGap or something similar, you may still be safe. The danger appears to come when too many corners get cut or the template is too rigid.

I was talking this over with an app-developer friend of mine, wanting to understand his take on this state of affairs.

He pointed out to me that there’s also a privacy angle to this. One of the biggest problems with generated apps is that the app publisher doesn’t know what the developer actually put in there—it could be siphoning data and phoning home three ways from Sunday, for all you know. In other words, if you don’t touch the code yourself, you don’t know what’s in the app.

Apple wants people who publish on its App Store to actually know what’s in the app.

This situation is a reflection of something that I’ve seen a lot over the years: Everyone wants to get into the App Store, but we want things to be easy.

Apple, in its own monolithic way, is reminding us that quality must be a part of that equation—no matter how much that hurts.

(succodesign/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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