The app review process has a bad reputation. The number of guidelines and rules you have to follow is massive, and since the process is partly automated, getting to know why an app gets rejected is like walking through the mist.
But don't lose heart! We are here to help your app get through the review process.
In this article, you will get to know how the app store review process looks, how long it usually takes, and what rules you have to follow to successfully add your app to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
App Review Process
OK, let's do this! Your app is ready, your marketing campaign is just about to start. All you need to do is to put your product on a shop shelf - add it to one of the most popular marketplaces where almost all apps can be found.
You've set up a developer account, chosen the price and countries of distribution, determined the app's content rating (check how adding an app to app store looks here) and finally clicked the publish button. Is your app already in app stores?
Well, no. In order not to change the app stores into a rubbish dump where software can be possibly harmful, Google and Apple decided to set some rules so that they can ensure users safety and high quality of applications. And to enforce such rules, they created a review process prior to app release. This means that publishing your app in their app stores isn't automatic - you have to wait a while for them to check your app.
How Long Does It Take?
The app review process consists of a set of tests, both automatic and manual. Although Google and Apple don't share their methods to avoid deceit, we do know some things about the whole process already.
Google Play is well-known for its review algorithm, which helps to quickly go through the app and check it for any abusive content, bugs, and viruses. No wonder that in this marketplace, you will probably see your app published within only 1-3 hours after submitting your product.
Of course, it depends on an app, but the poll results from a recognized Android community show how much time it took them to get their app published in app stores:
In comparison, Apple claims to do the testing manually. That's why it used to take them around 7+ days - quite a lot compared to Google Play. The difference was so huge that in 2016, Apple cut review times down to what is said to be around 24 hours. You can check the current trend here.
Since 2015, Google Play also decided to test their apps manually, but it doesn't impact the amount of time needed to complete their review process, which still is only a couple of hours.
Google Play offers a Timed Publishing option - you can submit your app, wait for it to be reviewed, and once everything is alright, click the Go Live button at the time of your choice. This way, you can choose the exact time your app is published and adjust it to your marketing campaign.
So you know that there are rules you have to follow to make your app live in app stores, and you are aware that Google and Apple will check thoroughly whether you comply with them. Now, it's time to learn what conditions you have to meet. And as with anything in the mobile world, it depends on whether you have Android or iOS in mind.
Android: Dos and Don'ts
Android is known for being quite strict when it comes to certain functionalities and aspects of your app. Still, it's more open than Apple:
"One of the reasons why lots of people choose Android over iOS is its "openness." Not only does the platform itself provide us with more freedom to do different things Apple wouldn't allow, but the Google Play Store offers a whole host of Android apps that iOS users can't have." - Killian Bell, Cult of Android.
Android's guidelines include the spheres described below:
- Restricted content - Your Android app cannot include any sexually explicit content, such as child sexual abuse. Google also doesn't allow apps that depict violence or include hate speech, bullying, or harassment. And that's also valid for User-Generated Content - you need to make sure that your app has sufficient safeguards against such content, e.g. requires to sign a policy document, enables users to report abuses, and removes abusive content. What's more, an Android app cannot facilitate or promote illegal activities - these include drugs as well as alcohol and tobacco for minors. Also, gambling apps are partly restricted - you can check which rules a gambling app should follow here.
- Intellectual Property, Deception, and Spam - Google protects intellectual property, so if you want to include any pictures from unreliable sources or think of using any brands or trademarks that you are not allowed to use to your advantage, think twice. It's just not worth it. The marketplace also protects users from spam or any content that can be misleading to them, so that the quality of apps in the store is kept high.
- Monetization and Ads - Planning in-app purchases? Remember that you have to use Google Play In-app Billing as the method of payment (with the exception of shopping apps where you buy something in an app but receive it in real life). Thinking of ads as a monetization strategy? Keep in mind that they are treated by Google as a part of your app, so you have to make sure they comply with all Google Play guidelines.
- Store Listing and Promotion - In order to keep the apps relevant for users, Google also regulates marketing practices. The marketplace doesn't allow deceptive promotion tactics nor inappropriate metadata in the app title and description. Also, trying to get good reviews by offering discounts and coupons or similar tactics is forbidden.
- Families and COPPA - Planning to create a children's app? You'll need to join the Designed for Families program. In order to protect kids, members of this program are obliged to follow the additional set of rules, including certain ad rules and excluding some functionalities. You can find a detailed list here.
Do you have any specific functionality you are afraid it can be rejected? Check here for a set of additional guidelines, valid in specific situations.
iOS: Dos and Don'ts
In general, Apple App Store rules are similar to those of the Google Play store. After all, the law is over the app marketplaces and they also have to comply with it. There are, however, some differences which are worth mentioning, as the Apple App Store policy is considered stricter than the one of Google.
"I think for the majority of users the fact that the iOS App Store is "closed" - if you want to put it that way - is a major plus. There are less security concerns, fewer ripoff apps, a lot less clones, and generally just a sense that the whole enterprise is better regulated, managed, and of higher quality." - Luke Dormehl, Cult of Mac.
Below you can find the most important rules you have to follow in App Store (the whole set can be found here):
- Safety - Some content is considered harmful by the app stores, and it seems Apple is more strict about what can and cannot be included in apps. The company prohibits depictions of weapons, racist suggestions, and religious comments or misleading religious texts. Also, such categories as health and apps for kids include additional rules so that no harm is caused. Apple also requires developers to show up-to-date contact information about themselves so that any user can contact the developer in case of questions or support issues.
- Performance - Apple takes software safety even more seriously than Google Play. Thanks to its human review process, it is able to reject more malware software than the latter. Apps submitted to the App Store should be complete, tested, and of high quality. Any software must go along with APIs and kits that Apple offers for its OS and be available on multiple Apple devices - e.g. both iPhones and iPads. To ensure users get exactly what they expect, Apple also pays attention to the accurate use of metadata in the app description, screenshots, and previews.
- Business - A lot of iOS apps are paid, so issues such as app purchases or return policies are described in detail in Apple's policy. For example, binary options trading is not allowed in the App Store, nor is monetizing built-in capabilities provided by the hardware or the operating system, such as push notifications or arbitrarily restricting who may use the app by location or carrier. Apple is, however, OK with gambling, as long as you follow the rules existing in your country of operation.
- Design - Of course, copying already existing apps is not welcome in the App Store, nor is using content for which you don't have copyrights. However, the App Store also restricts apps which have only a promotional purpose as well as multiple versions of the same app (spamming). Even ugly apps can be restricted - Apple wants its App Store to be a marketplace for pretty and high-quality apps, so following its minimum design standards is obligatory.
- Legal - Apps in app stores must comply with all legal requirements in any location where you make them available. That's why legal issues may differ from one place to another. The most important things you should pay attention to are data collection and use, health, fitness and medical data, intellectual property, and kids' rights.