Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Apple's New Policy on Single-Station iPhone Radio Apps

Back in November there was a a bit of stir in the radio community regarding one developer's claim that Apple was no longer allowing single-station radio apps. The article found here gives a decent summary of the story. The final conclusion was Apple hadn't changed their policy, but instead it was just this one developer's approach to making "template-based apps" that was the problem. Apple was even quoted as saying: "There are many unique radio apps on the App Store and we look forward to approving many more. One developer has attempted to spam the app store with hundreds of variations of essentially the same radio app and that is against our guidelines."

So, at the time of the article, the general thought was if you develop custom radio apps, and don't have them with little content other than playing an audio stream, then you should be OK. It turns out, this answer is true, but with one important caveat: Apple is now requiring any new single-station radio apps be hosted under the radio station's own developer account.

I ran into this new policy two days ago when I received a rejection for a new single-station app. The text of the rejection was a bit alarming to me when I first read it:

"We've completed the review of your apps[sic], however, we are unable to post them[sic] to the App Store because they provide the same feature set as your existing radios apps and simply vary the content. Apps that replicate functionality with different content create clutter in the App Store, hindering users' ability to find apps. They are therefore not appropriate for the App Store, as noted in the App Store Review Guidelines :

2.20 Developers 'spamming' the App Store with many versions of similar apps will be removed from the iOS Developer Program"

First, I only submitted one app, but the text implied I had submitted several. Also, the claim I was "spamming" the app store seemed extreme - every radio station app I've developed is commissioned (i.e. paid for) by the radio station and is completely customized per the radio station instructions. Granted, some of the apps are similar to others, but this is because it is common for one radio station to say something along the lines of, "I want an app just like the one you did for station X." From the radio station's point of view, it's all about getting their brand onto the iPhone - they want their listeners to be able to have easy access to their station, and having an app in the iTunes App Store is one way to do that.

Based on the text of Apple's rejection email, it seemed a bit doom and gloom for the single-station radio app. I quickly sent off an email to Apple requesting some clarification about the rejection, outlining the reasons why I thought single-station radio apps are not "spam" and asking Apple for some clarification.

Today I spoke with someone from Apple on the phone and got the needed clarification. Apple is no longer allowing developers to host large numbers of single-station radio apps under their own account. Instead, they are requiring the station to apply for their own developer account and host the app themselves under their account.

I can see why this makes sense for Apple. Most single-station radio apps are free. Apple makes zero money on them. Best case, they get a bit of free advertising for the iPhone platform from the radio stations when the station says, "Download our free iPhone app" on-air. Now, Apple will instead be making $100/year on each new single-station radio app.

Financially, from Apple's point of view, this change of policy makes sense. For us developers, it's not too big a deal - we'll just have to do a bit more hand-holding with the stations to help them set up their developer account and upload their apps. For a radio station, there's now going to be an increased cost for an app ($100/year), but really that's a not a huge amount of money.

The only part that doesn't make sense to me, is this goes directly against Apple's original explanation for why the app was rejected in the first place. They said single station apps "create clutter in the App Store, hindering users' ability to find apps", but this change in policy is not going to reduce the number of single-station apps. They're just going to be hosted under different developer names. But, since Apple reserves the right to reject an app for any reason, I suppose it's a moot point. Their reasoning doesn't have to make sense - we developers just have to do what they say.

The good news for radio stations is they will still be allowed to have their own custom apps.

All content copyright © 2009  Brian Stormont, unless otherwise noted.   All rights reserved.