If you want to reach the highest number of people with your product, you need to have a compelling mobile app.
In this post I want to focus on the process to get the app approved on one of the main app stores out there, the Apple App Store.
When initially thinking about reaching a higher number of people using any app store a few key points have to be considered:
You are not the store manager, you don’t make the rules and you can bet that you will have to follow them whether you like it or not.
You are just one of the many (millions) of products they sell, so how do we stand out and get found?
Is your product safe?
What are your responsibilities to the end user?
Can the user trust you?
We are talking about moving from testing an app with a few external testers to potentially reaching thousand of users. Any safety issue will be amplified by a factor of thousands and the user has to trust us to be safe and secure. This is especially true with the majority of a users attention now focused around data collection. How can we ensure that we are transparent and our product is trustworthy in its purpose?
But first what does safe mean? The Apple App Store guidelines define it as:
When people install an app from the App Store, they want to feel confident that it’s safe to do so—that the app doesn’t contain upsetting or offensive content, won’t damage their device, and isn’t likely to cause physical harm from its use. We’ve outlined the major pitfalls below, but if you’re looking to shock and offend people, the App Store isn’t the right place for your app.
Fair enough right?
Being on an approved and highly regulated store, helps the user to trust the products in it. You wouldn’t buy a car if the manufacturer didn’t pass all the safety tests, would you? In fact, manufactures are legally not allowed to sell products if they are not safe, and, as we release our Smart Mask module, we are learning a lot about it; but this topic deserves it’s own blog post, so stay tuned if you are interested in how to get a physical product to market.
The point still stands, in order to gain the user trust, trust in handling their data, trust in being safe, our app has to pass a strict set of rules.
In the case of the Apple App Store these rules can be found here just in case you are REALLY curious and wanted to read them all.
The top priority for a responsible app developer should be the safety and security of their app. In that case, when they have to go through all the rules for a store to make sure that their app complies, a good 80% of the rules will probably be already covered. Unfortunately we are not all born responsible app developers, but we can all become one with some commitment.
"But do you blindingly agree with all these rules?" you may ask at this point.
Okay, we may not agree with all the rules there, for example why is Apple taking a 30% cut on the sales the app makes? Why not 20% ? Why not 40%?
Challenging the rules is, of course, possible, see the Epic Games v Apple lawsuit on exactly the point above; but in this blog post we just stick by the rules (literally) and leave a space for litigations to the legal team.
Another important point when going through the release process with Apple is privacy. As you may know Apple is pushing to make their devices and services privacy-central and all the new app going to the store are required to give the user details on how their data is being used and allow the user to stop the app from tracking them, making some big companies less happy (just search “Apple and Facebook” if you would like to know more).
For us this meant having to answer questions that we had not initially thought of, such as: Is our app tracking the user? What data that we collect is linked to the user?
Now, you’d expect us to know the answers to the those questions quite easily, and so did we. But then we realised that Apple requires this information for any third party software that was used to build the infrastructure and in our app as well.
In any app you can expect a considerable amount of systems to be handled by third parties; think about the cloud system for example unless you own you own cloud system (unlikely), whether you are with Amazon (AWS), Google (GCP), Microsoft (Azure) or any other third party cloud service, you have to make sure that they don’t use your users data for tracking purposes. It turns out some of these cloud services providers where indeed using third party user data for those purposes, and had to update their systems to comply with the new Apple guidelines.
As an app that does not track your users, you wouldn’t like to say that you are tracking them just because a third party that you use tracks your user, would you?
Luckily for us, this process was not too painful, as most third party software providers that we are using don’t have access to our users' data or had updated their policy to allow the user not to be tracked. It only costed us one rejection to the Apple store to get it right after all.
Many more points had to be understood before we could be confident that our app would get approved I won’t cover them all in here, but a few include: do we have to send our Smart Mask Module to Apple for approval? Is the health data displayed on the app actionable, is it medical advice? Searching online sometimes does not give you all the answers and the best way to find out is to just start the approval process anyway and let Apple help you ironing out the last kinks.
So is the Spyras app perfect? No (not yet), but your safety is at the top of our list at all times as the app evolves and improves with your feedback. By being transparent with you at all times about this subject, we hope that we can keep continuing to put our best foot forward.
If after all that you are curious to see our app, please follow the app store icon link below and enjoy! For the full app experience a Smart Mask Module is needed, (you can register your interest here to get your hands on the first batch) but even without this you can take advantage our Spyras's free breathing exercise classes!
Francesco from the Spyras Team