Earlier this year, Apple announced new policies aimed at, among other things, banning apps that contribute to spam and clutter in the App Store. Specifically, one policy gave Apple the right to reject apps built using a "commercialized template or app generation service."

Now, Apple appears to be prepping enforcement of this rule in a way that could hurt small businesses in a big way.

According to TechCrunch's Sarah Perez, a number of companies that offer businesses the ability to create apps using templates have been informed that apps they submit for inclusion in the App Store will be rejected starting on January 1, 2018. There is also a question as to whether or not they will be able to maintain existing apps that are already in the App Store, and for how long.

As Perez explained, many if not most small businesses don't have the financial or technical resources to build apps from scratch, so they often turn to app builders that "help small businesses like local retailers, restaurants, small fitness studios, nonprofits, churches and other organizations to create an app presence using templates, drag-and-drop wizards and various tools to put together a more basic app that can then be customized further with their own branding and images."

One U.S. lawmaker is concerned enough about the potential for Apple's enforcement of its new policies to hurt small businesses that he is asking the company to reconsider. In a letter to the world's most valuable publicly-traded company, Congressman Ted W. Lieu, who represents California's 33rd Congressional District, stated:

Recently, I was informed that Apple's decision to more stringently enforce its policy guidelines regarding design and functionality may result in the wholesale rejection of template-based apps from the App Store. It is my understanding that many small businesses, research organizations, and religious institutions rely on template apps when they do not possess the resources to develop apps in-house.

As Lieu sees it, Apple's approach could "[invalidate] apps from longstanding and legitimate developers who pose no threat to the App Store's integrity."

The harsh realities of the app economy

While Lieu's argument isn't without merit, it's also worth considering the significant challenges that small businesses face in the App Store.

Data shows that despite the fact consumers are spending significant amounts of time on their mobile devices, their usage of apps is concentrated in a very small number of popular apps like Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Driving downloads and installs of mobile apps can be costly and retention is notoriously difficult. According to mobile engagement platform Localytics, nearly a quarter of apps are used only once after they are installed and overall app churn after three months is a depressing 80%.

From this perspective, one might argue that Apple is doing small businesses a favor, even if it isn't apparent to them. After all, the data makes it clear: it's very, very difficult to succeed in the App Store and many if not most small businesses are likely realizing little to no benefit from their apps. 

Even so, with some services offering template-based mobile apps for iOS and Android for as little as $10 a month, it's easy for small businesses to overlook the fact that their apps aren't delivering a meaningful return; they get to say "we have a mobile app."

If anything, this might be the silver lining in Apple's enforcement of its new policies: it will make clear to small businesses that they likely have to do more if they want to truly succeed in the App Store and it will give them an incentive to revisit their mobile strategies.

In doing so, some businesses may find that they have a legitimate case for investing in the development of a custom app, one that ideally has unique features that will differentiate it and maximize the value offered to users. This is more likely to be the case for businesses that have ongoing, strong relationships with their customers. For instance, a small gym chain might decide to develop a custom app that goes beyond scheduling and offers its members gamification features, workout tracking, regularly updated custom content, and social networking and messaging functionality.

Other businesses, however, like restaurants and local retailers, are more likely to find that their relationships with customers aren't strong enough to support a strong mobile app value proposition. In turn, they might realize their websites are their most important digital assets and conclude that their time and money is better invested in ensuring that their websites provide a solid mobile user experience.

Related resources:

Patricio Robles

Published 15 December, 2017 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (4)

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Bruce Deniger, owner at Write My Essay

This is actually a good thing, that at least there will not be any spam content in apple.
But still it becomes harder for apple users as they will not have access to many applications. That makes apple non user friendly.

with regards,
Bruce Deniger
website:https://writemyessayonline.co

6 months ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and GDPR Geek at Fresh Relevance

Respectfully, Congressman Lieu is a totally wrong. I get that he's representing the views of his lobbyists, but pretty much nobody wins when small businesses create a basic app by customising a template. https://techcrunch.com/2017/12/08/apples-widened-ban-on-templated-apps-is-wiping-small-businesses-from-the-app-store/

When my wife was opening her beauty shop, she tried having a marketing video made, and this was shown along with about 10 others in a loop at the local sports centre . Other small businesses are sold adverts in local, single-issue magazines - often allegedly for charity.

Basic template apps are just the latest of these schemes. Small businesses spend money, the app/video/mag is used by few people, and they may only use it once or twice. The biggest losers are Apple and people looking for good apps, because template apps get in the way.

Spend the money on your facebook page instead - that works for local businesses (other social networks are available.)

6 months ago

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Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Data, Insight & Analytics at Eurostar International Ltd.

I'm afraid I don't agree Pete and all you're doing is providing an alternative opinion on the matter.

While template apps aren't ideal for smaller companies where there a small number of largely standardised features they want to be able to offer, they can make a lot of sense. Our local takeaway uses such an app because they want a simple method of allowing local customers, many of them regulars, to be able to go through a menu and place orders without them either losing a large portion of their income to the likes of Just Eat or having to have multiple people manning a phone in peak hours.

For them to have to develop their own app or create a comparable mobile responsive website would prove quite costly. As such, I'd argue there are plenty of cases where these more primitive solutions are actually essential to smaller firms (not that Apple would care)

I'd also argue that template apps aren't the main thing resulting in poor apps across Apple and Android devices - there are plenty of companies that despite significant investment are creating things with poor UX that I would far rather were removed!

6 months ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and GDPR Geek at Fresh Relevance

@Matt. Interesting use case. That would work great for customers who are loyal to a single, local takeaway. But I wonder how many such people there are. Does anyone have any data?

At my family, we don't eat takeaway more than about once a week and we like to vary the type of food, so we don't buy from any single restaurant very often. I suppose we could, in theory, install half a dozen apps, but in practice it's easier to use google to choose takeaways.

BTW there seem to be a several order-taking "plug-ins" for facebook. I've linked to one at random. As the shopper doesn't need to install anything, would these be a better technology?
https://www.gloriafood.com/facebook-ordering

6 months ago

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