Apple will reportedly be pruning the App Store more in the wake of its decision to remove AppGratis, the French startup that just recently raised $13.5 million for its app promotion and discovery platform. According to sources speaking to AllThingsD, others will soon find their App Store privileges revoked as part of a general clean-up.
AppGratis founder Simon Dawlat expressed “total disbelief” when his app was removed, but no one operating in this space should be completely surprised by the decision. After all, a very similar thing happened back in 2011, when Apple decided that incentivized downloads, which often offered in-game credits to players who would download another title from a publisher or one of their partners. That scheme was seen to have negatively affected App Store rankings, by artificially bubbling up titles with little redeeming value.
Then, back in October, I wrote about how Apple had tweaked its developer guidelines to make it much more clear that besides incentivizing downloads through traditional credit exchanges, it also wasn’t cool to use your app to promote apps other than your own “for purchase or promotion.” That’s pretty near exactly what AppGratis and its ilk do. AppHero, for instance, does something very similar. I reached out to that company’s founder, Jordan Satok, but he didn’t immediately respond to my request.
I’ve asked every company I’ve talked to dealing in this space what might happen should Apple decide to clamp down on these rules, which it has shown in the past on numerous occasions it can do, if and when it decides they’re having a material impact for the worse on how app rankings are working out. In every case, they’ve argued that their own software doesn’t quite match the description of the type of app Apple is trying to shut down, and often they claim not to be worried as a result.
Of course, looking down the barrel of an imminent change in App Store policy that could potentially render your entire business model (or half of it, at least, if you also have presence on Google Play) obsolete, it’s easy to see why entrepreneurs operating in this space weren’t eager to admit that Apple seemed to be putting in place the ingredients needed for a change that would ultimately be to their detriment.
The problem, I’d argue, is when the lines blur between a tool designed to help users discover apps that are truly relevant and meaningful to them, and when those same developers start also accepting money in exchange for promoting an app above all others, regardless of customer fit. That’s when, as AllThingsD noted from its sources, you could start getting concerns that downloads are being driven to apps which don’t necessarily deserve them, driving sub-par content up to the top of the charts. Apple is also said to be concerned with software that resembles a store itself, since that presents the potential to confuse consumers.
There’s no sure way to guarantee that all apps in this space will get the boot, but anyone with a business or product model even remotely similar to AppGratis’ should make sure they have a significant backup plan in case they do get the axe, especially if they’ve taken on investor dollars to help them get where they are today.