Apple loosens some of its App Store Review Guidelines with latest update

Timed alongside its Worldwide Developer Conference this week, Apple rolled out a new set of App Store Review Guidelines which, somewhat surprisingly, now loosen restrictions around some requirements that need to be met to publish to the App Store. Typically, Apple updates its guidelines to either introduce new rules or clarify existing rules to developers by adding more details. But this week’s changes instead remove a handful of rules around subsets of apps — including lottery apps, apps used for charitable donations, apps that use location and others.

The changes follow a series of legal challenges and new regulations in select markets over Apple’s control of its App Store, where the company is under pressure to permit third-party payments and increased competition. Both the EU and the U.S. are considering measures designed to level the playing field across numerous fronts when it comes to app stores and the fees they charge.

Most notably, Apple’s new guidelines see it deleting one of its vaguer rules over how an app has to function in order to be permitted on the App Store.

With the update, Apple removed the requirement (rule 4.2.3) that says an app must “include sufficient content in the binary for the app to function at launch.” Though designed to ensure that apps have some sort of minimum functionality and are usable upon installation, Apple has also wielded this rule to block apps that would require another app to function or that first need to call resources from the internet. As to why Apple is now removing this rule is less clear, but presumably, this would now mean that apps could prompt users to download additional resources at launch, as some games already do, and wouldn’t be required to be functional before that download completed. It could possibly pave the way for HTML5-enabled games to return to the App Store, after being restricted in 2019.

Combined with two other changes related to lottery apps, it seems Apple may be looking to loosen its rules around HTML5 when used in this subset of the app market. The company has also now removed rule 5.3.3, which had restricted users from buying lottery or raffle tickets or initiating fund transfers in an app, and rule 4.7, which had restricted lotteries and charitable donations in code that’s not embedded in the binary.

Apple had explained its reasoning in January 2020 around the use of HTML5 in apps, saying that apps that dynamically provide core features and functionality via HTML5 are “best delivered through Safari” — an indication that Apple wanted to restrict these sorts of apps from its App Store. The revised guidelines see Apple changing its tune a bit, which could have broader ramifications for the lottery app industry.

Another updated requirement references the new WeatherKit toolkit for developers, which allows for the creation of apps that use Apple’s own weather data services. With rule 5.2.5, Apple simply says that apps have to follow the attribution requirements provided in WeatherKit’s documentation.

Finally, another rule being dropped (2.5.4) is focused on location data. Apple no longer requires apps using location background mode to remind users that doing so “may dramatically decrease battery life.” This likely has to do more with improvements to the iPhone’s battery capabilities over the years, since the guidelines still restrict multitasking apps from using background location just to keep the app running.

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