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iOS App Distribution & Best Practices

First Edition · iOS 14.4 · Swift 5.3 · Xcode 12.4

Section I: iOS App Distribution & Best Practices

Section 1: 17 chapters
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Section II: Appendices

Section 2: 2 chapters
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7. Preparing for App Review
Written by Pietro Rea & Keegan Rush

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Getting through App Review is one of the most confusing and stressful things about publishing an app to the App Store. Even a decade later, App Review continues to be shrouded in mystery. Apple is prolific about how to pass App Review but publishes almost nothing about what it is.

Here’s what we do know: Apple hires and trains employees whose main responsibility is to review incoming app submissions. These reviewers make sure submissions adhere to the App Store Review Guidelines. If something falls in a gray area, which is not uncommon, they make a judgment call. App Review also includes automated checks to catch things that would be hard for a human to detect, such as the use of private APIs.

If you do get slapped with a rejection, you can use the Resolution Center in App Store Connect to work it out with Apple. If you have broader disagreements with the guidelines, you can also make an appeal to the App Review Board.

It’s difficult to internalize all the guidelines you need to follow. App Review is based on long documents that change frequently and are sometimes hard to understand. The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert. Understanding the guiding principles behind them can help you sail through App Review, even as the specific guidelines evolve over time.

Apple doesn’t publish its guiding principles, so the following comes from real-world experience and a close reading of the guidelines:

  1. Provide value: Apps need to be useful, unique and provide lasting value. Apple won’t accept your app if it’s simply a wrapper around a static website. You might also run into trouble if you’re building an app in a category that’s already saturated — think flashlight apps — without adding anything new.
  2. Ensure quality: App Review rejects apps that crash, don’t work correctly or look incomplete. All metadata must include fully-functional URLs. Scrub all placeholder content, like “Lorem Ipsum”, and stock images. Also, make sure you keep up with the latest SDKs and platform requirements. From time to time, Apple purges old apps that don’t work anymore from the App Store.
  3. Don’t cheat: Don’t try to circumvent or cheat the App Review process. Use Apple’s platform capabilities in the way Apple intended. If you do get creative, don’t do it maliciously. Don’t take advantage of users, harm them or profit from them unfairly.
  4. Respect users: Beyond the mandate not to cheat or harm your users, Apple also wants you to respect their data and privacy. Properly ask for permission when requesting sensitive information. Assume they don’t want to see offensive or questionable content. Don’t track them if you don’t need to. Be extra careful if you build apps for kids.
  5. Assume full responsibility: You’re responsible for everything that happens in your app, even if it’s driven by back-end systems or third parties. As an example, if you show user-generated content, Apple expects you to provide some measure of content moderation. Ensure that all software frameworks and dependencies also adhere to the App Store Review Guidelines.

At the end of the day, Apple wants the App Store to be a safe and healthy ecosystem. Apple wants users to feel safe as they discover and download any of the nearly two million apps in its App Store catalog. Doing so keeps users coming back, which benefits Apple as well as third-party developers (that’s you!).

Following the App Store Review Guidelines

The guiding principles mentioned above help you understand the guidelines and anticipate changes, but they can only take you so far. Sometimes you can’t predict what Apple’s guidelines have to say about your particular use case. The only way to find out is to read them.

For example, did you know that you cannot use Location Services to control an aircraft?

5.1.5 Location Services

“Location-based APIs shouldn’t be used to provide emergency services or autonomous control over vehicles, aircraft, and other devices, except for small devices such as lightweight drones and toys, or remote control car alarm systems, etc.”

However, most developers have never read the App Store Review Guidelines. When most people think about them, they picture a dense legal document. That’s not the case at all. They’re written in plain, easy-to-understand language. Sometimes the language is so direct it’s funny. For example, here’s what Apple has to say about non-essential apps:

4.3 Spam

“… the App Store has enough fart, burp, flashlight, fortune telling, dating, and Kama Sutra apps, etc. already. We will reject these apps unless they provide a unique, high-quality experience.”

If you’re in the business of making apps, particularly if you decide what to make, it behooves you to read the App Store Review Guidelines. That gives you an intuition about what’s possible on Apple’s platforms.

You should also read the guidelines if you plan on doing something that no one’s ever done before on the App Store. Before you invest time and money into a project, wouldn’t you like to know in advance if Apple will accept your app?

Unfortunately, Apple never gives you pre-approval. They tell you to develop your app and submit it for review. A close reading of the App Store Review Guidelines is your only recourse if you want to do something radically different.

Reading the guidelines

The App Store Review Guidelines contain the bulk of the information you need to know, but it also links to a handful of other documents. There seem to be guidelines for everything. Some tell you what you shouldn’t do, while others amount to gentler recommendations about how you should build your app. Here’s a list of the most important documents:

App Store Review Guidelines

Apple Developer Program License Agreement

Human Interface Guidelines

Brand and Marketing Guidelines

How you market your app is mostly up to you, except when it comes to Apple’s brands and products. Apple publishes guidelines for using its brand, trademark and products in your marketing materials, such as your website and emails. There are also marketing guidelines specific to Apple Pay and Apple Wallet.

Submitting to App Review

Chapter 3, “Submitting Your First App for Review”, walks you through how to submit an app for review once you have a build and app record in App Store Connect. Refer to it if you need a refresher on the basics.


An iOS app can be associated with a macOS app, tvOS app or watchOS app, as well as an App Clip, iMessage app and one or more In-App Purchases. Apple has guidelines for all of these add-ons, so you can only start offering them after going through App Review.

App Review Information

Reviewers want to go through your app as a regular user would. If your app requires signing in, you need to create a test account in your production environment that reviewers can use.


Before releasing your app for the first time, you can publish it on the App Store as a pre-order. During the pre-order period, users can sign up on your App Store product page. Once you officially release the app, customers that signed up for the pre-order receive a notification and your app downloads automatically to their device. If you have a paid app, users get charged for your app at that time as well.


One of the benefits of the App Store is reaching customers worldwide. By default, your app is available in all countries and regions, which covers 175 territories as of this writing. However, you can deselect territories where you don’t want your app to be available.

Version Release options

When App Review approves your app, it doesn’t automatically go live in the App Store. There are three release options you can choose from.

Ratings and reviews

Customers have the option to rate your app on a scale from 1 to 5. They can also write reviews, which you can respond to in App Store Connect. Your App Store product page shows a summary rating as well as all customer reviews and any responses from you.

Expedited App Review

App Review doesn’t start immediately after you click the Submit button. Your app submission goes into a queue. Depending on the volume of submissions and other unpublished factors, App Review can finish the same day you submit or take days or weeks.

Understanding app statuses

Submitting an app to App Review is a complex, multi-step process, and knowing what to do next isn’t always clear. Sometimes, Apple is waiting on you to do something. Other times, you’re waiting on Apple. To help move things along, you can consult your submission’s app status.

Resolving app rejection issues

Even experienced developers have their apps rejected from time to time. Knowing what to expect and how to react can help you unblock yourself quickly.

Key points

  • Apple hires and trains employees who make sure incoming app submissions adhere to the App Store Review Guidelines.
  • The App Store Review Guidelines change over time, but they’re based on timeless principles: provide value, ensure quality, don’t cheat, respect users and assume full responsibility.
  • The App Store Review Guidelines link to a number of documents that you should also abide by, including the Apple Developer Program License Agreement, the Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) and the Brand and Marketing Guidelines.
  • An iOS app can be associated with a macOS app, a tvOS app and a watchOS app. It can also support App Clips, iMessage apps and In-App Purchases. App Store Connect supports all these add-ons.
  • Fill out the App Review Information section in App Store Connect to provide reviewers with login information and any other notes they might need.
  • Your app is available in all countries and regions by default, but you can opt-out of territories where you don’t want your app to be available.
  • After you pass App Review, you can choose to release your app manually or you can let Apple handle it. You can also do phased releases after your initial release.
  • After your initial release, you can choose to reset your summary rating on your App Store product page when you release new versions.
  • If an app update is time-sensitive, you can submit an expedited App Review request on the developer portal.
  • Resolve app rejections in App Store Connect’s Resolution Center. Communicate with Apple to clarify their request, make any necessary changes and submit a new build for review.
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