Look-Alike Apps are Considered Spam by App Review

“… my [music player] app was rejected because it violates Guideline 4.3 (Spam). I appealed to the review board, they decided to maintain the rejection, they told me that the app is made from the same template as many of my other apps like [a law dictionary app] … They are not made from the same template, may be made from Xcode’s Single View app, but that’s all..”

Sometimes all your hard work bounced at the gates of the App Store because an overworked app reviewer saw similarities between your app and another. Either similarities between your own apps or with another app that the reviewer had seen before. Even when comparing the two apps side-by-side reveal that they do vastly different things. But that overworked reviewer cared no less, threw a “Guideline 4.3” at you, and flagged your developer account as a spammer.

Unfortunately when your developer account obtains the spammer flag, any subsequent apps you submit would be rejected until you appeal. Which may include app updates. This bad mark would likely slow down your update cycles as your updates get rejected and you needing to submit each to the appeals board.

How to prevent this?

How to ensure that you can always submit apps un-encumbered?

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
Excerpt From: Sunzi 6th Cent. B.C. “The Art of War.” Apple Books.

Apple’s view is that apps would need to provide unique experiences (App Review Guidelines, sections 4.2.6 and 4.3). Apps should not be a clone of other apps. This includes user experience, look-and-feel, even the icon should be unique.

Yet App Reviewers (those front-line employees) would need to make a decision within five minutes on average — even less. This may result in apps being remotely similar-looking to a pre-existing one to be categorized as spam, despite having vastly different purposes. This supposed similarity would bee more apparent when the alleged apps comes from the same developer account. Though it doesn’t negate the possibility of the reviewer having seen a similar-looking app elsewhere — regardless of different functionalities and intentions.

How to Avoid Being Labeled as an App Store Spammer

If you’ve been starting new apps from the same Xcode Template, you should reconsider that approach. Having a similar design for more than one of your app risks your developer account being flagged as a spammer.

Better if you can start early and ensure that your app provides a unique user experience right from the design phase. Compare the new app that is currently being designed with all of your existing apps that are available in the store. Lay out all your existing apps’ screenshots (the ones that you use as sources to submit as App Store metadata would do fine) in one big surface, take a good squint, and see if you can find similarities with the new app. Take a note of these as areas of improvements that you can further improve the designs, how to make them more unique yet offer a good user experience.

When you’re designing a new app and have completed the UI design – at the mockup stage, not wireframe – but before implementation, have a look at competing apps in the store (you did a competitive analysis before deciding to make a new app, didn’t you?). Take a look at their screenshots and video demo. Compare them with your apps. Check for similarities and re-design those parts that you find similar and improve over it.

Repeat the same exercise of checking your competitors when you’re doing an alpha test, beta test, and right before an app’s first submission to the store. Be sure to keep your own biases in check so that you would be submitting an app that offers an authentic experience to the best of your abilities.

Next Steps

Take a look at your own portfolio of apps. Take all their screenshots and see if they look similar – without reading the text. Try asking someone who is unfamiliar with your apps and see if there are similarities between them that it looks like coming from the same template.

Afterwards compare each of your apps with their respective competitors. Notable the more established competitors (those with more users or released much earlier than yours yet recently updated). See if there are visual similarities and try to move away from that and improve your app at the same time.

Last but not least, ensure that all of your apps’ icons are unique. Even when it is a suite of apps – don’t have the same base icon and with a small label that differentiates them. Their shapes and colors must be unique and recognizable within a sea of icons.

If you need inspiration on how to re-design your app, have a look at these 11 books and resources on user experience. That should get you started on how to improve your user’s experiences and keep your developer account from being flagged as a spammer.

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