Stuart Godfree, Managing Director & Co-founder of mobile development and innovation studio mkodo, tells industry tech stakeholders to pay no attention to the hysteria generated by Apple’s stricter enforcement of non-native apps…
On 3 June 2019, Apple updated its App Store review guidelines, imposing restrictions on real-money apps. It followed stricter enforcement of guidelines clamping down on non-native applications and together the changes will cause serious disruption to the way operators deliver content to customers through Apple iOS applications.
Since the update, there has been a flurry of hysteria around how the technology giant is persecuting the gambling sector with restrictions that go beyond what is standard or necessary. But that rhetoric is simply not factual, nor is it helpful to an industry that has been struck with one of the biggest challenges to digital content delivery it has likely ever faced.
The restrictions on non-native applications are contained in guideline 4.2. Apple has stated that app developers “should include features, content, and UI that elevate it beyond a repackaged website”. This means that those wanting to leverage the vast distribution framework that the Apple App Store provides must offer more than just a wrapped website.
The application of this guideline is wholesale: it is not a showdown on the gambling industry. Apple wants to ensure that its store is not merely being used as a content redistribution channel offering nothing unique; it wants to raise the bar in what an app is expected to be.
The reason this guideline has widely impacted the industry is because many betting, gaming and lottery companies have endeavoured to support cost management by leveraging the simplest cross-platform solution possible – the web. Apple now wishes to see companies using the App Store investing in its technology and frameworks.
While this will present a challenge to operators, particularly with the tech giant already showing that it is serious about enforcement, its motive is to ensure all applications, no matter the industry they represent, uphold quality standards and optimise the Apple frameworks for the best possible user experience to Apple users.
Further difficulties lie ahead with the restrictions detailed in guideline 4.7, which will generally force operators to either build games natively or embed HTML5 games into their application code in what has the potential to be a damaging and expensive change for gambling-related apps. But when the guideline takes effect for existing applications on September 3rd, there is not going to be a page of rolling tumbleweed where the gambling category used to feature.
For the foreseeable future, existing applications will remain on the App Store unchallenged by Apple. It is only when those applications go through the next review process, or if they issue an update, that they will be judged against the new policy. Updates that do not meet the revised criteria will be rejected, but that decision will not impact the operator’s existing application.
To bust another myth, the 4.7 clause does not universally apply to gambling companies, it specifically targets real-money applications that sideload third-party content – such as casino games – which Apple does not have visibility on. Further, it is directed at apps that initially offer free gameplay and then upgrade into real money versions post-App Store review.
The impact of these changes is only just beginning to be realised, but operators do have options. Firstly, they can decide not to offer an App Store solution and move to a web-only offering, or alternatively, they can work with key vendors to port best-performing titles that can be embedded in the application.
The road ahead is currently unclear, and will undoubtedly present significant hurdles, but there are solutions appearing and we are gaining clarity on what we can offer our clients and partners. By September 3rd many forward-thinking operators will be ready, but those that marginally invested in Apple technology have the greatest amount of work to do.