Just 5 days after approving it, Apple pulls AppGratis from the App Store
Apple is always quick to talk up its approval process for apps submitted to the iTunes App Store, but that doesn't stop the company from making some odd moves after an app has slipped through. We've seen a few apps get pulled because they showed some form of "objectionable" content, even if the point of the app was to bring light to objectionable acts in our world. Then there are cases like that of AppGratis, which was approved by Apple, then removed from the App Store after just 5 days.
AppGratis has been a bona fide hit. Two months ago, CEO Simon Dawlat gathered $13.5 million in venture funding. Recently, the app hit milestones of $1 million in revenue in a month, and 10 million users. AppGratis basically gives users a free app each day, and has been successful enough to drive upwards of 1 million new installs for the day's featured app. Of course, that same success may have brought on the heat from Apple.
Apple has only cited two reasons why the app was pulled from iTunes, rule 2.25 which states: "Apps that display Apps other than your own for purchase or promotion in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store will be rejected"; and, rule 5.6 which states: "Apps cannot use Push Notifications to send advertising, promotions, or direct marketing of any kind."
According to Dawlat though, the reasons he was given were a bit different. He was given the rule 2.25, but he was also cited two others: rule 2.12 which said that the app was "not very useful" or didn't "provide any lasting entertainment value"; and, rule 2.20 which said there were too many versions of the app, and the different regional versions should all be combined into one. That last problem is certainly one that could be sorted out fairly easily, it's the other two that could be more trouble.
Rule 2.12 seems like the catch-all guideline that could cover just about anything. Given the number of users and traffic the app pushes, it seems hard to argue that it isn't useful. And, with all of the various apps in the App Store that do nothing but play an annoying sound, it's not like Apple has set the bar too high on the "lasting entertainment value" side of things. Rule 2.25 is also troublesome, because there are other apps that provide similar functionality, like AppHero and Free Apps for a Rainy Day that are still available in the App Store.
Too big, too fast?
The iPhone version of AppGratis has been available in the App Store since November 2012, and the iPad version of the app was approved by Apple just last week. In addition to the various guidelines that AppGratis may have infringed upon, the app's success itself may be an issue. According to Onavo numbers, AppGratis had 4.6 percent share of the iPhone app discovery market in February 2013. That doesn't sound like much, but that's up from under 1 percent share in December 2012, and 4.6 percent is about 3 times the share as the next most popular discovery apps on iPhone.
The question comes in how AppGratis may have generated the market share it has. There have been accusations from competitors that AppGratis has engaged in automatic downloads, or "bot farming". This is a practice where a developer pays a company for downloads, and a bot will run automatic downloads of an app. Depending on how much you're willing to pay, you can get about 10,000 downloads for about $1,000, or get to the Top 50 apps for around $5,000. Of course, those accusations haven't had any real evidence behind them. It's more a matter that many apps in the discovery market tend to use this shady practice, so it's an accusation that gets tossed around a fair amount. And, not surprisingly, Dawlat has denied any shady practices.
Dawlat has said that the team is working towards fixing the app, but it's unclear whether or not that will really help anything. Apple has said that the company is welcome to resubmit the app, but hasn't given too much hope that its position will change on the matter. Apple has even gone so far as to note that AppGratis can still use its website to refer users to apps. That probably isn't much solace to the venture capital funders that have backed the company though.
The last time an app discovery tool gained this much popularity in the App Store, it was Chomp, which Apple ended up purchasing, killing the apps for iOS and Android, and folding the technology into the App Store's built-in recommendation engine. That doesn't seem too likely in this case.