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Why Apple Says I Was Wrong About White-Label Event Apps

A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article here stating that I believed that the hullabaloo over Apple's new Rule 4.2.6, was overblown. I was wrong.

The rule states that "Apps created from a commercial template or app generation service will be rejected." I assumed that the rule was meant to eradicate low-quality cookie-cutter apps intended to take advantage of consumer confusion, not useful white-label apps, like those produced by event app companies.

Unfortunately, less than a week after the article was published, I got "the call" from Apple: Similar to what other event app development companies had reported, I was told by Apple representative Xiaolu Zhang that we would no longer be allowed to submit apps based on the framework we have developed.

Xiaolu mostly stuck to script in response to my questions, but I was able to eke out an understanding of how Apple planned to enforce this rule, and what I learned was encouraging.

First, Apple is "grandfathering" all our existing apps and those freshly under contract: in other words, we can continue to maintain and update our customers' apps without change or interruption.

Looking forward, though, white-label apps will have to make some major changes to adjust to the new rules. Consider that Apple reviews hundreds of new apps every day. How can it determine whether a particular app is "created from a commercial template or app generation service"? Based on what Xiaolu told me, it's done through a combination of a) automated analysis of the raw binary code, b) automated analysis of what the application renders to the screen, and c) a final, human visual verification. This last piece gives me hope, but it will take some time for vendors like Pathable to adjust.

The key requirement from Apple is that the apps be different. Not merely different in the data that they convey (e.g., the details of a conference's agenda, the list of exhibitors, the venue maps), but in their look and feel, and in how they behave. Apple wants variety.

Many event app companies have built their businesses around a framework that allows them to create apps quickly: simply upload an agenda, speakers list, maps, and other relevant data, push a button, and, presto, you've got an app! But just because Apple has put the kibosh on this "turn the crank" process doesn't necessarily mean that stand-alone, white-label event apps are doomed. It just means there is a new requirement on app companies to make each app truly unique.

Having new apps built from scratch isn't economically feasible for most event producers, but it's also not strictly necessary. As Xiaolu explained to me, the review process is based on a combination of automated and human reviews. As long as the apps that we produce are sufficiently different from one another in these reviews, they will be approved. After all, Apple has no interest in stopping companies from producing apps for different customers, only in discouraging those apps from being too generic.

I won't pretend to be happy about Apple's decision, but I do think some good will come of it, with Pathable and other event app companies producing apps that are more precisely targeted at meeting the needs of individual conferences and events.

And nobody is going to complain about that.

Jordan Schwartz, CEO of Pathable, which creates event apps focused on attendee engagement.

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