Developers Cubed: How To Fight App Rejection

What happens when your precious app, the one you've been slaving over, gets rejected by the market you're trying to list it on? We spoke to developer Dan Nolan about how he fought rejection and won, topping the iTunes App Store charts in less than 24 hours.

Who are you and where do you work?

My name's Dan Nolan, I'm an iOS and Systems Engineer at Synthetica which is an iOS design & development house in Sydney, Australia.

Why do we know you? What have you created?

We do a lot of contract work for large companies, of course a lot of that work is covered by NDAs so we can't really talk about it. Our goal when we started the company was to work on big projects so we could build up resources and the time we'd need to scratch our own itch on the iOS side. So far that's paid off, particularly with the development of the Paul Keating Insults app, which was just a joke idea we had one day. We put a bit of time into it and it seems to be doing quite well. Alan and I also built Retweets! for twitter, a tool that helps you track how many times you're retweeted.

What platforms do you develop for?

Synthetica exclusively does iOS development, that's iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. I've done a lot of systems engineering, cloud infrastructure and rails work over the years, but that's stuff we only use in house and don't explicitly contract for. There's a huge market for iOS development in Sydney and not many good developers who know the platform inside and out so it's good to stick with what you're good at. Alan and I have been developing for iOS since it was called iPhone OS 2.0 and the platform has gone from strength to strength since then.

What are you working on right now?

It's the end of the year so a lot of the development work kind of dies down around late November, early December. We're working on a few little utilities (I've built a tool to remove birthdays from the iOS Calendar, an unfortunate 'feature' you can't turn off) and playing around with some of the cool and shiny things in iOS 6 (auto-layout, state preservation, that whole attributed strings thing etc).

What do you think about the rise and rise of App Stores? How has it influenced your titles?

It's utterly astonishing just how huge the mobile market is getting and just how much money there is to be had. Of course in any space there are always going to be the big players who take a bit of time to get up to scratch and then go on to conquer the markets quite effectively (c.f EA buying Firemint and now EA dominating the games chart on iOS).

Casual Gaming is huge on mobile and I believe games will continue to dominate the platform in perpetuity. Apple's app store was a huge draw for us getting started with iOS development, you've got a massive audience of people with credit cards ready to go who want to buy apps. It's exciting to have that large a market available to you. The influence has been to focus on apps that either provide a great experience, or do one thing and do it well.

There's a lot of money to be made but you're competing with a lot of people and while iOS still has mammoth marketshare (and the vast majority of people who use their phones as anything other than a device to make phone calls, take photos and send SMS messages) in Australia, in other countries the makeup isn't so skewed. There are loads of titles on the App Store, it can be difficult to get noticed, so it's made us think about niches that aren't currently well catered, such as political tragics in Australia.

What’s your favourite app that you didn’t create?

Pocket Weather. ShiftyJelly give good App. It's beautiful, really well thought out and gives me absolutely everything I could want to know about the weather today. It's a joy to use, those guys deserve all of the praise they get.

What phone do you use? Why?

An iPhone 5. Because it's a piece of art. One of the perks of developing for iOS is being able to justify buying the latest and greatest iPhone every year that it comes out. I'm obviously going to be biased given that I enjoy being paid so I can eat but I honestly do think it's the best phone on the market right now. I did play with a Lumia 920 and do think it's a very enticing phone (and may buy one to dabble in Windows Phone development).

I've bought fully into the iOS ecosystem (iTunes match, heaps of apps, content etc), plus I don't think I could live without iMessage. iMessage on the go plus Messages on the Mac (combined with the fact that 99% of my friends use iPhones) has changed my life.

What advice do you have for budding Aussie developers out there?

Take design and user experience seriously. It doesn't make you any less of a bad arse software engineer or computer scientist to understand the basics of why certain colours and fonts look good, and why things are aesthetically pleasing.

Obviously Apple has given this a big kick but honestly you're developing software to be used by people, put in the time and effort to make it so using it is a joy. Also, learn how to use Photoshop (I'm still struggling to get my head around it) because it's a great tool for getting what you see in your head onto a screen.

Dive into the deep end and build up a serious love for developing, you'll relish new platforms and concepts as a way to expand your skills. All skills are learned and are the product of hard work and effort, design skills, development skills, everything are all the product of putting in the time and effort to hone them. Care about what you're doing and you'll find the energy you need to make that effort.

How should you respond if your app is knocked back from the App Store? Do you have any experience you can share?

The way to deal with it has changed over the years. In the early days when Apple was absolutely inscrutable about what was and wasn't allowed (with the exception of no porn, that was always well understood) people would bitch and moan on social media and kick up a stink in the press. It didn't really work, Apple doesn't get shamed into viewing things your way.

I've had my fair share of rejections (particularly the dreaded metadata rejection where Apple doesn't like something in your app description, that's the most annoying one of all) and normally it's pretty obvious what you have to do to fix the issue. Apple's guidelines on what is and isn't kosher are available to developers so you should read them before you decide to turn your great app idea into a reality. The reviewers are people, and particularly around Christmas they are under heaps of stress (because Apple shuts down iTunes Connect for a few days and they want to approve everything for christmas which is a huge sales period) so be reasonable with them and they'll be reasonable with you.

Double and triple check to make sure you've submitted screenshots, you have the right size icon artwork and you've chosen the right metadata and categories. If they've pinged you for something you deserve to be pinged for, make the changes and resubmit.

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