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A Review of Recent Changes to the App Store and Google Play Updates

By Nick Epson on August 18, 2020

Every year there are sweeping changes for mobile app stores – meaning Apple App Store and Google Play updates – which require developers to either adhere to new policies or risk having your app delisted. Major changes inadvertently affect just about every developer as certain policies often mandate some sort of patching or alteration to the backend of an app. Smaller changes surfacing as well will have other implications, usually opening doors to create a better ecosystem for a respective marketplace.

Ensuring these changes are well understood is something we at Blue Label Labs take seriously. While these changes can mean the difference between thriving on the marketplace and finding that your app is no longer available, some fall into a procedural category. Let’s quickly discuss the importance of staying up to date then take a look at some of the more important changes that have surfaced in recent times for mobile app stores.

Why understanding changes in the Apple App Store and Google Play store is crucial

Over time, as with any computer system, certain designs fall out of favor for a number of reasons. Programming evolves to meet expectations for functionality and security where mobile app stores exist as a kind of authority in the matter, meaning they play a role in determining the integrity of the apps they host.

One good illustration of this point is the changes to mobile authentication requirements. Apple, for example, is now requiring that all apps must also offer use Apple sign in if social media account logins are the sole methods to sign up and access an app. This is inherently more secure as it moves the authentication to a token-based system that allows developers to use other sign-in credentials without ever “seeing” any of the underlying data. It simply requires that a few pieces of encrypted data exchanged by an API during authentication “match,” thus ensuring a user is who they say they are.

Too, this acts as a kind of boon for Apple users as it’s more secure and adds the convenience of one-touch login.

Security measures aside, some changes simply improve the marketplace ecosystem. These soft updates to policy and procedure don’t mandate any specific feature, but rather enable developers to better utilize the platforms which we’ll discuss below.

Key changes to the Apple App Store and Google Play updates

Here, we’re going to look at the two biggest mobile app marketplaces, the Apple App Store and Google Play store. Note that the following shouldn’t serve as a comprehensive list of all changes. Instead, it will serve to highlight some changes we strongly support.

Apple App Store updates

The Apple App Store will observe a couple of substantial changes to the review process which has major implications for those who have struggled to keep their app available on the store. For one, developers can now challenge the underlying guidelines if there is language (or lack thereof) Apple might use to reject a new app or omit an existing application. This formal mechanism will open a new communication channel between developers in place of the former, more automated system which typically fell short when handling matters that fell into gray areas.

Apple is also loosening its restrictions when it comes to rejecting bug fixes. Other than legal guideline violations, patches will be accepted even when the submitted binary features some kind of violation. This in turn will increase developers’ ability to deliver critical patches in a more timely manner.

In more exciting news, Apple is introducing a new technology that gives developers more power to collaborate with Apple. This, in conjunction with the new review process, will allow developers to have discussions that should serve to refine Apple guidelines and improve transparency.

 Another neat feature is that the App Store will open the doors to new capabilities for users that include app clips, which are essentially lightweight demos, as well as widgets. As part of the new capabilities for iOS 14, app clips will function as a preview for their respective application which can help users in specific scenarios like when comparing two similar apps. Users will be able to easily compare your app against another without downloading either in its entirety meaning app clips should be specially designed to highlight the main features of your app without insisting users register with their information, enabling you to quickly showcase why your design bests the competition.

Google Play updates

The people at XDA did a great job in their article embedded video that covers a slew of new updates. To summarize, these are the main changes developers will see in Google Play:

  • Like Apple, Google pushed to simplify policy language. They recently migrated its Policy Center to a section within the Play Console Help Center that aims to help clarify policy with additional content and media.
  • New enforcement practices provide a 30-day compliance period for developers to essentially dot I’s and cross t’s for their application. Moving forward, Google aims to open communications with developers as a common grievance is that feedback from Google is often vapid and lacking in context when there is some kind of issue.
  • News apps need to provide verifiable information about the publisher, contributors, and visibly convey ownership. Too, news apps must provide a content preview before asking users to make a purchase.
  • Location anchoring, with regards to AR, is required to have some kind of moderation system that allows users to report objectionable images.

One of the biggest changes with recent Google Play updates relates to how developers are allowed to interact with media on a device. In the past, apps could request permission to access virtually every directory on a device but because of growing security and privacy concerns, mobile apps developers will need to be more selective.

Currently, there is a process in place where developers can request special permission from Google for this level of access so long as their SDK points to Android 10 or lower. However, new apps that request this access will no longer be allowed to be published to Google Play until an unspecified date in 2021 for Android 11. It’s recommended for apps that need a broader level of access to take advantage of the Android API, Storage Access Framework (SAF) to access well-defined directories outside of the app’s target directory. Though developers typically neglect to implement this method of file access, it will be required for the time being, at least until more is known about what will come with broader device storage access.

Blue Label Labs embraces platform changes to deliver the best possible experiences

We keep up with shifting market dynamics like meteorologists monitoring the weather – insight into complex marketplaces enables us to design and build around current and future developments for the lifecycle of a digital product. By staying on top of changes, this ensures that our client’s apps don’t fall into the gutter when new policies are rolled out. Get in touch with us today to find out more about our development process.

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