The online home of John Pollard

App Store transfer madness

My ongoing nightmare with Apple and their review process

I’m closing my business (as I’m now back in full-time employment), so I thought it made sense to transfer my iOS apps from my business App Store account to my personal one.

I thought this would be reasonably straightforward. I was very wrong.

This is the story of where I’ve got to by June 10th, 2024 - the first day of this year’s WWDC.

A brief history of Count The Days Left

I first started work on my Count The Days Left app in 2015, mainly as a way to learn the then new Swift language. I documented my learning journey extensively on my blog and the code is all open source and available on GitHub

Over the years I’ve added new Apple technologies as they’ve been introduced, such as widgets, supporting the Mac via Mac Catalyst, a WatchOS app.

While the app is not super popular- with a user base in the low hundreds - it’s been a rewarding project and a nice showcase of my work.

The key takeaway is it’s a very well-established app of 9 years good standing.

Can’t use simple transfer of the app between accounts

I’d successfully transferred some simpler apps using the App Store’s “Transfer App” feature, so I expected the same for this app.

However, this failed this time. After much back and forth with the very helpful Apple Support team, I discovered that the Mac app’s use of an App Group to share settings between the app and the widget prevented the transfer. Mac apps with App Groups cannot be transferred.

I tried all sorts of workarounds, like removing the Mac widget and removing the use of App Groups in the Mac app, but all to no avail.

As far as I can tell this is because it’s a Mac Catalyst app that shares identity settings with the iOS app (where I can’t remove these without breaking a lot of functionality), so I was kinda screwed 😦

Apple Support’s “workaround”

Apple Support suggested the following workaround (copied from their email):

“You can remove an app from your account and resubmit it using a different account by following the steps in this email.

Review the following resubmission details before starting this process:

  1. By completing this process, the app will effectively be a new and separate app on the App Store.
  2. Only the app name and app content (binary) can be retained.
  3. Customers who previously downloaded the app will not be able to receive app updates unless they download the new app.
  4. Customer reviews, ratings, download history, and sales data cannot be moved to the new app.
  5. The app’s bundle ID must be changed before submitting it using the new account.
  6. If the app is removed from App Store Connect, you will be unable to reuse the app name, bundle ID, or SKU on the account from which it was removed.”

I followed Apple Support’s advice

That’s clearly a pain for all the existing users, but if that’s what it takes then so be it.

I pushed out a final build of the old app, adding in support for Firebase Remote Config, so I could trigger some in-app text when ready to tell them a new version of the app is available on the App Store, and if they wanted to keep getting updates they’d have to re-install the app.

I also prepared the new version of the app with a new bundle ID, and some minor changes in the color scheme - so users could see they were on the new version, and TBH I think looked nicer!

After a few days, I then removed the “old” app from the App Store, submitted the “new” app under my personal account for review (on May 27th 2024).

iOS app rejected as “Spam” (Mac app was OK)

As expected, the Mac app got approved pretty quickly after a day (on May 28th 2024)

However, the iOS app was rejected by the App Store reviewer as “Spam” (also on May 28th 2024), quoting Guideline 4.3 in their review guidelines

Trying and failing to explain the situation to Apple

As every iOS developer knows, it’s not uncommon to get some strange rejections, so I wasn’t initially too worried.

I explained the situation to the reviewers, detailing that this was a replacement for my original app, following Apple Support’s advice, and that I wasn’t spamming the App Store.

I hoped that would resolve the situation, but no go. They just kept saying “your app shares a similar binary, metadata, and/or concept as apps submitted to the App Store by other developers, with only minor differences”, and just copying and pasting quotes from the App Store guidelines.

They weren’t showing any understanding, so on May 31st 2024 I submitted an appeal to Apple’s App Review Board in the hope that I could escape this madness and get someone sensible to look at getting the app released.

The most obvious inconsistency is the Mac app wasn’t marked as spam - clearly either they both are spam or not.

Still waiting on the App Review Board to respond

Today is June 10th 2024, and I’m STILL WAITING FOR APPLE TO GET BACK TO ME. That’s 10 days and counting.

I tried:

  • Contacting the previously helpful Apple Support team (they said I just have to be patient)
  • Resubmitting the iOS app for review after adding even more explanation in the App Review Information notes field (rejected as Spam again)

So the app is stuck in limbo, and I’m getting more and more frustrated by this crazy situation.

A process not fit for purpose

We’ve all got war stories about inconsistent and incorrect App Store rejections, but this is by far the worst experience I’ve ever had.

I think Apple has completely forgotten the purpose of what I assume they think these reviews are for.

They make out they are for the protection of “their” users, but they just treat their guidelines as unbreakable laws (unless you are a large company where they might conveniently look the other way)

As for the “Spam” guideline, clearly if this was a cheap knock off of a popular game that makes sense. However, I have no idea why any sensible person would think I was “ripping off” myself in a completely free app once that was explained to them?

Lots of scammy apps to get through the review process without a problem of course, which makes it even more frustrating for legitimate developers to be accused like this of doing something wrong.

Apple Support have been more than helpful in trying to get this resolved, but even they seemed to be ignored by the app reviewers.

I have absolutely no hope that Apple will announce any changes to the way apps can be distributed this week at WWDC, but I for one can’t wait for the EU and other government bodies to force them into a much more reasonable way of being able to get MY apps to MY users.

Update: App released (23rd June, 2024)

The app is finally released after 4 weeks in limbo!

I still didn’t hear anything from the “Apple Review Board”, so I tried once again sending a message view App Store Connect to ask what was holding things up.

This finally got a sensible reviewer to look again at my submission, and the iOS app was also passed for release almost immediately.

I’m relieved this finally got resolved, but imagine the stress if this was a paid app and a main part of my income?

Now I’m girding my loins to try to transfer my Yeltzland app through the same process 🤞🏻