In our experience, it doesn't happen often but when it does, it's always unexpected. There are lots of developers out there who are riding the edge, whether on the technical end (pushing the edges of what iOS can do) or on the business end (like selling "borderline" things via IAP). We thought there was a possibility we might fall into the first category with Couplett. After all, we started off trying to do something with the camera system that Apple confirmed to us couldn't really be done. We found out that we actually fell into the second category.
The system we devised for rewarding users who spread the word about our app seemed like a pretty good one. You use our app, we give you content to keep using the app. If this was the end of it, we would have been fine. Where the trouble arose was when we also said "but if you want to skip all that, you can just buy tokens and reward yourself". You've done this in games. Lots of games allow you to purchase some sort of intermediate currency that you use in game. You may not spend 99¢ to buy a great sword outright, but you might spend 99¢ to buy 1000 gold and then turn around and spend 500 gold to unlock the sword. As with many things, Apple's guidelines here can be open to interpretation.
By our interpretation, we weren't doing anything different than these myriad games save one - we were not a game.
The concept of "gamification" is floating around a lot these days and the idea of rewarding desired behaviors is seen, for example, at Fitocracy (where you "level up" by completing exercises). We've applied some of these same concepts in GAME.minder. When you are "playing" something, it can add an element of fun that you don't get from simply "using" something.
After carefully considering the situation, we came to two conclusions:
- Apple is wrong
- but that doesn't actually matter
For those not intimately familiar with the App Review process, you do have the option to appeal. While we have never taken this option (our only other rejections were for simple things like mishandled screenshots), we have heard that it can drag on for months. As Couplett was now coming up on 1 year since inception, we decided to simply rework the model of Couplett into a more traditional freemium app where you get to try it out for free, and you buy add ons in-app. While the model of rewards was, in our opinion, an innovative model, the true innovation of Couplett is the 2 camera functionality and it seemed a shame to hold up getting that out there just to quibble over how people could pay.
We spent the month of January pulling apart the token reward system and rebuilding the app to allow for downloadable theme packs. One positive that came out of this change is that the app itself is now under 20 megabytes, allowing it to be downloaded over 3G. This extra time also allowed us to use the app "in the wild" so to speak over the holiday period which led us to another discovery.
As we have covered, it's not possible to have both cameras active at once. This means you only get to frame up the "main" picture, the front facing picture is shot "blind". Now at first, we considered this an ok trade-off but in my personal use over the holiday, I discovered that the front facing cameras aren't aimed exactly how you might think, especially on iPad. This lead to either a lot of "top heavy" front facing photos, or a lot of retakes to make sure things were framed up correctly.
Since we had the time, we took this opportunity to add a brief "check your hair" moment before taking the front facing picture. If you make sure your face is framed in the square, you should be golden to use any theme available without worrying about getting cut off.
We wrapped up the changes, reorganized our in app purchases, submitted and settled in again to wait.
On February 8th, Couplett was released to world and we had a bang up first day, peaking at #9 free photo app for both iPhone and iPad!