App Store Update: Next Steps and Strategies for Branded Event Apps

This is a follow-up to our original post on Apple’s new App Review Guidelines.

Apple recently started enforcing new app review guidelines and rejecting branded event apps. Several vendors shared their interpretations of the new guidelines which range from ‘this won’t affect us’ to ‘branded event apps are dead.’ We also published a post with our initial perspective, but there was very little reliable information at the time, certainly not enough to draw any definitive conclusions.

Despite the initial ambiguity, we committed to making sure Attendify is ready for any eventuality. We launched a new Attendify branded container app and started engaging directly with Apple to learn more. Things aren’t fully settled, but it’s a good time to share an update. This post is meant primarily for Attendify’s customers and partners, but we’d love to hear input from other vendors and industry insiders.

Recap:
In June, Apple introduced changes to their App Review Guidelines. Two sections are relevant to mobile event apps:

  • 4.2.6: “Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected.”
  • 4.3: “Don’t create multiple Bundle IDs of the same app. If your app has different versions for specific locations, sports teams, universities, etc., consider submitting a single app…”

Since those changes were announced we’ve learned a lot. Here’s what we know now…

Current Status:
Apple considers event apps with similar functionality (regardless of visual customizations) to be commercialized templates. For example, if a developer has several apps with similar features like a schedule, speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, etc. they will be considered templates. It doesn’t matter if the colors, icons, or other visual customizations make an app “look” different, it’s the functionality that matters. Vendors that leverage similar functionality across multiple apps (which applies to everyone) will need to consolidate to a “container” or “universal” app.

Here’s how the new guidelines will be enforced:

    New Apps

  • New apps can be submitted until December 24th, 2017.
  • Starting January 2018 client-branded apps can no longer be published.
  • All events will need to be published to Attendify’s container app
    Existing Apps

  • All existing apps will remain in the App Store.
  • Updates to existing apps can be submitted until December 24th, 2017.
  • Starting January 2018 we may not be able to deliver bug fixes or new features to existing apps.
  • Content within existing apps can still be updated instantly through Attendify Hub.

It is possible that further changes to Apple’s enforcement policies will be introduced, but we’re confident that Apple will enforce the new guidelines universally and evenhandedly.

If your organization is a member of the Apple Developer Program or has an Apple Enterprise Developer License you still may be able to distribute branded apps using those programs on a limited basis. There are several caveats with those distribution methods, so please reach out to our support team and we’ll review them with you: support@attendify.com.

Industry Impact:
Depending on the type of events you organize, not being able to publish a branded app is either a game changer or an inconsequential detail. For the vast majority of events, the way an app is packaged doesn’t matter nearly as much as the mobile experience itself. Sure, a branded app is nice to have, but the underlying experience matters much more to planners and attendees.

That’s where things get exciting… we believe the pace of innovation is going to increase dramatically in the coming months and years. That’s a win for planners, attendees, exhibitors and sponsors. It’s also a win for app developers.

Attendify is one of just a handful of event app companies that manage thousands of apps in the App Store. Take it from us… branded apps are a tax on innovation. Every release cycle means submitting hundreds, if not thousands of updates. They take weeks to process, and then you have to start all over again. It’s a tedious process that affects every vendor. We now have an opportunity to rethink the mobile event experience and that will kickstart a wave of innovation…

Event Apps 2.0:
This is an opportunity to reset and focus on what really matters… the attendee experience. As branded event apps become less prevalent we’re going to see a dramatic realignment of incentives. Several trends are likely to emerge that could lead to a new generation of event apps:

  • More events will go mobile as barriers to entry continue to fall.
  • Customer branding will seep into vendor powered container apps in innovative ways.
  • The attendee experience and app quality will matter more than ever.
  • Onboarding will be simpler, faster, and consequently adoption rates will increase.
  • Event apps will become a powerful channel for driving demand and ticket sales.
  • The promise of leveraging engagement data to drive event success will finally materialize.

The days of vendors hiding behind their customers’ brands are coming to an end, and that’s a very good thing. When attendees have visibility into which vendor powers a mobile experience, everyone wins. That transparency creates a healthier alignment of incentives between tech vendors, event planners, speakers, sponsors and of course attendees. Vendors will have to up their game and the pace of innovation will accelerate. More events will go mobile, costs will come down, more data will be collected, and mobile will become an even more important part of the event experience. That’s the future Attendify is building for.

What’s Attendify Up To?
Our first priority was to make sure we’re ready for anything, so we focused on launching v1 of our new Attendify container app. We’re moving quickly towards v2 with a focus on:

  1. Onboarding – faster, simpler and more elegant attendee onboarding with smart event suggestions.
  2. Branding – new features that will give your event and organization a powerful brand presence within the Attendify container.
  3. Experience – once attendees join your event they’ll have the same simple, streamlined experience that Attendify is known for.

We also announced and published pricing for the new Attendify app: https://attendify.com/pricing/. We’re sticking with the same simple pricing of $999 per event. Every feature Attendify offers is included, from interactive exhibit maps and personalized schedules to our fully-featured private social networking experience.

Many of our customers are already transitioning to the new Attendify container app, particularly for events taking place in early 2018. Our sales, support and customer success teams are reaching out proactively, but if you’re a current customer and have questions, please contact your customer success manager or email us at support@attendify.com and we’ll be happy to walk you through your options.

Any other announcements?
We’re working on something very special that we plan to launch at IMEX America coming up on October 10-12th in Las Vegas. This is a major new product launch that lays the foundation for Attendify’s future and takes aim at some of the biggest challenges facing the event industry.

Events are an incredible marketing channel, there will never be a substitute for bringing people together face-to-face and building relationships. We see our role as helping to bridge the data gap between digital and event marketing. We’re taking a big step in that direction in October, we can’t wait to share more soon.