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No-code platforms are struggling with new iTunes rules

Apple iTunes regulation 4.2.6 seems to ban apps made with no-code platforms. Are low-code platforms at risk too? The experts weigh in on their concerns.

A recent change to Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes store rules is making it more difficult for companies to use DIY...

or no-code platforms to develop software they'd like to have hosted on Apple's popular online store.

The new rule, 4.2.6, was released during Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June as part of a list of "minimum functionality" requirements for the iTunes store. Rule 4.2.6 says "Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected."

Over the last year, no-code platforms and DIY app services have exploded in popularity, bringing the ability to create mobile apps to nearly anyone, regardless of technical background. Not only are software developers in very short supply worldwide, they're expensive, and most small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) lack the resources to employ them. No-code platforms, in particular, offered a way for small businesses to be competitive with larger companies, at least in the mobile application space.

This rule is definitely impacting the DIY app space.
Abhinav GirdharCEO, Appy Pie

But now that level playing field is at risk, according to low-code platform provider Appy Pie CEO Abhinav Girdhar. "If this rule is being enforced and these apps start getting rejected, it could be a great loss to the SMBs that are wanting to create an app but don't have the budget to do it," Girdhar said. "This rule is definitely impacting the DIY app space."

Appy Pie has enabled the development of nearly 2 million applications, Girdhar said, with no problems from the iTunes Store. Just recently, though, that changed.

Neo Gourmet, a catering business based in Hazmieh, Lebanon, has had its Appy Pie-developed mobile app rejected several times, according to Neo Gourmet's owner, Freddy Khoury. He hasn't been able to get a response from Apple, other than the fact that it was "developed using a commercial platform."

Officials at Apple did not return phone calls seeking a comment on the rule change.

For Girdhar, the real concern is that the rule is vague and he said he's not sure which apps will be "safe" going forward. He was also not clear if the rule would cover so-called low-code platforms, which are similar to the no-code options but can require some understanding of coding and often allow for a greater degree of customization.

Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst for application development and delivery professionals Jeffrey Hammond has heard from low-code clients, including platform maker OutSystems, that they've had no reported issues or rejections by Apple.

"I don't see this as a larger attempt to ban low-code tools, as there are many ways to generate apps for iOS and I've not heard complaints from vendors or clients that use some of the alternative approaches to app development," he explained. But he also said Apple has certainly cracked down on different things before. "I would say that it's not the first time we've seen Apple be picky about how apps are built for iOS. There were initial teething pains with Cordova and language runtimes like MIT's Scratch. I think they want to encourage a consistent look and feel for apps and good performance on the platform."

Editor's note: After publication of this article, Girdhar contacted again saying that a colleague received a call from an Apple employee who simply said that iTunes "would no longer be accepting applications created by app generators" like Appy Pie, however they have yet to receive this notification in writing. Khoury of Neo Gourmet said that after contacting Apple numerous times, he was eventually told that he would have to make changes to the application to have it published, though he did not specify what those changes would be.

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