Apple App Store: Rejects Law Enforcement Apps as Spam

Law enforcement app makers for iOS are watching their apps get tossed from the Apple iTunes App Store as spam. But why?

Photo Credit: David W. Martin

A series of recent rejections has at least one developer of popular law enforcement reference apps in a bind. The developer, PDA Wizard, has sold law enforcement reference apps for many years on a variety of platforms, with more recent releases appearing on the Apple iPhone since 2009.

But these iPhone app developers are still struggling to make sense of Apple’s iTunes App Store approval process. Their apps, once in the App Store, are now getting rejected as so-called spam.

PDA Wizard’s apps have been selling well since they debuted in 2009. The company enjoyed a good partnership with Apple. Its apps grew in popularity with law enforcement officials.

In late 2010, Apple even approached PDA Wizard to ask if it would be okay for Apple to demo the apps at trade shows and to police chiefs around the country, reps say.

PDA Wizard agreed and provided Apple with promotional codes that gave Apple free copies of the apps to demonstrate in various state, local and federal law enforcement markets.

Here’s what one law enforcement app from PDA Wizard looks like to a cop with an Apple iPhone.

The end result: The apps continued to see growth in sales. That’s benefited not only PDA Wizard, but also Apple, which receives 30 percent of all sales.

Eventually, in late 2011, PDA Wizard was able to sell its law-reference apps under the Volume Purchase Program. This proved to be another milestone for the company. And the apps continued to sell well.

But in December 2011, Apple shocked PDA Wizard and rejected the 2012 releases of its apps.

According to PDA Wizard:

Earlier this month we started releasing the 2012 versions of our New York apps. The 2012 releases of our NY Penal Law, Vehicle and Traffic Law, and Civil Practice Law. Rules were approved by Apple’s review team on Dec 8th and went on sale in the app store just like had happened for our 2009, 2010, and 2011 releases. Business as usual. But something funny happened with the rest of our 2012 releases for New York.

On Dec 13th, just five days after the first of our 2012 NY releases were approved, Apple notified us that the rest of our 2012 updates were being rejected. Not only were they being rejected, but they were considered spam and Apple threatened to revoke our developer license:

Binary Rejected Dec 13, 2011 10:49 AM

Reasons for Rejection:

2.20: Developers “spamming” the App Store with many versions of similar apps will be removed from the iOS Developer Program

Dec 13, 2011 10:49 AM. From Apple.

Obviously there was a mistake here. These are successful apps in the app store, with great reviews from happy loyal users. Not “spam.” Many of our users would buy more than one of our apps to cover different areas of law. The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Dept purchased four different apps as part of their volume purchase. Apple’s sales team was actively demoing our apps, and we were entering our fourth year of selling these apps in the App Store.

PDA Wizard appealed the rejection. Then things got interesting:

[On December 23, 2011] we received a call from Richard from Apple’s “Worldwide Developer Relations” team, who very nonchalantly told us that our appeal was rejected. Our apps were considered spam and the 2012 releases would not be made available to our users… To Apple’s users!”

According to PDA Wizard, the Apple rep told PDA Wizared that “Apple just wanted to be consistent.”

Consistent? PDA Wizard disagrees.

The apps have been approved every year. Apple has been demoing these apps for years. They were bestsellers. The most interesting comment that “Richard-from-Apple” allegedly made was that Apple iTunes App Store “rules change all the time.”

We hear that.

PDA Wizard reps told me Apple finally approved seven of its 2012 app releases based on a “one-time exception.” The other apps are still pending approval. Their fate is as yet undetermined.

I talked with a highway patrolman who has used the Texas law version of these apps. He says they make great reference tools while you are on the go. It sure beats carrying a big heavy reference book around.

Photo Credit: David W. Martin

These apps let cops search through the various penal and traffic code entries quickly. These small apps are the perfect searchable pocket references compared to a regular book or even an eBook.
Ironically, last year PDA Wizard’s apps were rejected because Apple told the company Apple thought the apps were books. So Apple told PDA Wizard, books belong in the iBook Store, not the App Store.

Silly, because these are built to be one-stop apps for quick-reference lookups. I have instant access to the information at hand. If I had to go through iBooks to get to the same information, it would take additional steps. Lame. The app is a lot faster.

Example of one Texas law in PDA Wizard's Texas Penal Code app. (Credit: David W. Martin)

So now Apple’s excuse is that the apps are “spam?” It looks like Apple doesn’t really know what it thinks about these apps. It looks like what it is trying to do is push people to their bookstore. Or maybe Apple has no clue.

1 Comment

  • This is definitely spam. These apps are trying to “cover” the app store itself by subdividing into as many possible versions. This should be ONE app with in-app purchase of each state/year, for example “Texas Penal Code 2012” etc. Or a subscription which renews annually to “Texas Penal Code” etc. The “app” is the exact same code in every case so it is indeed the same app with a different name and a flag for which dataset it should use, so yes, that’s spam. It’s spam if a user searching for “Penal Code” finds 50 pages with 500 apps from one company, all of which are identical and, ironically, identically useless (since the user wants “Texas Penal Code 2012” and not any of the other 499 combinations), and none of the developers doing the “best thing” and having one app each for a given service can even be found, buried by such spam. It’s not a good experience for the users, which is what Apple cares about. It’s as if McDonalds were to build 50 different stores al right next to each other, one for large french fries, one for small, one for medium, etc. What a nightmare.