Why my Pokémon Go utility app has a squirrel for it’s icon

Quick vent session turned into a long one:  TL;DR — Apple continues to reject my app because it has an object similar to a pokéball in it, and that it is misrepresenting itself (it’s not) or misleading users (They’re not), despite the PILES of applications doing the same or WORSE, and after 12 days of trying to get them to approve the app, 3 different icons, and no way of knowing whether this next change is good enough, I’m finally throwing up my hands in surrender and using a squirrel.  Full vent session below.

Like many iPhone users and children of the 90’s I was extremely excited for the launch of Pokémon go, applying for the beta, downloading early first day it launched and suffering with all the other players through the early server troubles with an unsinkable enthusiasm.  And when it came out, like many developers I saw a huge market open up, there were a lot of pokémon go players, and there was a lot of things that they wanted to do with the app, that the app just didn’t do.  Enter the complicated world of the App Store companion application market.  I quickly released Pokébelt – My goal to get quickly into the market with minimal but useful functionality (A server status checker / and a tool for seeing which Pokémon types were weak / strong against what other types), and rapidly expand the application quickly releasing new functionality every few days to beta testers, and rolling out production upgrades as fast as the Apple Review process would allow, keeping me on the front of the wave.   My original icon prominently featured a Pokéball over a belt, matching with the Pokébelt brand I was building.  Linking it to Pokémon was important as it IS a companion app.  I was careful to make sure that the graphic I used had no copyright or trademark restrictions and was fair use, and the first version had no issue getting into the store, I saw a high conversion rate, lots of downloads on the first and second days (1000 downloads on my second day) and high reviews (4 1/2 stars) with most of them saying they’re waiting for new features / functionality.  I was quick to market, but I knew that I’d need to get the map and chat features in to be competitive, timing would be everything.

Version1

 

Version 1.0 – Submitted July 12th, Approved July 14th

Here’s where the problems started.  I finished the first version of my crowdsourced map a few days later, and July 16th submitted to testflight for review (Apps going to beta testers need to be reviewed as well) — And for two days it sat there.  No big deal, a couple of days is normal for testflight review, although often they are quite fast.  That was when I got the first rejection:

Design – 4.1

Your app or its metadata contains misleading content. Specifically, your app icon is leveraging Pokemon Go.

Next Steps

Please remove or revise any misleading content in your app and its metadata.

That’s strange I thought, Apple describes this rejection as:

Misleading Users

Your app must perform as advertised and should not give users the impression the app is something it is not. If your app appears to promise certain features and functionalities, it needs to deliver.

Which is strange, because my app promises to be a companion app to pokémon go and it delivers, it makes no promises with it’s app icon other than the obvious relationship it has to Pokémon go.  Here is the PokéBelt on the App Store description:

PokéBelt is a tool belt for the compulsive Pokémon Go Player. Current “Pouches” include:

* Battle Comparison – See what types you should choose to get the best advantage in a fight!
* Server Status – Community reports, know and report when the servers are up / down / unstable

More features incoming!

PokéBelt is an independent application and has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise approved by Niantic Inc, Pokémon Company, or Nintendo Inc.

No misleading content there.  I then let them know that the app and icon were fair use, and not misrepresenting themselves or misleading users, that the app reviews stated as much, and the response came:

Hello,

Thank you for your reply. We realize that the Pokeball is depicted on a belt; however, it still creates a misleading association with the game. It would be appropriate to edit the icon so that it does not include Pokemon Go images before resubmitting the app for review.

Best regards,

TestFlight Review Team.

Well shoot.  I used different color schemes and a very obvious description / screenshots to let users know that this is not pokémon go, but IS a pokémon go companion app.  Without the pokémon relationship the app is unmarketable in a field of apps that clearly have that relationship established.   I’m not trying to mislead users with the pokéball, in fact, I used the pokéball so that users would know it’s pokémon related!  At this point I decided to go look at what other apps that were pokémon related were doing so I could figure out a way to keep the relationship without pissing off Apple’s censors, here’s what I saw:

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 12.07.19 PM

EVERY single app in the top apps category after Pokémon go uses some flavor of Pokéball.  Some by making the red and white iconography a part of their icon square, and the topselling one (the app I wanted to be but got held up by review) Pokéradar features a pokeball over a blue earth, almost exactly like the actual Pokémon go app itself.  Big note here, I took this screenshot today (didn’t grab one on the 19th when I got my first rejection) and much has changed, many of the apps now feature “mutated” but still obvious pokéballs in their icons.

Quick pause here to talk about the ludicrous double standard and highlight a couple of apps that are IN THE STORE and approved right now:

  • Poke Radar for Pokemon GO on the App Store – Released same day as my app, got the map first, more power to them.  Description is clear, lets users know what it does and that it’s not a nintendo product but a tool to help.  Icon looks almost identical to Pokémon go app icon, nice graphic, clearly inspired.
  • XCoins Calculator Cheats for Pokemon Go Edition on the App Store – Only 5 apps in and we start to get to the misleading garbage ripoff apps.  This app makes no clear indication (other then it’s amateurish presentation) that it’s unrelated to Nintendo, implies that it’s a way to get free coins or pokéballs, but is really unclear as to what it actually does.  Made it into the store, tons of downloads.  Misleading Junk.  Apple Approved.
  • Catch Em Go For Pokemon on the App Store — Pokémon go sounding name?  Check.  Pokeball for icon?  Check.  Claims to be a Pokemon game?  Check.  Indicates that it’s unrelated to the trademarks that it uses in it’s description, content?  Nope.  Actually just a flappy bird knock off pretending to be pokemon? Check.  Misleading Junk.  Apple Approved.
  • Pokémon GO : New Version For Free App Game on the App Store – This one is my ABSOLUTE favorite.  It rips of the name , Description (Describes itself using the actual text from Pokémon Go) AND screenshots from Pokémon go as well!  WOW!  Top download on the store indicates THOUSANDS of people have downloaded this piece of obvious rip off junk, but at least it’s icon no longer features a pokéball.  Thank goodness.  Apple Approved (Still in store).

Okay I thought, my icon wasn’t “original” enough, and featured the pokéball to prominently, Apple store has the ability to respond directly to the reviewers and so I made up a new icon, where the “belt” part of Pokébelt is emphasized and the pokéball (still an important part of the branding) was reduced quite a bit and made more obvious that is a belt buckle, and sent it across to the reviewers.  Easy right?  They know what works and what doesn’t and they won’t tell me what the “rules” are, but obviously it’s not “no” pokéball.  Here’s what I sent:

Icon120

Now I’m the first to admit that I’m no artist, but I feel that this made quite clear the belt aspect, and de-emphasized the pokéball at least as much as the other apps in the store.

But it didn’t matter, because the response I got to sending the icon directly was:

Hello Kevin,

Thank you for your follow up message.

Please know that Apple is not able to provide pre-approval to developers for
proposed app submissions or app update submissions.

We ask that you please review the Program License Agreement and iOS App Store Review
Guideline details against your desired changes for your specific application.

Once your app has been updated, submit your update and we will be happy to review the app again.

Best regards,

App Store Review

What a pain in the ass.  For a little background, here’s what you have to do to change your icon in the app and submit again to send it back to the app store for re-review:

  1. Make the new icon
  2. Scale the icon files into icons for every resolution of iPhone, iPad that ever existed, as well as search icons for the same, retina and non retina.  13 resolutions in all, and update your x-code project.
  3. Update the 1024×1024 promotional imagery
  4. Rebuild your application and archive it for delivery to the app store with a new version (this takes about 5 minutes)
  5. Upload to the store (this takes 20-30 minutes)
  6. Resubmit the app for approval
  7. Wait.  This seems to take 2 days right now.

So I submitted the app with my new fancy icon and this time I got rejected again ( and a phone call from the dev relation group who told me quite clearly that my app icon was misleading, that I was in fact allowed to use a pokeball because it is fair use, and that I would just have to change my icon to not be misleading, and that no, she couldn’t tell me what that meant.  It’s July 21st now, and my app has dropped from the top ranks of pokémon companion apps to the abysmal end because of lack of features (Features which are available in the new version) and any chance I had of being the premier pokémon companion app is now fading as my frustration grows.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 12.44.34 PM

I decide to give it one more go, this time breaking the Pokéball into two halves so that it doesn’t look much like a pokéball at all anymore and resubmit.  Surely they can’t think I’m trying to mislead by using two colored semi-circles in my icon.

Icon120

But no.  Today I was rejected again.  They told me to call them and resolve the issue but I can’t get through (number rings through to voice mail) and I’ve had it.  So I’m going through one last process of icon revision and hoping that I can drive my way back despite having a totally unrelated icon through having the best feature set possible.  I present to you, the new icon for Pokébelt utility app:

Icon180

Thanks and credit goes to http://crockerj.com/2011/08/04/squirrel-photos/ – for his wonderful royalty and copyright free squirrel imagery.

3 thoughts on “Why my Pokémon Go utility app has a squirrel for it’s icon”

  1. This very clearly answers the top question I had upon updating. (Hi! Battle-matchup-UI reviewer here.) 🙂 If you do ever get someone on the phone again, definitely bring up the other examples you’ve pointed out as double standards. But, in the meantime… I happen to be a graphic designer and might be willing to assist. Shoot me an email (I think you’ll have it since the comment form asks for it) and maybe we can come up with something that’ll get approved!

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