How to Improve iOS Review Pass Rate

This article will share some real-life cases from Tencent's pre-review project.


During the process of launching an app on the Apple App Store, it is believed that most iOS developers have had this experience: after painstakingly developing a product and passing the testing and acceptance phase, they eagerly submit the app for Apple's review. However, they often get rejected by Apple for various reasons, which is quite frustrating.

In order to create a benign, fair, healthy, and safe App Store environment for developers and users, as well as to protect Apple's own interests, a series of App Store terms, "App Store Review Guidelines," have been established. All developers must follow these terms to qualify for app listing. Undeniably, app review to some extent ensures the quality of apps in the app store. However, for many developers, the iOS review process can be quite daunting!

Indeed, many Tencent mobile games have also experienced this painful process. Before 2015, Apple's review was always a major challenge for mobile games, whether it was the first version or an updated version. The review process was often a nerve-wracking and even tragic journey, with frequent rejections and unbearable anxiety. As everyone knows, in the past, the waiting time for Apple to respond to app submissions (from "Waiting for Review" to "In Review," as shown below) was very long, ranging from a few days to more than ten days. A rejected review meant that the mobile game version had to be revised, tested, and resubmitted, which would significantly prolong the approval time, affecting the launch rhythm, operational activities planning, and even the game's revenue!

In order to improve the Apple review pass rate for mobile game products, Tencent Interactive Entertainment Group has established a dedicated testing team for Apple reviews. They have organized Apple review terms and various rejection reasons into testable acceptance items and developed automated analysis for these items. They have also created automated scanning tools for IPA packages, images/videos, and app descriptions, aiming to efficiently expose app review risks and comprehensively ensure the app review pass rate. After nearly two years of operation, the iOS review pass rate has increased from an initial average of 35% to the current 90%+. This article will share some real-life cases from Tencent's pre-review project.

Pressures Faced During iOS Review

In the previous section, we have briefly understood the major obstacles developers face during the review process. Why is it so difficult to pass the review? The reasons are as follows:

1. More detailed and stringent review terms

In June 2016, Apple updated its review terms, "App Store Review Guidelines," on its official website. The document contains more than 6,000 English words, divided into five major chapters, with a total of 100+ terms, covering safety, business, performance, design, and legal fields. It is dazzling and confusing for developers. Without systematic and comprehensive control, it is easy to inadvertently violate the terms, which may result in rejection.

2. Apple's semi-automatic and semi-manual review mechanism

Apple's review adopts a semi-automatic and semi-manual approach. Different reviewers may have varying degrees of understanding and enforcement of the terms. Therefore, developers often encounter situations where the app passed the previous review but was rejected in the next version update due to overlooked issues or changes in reviewers. In short, the review results may vary at different times, and these human factors can cause confusion and incomprehension for developers.

3. The rapid increase in the number of apps, huge review tasks, and insufficient review manpower

According to Apple's official statistics, there are currently over 2 million apps in the App Store, with an average of tens of thousands of new apps launched every week and over 50,000 app updates (each app may have repeated reviews). For Apple's review team, dealing with such a massive review task (the specific data is not available to the author) is inevitably challenging. Apps with slightly deeper access paths, more complex implementation logic, or ambiguous text descriptions may be rejected. Some developers have complained that a submitted entertainment app was rejected because Apple did not find it entertaining, leaving them at a loss!

Pitfalls Encountered by Tencent Mobile Games

When each app is submitted to the Apple App Store for review, the content required for Apple's review can be categorized into the following aspects:

1. App Information

● App information (name/subtitle, category, etc.)

● Rating information (age, violence, gambling, adult content levels, etc.)

● Pricing and in-app purchase information (IAP configuration)

● Review information (demo account)

2. IPA Package (IPA specifications, App content)

● IPA package specifications (there are many inspection items, not listed one by one due to space limitations):

    - Private API and Non-public API usage

    - 64-bit support

    - Info.plist key-value settings

    - Use of non-compliant third-party SDKs

    - Icon resources

    - …..

● App content (there are many inspection items, not listed one by one due to space limitations):

    - Prohibited wording: test wording, misspelled Apple product names, adult/violent/defamatory content, etc.

    - Lottery event content

    - IAP recharge function

    - QQ member exclusive benefits

    - Unopened function placeholders

    - ……

3. Promotional materials (preview images, videos, Large App Icon)

● Images

    - Image content

    - Image specifications

● Videos

    - Video content

    - Video specifications

● Large App Icon

    - Icon content

    - Icon specifications

4. Metadata (app description, etc.)

Apple's review is also centered around the above four aspects. If the submitted app is rejected, it is likely due to some of the above content not meeting Apple's requirements. Let's take a look at some of the pitfalls Tencent mobile games have encountered in the past.

Cases of App Information Rejection by Apple Review

[Case 1] The subtitle of Game A contains obvious keywords and promotional event descriptions:

[Case 2] For the IAP file submitted by Game B, the reviewer could not find the corresponding file in the game:

[Case 3] The password of the experience account submitted by Game C is wrong, and the reviewer cannot experience the game through this account:

Cases of IPA Rejection by Apple Review

[Case 4] Game D is rejected due to the use of private API or non-public API:

[Case 5] Game E was rejected due to the use of an illegal third-party SDK:

[Case 6] Game F was rejected because it used background services (locations) but did not declare them in info.plist:

[Case 7] In the announcement popped up by Game G, words such as test, deletion and so on appear (Apple thinks it is the test version), leading to rejection.

[Case 8] In the announcement popped up by Game H, the wrong English spelling of Apple product "IOS" (correct format: iOS) led to rejection.

[Case 9] Game I, IAP payment function is abnormal, resulting in rejection.

Cases of Promotional Materials Rejection by Apple Review

[Case 10] Game J is rejected because the submitted images/videos contain vulgar words such as "loli" and "domineering lady" (御姐).

[Case 11] Game K, submitted pictures/videos can not reflect the real content of the game (only show the game characters, can not reflect the real scene of the game), resulting in rejection.

[Case 12] For Game L, the submitted picture/video content was intercepted on the Android machine and was rejected.

Response Strategies of Tencent Pre-review Team

From the above-rejected cases, it can be roughly felt that the reasons for the mobile game's rejection of the referral are various, and it will be rejected if there is any carelessness. Tencent's pre-trial team classifies the data of the referral in the past, as follows:

Rejection Reason Number of Rejection
App Information 4
Ipa 7
App Function 56
App Content 4
Materials to Review 8
Others 4
Total Number of Rejection 75
Total Number of Review 600+

Is there any way for developers to accurately and systematically grasp the seemingly uncontrollable Apple audit? In this regard, Tencent's prequalification team has tried a series of exploration and accumulation since 2014:

1. Analyze the terms of the Apple App Store Review Guide, combine them with the past cases of rejection of review, conduct system test design, and output the test cases into landing cases;

2. On the basis of the above steps, carry out automatic analysis and extract the modules that can be automated (develop corresponding automatic scanning tools);

3. Set up special testers to accept the remaining use cases;

4. Every time the App version is reviewed, it will be formally submitted to Apple for review after passing the above test acceptance

According to the above work ideas, Tencent's preliminary review team divided the review objects into three modules, including the ipa package, review resources, and application content and functions (a total of 150+test points and test cases were integrated, including 70+automated scanning items):

Inspection of Ipa Package

It is mainly to ensure that the info.plist, package/file size, icon specification, private API, third-party SDK, 64 bit and other contents in the ipa meet Apple's requirements. For the acceptance of this part, Tencent's prequalification team has developed an automated tool, which is completed through automatic scanning;

Inspection of Resources for Review

It is mainly to ensure that the submitted application screenshots, videos, AppIcon, application descriptions and other resources meet Apple's requirements. The pre qualification team has developed automatic tools for the acceptance of resource specification attributes, which are completed through automatic scanning; However, the acceptance of some contents, such as resource content and copy, still needs manual review

Inspection of Application Contents and Functions

Ensure that the content of the application meets the provisions in the security, performance, design, law and other chapters of Apple's audit guide, which usually needs to cover the content and functions of application scenarios such as installation, login, IAP payment, announcement, activity, email, icloud file storage, US VPN network connectivity, IPv6 network connectivity, etc. The acceptance of this part requires manual review;

Work Effect of Tencent Pre-review Team

The pre-review team keeps updating and improving the acceptance plan by following up Apple's review trends in real-time and continues to guarantee the approval rate of products, which has been recognized by more and more products. As of July this year, there have been 100+ service app products in total, and 120+ tests have been completed every month. It can be seen from the statistics of review data in the first half of 2016 that despite the impact of policy changes such as IPv6, review pictures/videos, and names/subtitles, the approval rate of review still remains above 85%, reflecting the effectiveness of the preliminary review scheme:

In the above-rejected data statistics, it can be found that most of them are in the content of game functions, content, and review materials, while the number of rejected ipa packages and review resource specifications account for a small proportion, and the quality and guarantee brought by automated tools are also reflected.

Tencent WeTest iOS Pre-Review Tool

To improve the IEG Apple review pass rate, Tencent has established a dedicated Apple review testing team and created the iOS Pre-Review Tool. After a year and a half of internal operations, the iOS review pass rate for Tencent's internal applications has increased from an average of 35% to over 90%. Now, Tencent's internal product review experience is shared with everyone in the form of an online tool. You can use it online on the WeTest Tencent Quality Open Platform.

Contact us to experience it immediately!

The iOS Pre-Review Tool provides pre-review services in four steps:

[One-click scanning] Just provide the IPA package, review images, review videos, and application description to receive a complete detection report within 4 hours. It identifies problems and provides solutions to help you successfully pass the review.

[Case sharing] Collects common reasons for iOS review failures and provides rich case references for your consideration.

[Expert services] Tencent's expert team analyzes various complex issues and proposes the best solutions.

[ASO optimization] Professionally optimizes App Store keyword search results, bringing your product closer to users. We hope that all apps and mobile games can pass the review happily and make money with the assurance of pre-review acceptance.


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