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AppGratis CEO complains of 'confusing' guidelines after Apple pulls his app

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Simon Dawalt AppGratis
Simon Dawalt AppGratis

Back in January, app distribution company AppGratis had just raised $13.5 million to fund expansion. After three years, it had carved a niche in the iOS App Store, offering promotions that gave users a free app every day and getting revenue from the developers. But yesterday, several sites reported that AppGratis had been removed from Apple's store. AllThingsD confirmed with Apple that it had violated two rules: displaying apps for purchase "in a manner similar to or confusing with the App Store" and sending push notifications as a form of marketing. Now, AppGratis CEO Simon Dawlat has posted an official statement, insisting that though the app has been pulled, his company is "far from finished."

If Dawlat's story is accurate — Apple did not immediately return a request for comment — the decision to reject AppGratis was sudden and unexpected. AppGratis' status as a promotion-based app, as well as how it was rolled out, has apparently caused trouble in the past. Dawlat says he's had several conversations with Apple about whether AppGratis had a place in the store, but each new version of the app continued to be approved, albeit sometimes after changes. Apple "actually approved our iPad version less than a week ago," he writes.

"I asked how he and his team could have possibly changed their minds overnight."

Late last week, though, he says a new App Store team member said Apple had decided to pull the app because of the two sections mentioned above. "I asked how he and his team could have possibly changed their minds overnight, pretty much pulling the plug on a 45-person company," Dawlat writes. "He seemed very detached regarding the gravity of the situation, and was unable to let me know on what specifics these decisions had been made." The entire process, he says, was "very confusing."

Apple is open about curating its App Store, and in some ways AppGratis was living on borrowed time — it potentially steps on Apple's toes by building its own app discovery tool, and its notifications could easily be seen as violating the directive that "Apps cannot use Push Notifications to send advertising, promotions, or direct marketing of any kind." What's unsettling, though, is how sudden the decision seemed to have been. Apple is free to set its own guidelines, but this isn't the first case we've seen where minor updates led to an app being pulled after years of operation. And unlike 500px, which went back online after a reclassification and some tweaks, VentureBeat's sources have said that AppGratis is unlikely to be approved in its current form.

For now, Dawlat has said he will continue posting deals for people who have already downloaded the app, and he appears to be committed to maintaining the service in the near future. Without Apple's approval, though, it's unclear whether the company will be able to keep operating at anywhere near its current level of success.