A number of iOS app developers have been mystified by a new wave of app rejections related to their use of Apple's emojis. They've suspected that a new App Store crackdown is underway. However, the company hasn't changed its policy on Apple emoji usage in apps, nor its enforcement, according to sources familiar with the App Store review team's processes. The policy does seem to be inconsistently enforced at times, though.
That's led to previously approved apps receiving rejections, while other apps in breach of policy have been let in.
Specifically, Apple told some developers who used its emoji in their apps that they were in violation of the 5.2.5 "Intellectual Property" guideline.
For example, one rejection notice read:
"Your app and app’s metadata include Apple emoji which creates a misleading association with Apple products."
The site Emojipedia, which covers the broader emoji ecosystem, recently detailed some of the newer examples of apps facing rejections, including Github client GitHawk, bitcoin wallet tracker Bittracker,matching game Reaction Match, emoji-based game Moji Match, and others.
As Emojipedia had determined, we've confirmed that Apple will only allow apps using emojis in specific contexts, like in a text field.
Meanwhile, any other usage should be banned by App Review, including when emoji are used as elements in a game, as replacements for buttons or other parts of the app's user interface, as sticker packs, in app logos or icons, or in promotional images, also as Emojipedia had suspected, based on the pattern of rejections.
While emojis exist as part of the Unicode standard, Apple's implementation of that standard is copyrighted. That means the company is within its legal right to control the usage of their own emoji designs, especially in their own App Store.
However, Emojipedia founder Jeremy Burge takes issue with the fact that Apple should have such a policy around its emoji at all.
"It seems reasonable to me that Apple would want some level of control over emoji use in the App Store, but banning it outright from anything other user-inputted text feels a step too far in my opinion," he says.
That said, Apple's decision to reject apps based on their use of Apple emoji is not a new occurrence. If you go back far enough on Twitter, you'll find many examples of developers complaining about the same thing over the past couple of years.
iPhone X update for Reaction Match out soon 🎉. First attempt was rejected at app review for including emoji on the leaderboard 😂 - they have always been there... 😩
— Eddie Lee (@eddielee6) December 4, 2017
App Store Review just rejected the Binary of the newest version of @getBittracker because we use emoji in the app and therefore apparently broke copyright rules.
Yep, that’s true. We’re talking about emojis in screenshots, but more importantly also within the app as raw text. pic.twitter.com/Ayx1HFFbnj
— Sam Eckert (@Sam0711er) January 31, 2018
Rejected again🤯. Apple is very serious about No-Emoji rule or reviewer is picking on me. Do you notice the daring emoji? I didn't myself. pic.twitter.com/QnIBfGQGnj
— an0 (@an0) November 5, 2017
My app got rejected because it used Apple's emoji. I figured those were standard iOS elements and were fair game. Look, here's one now: 🤔
— Josh Johnson (@secondfret) March 24, 2017
@Apple rejected my app update because there's an Emoji in the app icon. Are we not allowed to use emojis? Apps use them all the time 🤔
— Yariv Nissim (@yar1vn) February 14, 2017
So an update to my app got rejected because I used an Apple emoji as a logo. Down to lunch does the same thing https://t.co/Dkeq0n1ayj
— Harry Tormey (@htormey) October 25, 2016
the Moj update got rejected because it's too similar to Apple's emoji pic.twitter.com/01WxFLcgf4
— rahcel (@COMETHRUGIRL) October 17, 2016
Adding to the more recent confusion, as Emojipedia also pointed out in its reporting, was the fact that Apple's own app development course on coding using Swift offers an example of an app with emojis that seems to breach its policy.
Apple demonstrates using emoji in their Everyone Can Code / App Development with Swift courses FYI. pic.twitter.com/oXGz7CPA8B
— Andrew Briscoe (@andrew_briscoe) February 5, 2018
The real issue here is that the App Review team has not consistently enforced the policies around Apple emoji use. In addition, Apple it doesn't speak up to clear the air when it's aware developers are confused.
That leads to a situation where developers will just try to sneak their app through, even though it seems to be in violation of the guidelines. (That sometimes works, too.)
But in the end, it wastes developers' time because they later may get caught by App Review. They then have to go back and overhaul their app to address the problem at a much later stage of development.
Apple declined to comment about the emoji-related rejections.