Apple just rerouted the future of branded event apps. The company that once announced “You have a niche need? There’s an app for that” has—now revised their Apple App Store guidelines. Apple has effectively pivoted to “You have a niche need? Depending on certain guidelines and regulations there may be an app for that.”
For event technology providers and those that use the technology offered by event technology providers (maybe you), this is a very big deal. Whether Apple decides to sticks to their guns or decides to make an exception for the event tech-dom, they have fired a shot that has been heard around the event tech world. And you should probably know about it.
The Rise of the Branded Event App
At the beginning of the 21st century, the mobile phone was a glorified pager. Mobile phones are now a pocket-sized super computer. With the ascendancy of the mobile phone has come a rise in mobile apps, and—of principle to importance to event professionals—mobile event apps.
Event apps can cover a range of functions. From maximizing attendee engagement (live polls, anyone?) to providing event attendee with valuable networking opportunities (event communities, anyone?) apps cover a lot of needs. As time has marched on, event apps have become an increasingly expected part of the attendee experience. They are an integral part of the ways that event organizers manage, market and measure live events (event data, anyone?).
Today, event apps are big. According to a study conducted by Event Manager Blog, over 40% of event planners use event apps. In a more recent study that we conducted, over 80% of the participants that we polled said that they use an event app.
Not only is this number projected to increase, but so is the value of the event tech industry as a whole. Frost and Sullivan report that event technology is currently a $28 billion industry and is set to grow at a CAGR of 3.3%. The increased growth of event apps has resulted in a greater demand for apps that are branded and customized to the needs of clients.
While event apps (branded and otherwise) have been changing the game for both event organizers and attendees, they have done so because the power brokers that control the mobile space have allowed them too.
Meet the Power Brokers
The market for event apps is primarily controlled by two mobile app stores: Google’s Android Play Store and Apple’s App Store. Historically, Android has been more laissez-faire when it comes to reviewing and publishing apps. In fact, some view it as being one of their greatest strengths. Apple, on the other hand, has had a reputation for fierce regulation—a stance that has simultaneously attracted and alienated mobile users.
Regardless of how it might be perceived, Apple was the first mobile provider to fully get behind the idea of mobile apps—and get it right. By 2008, when Apple launched the App Store alongside their 3G iPhone, Microsoft had already created thousands of apps for their mobile Windows operating system and Palm (of Palm Pilot fame) had done the same. For the general consumer, both the Windows and Palm have faded to the recesses of mobile obscurity. However, Apple—through a combination of their innovative hardware, design and app store practices—remains at the top.
Apple’s tight regulation of their app store has served as a key differentiator. High-quality apps at premium prices have been the MO of the organization. Meanwhile, Google’s laissez-faire Play Store has ballooned with apps and developers, often at the cost of quality.
Roughly 50% of the smartphones in the US, UK and Australia are iPhones. That means that there’s a 50% chance that people who show up to your business events are likely to be iPhone users.
In practice, this percentage is likely to be higher as one of the main reasons that people choose Android phones is the lower price point. Those who can afford to attend business conferences are likely able to more easily afford iPhones. Consider the below data pulled from the Bizzabo event software platform:
Given this market split, any change to the Apple app store will have severe implications for both iPhones and Android phones. And Apple just changed something big.
Why You Are Reading This
At Apple’s 2017 World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) in June, the tech giant released several updates to their App Store guidelines. You can see many of these changes being projected on a screen behind Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing, at WWDC 2017:
An interesting list, right? We have:
- Localized enrollment
- Reviews API
- Receipt enhancements
- Auto-renewal with Apple Pay
- Expanded free trials
Not really sure what those updates have to do with you? That’s OK. There’s only one that has the event tech industry reeling.
App Store cleanup.
Although this little line item might sound innocuous or even quaint, it’s anything but. Apple is changing how they regulate their App Store and it affects all of us.
As we mentioned before, Apple has pretty much always maintained strict guidelines. Take for instance the below item that has shaped how the App Store has functioned thus far:
Your app should include features, content, and UI that elevate it beyond a repackaged website. If your app is not particularly useful, unique, or “app-like,” it doesn’t belong on the App Store. If your App doesn’t provide some sort of lasting entertainment value or is just plain creepy, it may not be accepted
The App Store clean up brought with it another addition to the rule:
NEW: Guideline 4.2.6
Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected.
If you don’t care about having your event app being branded then I suppose this is a good time to tell you that these changes won’t affect you much. Sorry for stringing you along. I hope you found this post pleasantly informative. Please feel free to keep reading.
However, if you side with the majority of event app clients, then you do care whether or not your event app is customized so that it features your company’s unique branding. Therefore, you do care about how Guideline 4.2.6 might cause branded apps to change.
The Branded Event App Ecosystem
Branded event apps can be broadly categorized into three categories: custom-made white label apps, templated white-label apps, and universal branded apps.
Custom-made White Label Apps
Custom-made “white label” (client-branded) apps are created from the ground-up to the specifications of a client. They may use some templated code. Many developers use templates to expedite the construction of apps—however, the bulk of their structure and source code is tailor-made. In theory, the end result is a beautifully branded event app that is—from App store icon to agenda page—as unique as a snowflake. However, that uniqueness comes with a steep price tag, a longer development cycle and the need to have each app submitted, approved and published in the App Store. Another downside is that if the app is shipped with bugs (as will invariably happen in the development world) you will be liable for fixing those bugs yourself or through the extension of a contract with your app developer.
Templated White Label Apps
Whereas custom-made apps may use some templates to expedite the development process, templated white label apps are predicated on, well, templates. With templated white label apps, clients get a great branded experience. They also get access to a variety of modules, but at the cost of uniqueness in both design and functionality. The greatest advantage of templated white label apps is their much more affordable price tag and quicker development cycle. Like custom-made apps, templated white label apps come with a uniquely branded App Store icon. Likewise, they must be submitted for review in order to be published. Templated white label apps are more likely to come with support for software bugs, and given their templated nature, are less likely to have bugs in the first place. However, per Apple’s recent App Store update, templated apps are the least likely to be approved.
Branded Universal Apps
Container apps, global apps, omnibus apps—universal apps go by many names and likewise come in many forms. Just like a universal remote might be in charge of your home entertainment system, a universal app aims to be your one-stop-shop for your event. Attendees download the universal app which then contains a specific event or event series. Different apps offer different levels of a branded experience. Some universal apps might have limits in-place that guarantee that app users only see the events that they are signed up for. Others may be less streamlined. In either case, a branded universal event app should become virtually inseparable from a templated white label app once the app user gets to the event page. Compared to other branded event apps, branded universal apps have the quickest development cycle (virtually none as they are already published in the app store and need only be activated by the client). Branded universal apps are often the cheapest option as well. There are some other upsides too. More on that later.
So, here we have an intricate ecosystem of event apps. Both custom-made white label apps and templated white label apps use templates to varying degrees, while universal apps are a one-stop-shop. The question is, how will Apple’s new guidelines (4.2.6) affect all of the above?
Staring into the Face of Appagedon
Much like what happens after death or how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie pop, the jury is out on what exactly 4.2.6 port ends. In fact, much like the meaning of life or who is the greatest tennis player of all time, the subject of 4.2.6 is in some ways open to interpretation. We paneled the press, the events industry, and even Apple. Here’s what each is saying.
What the Press is saying
Some in the press are welcoming these changes, some are outraged by them. However, the general trends is that these changes are imminent.
“It’s my understanding that this cleanup has resulted in hundreds of thousands (yes, multiple hundreds of thousands) of apps being removed from the store over the past year.”
“Apple is looking to clamp down on template titles with its latest review guidelines revision, but the App Store cleanup doesn’t stop there…”
“We’ve heard “x will kill y” many times before, but in this case, there is definitely real cause for concern…”
What the Industry is saying
Different vendors are saying different things. For the purposes of not directly singling out any brands, we’ve opted to keep these vendors anonymous. (We’re sure that if you really want to figure out who said what, you can do so.)
Vendor A: “Here is what we know based on several conversations with a worldwide developer relations leader from Apple…Apple is requiring event app vendors to move to a Universal App model, in which all accounts and events would exist within a single, vendor-branded, container app.”
Vendor B: “Apple isn’t going to care that your tailor-made app used a template… What Apple wants to do is thin out some of the copycat apps that flood the store after every app success story.”
Vendor C: “When we spoke to Apple for clarification, a senior executive at their Worldwide Developer Relations Team was quick to dismiss the self-serving announcements from our competitors as ‘pontificating b.s.’”
Vendor D: “So yes, Apple has removed literally hundreds of thousands of clone and spam apps from its App Store in the past year, but that culling has focused on apps that lack significantly unique content or functionality.”
Vendor E: “Regardless of Apple’s future decisions, our vision has been aligned with the universal app model augmented by in-app dynamic branding from day one. Our entire technology stack has been designed with these requirements in mind and are fully supported today in our production release.”
Some players are keeping their options open. Others are issuing statements that reflect the value propositions that they already have or suggest that they saw this change coming from a mile off. Several vendors have claimed to have spoken to Apple representatives. However, what each vendor is taking away from their interactions with Apple diverge on a Rashomon level of interpretation.
What Apple is saying
As a vendor that views branded event apps as being integral to its event technology stack, we have just as much an interest in getting to the bottom of the 4.2.6 mystery as our fellow competitors do. Because of this we’ve been in frequent contact with our Apple Account Managers. Below is the pith of our last correspondence.
“[Event] apps are raked and processed at a code level, so if any of your apps are built from a template they will be rejected.”
—Senior Account Manager, 8/7/17
According to Apple, if any of your apps are “built from a template” they may be in violation of the latest App Store update. Wondering what this means for you? We are too.
What This Means for You
Apple’s App Store guidelines are deliberately vague in a way that almost begs interpretation. However, after reviewing, speaking with Apple, and other vendors in the industry it does appear that the future of templated white label is uncertain, if not in jeopardy. Here’s what you need to know:
“When will these app store changes take full effect?”
According to the TechCrunch article, thousands of templated apps have been deleted on the app store. However, as far as the industry can tell none of these have been event apps. When the App Store cleanup announcement came out in June, it seemed that a hard and fast date would not be set. Recently, a leading event tech provider has started telling its customers that after December 29, Apple will begin deleting templated white label apps that do not pass inspection.
On our end, we cannot say with any certainty when these changes will fully take effect, but all indications point to these changes will be taking effect at some point.
“Will my event app be deleted from the App Store?”
It’s hard to say. Some event tech vendors have proposed that most branded event apps are safe from being deleted for the foreseeable future. These same vendors also believe that templated white label event apps that do not pass Apple’s muster will be cut-off from updates moving forward. As mentioned above, one event tech vendor believes that Apple will start deleting templated white label apps that do not pass inspection as soon as December 2017.
“Will I still be able to create white label apps?”
We believe that there still is the possibility of creating white label apps provided that they are built using unique source code that adheres to Apple’s guidelines. Whether or not these apps are approved through Apple’s App Store is another question. The best thing you can do is to speak to your vendor about their approach to these changes. Be wary of any contract verbiage that allows a vendor to avoid liability in the event that the app is not approved by Apple.
The Age of “There’s an App for That” Is Over
Before Apple made the 4.2.6 announcement, we at Bizzabo had every intention of pursuing a wide variety of white label options. After hearing how the press, the industry and Apple themselves have responded to the announcement, it has become clear that the most reliable option is to pursue the universal app model. This is after all the course that many other industries have gone.
It is now common for e-commerce companies to manage Amazon pages in addition to their own website. The same can be said of hotels and Hotels.com, restaurants and Yelp, and medical professionals and ZocDoc. In exchange for a degree of “white label” branding, these companies are gaining increased exposure and adoption through universal platforms. The same can be said for how Slack and LinkedIn are being used by companies.
When it comes to event marketing, branded universal apps hold much promise, especially when they are combined with an all-in-one event success platform. Their benefits include but are not limited to:
1. Better Attendee Adoption: Paying for an event app means nothing if people do not actually download it. Imagine having to download a new app for every conference that you go to and then uninstalling it once the conference has run its course. In addition to being a waste of time, it’s a waste of data. All of the contacts that an attendee creates in an event app at one conference are deleted with the rest of the app once the conference is over. A universal event provides an alternative. It designates one “conference app” for attendees to use for all of their conference needs and increases the chance that they will digitally engage with your event.
2. Cross-event Analytics for the Event Organizers: Event apps provide organizers with an unparalleled method of gathering data on their attendees. However, the biggest obstacle to event organizers is not being able to easily reconcile data from different events. With a branded universal event app, organizers can easily compare all of their event data through one easy-to-read program. Everything from most popular sessions to most popular attendees can be tracked and compared across your year-long event line-up.
3. Faster App Updates: With custom-made white label apps, event organizers are liable for fixing bugs and updating their applications. With templated white label apps, vendors often include updates as part of the contract. However, if 4.2.6 does pan out as anticipated, that is a moot point. Leaving branded universal apps as the quickest way to consistently keep your event app updated and bug-resistant.
4. Seamless Content Management Experience: Having to update event info across multiple platforms is a huge time sink. Say one of your speakers drops out. You have to update that in your event app, your event website your event emails. You also need to update any other websites where you have posted that information. A universal app integrated with an all-in-one event solution eliminates that pain point and saves you time allowing you to update all of your relevant information from one screen.
5. Cost-effective While Still Remaining Branded: Branded universal apps give you the greatest return on your investment. Universal apps can be designed to provide attendees a branded experience from the sign-in screen. Custom-made white label apps are not only expensive to create they are expensive to maintain. Vendors often charge for support. Plus, once the benefits of having a universal app integrated with an all in one event success platform are added in, an event organizer’s return on investment skyrockets to even greater heights.
The Future of Event Technology?
There’s a chance that Apple may make an exception in its App Store Guidelines for event apps. There’s a chance that Apple may update their guidelines. To be honest, we wouldn’t mind that. However, the majority of evidence is pointing to a new age for event apps. This era is more integrated, streamlined and cost-effective. Apple may change their mind, but until they do we look forward to making the event app world more unified.
For more information about the future of branded event apps, check out the Event App Primer.