Apple's New App Name Reservation Policy Makes Life Easier For Developers (and App Name Squatters)
If you have ever developed a complex iOS app, there's a good chance that you have bumped into iTunes app name expiry. If so, you can skip the next couple of paragraphs.
Often a new iOS development project starts out not just with a great idea, but also with a great name. As they say in the app business, a great app name is half the journey (okay, I just made that up). So you go to iTunes Connect before you even start development and create a minimal valid application entry. This is called app name reservation.
This means you have to make up some data, like screenshots of your non-existent app, but that's no big deal. What is a big deal is thinking up a bunch of nice, useful app names and squatting on them. Reserving them costs nothing, after all. So Apple instituted a time limit within which you must submit a valid binary for review. Otherwise the name is freed for use by other developers. And this really means only other developers. You are not allowed to use the name ever again. Never, ever. Quite an effective antisquatting policy. The time limit has been extended over years from 120 days to 150 days and finally to 180 days.
So what do you do when Apple sends you an app name expiration warning?
Bad guy way: submit a bogus binary and the moment it gets to Waiting For Review, you cancel the review request. The app switches to Developer Rejected and can stay there indefinitely.
Good guy way: ask for an extension. You go to iTunes Connect again, copy the Apple ID of your app reservation, click the almost invisible "Contact Us" link at the very bottom and head to the Manage Your Apps / App Name Expiry section. Send a polite entreaty and wait.
The good guy way was working as recently as early August this year, when the app name reservation expired for WhatWine. The OCR and text processing engine that makes WhatWine tick was a huge technological endeavor, and we didn't make it to the finish line before the time limit ran out. Apple was very generous, giving us another 180 days even though we only asked for a month.
And couple of days ago, we realized that the Kitt reservation was about to expire. We are still in private beta and not quite ready to release the app publicly. I headed confidently to iTunes Connect and could not find the App Name Expiry topic.
In desperation, I stuffed the request into the vague General Inquiry Regarding App Management category and hastily readied a binary in case we needed to pursue the Bad Guy Way. Because, you know, what can be the processing priority of a "General Inquiry"?
The very next day, an email from Apple arrived.
You read that right. iTunes App Name reservations no longer expire. How, you may be wondering, is Apple going to deal with squatters now? Maybe it hasn't been that big a problem after all. Maybe it was just too much of a hassle to manage, since half a year of development is nothing for a serious app. Or maybe we are just in the interregnum before another method of squatting prevention is put in place.
Whatever the reason, Apple has made developers' (and squatters') lives a little bit easier.