Apple made an announcement during its Worldwide Developers Conference in June (2017) that has repercussions for the entire event industry. Enforcement of rule 4.2.6 of the App Store Review Guidelines has severely impacted white label event mobile app developers. For those wondering what disruption in the event industry looks like, this is one beautiful example of the road ahead.
Apple Takes A Bite Out Of An Industry
Apple’s rule 4.2.6 states, “Apps created from a commercialized template or app generation service will be rejected.” Apple is enforcing the rule as a way to clear spam from the Apple App Store, but it impacts millions of legitimate and useful apps across many industries, including the live event industry.
There are hundreds of white label event mobile app developers in the global event industry, which means tens of thousand of white-label apps have been released and updated year after year for various events. Some, most, or maybe all of those (none of the developers knows for sure, and Apple isn’t super communicative about it) will be likely rendered obsolete by the end of 2017.
The initial reactions from the white label developer set ranged from (paraphrasing) “this is something big, but good riddance to the white label app model” to “it’s not that big of a deal, we got this” to “Apple isn’t talking about us. All of our apps are unique.”
As the weeks progressed, however, the “this is kind of serious” camp appeared to be justified in their paranoia and the “nothing to see here” folks quickly changed their minds as the Apple App Store began rejecting white label event apps much sooner than expected. The few hold out developers that haven’t been impacted yet remain confident that the crisis is overblown.
There are remedies for Apple’s crackdown. The top contender in the solutions column seems to be a so-called universal “container” app, which has both benefits and drawbacks depending on the event type and event organization. Some developers are revisiting an HTML5 mobile web solution or tinkering with the code on their white-label apps to see if they can still make the cut with Apple.
The Immediate Impact On Event Organizers
Event organizers have more to think about than Apple’s attempt at housekeeping. For many, this disruption is just one more thing none of them wants to deal with. The smart ones will immediately phone their event mobile app developers of record to discuss their options, although the options may not be entirely clear.
Organizers that opt (or have no other choice than) to go with a container app will have to revise their app download instructions for attendees. After all, The Apple rule only affects Apple device users. Organizers still have to accommodate Android, Windows, Blackberry, and increasingly, Amazon device users (and that’s only in the U.S. and Canada).
In the best-case scenario, container app users will have at least three additional steps to take after they go to the app store. More complexity could mean lower adoption rates and/or the need for more tech support.
With container apps in the mix, selecting a mobile app developer from this point on will be more complicated as buyers will again have a learning curve to navigate and no successful case studies on which to rely at least in the immediate future.
If some or all of the white label app developers figure out what the threshold for acceptance or rejection is at the Apple App Store, it’s likely that the degree of customization required to avoid the axe will drive up the cost of event mobile apps.
Just When Event Mobile Apps Were Catching On
This level of disruption has, up until now, been rather unusual for the event industry. Much-hyped companies have certainly failed in the past, but most event technology either never catches on (the multiple attempts to introduce virtual trade shows is a prime example) or it catches on slowly (by Internet-era standards). Forced extinction (if that’s what it turns out to be) is new.
The event industry has (without asking) become dependent on event mobile apps. The cost savings over printed show directories, dependence on digital ad revenue, convenience afforded to customers, and meeting of attendee expectations in a mobile world has cemented the relationship between organizers and apps. It doesn’t seem plausible that organizers will revert to paper.
The speed with which this disruption occurred—from the date of the original announcement until Apple began rejecting white-label apps that should have breezed through the previous approval process—was blinding. It’s only been about two and a half months. It’s shocking to an industry that has remained relatively unchanged for fifty years.
The Apple rule enforcement is inopportune since white label event mobile apps have finally, it seems, reached the “must have” status for event organizers. Apps hold a coveted, semi-permanent position in the event budget and attendees are beginning to expect a mobile-optimized event experience.
Get Ready For More Disruption.
Even though there is still a population of digital deniers—event organizers more interested in proving their relevance than preparing to be made irrelevant—a growing number of industry observers have lately wondered out loud about the inevitability of disruption.
Some thought leaders describe a “death by a thousand cuts” scenario in which smaller, less impactful disturbances begin to have a cumulative effect that drags the industry if not down then at least in an entirely new direction. Apple’s rule 4.2.6 could be the first cut.
The story is yet to unfold about how the white label event mobile app developers win the day or die trying. As some have suggested, storming the doors of Apple with digital torches and pitchforks demanding a reversal of the rule is one option. It’s more likely that most developers will adapt and a few will not survive. Either way, it’s a lesson for the event business as a whole.
To remain vibrant, event organizers must apply three new rules: be vigilant (one change from a foundational technology provider can send ripples of disruption across an industry), treat disruption as an opportunity to adopt new ways of doing business, and make adaptation part of the organization’s DNA.
Apple gave white-label apps to the event industry and, apparently, can take them (theirs at least) away. This is what disruption looks like. Buckle up.