What we've learned about Apple's new Guidelines for Online Gambling Apps
29 July 2019
You’ve probably already heard that Apple have recently announced new guidelines for the App Store Review which concern sports betting and gaming HTML container apps. Apple advises that real money gambling container apps will need to offer the code in the binary instead of linking out to a web server. It’s likely that existing apps won’t be removed from the store straight away, but their updates might not be accepted.
This is a big drive by Apple to ensure app developers focus on the quality and user experience of their products to stay true to the platform and provide better security. As sports betting is becoming more prevalent and legalised across the US, this could also be the tech giant’s initiative to gain market share of this industry through the App Store downloads.
Many operators have been struggling to get their apps approved over the past few months and it’s taken some trial and error to figure out what works. It’s now been over a month since this update and we’ve been working with Apple and iGaming providers to get more information. We’ve learned more about what to include for existing app updates to meet Apple’s new requirements. While feedback from Apple works on a case-by-case basis and may not apply to all online gambling apps, it’s still very useful.
What can be done with existing online gambling container apps?
Rebuilding a container app to a native standard would be a big job for any developer, but sportsbooks and gaming products are very complex and could take a year to build from scratch, maybe longer.
We’ve been testing different approaches to updating existing container apps for successful submission to the App Store. Apple doesn’t give away much, but we’ve noticed they’ve been enforcing the guideline 4.2 in their feedback quite a lot. The following suggestions also apply to native app design and development.
We’ve learned that the more native features a container app has, the more likely it will be accepted. This means that it needs to look and feel app-like and not be a repackaged version of a website.
Apple’s feedback on various sportsbook and gaming app functionalities has been that any web-based features, such as launching HTML5 games, the first screen or UI elements need to be native too. Including native features, such as Touch ID, Face ID, location sharing, push notifications and onboarding is just the bare minimum. In addition, operators need to consider removing any web features, such as cookie notifications and long footers to make their products look more like an app than its web version. The idea behind it is that the app shouldn’t be taking the user to an external window or browser to keep their journey directly within it, as well as offering a unique and robust user experience that is different to browsing within Safari.
It is worth pointing out that there are also compliance rules that online gambling operators need to follow, which might clash with Apple’s requirements. For example, the footer needs to have certain logos and URLs to responsible gambling services, but it makes screens very busy and web-like. Operators could remove some of these elements that aren’t required by compliance to create a clearer space. It’s important to have a good balance between regulations and Apple’s guidelines to ensure the app works for both.
Design and User Experience
Apple says that the UI and overall design needs to be app-like, which means it needs to be appropriate for any mobile or tablet device used. For example, buttons or even page layout can no longer look like a website, but they need to be designed to fit the relevant screen. We’ve been going through Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines for iOS design themes to implement them in our designs.
We know that operators like to place their logo on as many screens as possible, however, it takes quite a bit of space. This area can be used for something else or leaving an empty space entirely to make the design and layout less cluttered. It’s ok to not have the logo on every screen, as the colours in the design should already support the brand. It’s also possible to use variations of the logo suited to app formats, such as icons, if needed.
Dark Mode is one of the latest trends embraced by Apple in the new iOS update and many other apps have already been offering it for a while (e.g. Spotify, Twitter). Compatibility with Dark Mode could be another consideration for new app designs to support the native functionalities and offer customers to switch if they wanted to. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to implement Dark Mode retroactively into a container app, so it’s something developers could do for a fully native app.
Betfair, William Hill and Coral navigation
Online gambling apps tend to have a complex site structure when it comes to categorising products and services. What might work for web doesn’t always work for mobile and tablet devices, as customers behave differently. It’s become more apparent that navigation needs to be more intuitive for iOS apps.
Products and services need to be placed in appropriate categories or sections that customers can easily access from opening the app. For example, My Account could only house features that customers expect to find there, such as account details, deposit, withdraw, responsible gambling etc. Decluttering or getting rid of the burger menu entirely can also help to optimise navigation and create a more intuitive user journey.
Operators need to find a good balance between successfully submitting their app and their own requirements for it, especially in terms of offering a number of products to cross-sell to their customers. Everything can still be available from the app, but operators just need to be more savvy about how they present it. For example, the tab bar needs to show only the most relevant options to help customers navigate and not cross-sell products. For content-heavy apps, it might be better to optimise the navigation and move some of the urls to different areas.
For example, we’ve seen quite a few apps use More as an option in the tab bar where they group secondary options. These could be links from the footer or the burger menu that don’t have a category of their own. Having a More section is a better way of displaying links within a complex menu. For example, promotions, terms and support information can be included there to only show when the customer navigates to that section. These clever navigation options help to declutter the main screen and make it more intuitive to find what the customer wants without bombarding them with too many options.
Apple suggests that apps should only display the content that the customer is interested in. For example, if they select horse racing, they should only be able to see horse racing related services or promotions. It could affect the potential cross-selling points of other sports, however, it’s worth keeping in mind when designing this.
How can operators present games in their apps?
Operators have hundreds of games available on their platforms, with most of them being reskins of the same type of game (slots, table games, lotto), and they like to display them on the home page. It makes these pages very busy and overwhelming. While customers can sort them by categories, they take up a lot of space on the screen and their navigation can pose challenges to getting to the right game efficiently.
Moreover, these games are powered by third-parties and aren’t natively embedded into the apps - they are HTML5 games that are used for both web and mobile devices. They tend to open in pop up windows and offer additional content within games. This worked for updating products from Flash and making it easier to manage the code for different platforms several years ago, however, Apple wants to change this for their platform.
Apple states that HTML5 games will no longer be allowed to be offered through container apps if the code for them is not embedded in them. This means that products, such as Casino and Games, will need to be offered via native software. Moreover, App Store-like interfaces, like the casino lobby, will need to be redesigned to offer a more appropriate UX for the platform to be more app-like and have a more intuitive navigation.
Embedding HTML5 games in online gambling apps
The reason why operators have been offering games via the web is that HTML5 games are easier to maintain, they work on different platforms from a single codebase and don’t take up much space on the customer’s device. This poses a few difficulties to address Apple’s new rules.
Firstly, offering native games through the iOS framework would require an API to launch between apps (operator to game provider). This means that the operator would need to implement an API with each of its game providers and there could be quite a few of them. This adds more challenges and could increase bugs that could occur with any of the APIs.
Secondly, every time the game provider wants to release an update, the operator would also need to push a release on their end to publish it. This also means taking responsibility for the third-party’s game launch issues and managing them. Multiple companies would need consistent communication between them to maintain the product, especially if the operator works with other third-parties to implement these games into their platform. It could add extra work and time, not only for implementation, but fixing issues and publishing updates.
In addition to embedding games natively, it’s unclear how Apple wants operators to serve them. If a customer wanted to play a slot game, they would need to install it on their device, and this might be a challenge for playing multiple games. Not every device could support them or have enough capacity.
We’ve been speaking to iGaming providers to find out what they can do to address this. One of the ideas is to supply game scripts embedded natively, but offer assets, such as images and sound from a content delivery network (CDN) solution, which is outside the app. However, the issue is the size of each game. There are hundreds of games available and offering them all in a package would not be viable. It’s likely that some customers’ devices wouldn’t be able to house them all.
One of the CDN solutions is using Apple On-Demand Resources:
“On-demand resources are app contents that are hosted on the App Store and are separate from the related app bundle that you download. They enable smaller app bundles, faster downloads, and richer app content. The app requests sets of on-demand resources, and the operating system manages downloading and storage. The app uses the resources and then releases the request. After downloading, the resources may stay on the device through multiple launch cycles, making access even faster.”
The benefit of On-Demand Resources is a smaller size, app resources are only used upon request (when the customer selects the game) and remote storage of rarely used resources and in-app purchases.
We’ve yet to test these game bundles as iGaming providers roll out their solutions and we’ll be reviewing this further once we receive them.
New guidelines for a better UX?
Apple has really thrown a spanner in the works for online gambling operators and the costs of their rejections are increasing. However, for now, it is possible to work on small fixes on existing container apps to make them more app-like and get them approved on the App Store before 3 September. We’re not sure what will happen with them after this deadline, whether anyone will be able to submit updates for their container apps and how strict the reviewers will be.
Despite this, operators may need to begin the process of creating completely native products going forward to focus on the user experience to reflect the iOS standards. It will require separate web and iOS releases and attention to detail to meet Apple’s requirements. After all, offering a great experience will mean that customers will want to come back to the product and engage with it again. The online gambling industry has a tendency of replicating each other’s products, so it could be a chance to build something different.
If you’d like more advice on Apple’s new design guidelines or updating your existing container mobile app, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us below!