I'm thinking of making my camera app free to download, and let users take 20 photos, after which a dialog pops up asking for a (auto-renewing) subscription. If the user doesn't pay, the app will refuse to work. The user won't be able to take photos, or look at existing photos. The only thing in the app that will work is the payment UI.

I'm looking to understand what functionality the app needs to have without an active subscription. I do intend to regularly update the app, as the guidelines say.

The goal is to let users see for themselves that the app is useful before I ask them to pay for it.

Where is this documented by Apple?

I read the guidelines, and they don't say that apps are required to have any functionality if the user refuses to pay. Neither do they say the opposite, that apps like mine are okay.

  • I believe 'trial' versions of apps will be rejected, at least they have been in the past. Have you reviewed the App Store review guidelines for all your questions?
    – fsb
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 13:10
  • 1
    @fsb There are tons of apps that have no functionality until you pay - think media streaming, event based apps, apps for managing paid services. Also, Apple has greatly expanded the in app purchase idiom - you can do subscriptions now and people are comfortable with all the side load impacts of bringing an external paid source to an app (amazon for instance). The big question is if refuse to work means refusal to do more operations or if the app simply locks up and shuts down. In that sense of "trial" you are 100% correct.
    – bmike
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 13:39
  • @bmike I was responding to "If the user doesn't pay, the app will refuse to work." If the OP allowed some, limited functionality after the trial period then I'm sure it would be ok. I think the OP also needs to research the review guidelines for this (there's no indication this was done) because only Apple can tell the OP for sure if this is allowed.
    – fsb
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 13:44
  • @fsb My app will indeed lock up after the trial, without a payment. You can't take more photos. Nothing works except the payment UI. I already read the review guidelines, but it doesn't say that apps must have some functionality even if the user refuses to pay. It doesn't say the converse, either, that such an app is okay. Hence the need for this question. I know that trials are not allowed, but I'm not sure what a "trial" is. One could define it as an app that shuts down after a while with no option for payment. These terms aren't precise. Commented May 1, 2017 at 15:12
  • @bmike I rolled back your edit since there are multiple ways of doing a subscription or trial, and the goal is to find out which of them work. The question is more generally about whether apps that lock up if the user refuses to pay are okay, not about the particular details of payment. It also wasn't about what functionality the app needs to have if the user doesn't pay. It's more about what method of payment is appropriate given that it will have zero functionality for people who don't pay. I appreciate your help, but please don't edit questions to change their meaning significantly. Commented May 1, 2017 at 15:16

1 Answer 1


What you ask is exactly what happens in app review. If you are in a place to push a build for test flight review - you can get a preview of how the review team sees your app.

As long as the app is fully functional for the first 20 images, I would imagine you won't get rejected if that's the only issues the reviewer identifies. You could be in thin ice if your app simply monetizes the camera functionality - if an app seeks to make money on what the OS provides, that's grounds for a quick reject.

You can and should have one team member go over the App Review Guidelines. Have them pretend to be picky and seek to reject the app for each of the items.

If you are overwhelmed by the amount of guidance - start with the snapshot of common rejection reasons and run through the comic book version of the review guidelines - those highlight the most common and broad issues with app review. Once you're clear of those hurdles - a more detailed review might be good.

Nothing compares to submitting your app for review, though. Also - think of review as a 3 to 6 month process where you get to know the team and they get to know your app. The App Store is big enough now that coding for a weekend or week and then submitting for sale next week or next month is a rare event. All of those class of apps have well explored by thousands of people by now.

I doubt Apple will ever come out and say precisely what is too little functionality. That binds them and their review team. What works for the first app doesn't work for the 100th app in category. There will be gray areas and you certainly are in it. If you have an app that refuses to work at all once the trial is over, my guess is you will be rejected. I could be wrong, but if that happens you could always let the free portion be free forever (the first 20 snaps or whatever) and only lock down people that need a subscription to run it.

I've seen that work very well with low rejection rates - you are clear you need a subscription in that case, so Apple doesn't have to reject your app knowing it might cause some users heartburn if they don't realize what's paid and what's free. Best of luck with your app!

  • The app isn't just monetising what iOS provides. It has a unique feature that most other apps don't. I went over the guidelines, but they don't say explicitly that apps must have some functionality without a subscription or IAP. They don't say the opposite either, that it's okay for apps not to have any functionality. Your suggestion of test flight is good — I already went through Test Flight, but this time I'll leave a note for the reviewer about this specific feature. And this is not a weekend project. Commented May 1, 2017 at 15:07

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