Late last year, Arnold Kim got a surprise notice from Apple. His super-popular app comparison shopping tool AppShopper was to be removed from the App Store for violation of a 3-month-old rule. The rule prohibited apps from displaying apps in a way that was ‘similar to or confusing with the App Store’.

Kim was stymied. The app had been in the store happily chugging along for months, and offered ratings, a separate review system connected to the AppShopper and Touch Arcade sites, as well as features like wish lists and more. The rule, which focused on apps that displayed other apps for purchase or promotion, seemed designed to specifically target those apps which added nothing to the App Store experience. Obviously, Kim felt it did, but unfortunately Apple did not.

When we covered AppShopper’s removal initially we noted that it seemed clear that any apps that offered no other functionality than listing and sorting apps, or even providing ratings, were persona non-grata according to Apple. This was underscored by an app that was actually approved just before AppShopper was rejected.

The app, called App Map, is also a discovery tool that lists both apps and ratings, allowing users to tap on and download them from the App Store. The key component to App Map that allowed it to skate through while others were being rejected? Geolocation and social integration. The app allows you to see apps being used near you by other App Map users. It’s pretty clever and adds a hyper-local layer to the app discovery experience, something that the App Store does not do…at all.

And, in the end, that was also the key to AppShopper’s return: do something that the App Store does not do, at all.

In AppShopper’s case, that came in the form of a refactoring that put a social aspect at the center of the app. Instead of the app providing simple curated lists, you’re required to follow accounts set up by AppShopper or by other users. The lists are all apps that people use or recommend, which is ever so subtly different than the way that AppShopper used to work.

photo 41 Despite App Store rules crackdown, comparison tool AppShopper returns with a social bent photo 5 Despite App Store rules crackdown, comparison tool AppShopper returns with a social bent

The new app, called AppShopper Social, makes social recommendations indispensable, rather than optional. When you launch the app, in fact, there is no list of apps waiting for you. Instead, the app recommends that you follow the AppShopper account, which is one of several curated lists ready at launch. Others include Macrumors, 148apps and Toucharcade, all of which provide a steady stream of apps that can be ‘owned’ or ‘want listed’. Each of the apps has a rating from one or more of those feeds, as well as an App Store rating. This allows users to say, get a friend’s rating, Toucharcade’s rating and the App Store rating all side-by-side.

photo 3 Despite App Store rules crackdown, comparison tool AppShopper returns with a social bent photo 21 Despite App Store rules crackdown, comparison tool AppShopper returns with a social bent

You can hook up your Twitter account to search for friends or do it manually. Filling out your lists will give you a richer feed of apps, provided that you trust your friends’ tastes, of course. The My Apps section is populated automatically with the apps on your device, allowing you to share them quickly with others from a ‘cheat sheet’, something that the App Store makes a bit more difficult.

As we said back when rumblings about apps being rejected or blocked due to ‘Rule 2.25′, differentiation will be more key than ever. Kim made several attempts to get AppShopper back on the store before finally hitting on the ‘pure social’ experience of the newest version. If you’re a developer of this kind of app, you’d best work really hard to find a totally distinct benefit to your effort over Apple’s App Store, or suffer the same kind of hiatus that AppShopper did before finding its niche.

At this point, you might be wondering how AppShopper’s case differs from that of, say, AppGratis, which was recently removed from the App Store with little to no chance of return. The key, as we noted when the AppGratis thing went down in the first place, is the other rule that Apple claimed it violated. Namely ’5.6 Apps cannot use Push Notifications to send advertising, promotions, or direct marketing of any kind.’

The app promotion service that AppGratis offered may not have been outright App Store manipulation, but it was certainly marketed to its developer customers as a way to improve rankings. Even if that improvement was only ancillary to a ‘sale’ offer, it was still touted in pitch materials as a consequence of utilizing the AppGratis service.

Outside of apps that duplicate the App Store almost directly, with no beneficial addition, any app that offers these kinds of promotions is an endangered species. If you’re a developer that hasn’t concentrated on offering a unique, promo-shuffle-free experience then you’re probably about to have a very bad time.

That being said, I always liked AppShopper. I thought that side-loading reviews and ratings from the prolific TouchArcade was a great touch for game content, and the app had a robust feature set that justified it in my eyes. The new ‘social’ aspects to the game have apparently now done the same for Apple, and in some cases improved the app as you’re more likely to vet your sources as you add them. This version has some ‘missing’ features from the old one, but Kim says that they’re on the way as the team gets its feet back under it.

AppShopper Social is a new app, separate from the original, if you still have that installed. It’s free and you can download it now.

➤ AppShopper Social

Image Credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

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