- Apps are back on the Play Store
One of the best ways to add zip to your Android device's home screen is with a new icon pack. But it seems the Google Play Store isn't so keen on some of them and we don't exactly know why. Last month, we brought you the story of Grabster Studios which had two of its icon packs taken off for featuring content that was deemed to be highly similar to its other icon pack apps — even though many other designers publish icon packs with the same text and app experience without an issue. While those apps were quickly reinstated, we're now tracking two more icon packs from another designer that are out of commission.
The packs in question are Pix Monochrome and Pix Material You Light/Dark from PashaPuma Design — Android Police has actually featured the original Pix Material You pack, still available from Google Play, as one of our favorite Android icon designs.
The Play Store suspended the apps on March 7 for violating its Repetitive Content policy which is meant to prevent app farms from polluting the store with what's essentially the same product over and over again and to catch content that's been plagiarized from elsewhere.
PashaPuma immediately filed an appeal and was denied the next day. In an email the designer shared with us, the Play Store review team cited a specific infraction and gave a suggestion:
Please note that we don’t allow
- Creating multiple apps with highly similar functionality, content, and user experience. If these apps are each small in content volume, developers should consider creating a single app that aggregates all the content.
In order to comply, PashaPuma will need to submit revised apps under new listings, leaving behind the reviews, ratings, search positioning, and other important metrics of the old listings.
The Belarus-based artist told us that they rely on sales revenue for their living.
Android icon packs are sold on the principle that customers are buying the designs to integrate with their launchers and not for the application experience itself. Publishers will often post near-identical apps and text for different designs and put it on an app store for a premium. You buy the app, you buy the design. The designer may maintain and update the pack with support for new apps over time.
There are potential ways to integrate paywalled access to multiple designs that can be updated over the air within a single app, but such a unified experience can pose its own issues which can include the marketability of individual icon designs as well as the notion that the app would behave like an app store because of how icon packs work.
Icon pack apps aren't just a glorified zip file of PNGs. There's a lot of code in them to make sure it can shake hands with the launcher app it's working with and that the right art assets are assigned to the right apps. Android provides an API for adaptive icon designs that allow for animations when an icon is tapped, different icon shapes on top of the assets, and the ability to change color based on the Material You dynamic theming engine.
Unfortunately, the API can prove unflexible as well. PashaPuma told us that its Pix Monochrome design was made in response to user requests and that the API schema does not permit an adaptive icon design to feature manually-set colors. This is only one reason why you'll see an artist sell one design in different colors as separate APKs.
Since we're talking about Google Play Store policy, we also have to talk about the inevitable entropy in how it is enforced. Vuk Andric of One4Studio told us that the Play Store will occasionally flag an update to one of his icon packs despite the fact that all of his packs get the same changes when it comes to the basic app and text. Those flagged updates eventually do get greenlit after Andric appeals.
A lot of the Play Store's enforcement is automation-driven these days. Improved efficiency does come at the cost of having to deal with false positives or unclear justifications, though, and some of those enforcement decisions have confused and frustrated developers to the nth degree. While Google has offered some olive branches to smaller app developers, questionable rulings continue to be a chronic problem that disrupt developers' workflows and income.
Google has acknowledged our request for comment. We will update this story when we hear back. In the meantime, both Pix Material You Light/Dark and Pix Monochrome remain off the Play Store.
UPDATE: 2023/03/20 10:53 EST BY JULES WANG
Apps are back on the Play Store
Early this morning, PashaPuma Designs announced that the Play Store has opted to reinstate the existing listings for their Pix Monochrome and Pix Material You Light/Dark theme.
Taken off the store 13 days ago, the apps were brought back after Google's review team went into further consideration on appeal, asking for relevant screenshots from the publisher.
We've reached out to Google with requests for comment and an interview on multiple occasions throughout this saga as well as last month's incident with Grabster Studios to which all have gone unaddressed.