The app store is less chicken and egg and more massive Apple-controlled poultry farm.
So how does a developer get featured on the App Store?
Talk to app developers about the App Store and you are likely to get a range of responses and emotions. There will be those who love that it gives them a chance to showcase their talents, and just as many who hate having to jump through hoops for very little reward.
There are over 1.8 million apps in the App Store. According to data published by Pocket Gamer, the average number of daily submissions for the month of July was 1,875 and this month has already seen 33,127 apps submitted for review, many of which will either be accepted for potential inclusion or rejected for any number of reasons.
Developers need Apple to provide them with the tools of discovery. This is normally achieved by an app being either featured as one, hitting the top lists or by being chosen as an “Editors’ Choice.”
Understand What Apple Wants
Apple may seem like this large, faceless corporation that hides its best practices from developers. To a certain extent, it is. But that doesn’t mean that Apple representatives are not watching, looking for the best apps to feature.
Apple reps are everywhere. They come to gaming conventions and pay attention to developer communities. Apple reps may not be wearing badges, but that does not mean they are not paying attention. Knowing an Apple rep can be a huge boon to an app publisher, but your app needs to be pretty darned good if the rep is going to pay attention at all.
Now, if you don’t have an Apple but want to contact Apple to see if it will consider your app to be featured, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org with an inquiry to see what it will take.
Apple wants apps that are featured on the store to be successful—especially when taking into account that it has both a new operating system and hardware launching in the near future.
Developers can often fall into the trap of building apps that are similar to what is already out there or even a pale imitation of a blockbuster app and making something that doesn’t provide value or that doesn’t fit with Apple’s core app philosophy is a waste of time. Apps that are objectionable and have a religious or political agenda are not welcome, as are any that look as they have been built in a lunch hour.
Apple representatives know what they want to see and what they don’t and developers must remember that when it comes to submitting their app. It is worth bearing in mind that Apple is actively looking for apps to feature and while rejection is often part of the process, the reality is that developers can learn from mistakes.
Simple things such as making sure the app is a bug-free as possible, providing screen shots that highlight how good it looks or even allowing for the possibility of localization will all score highly. Celebrity endorsement, for example, could see the app installed by users irrespective of what the app actually does, but it is worth remembering that popular culture moves at a frenetic pace and capitalizing on what is hot now may quickly cool.
Have All Your Marketing Media Ready
If Apple is going to feature your app in the store, it will give developers a heads up before it pulls the trigger. An Apple rep may call and ask for your marketing media—promo art, screenshots, icon, videos, description and meta data—to include as part of the feature. If you don’t have all of your media material readily available, Apple is going to call on someone else that does.
The key to standing out in the App Store is to not just have a great app, but being able to present the whole package as one cohesive unit. Your app description should be top notch and compelling while your art should be original. With so much competition in the App Store, great marketing media is necessary just to get a seat at the table.
The Quality Of Your App Is Tantamount
Apps developers will always believe that what they are working on is better than what is already available. Irrespective of what category it fits into, then beating the competition and rising to the top of the ranking is the goal. Being featured is widely assumed to help with this, but that is not always feasible, especially when considering the number of apps that exist in each category.
Take games, for example. According to Pocket Data, 407,161 games are currently available—which equates to 22.11% of ALL apps in the store—and the vast majority of them sit there, unwanted and unplayed.
In July, there were 15,124 games submitted to Apple for review and consideration. If we take into account that there are major and high-profile brands already in the space—Minecraft, Rovio, King and so forth—then it becomes clear that developers have to produce something really special to get noticed.
A quick stroll through the app store reveals that there are 191,627 business apps, 177,100 education apps, 161,905 lifestyle apps, 37,805 social networking apps … the list goes on. Developing a weather app? Users already have 6,081 to choose from. Want to enter the music app space? Be better than the 54,918 in the store.
Apple’s iTunes Connect guidelines encourage developers to think about different kinds of apps to limit copycat behavior. For instance, an app may be rejected because thousands of other apps already do the same thing (or it competes with an app that Apple makes itself).
Play By Apple’s Rules
Building something awesome is the logical first step. Successful apps become that way because developers understand not only what the consumer wants but how it fits into their lives. App users don’t spend their lives going into the App Store to see what’s new on a daily basis. Often, the best apps find people, instead of people finding the best apps.
Developers need to appreciate that while they think they have built something that everyone wants, the reality is that the majority of apps submitted are less than stellar and can die a slow death in the store.
Apple is notoriously picky in its verification. If you are not 100% familiar with Apple’s App Store Guidelines, becoming an expert should be at the top of your list.
Don’t Obsess Over Being Featured
Being a success in the App Store has become somewhat of a Holy Grail in the apps economy. The notion ties in with a widely held perception that a featured app is a successful app and that developers who get chosen can just sit back and watch the cash roll in.
This is not the case.
A recent panel discussion at Boston’s MobileDevHacker conference questioned the true value of being featured on the App Store, much of which centered on what actually defines success.
According to Kristen Mukai, an associate producer at Proletariat—the studio behind the World Zombination mobile game, an Editors’ Choice—developers need to take a reality check.
Mukai said: > Being featured is not what people expect it to be. There is a certain idea out there that if you get the top feature, then you are just set and you are going to be able to continue to mooch off that and be able to kick back while sipping margaritas. But really, it is a lot of work—not just to get the feature, but afterwards … maintaining momentum, keeping up organic users and marketing UA.
Michael Levine, CEO of game developer Happy Giant, says that relying on Apple to push an app is ultimately a rookie error. Apple, he says, is only interested in developers when they are new, but is difficult to quantify what works and what doesn’t.
Speaking as part of a panel at MobileDevHacker entitled “What’s the recipe to get featured by Apple?” he said:
It is great to be featured … it is also important and great to win the lottery. You want to do everything right to get featured, but that gives you no assurance that you will be. You can’t rely on being featured. That is kind of the recipe for death. You have to basically count that you are not going to be featured … but if you do, it is a huge bonus.