If you’ve released an iOS app, you’ve probably carefully read the stories of developers who were burned by getting the wrong release date in the App Store and subsequently missing out on the new releases list. As we painfully learned with CellShades, there are still pitfalls to look out for in 2012. I’ll get to these in a moment. First I’ll describe what used to be the problem:
When you submit an app for approval, you pick an availability date in iTunes Connect, at which you want the app to be released. If the availability date is after Apple approves your app, the app will be released at the availability date. If the approval process takes longer and the availability date is passed, the app will be released once Apple has approved it.
New apps that arrive in the app store are listed in the “new releases” section, by the day they were released (and then alphabetically. PROTIP: your app has a better chance to be seen if its name starts with an A or B!). Being listed there means that a lot of users get a chance to discover your app, which can be critical in building up the momentum a new app needs in order to get picked up by review sites or top lists in the App Store.
Now, there used to be a major pitfall associated with setting the availability date – Apple’s way of determining the release date by which your app would be sorted in the “new releases” list used to be as follows:
The “Released” date is currently determined by the date of the app’s approval by Apple and the date that the developer has listed for the app’s availability within iTunes Connect, whichever is earlier.
This means that if you set your app’s release date to January 20th, and the app was approved on January 10th, then the app would become available in the app store on Jan 20th, but its listing among the new releases would be at the same position as if it had been released on January 10th (i.e. so many pages back that nobody would ever find it there). Conversely, if the app was set to be released on January 10th but the approval process took until the 20th, the app would also enter the store on the 20th, but its release date (and rank in the new releases list) would be set to January 10th!
The solution to this used to be to set your release date way in the future when submitting to Apple’s approval, and then the moment you received the notification that your app was approved, you’d set the release date to today. Your app would then appear in the App Store, with the correct position in the “what’s new” list.
Apparently, Apple fixed all of this somewhere in the last year or two. Now, when you release an app, you just pick a release date in the future, and once Apple approves your app, you either leave that date alone or set it to any other date after the approval date (Disclaimer: this is what I gather from our own observations and various accounts on the web – I don’t accept responsibility if it doesn’t work as expected).
Still, there are ways that you can mess up your placement in the new releases list. Read on for how we managed to do it…
CellShades is a little experiment that lets you spill virtual liquid and then watch cells spawn, consume the liquid and build clusters, with a wide variety of pretty rad dynamics (that the user can explore by changing the simulation’s underlying parameters).
If you want more information on the app or give it a try, the App Store link is here, the app’s microsite with screenshots is here, and I’ve written a blog post with a little bit of background info about the technology and libraries used here.
I think it’s important to point out that we didn’t really know which app category to put CellShades in. It’s not quite a game, it’s not quite educational, maybe it would fit in the entertainment category, but that place is such a horrible mess of flash light apps, horoscopes and other nasties that we weren’t keen on competing in that neighborhood (although in hindsight, I wouldn’t be surprised if that one had one of the highest amounts of users actively browsing its new releases list…).
To pick a category, we looked at where simulations of Conway’s Game of Life would position themselves. As it turns out, quite a lot of them placed themselves in the education category, and quite a lot in the games category as well, so we picked these two (games being the secondary category, a mistake I’ll get to in a moment).
CellShades was approved on February 15th. We wanted to release the app as soon as we had all marketing materials ready, and we had originally picked a late March date, so we could set it back once we were ready to release.
On the 22nd of February, we decided to launch and set the app’s availability date to the same day. It appeared in the app store maybe an hour or so later. It did not appear in any “new releases” list that day, neither in “education” nor in “games”.
On the 23rd of February, CellShades appeared in the “new releases” list in the education category. It appeared a couple of pages back, however, ranked by its release date which was given as February 22nd. It also never appeared in the games category.
I’m pretty sure we hardly had a single user discover us from the “What’s new” placement. I’m not able to put a number on the amount of users we missed out on, but I’m pretty sure it was substantial.
I should point out that the following is just my conjecture. It fits what happened, but the only data I have is from a single app, so if you have a different theory or more information, please leave a comment. With that out of the way, here’s the sense I make from all of this:
1.) The “new releases” list is only updated once a day, but your app’s placement in it still depends on when the app actually came out. Resist the temptation to release your app sometime during the day, because it will only appear in the new releases list of the next day, but ranked behind any other release that comes out then. Instead, leave your release date at any future date you like and wait for the app to roll out automatically.
2.) Your app will only appear in the “new releases” list of its primary category. This means that if your app is a fit for both “games” and “education”, make “games” the primary category, as more people are likely to browse its new releases list!
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