[Update: I've also written a three part series about general app store tipps: part 1, part 2, part 3]

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

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).

 

What happened

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!

 

17 Responses to Two ways your iOS app can miss the App Store’s “New Releases” List in 2012…

  1. Wendy says:

    Thanks so much! Exactly the info I was searching for.

  2. larry says:

    Thanks. Its help me too !!!

    • larry says:

      How many downloads you reached in release date ?

      • Philipp says:

        With our other games, I think it was maybe a couple hundred that were due to the new releases listing. A lot of factors probably influence this quite heavily: your icon, app name, category, how well your app lends itself towards an impulse buy, how many other apps were released on that day, etc.

  3. James says:

    I have had a couple apps go ‘Ready for Sale’ despite my availability date being set well into the future. The product was not able to be accessed on the App Store due to the date being in the future, but it did have a release date of the same day Apple approved it. I’m wondering if anyone else has had this issue.

    I was never prompted for ‘I will release __ after it has been approved’ or ‘Automatically release this on approval.’ I was only able to set the availability date for the new product.

    (Snippet from the Apple Developer’s Guide below which does not appear to hold true in my case)
    -
    You can use version release control only for app updates. It is not available for the first version of your app because you already have the ability to control when your first version goes live (using the Availability Date setting on the Rights and Pricing page). If you decide that you never want to release a Pending Developer Release version, you can reject your binary to submit a new one. You are not permitted to skip over an entire version.

  4. Luis says:

    Hi. I have a question, if one releases an update of an already existent app, does it go to the new apps list? thanks.

  5. Joe says:

    Good info! Here’s another question for you: I’m planning to release my app to one country first and then to others after that. Do you know if the release date for the second country will be the first day it’s available for that country, or will it show the release date for the first country?

  6. Alexander says:

    Hello!

    Could you please advise how long usually Apple approves an app? What date do I better pick if I send an app first time today? I dont want my app to be released right after approval but few days later, when I’m prepared with marketing things.

    Thank you!

    • Philipp says:

      Approval usually takes about a week. What we do when we submit an app is, we set a release date two or three months in the future. Once the app is approved, we set it back to a few days after approval.

  7. Laurens says:

    Very useful article.
    One question: At what time exactly on the release date, the app is released?
    Thank you.

    • Philipp says:

      You mean at what hour? Frankly, I don’t know. I would expect that each App Store would roll out new apps around midnight local time on their release date, but I’ve never checked that assumption.

  8. Janne Hansen says:

    Thanks a lot! Just planning on how should I publish my BOUNCE dy… By sheer luck it would have gone as you suggested in the blog ;-)

  9. Gordon says:

    Excellent post – very helpful information. Thank you!

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