The Mobile Developers Guide to Apple's App Store
Engineering Posted 3 weeks ago

The Mobile Developers Guide to Apple's App Store


As a mobile developer, having a firm grasp on Apple's App Store is essential if you want to tap into one of the most profitable channels for reaching ready-to-buy customers. It's true, in 2018 iOS apps made around $46.6 billion in revenue, while Google Play only brought in $24.8 Billion. This is even more impressive when you consider how much smaller of a market iOS is in terms of users. 

Mastering the App Store can ensure your mobile app realizes its potential and brings significant growth in terms of both user acquisition and revenue. In this guide, we will go over ways to maximize success with your apps launch on Apple's platform. From planning your app, launching on the iOS store, and tracking performance, we will cover the journey of making your dream app a reality. We are going to try and be as comprehensive as possible so you can get listed on the Top Charts in no-time. 


Planning your App


How you are going to plan your app is dependent on what it is you are making. Whether you are designing an app that is complementary to your business, a standalone app that is your business, or a mobile game, planning is one of the most important steps to take before building your app. 

A plan should always start with a complete outline of your idea on paper. Try to map out exactly what your app will entail, noting which features are the most important to prioritize. It’s helpful to think in terms of a Market-Viable-Product (MVP) for your first app, carefully deciding what aspects of your app are the most important and should be prioritized for your launch. There are plenty of tools for planning your app on paper such as Mind Maps (Free example: https://www.mindmup.com/) and the Lean Canvas model (Free example: https://www.mindmup.com/). 

After forming an overarching plan, It's vital to ask yourself some different questions to prepare yourself to build and launch your app. Let's go ahead and cover a few of these in detail. 


Who am I building this for?

Having a clear understanding of customers is key for any business to succeed, a mobile app is no different. Conducting market research on your potential users can help guide your decisions when planning your app. You can conduct market research in a variety of ways, including but not limited to: 

  • Using surveys to understand your customers better by using tools like TypeForm or SurveyMonkey.
  • If you have the resources, you can run a few focus-groups to understand your customers needs better.
  • You can utilize some of the countless tools to do research on various customer demographics, Hubspot put together a great list of some.

Key demographics like this can help guide you on what markets to focus on

By taking the time to understand your customers better, you can have a much higher chance of creating an app that people actually want. There's no worse mistake in mobile development than pouring time and money into a project, and finding there is no real market demand for it. Understanding this is fundamental to building an app that retains active users and is profitable. 


Who is my competition? 

Understanding your competition is equally as important as understanding your users. There is seemingly an app for everything, so whatever you are building, there is likely some form of competition. 

Take the time to go through the App Store yourself, and seek what currently exists that does the same thing you want to do. Go as far as to install and test your competition's apps, it can help you understand where they are exceeding and falling behind. Building your app to directly compete with your competitor's features and user experience is the best way to have a chance at staying competitive. 

It's important to also understand your competitions overarching business model. Doing this can help you plan how you are going to monetize your app, it can be useful to emulate what is working for those at the top of Apple's charts. 

It's easier said than done, but what you are trying to do in building your app around your competition is to take what's working for your competitors, and do it better. While you are planning your app, it can be useful to list out your competition's most beloved features and strategizing ways to do them better. 

If you do research on your competition and find that your app is truly original, it's worth getting started on your idea sooner rather than later. 


What will my business model look like? 

Now that you have some idea of what you want your app to look like, it’s time to consider what business model makes sense for you. There are several ways you can make money with an app on the App Store. What works for your app all depends on what you are building.

Here’s a few examples: 

Freemium 

This is an increasingly popular model for mobile apps, and it’s very effective at converting users into paying customers. Using the freemium model, developers allow users to download their app for free, and usually provide some form of full-functionality without paying.

Monetization and the “premium” of freemium come in the form of in-app purchases. Digital content and services can be sold within apps, and it’s remarkably easy for users to spend money within an app. Freemium is frequently encountered in mobile games, but it is quickly becoming the most common business model across most apps. For example, a lot of apps will keep most of their most desired content behind some form of payment. This allows them to use their app as a demo of sorts.

It is required in your App Store listing to be transparent about your in-app purchases, so use this space to give users an idea as to what kind of monetization to expect from your app. Here's an example of this on an app's listing: Apple makes it very easy to implement in-app purchases, and does everything required to facilitate payments to you. This comes at a price though, they take a fairly hefty 30% commission on all in-app purchases made on digital content. This may sound like a lot, but this business model is so lucrative that it is often worth the fee. 


Subscription

Oftentimes your app might involve some sort of recurring transaction, perhaps on a monthly or yearly basis. This can be very profitable if your app becomes a big part of its users lives. It’s safe to say, if your users love using your app, they will be long-time paying customers in no-time. 

The App Store platform makes it easy for users to subscribe to your app to continue paying for their services, as auto-renewal is automatically enabled when users subscribe to your apps services. You can even easily implement differential pricing depending on the payment terms of a users subscription. 

A subscription business model is still privy to Apple’s commission structure, but they have policies in place that reward developers for retaining long-term customers. First-year subscriptions give Apple a 30% cut, but after a user has subscribed for over a year, this commission fee goes down to 15%. It’s nice to see Apple rewarding developers for good retention, its an example of one of their platforms policies that can be considered developer friendly. More can be read about their policies on subscriptions here. 


Paid 

Despite it seeming like all apps are moving to some form of a free business model, there are still some apps that run on a paid model. This is quite simple, it involves a user paying an upfront fee to install an app, sort of like purchasing any sort of product. Buying a paid app grants users to continual access to the app, and support through updates. 

Some developers have started selling apps on a paid model, and implementing in-app purchases within these paid-apps. This can be viewed as a form of ‘double-dipping’, but it’s certainly profitable to utilize this mix of freemium and a paid model to maximize revenue from your app. 


Listing your App

When you've finished building your planned app, it's time to launch on the App Store. Don't get too excited and rush through the listing process though, you want to make sure to do it right. It's important to ensure top-notch quality in this stage, as it can increase the chance that users will find your app. This is coupled with the fact that Apple has a fairly strict review process for which apps they allow on the App Store, you can see a list here of common reasons they reject app listings. The overall quality and professionalism of your listing will likely reflect your success, so be sure to focus on some of these aspects in your store listing:


Description

The quality in your written description should be of the highest possible quality. If you don't have an in-house writer, or feel confident in your writing abilities, consider hiring somebody to write yours. This is the space where you must be creative and strategic with how you describe your app. Consider utilizing bullet lists to detail your features, and keep textual content short and concise. Doing this will take into account consumers increasingly low attention span, and respect their time.

It's important to fully describe your app here, making sure to include as many important details as possible. Outline the exact features that your users can expect from your app, and describe why they should use it. This is your chance to sell your potential customers on what to expect from your app, so make a concentrated effort to be clear about what they get from your app. This can be a perfect section to describe the differences between different versions of your app, perhaps a paid or a freemium version. You will gain your users respect if your store listing is clear, and they can understand your app before they download it. 


Pictures and Preview 

People are visual creatures, so it's important to put an appropriate amount of energy into this part of your apps listing. Visual content will shape the first impression of most of your potential users, so make sure to keep it high-quality. Remember, a lot of users won't even scroll past the screenshots before making a decision regarding installing your app. Consider this when choosing visual content to represent your app, you want

For your more visual users, screenshots and videos can make a huge difference in getting installs. If you show examples of what using your app looks like, users can get a good idea if it is what they are looking for before they install. It is important to get screenshots from your most important product features for your app and try to display what it looks like in-use. It is suitable to put captions and graphics over your images, just make sure that they are clear and describe exactly what your app is like in-action. Putting a video displaying your key features can be effective too, and can go a long-way for gaining the interest of your potential customers. 


Categories

A lot of users browse the App Store’s various categories when searching for the perfect app. Ensuring your app is listed in the appropriate category is key to capturing these users in their search process, and turning them into installs. You are required to assign a primary category to your app, with the option for a secondary category as well. For more niche, harder to categorize apps, secondary categories can be quite useful.

Does your app deal with transactions or monetary payments? The Finance category is the place for you. Are you designing a food delivery app? Food and Beverage has you covered as a relevant category. They may be fairly broad, but the App Store’s categories give you a chance to be specific about what your app is about. Apple gives you increased visibility in your respective categories for popularity, so dominating your category is important if you want to drive growth for your app.

Take a look at the kind of premium visibility a highly popular app like Shopify gets:

Make sure to list your app in a category that describes it well, it factors into Apple's approval process, and can help you capture new users. A lot of App Store users use the various categories to find new apps to install, making sure your app is in the right place can ensure you find the right users who can become long-time customers. Apple has a large list of various categories, they cover them in more detail here. It's worth taking a close look and deciding on your apps ideal category before launching.


Post-Launch


Reviews and Feedback

Consumers these days live and die by product-reviews, and it’s no different for apps. Getting positive reviews is essential to succeed in the App Store. There are a few ways to ensuring your app gets and maintains a high overall rating. 

Kindly asking your users for reviews within your app can be an excellent way to get more reviews. Doing it in a way that’s tasteful and not intrusive to their in-app experience is advised if you wish to get positive reviews from this.

Apple makes it easy through their App Store developer tools to respond to reviews. This is a great way to give your company some presence in the review sections and reply to questions and concerns in reviews. Maintaining positive and professional composure is crucial here, as your responses are essentially the face of the company. 

Overall there’s no hidden secret to getting high reviews in the App Store, it all comes down to creating an app that users enjoy using. Ensuring your user-experience is top-notch, and that your app is maintained are two ways you can do this confidently. It is possible to erase your apps reviews after each update, but be aware that this removes all reviews in the process; both positive and negative.


Updates

One of the best ways to ensure your users have the best possible experience with your app is to keep it updated frequently. Nobody likes an unstable app that is plagued with issues like crashes, or slowdowns, so it's important to stay on top of updates to prevent poor user-experience.

Keeping tabs on your user-feedback is vital to know what needs to be added, and fixed within your app. Providing a place in-app for users to leave feedback is a good way to stay on top of this without relying solely on App Store reviews. Make your users feedback or suggestions feel valued, consider providing some sort of in-app reward to show your gratitude.

Frequent internal testing will be another great way to know what to prioritize in updates. Make sure to take advantage of testing software such as TestComplete or Appium to make testing a bit easier. Use them to visualize and understand key performance metrics in your app, this can help guide your update roadmap. 

Depending on your apps business model, frequent updates can often increase your active-users and retention. This is especially true for mobile games, where seasonal content and constant updates can keep users coming back for extended periods of time. 




Want to hit the top charts? Get started today.

Now that you know some of the key things to consider when building your app for Apple’s App Store, you can start to make your dream app a reality. It’s a competitive market, but there is still a ton of room for apps to be very successful on this mobile marketplace. If you’d like to learn more about planning, launching, and tracking your iOS app, read Apple’s comprehensive guide catered towards developers. If you need any support building or maintaining your mobile app, let’s have a conversation today.

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