How to get featured on the App Store
I think it’s pretty much every app developers dream to be featured in the App Store, and with the right planning (and a great app) this goal is very much within reach.
I’ve been lucky enough to have every one of the Mac and iOS apps I’ve worked on featured in either the Mac App Store or on the iOS App Store. These include Clear, Analog Camera, Hatch, Ember, Typed, and RapidWeaver. In this guide, I’ll cover ten of the things that I believe have helped me get these apps featured by Apple.
Before we dive in, let’s get the bad news out of the way first: If you’re building an app to try and make a quick buck the chances of being featured are pretty much non-existent. The good news is, that if you’re passionate about building great apps and shipping something you’re truly proud of then the chances of being featured are much, much greater.
Customers often assume that the featured apps on the App Store are paid ad placements, that you can somehow buy your way in, but that’s simply not the case. You only need to look at it from Apple’s perspective to realize this is not true. Apple wants to feature the apps that show off their platform best, apps that benefit them and their customers.
Here’s the way Apple sees things, this is their order of priority when making decisions and as far as I know they never deviate from this: Apple 1st, Customers 2nd, and Developers 3rd.
If you’ve been following Apple and building apps for a while, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to you, and if you’re new to it all, you better get used to it. Apple puts themselves and their customers first, always.
If you build an app that looks great, is useful or fun for then Apple will want to feature it. It’s that simple. I’ve had developers tell me that their apps tick these boxes, yet they have never been featured in the App Store. Why is this? It’s usually because Apple has never heard of the app, it got released on the App Store and no one on the App Store team knew about it.
Thousands of Apps get submitted to the App Store every week so there’s no way the App Store team can keep tabs on everything being submitted. This is why you need to let them know your plans, give them a heads-up on when you’re going to launch. Easy said than done, right? I’m guessing you don’t have a contact at Apple, and that’s one of the reasons why you’re reading this guide…
Let’s take a look at what you need to do to get featured, including how to get in contact with Apple.
The 10 Steps
You don’t need to do all of the following ten steps, but the more you complete or can check off the more chance you have of getting your app featured. Apart from having a great app, step eight is probably one of the most important things you can do.
The following advice works for both the Mac App Store and the iOS App Store, I’m sure it’d even work for Android if that’s your thing (although I have no real experience on Android, so your mileage may vary). Anyway, lets finally get started!
1. Target the Latest and Greatest
Going to WWDC (or just watching the session videos) is a great way to find out what new APIs are in the next OS release and what Apple’s focus over the next year is going to be. WWDC sessions always give you invaluable insight into what you should be supporting in your next app, they also contain plenty of subtle hints to where Apple’s future hardware is heading.
One example of an API that you should be looking to adopt is iCloud/CloudKit. This is still a major strategy for Apple and I believe iCloud is going to be key to the company’s long-term success. If there’s a place for CloudKit in your app and you’re not using it, now is the time to adopt it. AR is also another growth area right now, but this one’s possibly a little tricky to fit into a productivity app for example.
Remember it’s in Apple’s interest to also highlight apps that show off the latest OS and hardware releases as that drives adoption of those technologies and devices – it all comes back to doing what benefits Apple and their customers.
HealthKit and HomeKit are also going to be increasingly important going forward. Arguably they are harder to integrate due to their limited scope, but really you just need to look at adopting the newer technologies and APIs that Apple introduce every year if you want to get noticed.
2. Make it Universal
Providing it makes sense (and it doesn’t always) your app should be available for macOS, iOS, AppleTV, and Apple Watch. Don’t make separate binaries for iPhone and iPad, make it Universal. By doing this you have a much better chance of being featured.
It’s obvious Apple wants developers to embrace building universal apps as it’s by far the best experience for customers. They can download it on any iOS device they want and it magically appears on all their other devices. Much nicer than having to buy separate iPhone and iPad apps.
Imagine this scenario: Apple is looking at putting together a feature on the latest productivity apps, they have literally thousands to pick from. Are they going to pick the one that’s available on Android and iPhone – or are they going to pick one that’s a universal iOS app, uses CloudKit and is available on the AppleWatch too? If I were Apple I know which one I’d pick.
3. Be Exclusive
Being exclusive to the Apple ecosystem makes perfect sense. Apple is looking for great apps that are exclusive to their platform, apps that are not available anywhere else. Every app that is exclusive to iOS is just one more reason for customers to buy an Apple device instead of something else. Even if you’re building an Android version of your app, you should launch on iOS first. If Apple is considering featuring your app, they’ll ask “Is it exclusive to the Apple platform?” At this point, you’ll want to be able to answer “Yes”.
They will also ask you how long the exclusivity period will be, ideally, Apple want to hear “forever”. But, it’s always best to be honest and if you are planning an Android version let them know.
You should consider localising your app at launch. Not only will it help you sell more copies, but you’ll be able to say “Yes!” to Apple when they ask “is your app localised?”. The next question Apple will ask is “What languages is your app localised in?”
If you want your app to be featured worldwide on the App Store you need to support the following 13: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Brazilian, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, Arabic.
I know this is a lot of to cover but if you can’t (due to budget) or simply don’t want to tackle them all at launch, then at least start with a subset of the popular languages: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese.
Supporting more languages will help get you featured in more countries, and supporting all 13 gives you the best possible chance of being featured worldwide. You can choose to skip localization at launch, but you should be aware that you’ll only be featured in a sub-set of countries.
5. Invest in Design
Competition in the App Store is absolutely insane, you’re now competing with huge companies that have endless resources and world-class teams at their disposal. Chances are you’re going to need to step up your game. It’s increasingly rare for one-man development shops to get featured in the App Store these days, but not impossible. If there’s one thing I’d advise it would be to reach out and hire the most talented UI/UX designer you can afford.
If you don’t have the funds to hire someone full-time, then Dribbble is a great place to find new and upcoming designers who might be happy to work with you on the next big thing for a cut of the potential revenue.
6. Get Media Coverage
Getting great media coverage is pretty hard to do but it really is key for a successful launch, but then you probably know that already (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this). This is why announcing and building hype before you ship your app is so important. Don’t leave the marketing until after your app is in the store, and to be clear, putting your app in the App Store is not marketing.
While getting covered on all the big tech sites is not essential, it definitely helps. If someone at Apple sees an app featured heavily in the media, they’ll sit up and take notice and probably pass it on to others within the company.
It’s like everything in life, you need to work hard to try and tip the balance in your favour. Everything you do to get noticed helps move you one step closer to getting your app featured.
7. Plan for Big Events
Apple tends to feature apps around certain events, Halloween, Christmas, Thanks Giving, and New Year for example. If you think your app is perfect for a certain time of year then it makes sense to plan your marketing push and launch around that time frame. You definitely want to make sure someone on the App Store marketing team knows about your app — Do all you can to get in contact with them…
8. Talk to Apple
Getting in contact with anyone at Apple for the first time is hard, their approach is in line with the “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” school of thought. You can understand why I’m sure if they made the details of the App Store editorial team freely available they’d be inundated with 1000’s of requests every single day.
From personal experience and chatting with other developers Apple usually contacts you if they notice you getting lots of coverage in the media or have suddenly appeared high-up in the charts.
However, there are other ways you can be more proactive and not leave things to chance. Going to WWDC and networking will provide plenty of opportunities to meet folks from Apple. You could also try reaching out to other developers that have been featured and ask for an introduction. I know I’ve helped fellow developers many times with this when an app has really impressed me.
Before trying to contact Apple or asking for a favour, be honest with yourself. Is your app good enough to be featured?
Be respectful in all communications and don’t be offended if Apple doesn’t respond to your email. If they like the look of your app or need something from you they’ll get in touch, otherwise, you probably won’t hear back.
Developer Relations and the App Store Marketing teams inside Apple want to hear about the apps that take advantage of the latest hardware and software technologies. If you honestly believe your app is good enough you should get in touch with them.
I’m not going to give away the contact details for the App Store Marketing Team here, but you can find some good general contacts at the end of every relevant WWDC session.
I will, however, give you two generic email addresses to get you started. Try email@example.com and/or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some quick guidelines for when you do email Apple:
- Apple gets a lot of emails. Keep it short.
- To stand out, including a great story about your app.
- Attach a video or a couple of screenshots showing off your app.
- Be sure to highlight any Apple-specific features or API’s that you used.
9. Be Consistent
Be consistently good. Apple will often feature the same developers time and time again. It can sometimes look like favouritism from the outside but it’s not. The reason I believe Apple does this is because they are always looking for good quality apps to feature. If you or your company consistently produces good apps and keep them updated then you’ll make it onto Apple’s radar.
It’s much easier for Apple to feature an app from a company they know and trust. For them, it’s about putting the best apps in front of their customers, not doing developers a favour. Notice how this all ties back to the priority list: Apple 1st, Customers 2nd, Developers 3rd.
10. Build a Great App
And finally, this should go without saying, but I wanted to be 100% clear on this. Make sure you build a great app, this should always be your top priority and main goal. Build something novel, something that will delight users. If you really care about building apps, then you’ll put in the time, care, and attention a great app needs. True passion will always shine through and people (including Apple) will see this when looking at your app.
Apple won’t confirm or deny you’re being featured. The only way you know you’re in with a chance is if they request Promotional Artwork or ask you to release your app on a certain date. These are both good indications.
If your app gets picked you’ll get an automated email and a notification inside iTunes Connect requesting you upload your artwork for approval. This is only for banner features, it’s not applicable for the smaller section where Apple just uses the icons, for example in “New Games We Love”, or “Hot This Week”.
Even if Apple does request Artwork, there’s still no guarantee you’ll be featured. You also won’t know what territories you’ll be featured in. It could just be local to your country.
For the best chance of getting worldwide coverage, you’ll want your app and marketing content to be localized.
I’ve never seen or heard of Apple emailing anyone to tell them they are not being featured. This is typical Apple, they never promise anything or confirm their plans. It’s one of the reasons why launching a new app or game on the App Store can be so nerve-racking.
Bonus Tip: Apple’s Promote Webpage
Apple has published a new promote webpage where you can submit your app for consideration to be featured. Apple wants to hear from developers with unique, highly polished apps. They are also looking for developers with a good background story.
If you are launching a new app or game, releasing a significant update, or have a great story idea for Today, we want to hear about it. To be considered for featuring on the App Store, please let us know 6-8 weeks in advance.
Unless you know someone at Apple this will be your best chance of getting featured.