This week Apple revealed the new App Store at WWDC17, a first look at what Phill Schiller has been working on since the end of 2015… It all seems very promising, hopefully this will solve many of the issues developers face when trying to make their apps more discoverable.
Apple: “Beautifully redesigned for iOS11… Compelling stories, in-depth interviews, helpful tips and collections of must-have apps and games will showcase Apple’s unique perspective and aim to inform, help and inspire customers every day."
Great! …Especially for popular brands and studios that are already heavily featured, they will benefit even more from full-page curated content, which will attract even more users to their already successful apps. That said, we hope this will benefit less well-known apps and indie developers too. Separating games and apps into there own sections, top charts etc, should also help greatly.
As a small, independent, self-funded team of three, we got particularly excited at: "Search by name, category, developer or topic, and you’ll receive relevant results for specific apps and games, as well as editorial stories, collections and in-app purchases." It seems, Apple has been listening to the dev community over the years, and these improvements promise to improve their search algorithm which, currently, really sucks.
However, Apple has been quite vague about how they're planning on improving search results, but we have great hopes they are in the right direction. While submitting an update to our apps yesterday, we noticed 3 small additions in the iTunes Connect properties:
1. App subtitles
2. Promotional text
3. Include attachments to your notes for the review team
Also new, Apple has given a way for developers to offer their apps for consideration for promotion!
We will be definitely be taking advantage of these new features, as much as possible, in order to give our apps the best chance of not getting lost in the App Store.
We launched our first 2 indie apps, Money In and Money Out last September, at the same time iOS10 was released. We delayed release to implement many of the new iOS10 features, trying to get featured with “New apps for iOS10”… However, we knew we were coming from nowhere, as these were our first apps. Having previously worked for big commercial studios, whose clients are big brands, nearly all of which had been featured in the App Store, we knew the importance of being featured.
With no marketing budget and zero contacts in the media (it's really hard to do networking when you are working solo and need to pay the bills), we hoped that at least some of the 500 million unique customers that visit the App Store every week, would find out about apps, by being featured, opposed to having to rely on organic search.
We strictly followed Apple's guidelines for designing, building and marketing iOS apps, implemented many of the new features of iOS 10 (Widgets, 3D touch, Spotlight), we prioritised accessibility (VoiceOver, DynamicType), we even got iCloud sync working reliably! We then set to work on the App Store, making app preview videos, pretty screenshots and descriptions. We even made them available for a lower price in a Bundle. We naively assumed we had a good chance.
After submitting… disappointingly we weren’t featured, in fact we were bearly even searchable, pretty much invisible.
While working for large studios and brands our managers had much guidance and assistance from App Store reps. So we got in touch with various people in the App Store editorial team and made a passionate case for why we should be featured, and asked for feedback and guidance… We admit we were naive, and we get it: Apple, no doubt, has to answer thousands of requests a day, we couldn't expect special treatment. But sometimes magic happens, and apps from indie devs do get featured. Of the few responses we got back, no help or guidance was offered.
💩… we had to rely solely on organic search, hoping our target audience would find us when searching for relevant, specific keywords. Even now, search results prioritise the more popular / higher earning apps, mixed with irrelevant apps and games - many of which should have been removed during the purge (did this even happen?).
This is what happens if you search for the name of our app, “Money In”, on the (UK) App Store. We ranked 38th, after apps like Dollar Candy, Texas Hold’em Poker, Bruce Betting, Slots in Wonderland, When the saints go laughing, Bingo Dash Crack, and Supermarket Cashier (all these apps are games, as you can guess).
We truly hope the search algorithm will get significantly better in the new App Store… It really needs to, so it can be more relevant to users, and also, give indie devs like us, the chance to get discovered and make a sustainable living from making iOS Apps. But this is only one part of the puzzle. After nearly 2 years of development, our revenue doesn't even cover the cost of the promo website’s domains, hosting... let alone pay a wage to make a living from making apps for the App Store.
The App Store needs diversity; PayPal is featured 3 times at the same time (two in Finance category and one in Business), this doesn't help users, indie devs, or even Apple(Pay). Apple need to start working closer with indie devs, encouraging the creation of more innovative, accessible, engaging apps, helping them to have a chance in the App Store. This would increase the chances of modest developers being able to earn a sustainable revenue from building apps for their platforms…
If not, it will result in more shady developers making more apps with user-hostile methods of monetisation: intrusive advertising, selling user data… and the good Indie devs will leave, instead creating products for the Web or even Android!