in Start

Getting Featured in the Apple App Store

best-new-app-pressgram

It’s been an interesting week for me to say the least and I have not yet quite figured out how to process most of it but a large portion has been related to my iOS app Pressgram and the fact that it has been featured by Apple as one of the App Store as one of the “Best New Apps” – an incredible honor on one hand and super-humbling on another.

It’s hard to express in words the emotion easily as many consider this position to be somewhat the “Holy Grail” of the iOS world and even for myself I feel the tension between wanting to buy into the hype of it all and knowing that I’m allowing some mysterious program and perhaps “luck” dictate how I feel about being an iOS engineer.

Without question I feel, on many levels, an overwhelming sense of pride and a sense of engineering validation - that all the work and investment and sweat (and tears) was worth it and that the little gods at Apple have recognized the work and rewarded it justly. This is especially sweet since I haven’t been an Obj-C developer for that long.

So cool to see it via iTunes too.

So cool to see it via iTunes too.

But the honest truth is that no one really knows how getting “Featured” really works and if there’s really any formula to it – I know that at least for myself I was unable to employ any of the so-called strategies and tactics that many have written about such as knowing someone on the inside or getting chummy-chummy with someone at WWDC or having a celebrity endorse it and whatnot. I, like many of you, just hoped and prayed for the long-shot that it would get picked up (however that might happen).

Consequently, it’s plain and obvious that this isn’t a post on how one goes about getting featured as I simply do not really know how that happens in the first place (nor does anyone really know the formula or magic/sorcery required).

But, this is what makes it all the more satisfying for me because it allows me to believe, whether I am correct or not, that Pressgram was picked to be featured on its own merit; that the uniqueness of the app, the construction of the product, and the community surrounding it was enough to catch someone’s attention. That’s a story I can get around and the story that I’m sticking with.

In sum total I’ve been pleased with the results and it’s more than quadrupled the average # of downloads per day – I’m obviously happy about that net outcome and I hope it can sustain and even build as it exits the featured listing. This is one of the best (if not the best) form of marketing that one can’t buy for an iOS app and I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind turning down the opportunity.

For those interested, I’ve outlined the entire process that I experienced from the moment I discovered the possibility of being featured and my process from there until seeing it in the store.

1. An Accidental Spam Email

This is probably the most astounding part of my story as I was quite literally an accident that I found the initial request from Apple.

I was doing some work in the common area kitchen @ The Atlanta Technology Village where my offices are for The Iron Yard and a friend of mine walked up to grab some coffee. In a rare move I acknowledged his existence (I had my earphones on and was very much attempting to knock out a serious number of emails) and said your typical Goodmorning to him as he was pouring the liquid black gold.

We began chatting about our schedules and he mentioned that he had wanted to ask me to lunch sometime in the near future to which I readily said Yes since he’s a great guy and I wanted to know more about his story.

He sent me a calendar invite and it didn’t immediately show up in my inbox and so we chatted some more and I checked again a few minutes later – nothing. I told him it must have landed in my spam folder and I jumped in there to take a look.

I quickly scanned for it and I didn’t see it but I saw a note from “App Store” and immediately clicked through. Now, if you’re anything like me then you almost never visit your spam folder for any reason but on this rare occasion I was digging into it and there she was – a direct invitation from Apple to Promotional Artwork so that Pressgram could be featured in the store.

The blood immediately drained from my face and my friend quickly noticed the change in my complexion. He asked if everything was okay and I just told him that I was having “a moment” and that I needed a second to calibrate my thoughts.

After a second I collected my thoughts and told him that I had just received a notice that I could have my small app featured in the App Store and his eyes lit up – he knew that whatever we had just been talking about was no longer top-of-mind and with that he let me jump to it (we’re still having lunch though!).

promotional-artwork

After reading the email a few times and putting it back into my inbox out of the spam box I gathered my thoughts and dug in.

2. Deadlines and Additional Art Collateral

Apparently the request for more collateral art has a strict deadline and you can either get the material to them in that timeframe or you let the opportunity pass you by. I somewhat panicked because I was already a few days behind and I needed original artwork that I had never had created.

What is somewhat crazy is that even if I never saw the email there still is a notification in your iTunes Connect account and it looks like this:

itunes-connect-promo-art-request

I just hadn’t noticed it even though I had logged in a dozen times in the previous few days! Sheesh. I couldn’t believe it.

It’s worth noting here that if I have learned anything here it’s that I should make sure to notice any updates at the top of my iTunes Connect dashboard!

You have about a week to get material together before they close the window and there isn’t even a guarantee that you’ll get picked or chosen to be featured either so there’s definitely some risk-reward type of decision-making that needs to occur.

I can’t imagine most people opting-out of the opportunity though and I definitely wasn’t going to miss this chance so I quickly began reading the material that they provided as guidelines and started the wheels spinning.

And those guidelines weren’t anything to laugh about - Oh shit… I said to myself more than a few times as I read over them. You have to upload PSD formatted files with these top-level rules:

Only submit artwork you can legally share. Background artwork must be 3200 pixels in width and 600 pixels in height with a minimum resolution of 72 dpi, in the RGB color space, and in the PSD format. Title treatment artwork must be 2004 pixels in width and 586 pixels in height, with a minimum resolution of 72 dpi, in the RGB color space, and in the PSD format.

You can see it plainly here (with the upload areas as well):

submit-promotional-art

You can add any notes as well to the App Store team to help clarify or create remarks about what you’ve uploaded to guide them. Apparently they will use your PSD and have the option of moving around some of the artifacts within the PSD file to suit their own design preference. As a result you may end up seeing a slightly tweaked design in the store.

3. Full App Store Guidelines

Naturally, I wanted to read up on the full App Store Guidelines for the Promotional Art and it was kind of a doozy:

Click for larger view.

Click for larger view.

Here you can clearly see the extensive guidelines that they’ve created for you for the variety of sizes required for the store and devices that might display the featured artwork. What’s nice is that they provided a template PSD file for each!

background-image-template-promotional-artwork-apple-app-store

You can download and take a look at them here:

Now, I don’t have any suggestion as to whether or not you or any app company should go ahead and build out these design templates in advance so that you’re well-prepared when you get the call from Apple about a potential featuring but I know that I was not expecting that “call” and didn’t have these template designs ready.

Consequently, I had to produce them from scratch and I’m not a designer so I had to find some a contract designer and hire them to help me put something together quickly.

4. Design Phase

I tweeted out my need as well as contacted some designers in my network to see if they had some time that very day to compose a design based on Apple’s requirements.

I quickly found someone to help me out and we worked through design iterations pretty quickly. I also did a quick search for examples of great promotional artwork done by other app companies as well as looking at the App Store itself but I didn’t feel that I could find any patterns of what worked and what didn’t from what was currently featured.

example

The honest truth is that they were all over the map in terms of design and aesthetics as well as presentation and the amount of given text. Hmm. I guess we were on our own.

Here’s where we ultimately landed:

pressgram-promotional-art-design-9

But this was after a handful of attempts and quick experiments:

As I mentioned (and as Apple mentions explicitly) the Final art is subject to change and I am, of course, curious as to how they’d slice it up and down if it worked itself onto a carousel of sorts. Naturally, they have the freedom to do that and have the template file to execute against.

5. Waiting… Oh So Patiently Waiting…

After getting the designs ready, submitting them, and double-checking all of the requirements it was time to wait… and wait… and wait.

This was, of course, the hardest part of the process (after recovering from my initial freakout) and I must have checked the App Store 1,000 times the moment after I finalized my submission.

And then, against all odds, I saw it and the sky opened up and a dove descended from heaven and… and… and… and… and… … … the rest they say is history.

6. Lessons Learned…?

The honest truth is that I’m not sure that I have any besides the trite obvious but I think it’s worth repeating – build stuff that creates values for your users and let the app speak for itself. I do have some Product 101 Guidelines that I use to help guide my thought process if you’re curious of course.

Outside of those things I think you should just continue to be awesome and with a little (i.e. a shit ton) of luck you may find your indy app featured and get to experience it for yourself.

If you’ve gone through this yourself or have any additional thoughts or experiences I’d love to hear them in the comments so that others can learn from you!