For iOS developers and app founders, getting through the final development push, publishing to the App Store and watching your app spread its wings is an exciting time. Unfortunately, many startups aren’t prepared for what comes next. To find success, you need to find a way for your app to stand out on the crowded App Store.
Getting an official Apple feature is one of the most effective and prestigious ways to separate your app from the rest.
“I’ve enjoyed over 100 Apple features in my career and every time there is an immediate impact on downloads.”
In this guide, I’ll show you how you too can achieve this coveted milestone and join the ‘Featured by Apple’ club.
Easy Weddings app featured in ‘Life Hack’ list on App Store home page
Why do iOS developers need an Apple feature?
Apple is one of the largest companies in the world, with a market capitalisation of $1.53 trillion. It’s also the second-largest mobile device vendor with a 15% market share. That equates to about 728 million iPhone users worldwide.
With Apple’s tight publishing controls, getting your app on the App Store is essentially the only way to distribute it to this massive audience. However, merely getting on the App Store isn’t enough to find an audience. With over 2 million apps available on the App Store, hoping customers will just stumble across your app is very short-sighted.
Luckily, Apple frequently features apps they think are most worthy of their platform and users. For an iOS developer, landing an Apple feature is like lighting a prime billboard on the busiest highway in the biggest city.
Apple has massive authority, particularly among its die-hard user base. A feature on the App Store home page, ‘Editors’ choice’ section or one of their curated lists, is a major vote of confidence.
Apps or games that get featured can expect an increase in their traffic, impressions, and downloads. According to a report by App Annie, downloads could go up by as much as 140%. These downloads will also be by a more targeted and relevant audience, leading to potential extra in-app monetisation opportunities.
9 ways to get your app featured by Apple
Now that you know why getting your app featured is an advantage, let’s get started on what you can do to reach that goal.
- Design a sleek user interface and a smooth user experience
- Use native Apple APIs to build your app
- Update your app regularly
- Localise your app for as many regions as possible
- Prioritise error-free development
- Promote Apple via your app
- Market your app on and off the App Store
- Do your best to maintain high ratings
- Pitch your app to official App Store editors
1. Design a slick user interface and intuitive user experience
Apple takes good design seriously and prides itself on its iconic minimalist style and intuitive user experiences. Apple has continuously been at the forefront of UX design and jealously defends its ‘it just works’ motto. It’s no wonder they’ve been a favourite choice among designers and professionals for decades.
As a brand, Apple is most likely to promote apps that not only meet its standards but also align with its ideals. Studying Apple’s own unique style can help in this regard. In summary, it means you should design an app that’s at the same time:
- Aesthetically pleasing, and
- That WORKS!
Users should be able to use the core function of your app with minimal effort. Likewise, first-time users should be able to pick it up quickly without steep learning curves.
Today’s App of the Day on the App Store: Auxy
2. Code natively and use Apple’s native API
Cross-platform development tools like Xamarin have made building apps for all mobile devices easier than ever. However, building apps using Apple’s native language and APIs still has platform-specific advantages.
Native iOS apps are built using the iOS-specific programming language Swift (most commonly using the XCode IDE). It’s not surprising then that Apple favours apps developed in Swift when choosing apps to feature. This isn’t a hard and fast rule but is something for iOS developers to keep in mind.
If developing cross-platform apps is a requirement for you, tools like React Native might be a good alternative. React Native allows you to develop all your business logic using a single framework and then build native front end apps for Apple and Android from the one code base.
Also, try to take advantage of as many new native Apple features as you can. Apple love to show off their latest OS updates and if your app helps them do that, it’ll reflect well on you.
Widgets native feature for iOS developers in iOS 14
3. Update your app regularly
This tip is vital for both new and existing apps. Apple takes your reputation as an app publisher into account when deciding whether or not to feature your apps. So, keeping your apps up to date and your users happy, is critical. Nowadays, popular apps publish major updates as often as two to three times a month. This is to adapt to technological and security-related concerns as well as to fix bugs.
Updates are also used to deliver new features and address other user concerns or requests. Delivering updates regularly shows Apple that you take consistency, customer support, and quality seriously. And, it makes them more likely to believe you’ll continue to provide customers with a great experience.
Snackr app version history (updates)
4. Localise your app for multiple regions
Apple is a global player with almost a billion users worldwide. As such, there isn’t much of an incentive on their part to feature apps that are only available in a few locations.
However, the responsibility of ensuring your app is localised for all available regions is a big one. This doesn’t just mean the content inside of your app, but also on its App Store page. Localisation optimisations also include catering for variations in dialect, such as U.S. and U.K. English.
Localisation can be tedious and time-consuming for iOS developers, but the increased exposure that comes with it can pay off tenfold. In most cases it won’t be viable to localise your app for all countries and dialects but the more you can do, the better in the eyes of Apple.
5. Prioritise error-free development
Users hate bugs and Apple hates bugs. Nothing is more damning for the usability of an app than a flaw that prevents it from providing its full potential. That said, bugs are an inevitable part of iOS development, as they are in all software development. But, making testing and debugging a priority will improve your chances of being featured by Apple.
Sometimes deadlines or budget constraints can make proper user and regression testing difficult. However, prioritising quality over the introduction of more features is always advisable. It’s better to release a high quality app with less features than a bloated app full of bugs. Quality over quantity.
Development methodologies like Agile can make error-reduction easier by developing, testing, and releasing code in incremental steps.
Another aspect of error-free development is handling inevitable errors elegantly. Don’t give users blank screens or codes to decipher. Give users human-readable messages when something goes wrong, telling them what happened and how to rectify it.
Debugging an app
6. Promote Apple via your app
At the end of the day, Apple is a for-profit business. It’s naive to assume that a bit of I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine doesn’t form part of their decision-making process. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be an Apple cheerleader. There are many subtle ways you can promote Apple while also building a better app.
One is to use native APIs and leverage platform-specific iOS features and capabilities, as we mentioned. Another is to develop your app with other Apple products in mind, such as their smartwatches, Airpods, and other peripherals.
Whenever you do so, proudly and prominently leverage these features in your marketing material. Apple is known for developing their products with its entire ecosystem in mind. Promoting and showcasing that ecosystem will not only catch Apple’s attention but also that of die-hard Apple evangelists.
Apple Watch-compatible apps featured by Apple
7. Market your app on and off the App Store
Marketing seems to play a big role in what Apple likes to feature. They tend to prioritise apps that have a following, so growing at least a small active user base yourself is important. You do this through marketing.
“I’ve found that Apple tends to help developers who help themselves”
Make sure you leverage as many promotional channels as possible. Maintain your own blog, social media pages and website. Try and generate buzz with a launch event, giveaways or competitions. Send out press releases to relevant media and journalists. If budget allows, add some paid advertising into the mix, hire social media influencers and attend trade shows. There really are an endless number of ways you can promote your app off the App Store and you should do as much of them as you can.
On the App Store iOS developers can dramatically increase an app’s visibility and traffic by implementing ASO best practices. You can read all about this in our App Optimisation Bible
All of this will drive more traffic to your app, which means more downloads and users. The more attention your app receives, the more likely it will get noticed by Apple and considered for a feature.
Jam: Instant Song Creator iOS app promotional flyer
8. Do your best to maintain high ratings
You may think that, beyond building the best app possible, there isn’t much you can do about ratings. While developing a high-quality, bug-free and enjoyable app is non-negotiable, there are other steps you can take to boost your ratings.
After-purchase support is incredibly vital to maintaining high ratings. Listening to users and tailoring your updates accordingly is just one facet.
You should also encourage users to rate and positively review your app with in-app prompts. However, remember to keep these as non-intrusive as possible and only ask for reviews from user users that are likely to leave your app a good review.
Secondly, actively monitor your App Store reviews and address user issues. By doing this, you may even turn a negative review back into a positive one!
9. Pitch your app to official App Store editors
Did you know that you can directly pitch your app to the official App Store editors? Before you run off and contact Apple though, hold on! First, make sure that you’ve done everything in your power to make your app feature-worthy. Go through the previous steps and be certain you are making your best first impression possible. Remember, you only get one shot at a first impression.
It might surprise you that there is actually an official form for iOS developers to approach App Store editors. Yes, it’s as easy as logging into your developer account, filling in the form, adding your pitch and submitting it. Pitching an app is a whole other topic, but you can approach it in a similar way as you would pitching your app to the media.
Apple feature application form
Thankfully for iOS developers and app founders, trying to get a feature is not an all-or-nothing process. Most apps don’t get featured immediately on the day of launch. Apple tends to sit back and see how your app fares by itself for a few weeks before jumping in and featuring it. Just make sure you keep adding value, keep addressing user’s issues and implement the tips above. If your app is worthy of a feature, Apple will find it.This also has a lot to do with Apple’s own features schedule and timings.
“I’ve had apps featured prominently on the App Store home page over a year after first release.”
Even if your app doesn’t get featured, you’ll create a better product and generate a significant amount of exposure for your app just by correctly implementing these tips. That being said, it’s always best to aim as high. You never know when Apple editor might stumble across your app and award it with a prestigious Apple feature.
About the Author
Joseph Russell is an award-winning app designer, app strategist and founder of DreamWalk. Over his 11 year career, Joseph has helped hundreds of businesses and startup founders plan, design, develop and launch successful apps.
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