054 iPhreaks Show - Getting Featured in the App Store with Ben Johnson
The panelists talk to Ben Johnson about how to get your app featured in The App Store.
JAIM: Am I on video? CHUCK: No. BEN S.: No. JAIM: No? Okay. ANDREW: No. BEN S.: Unless you're standing really still. JAIM: Alright, I can pick my nose then. That’s good. [Chuckling] [Would you like to join the conversation with the iPhreaks and their guests? Want to support the show? We have a form that allows you to join the conversation and support the show at the same time. You can sign up at iphreaksshow.com/form] CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to episode 54 of the iPhreaks Show. This week on our panel we have Ben Scheirman. BEN S.: Hello, from Houston. CHUCK: Jaim Zuber. JAIM: Hello, from Minneapolis. CHUCK: Andrew Madsen. ANDREW: Hello, from Salt Lake City. CHUCK: I'm Charles Max Wood from DevChat.tv and we have a special guest this week, Ben Johnson. BEN J.: Hello from cold Boston. It’s still not summer here, sadly. [Chuckling] CHUCK: Well, that’s kinda the same here in the Salt Lake area. Though I understand it’s going to get warmer at the end of the week, so. JAIM: Winter is still coming. BEN J.: I'm originally from Mississippi, and I can tell you that it is way past due for it to be warm here in Boston, so. It’s still chilly, but I'm glad to be here and glad to be on the show. Thanks for having me. CHUCK: Cool. Do you wanna introduce yourself? BEN J.: Sure, sure. My name’s Ben. I have been building apps both as an engineer since right around the beginning of the App Store. I kinda moved from doing my own engineering; I had my own, little consulting firm. We were building apps for small, local business; we kinda had a little of a corner on the tire market, so all of the tire shops of the world seemed to wanna contact me to build an app. In the interim I built a calendar and productivity app called Free-Time, which got featured by Apple a bunch of times, and we can talk about that. Now, I'm at a company here in Boston and we do consulting work for all sorts of different types of companies – both small and large – called Raizlabs. We build iPhone, iPad and Android apps across a number of different verticals for lots of different types of people, so I certainly have a ton of experience in launching apps to the App Store that I can say it still is a nerve-wrecking experience and every time you hit that submit button, a little chill goes through. I still worry that it might get rejected, but yeah, I'm so excited to be on. CHUCK: Oh, very nice. JAIM: [Inaudible] rejected, just to keep you honest. That’s for nothing [inaudible][chuckling]. BEN J.: It’s happened too many times. I mean, honestly, the App Store review process – we do Android apps as well – it is really unfortunate how long it takes. I see the benefits of it, but at the same time it’s such a chilling event to happen. It can really throw a wrench in schedules, especially when you got clients breathing down your neck, “We need to ship! We need to ship!” It gets tricky, so. BEN S.: Especially if you're trying to meet a deadline that coincides with some other even that’s not related to the app, it can really cause problems. We had a client app that we built for a company; they wanted to do sort of like this Twitter integration around the World Cup, so we used the words ‘World Cup’ in the title, and that's a FIFA trademark. And so, we got rejected at the last minute and we’re like, “We don’t really know what to call it.” We ended up shortening it to just WC and resubmitting, because we had to get it out there. Not really thinking that WC chatter was kind of a hilarious thing for people in Europe. [Laughter] That one did get approved, a slightly embarrassing name, but we did get it out there after the World Cup had started, and that was just something that we didn’t really even think could be an issue. Turned out it was. BEN J.: The thing I like about the App Store review process is – and I think this is ultimately why so that the app that I did, Free-Time, the calendar and productivity app, is a pretty cool app, but I think the ultimately the reason that it did get picked up is there are people, actual people, doing the reviews and I've met them. They're very nice people to meet in person, and then you hate the when they reject your app. But they're super nice people and I think ultimately, the way that it really works in terms to the curation is that they're kinda the first line of defense. And so, as much as people may scream and holler about getting rejected, they keep the [inaudible] for at least as much as they can out of the App Store, and they also are bubbling up some of the cool, new apps. For us, we really just kinda stumbled upon getting featured in the store. But I think it really ultimately boiled down to someone saying, “Hey, this is kinda interesting. Maybe it should get a second look.” And you can’t really do that with a computer. BEN S.: Yeah, I’d have to second the whole curation thing; I'd rather have the review process than not have one. Just a few times searching through the Android store for apps, it gets kind of frustrating. And I think they’ve done a good job of sort of weeding out the bad stuff after the fact, but just a couple of years ago I was on somebody’s Android phone searching for the Skype app. Once I typed in Skype and hit search, like 10 or 15 apps that all had the Skype logo, slightly different in variation but they were called Skype – but which one is the real one? I'm a nerd; I can discern minor details and figure it out, but normal people – muggles, I guess – [chuckling] aren’t going to be able to discern that difference. When you're violating someone’s trademark, like we were on accident – or if somebody else, on purpose – and using the same icon, it’s nice to at least have some pair of eyes that can hopefully weed that stuff out there. Now granted some pretty [inaudible] things have gotten through, but nobody’s perfect. CHUCK: The other thing is that I had an Android phone before I had my iPhone 5, and I have to say that for the most part of the apps were okay, but sometimes you get something that was half done and it would crash your phone and stuff like that, and if that kind of stuff happens during the review process, they won’t let it in. And so I haven't had as many of those issues on my iPhone or iPad. BEN J.: Oh, absolutely. Quality of apps is definitely weeded out by that initial screen. And it’s kinda funny, I've talked to some people on the Google marketing team as well and they’ve got a tall order to sift through the apps that get submitted because you really gotta do a good look at how it works and how it functions. And honestly, I think that the insider secret – and I don’t know this for sure – but I think most of the apps that are featured in the Google Play Store are people that have relations with the Google team, like actually knows somebody on the marketing team, or they’ve got that connection so they can verify, “Okay, this is a real person; it’s legit” and there's nothing sketchy going on under the hood, because you can imagine how terrible it would be if one of those fake Skype apps are – it wouldn’t be something high-profile as Skype, but you can imagine another nefarious app that harvests people’s data and then sends it up to the cloud and Google’s caught in the spotlight for featuring it. That’s kind of a risky proposition for them, so I think they have a much higher burden to make sure that apps are quality, at least on their Google Play feature list. CHUCK: So, we got you here to talk a little bit about getting featured in the App Store, and we’ve talked a little bit about this on the show before. I'm kinda curious, you mentioned that you’ve had an app that was featured before the show when you also mentioned that you have client apps that have been featured. Are there common threads between those that get them noticed, or is there some other trick to it? BEN J.: Yeah, absolutely. The thread, it can be both frustrating, but also, it’s pretty simple. You need to build something that’s great; it’s gotta be an app that both Apple and the people who use it would say, “Wow. This is really something different.” In many ways, it’s a new and novel approach to something, so the app that I built that ultimately got featured by Apple and continues to do so every time we update ultimately is just a way to look at your calendar in a different way, and that was new and novel for them, and it was a great app. Really, what it shows you is the inverse of when you're busy, it shows you the free time – a pretty simple concept, but a new take on it. I think they both look for something that’s innovative and novel, but also something that really follows the standards that they’ve set forward. I have more experience on the Apple side of things; I think Google is still kinda figuring out their featuring system, but at least in Apple’s world playing by the rules that they’ve set forward. So the human interfaces guidelines – adopting those and following standard UI patterns and really kinda playing nicely in their sandbox to build an app that they expect and that users who use their platform expect, that’s a great, huge first step. I mean, that’s almost a prerequisite; you have to have that. BEN S.: And it kinda reminds me of Marco Arment’s comments when he was building the magazine. He was like, “Who’s building the killer newsstand app? And Apple seems to be pushing for that.” and there were really no great newsstand apps that people are looking forward to and it seems like this year’s a chance for me to get featured in the store, because there's no competition there. Other things that he has suggested is looking at the features of the OS like iOS 7 – what does it do differently than it did before and which apps can take advantage of that, like the motion co-processor in the 5s – things like that that Apple’s clearly trying to push forward with their own stuff. If you're the highlight app in that category then you have a better chance of being featured, right? BEN J.: Yeah, absolutely. A funny one is Passbook – they still, to this day, I think they may have just stopped doing it, but they have kinda their main featured apps where they have these secondary category cards that they have where you can go into a section or find a different type of app, but they’ve been constantly promoting Passbook and there are apps in there that are doing a good job with integrating with Passbook. I think it’s one of the airlines – one of the airlines got on early. I think it was maybe American Air or something, and they have just been riding the wave of Apple saying, “Oh, you guys were the first; we really like you.” Playing into what Apple ispushing on their marketing agenda is important too. So when we start thinking about what's coming with iOS 8 – let’s say there's a new screen size. Being there at the beginning to say, “Our apps supports the new phone right out of the gate, and it has all the sizes and it’s built for iOS 8 and it’s the latest generation” that just –. It’s kinda like you're the star student, right? You gotta be a little bit of a suck up – and they like that. They like rewarding the people who say, “We love Apple, we love what you do, and we love being on the forefront of what Apple is interested in.” So yeah, I couldn’t say that more playing into that strength of what the priority is for the calendar event or the new change, whatever OS is coming out, is a really good strategy. BEN S.: I guess we just kinda jumped into getting featured – maybe it’s obvious, but why do we wanna be featured on the App Store? It’s an obvious question, but I think that it looks cool to see your banner in front of everybody’s eyes. But what does it mean for sales and that sort of thing, downloads? BEN J.: I don’t know if you guys know numbers; at least in my personal experience and our experience with working with clients, getting featured for a free app can translate to 10,000 or more downloads a day. Usually, the features run about a week, and sometimes two weeks if they really like you – they push you to the second tier. But the way that Apple’s system works is they meet as a team on Tuesdays – we know this because we know some people and we’ve done some sleuthing - they meet as a team on Tuesdays and they select apps to nominate, and ultimately those go up on a Thursday. You basically stay in the spotlight for that week and then subsequently, you could either get bumped or you can stay on for the next week. So you're looking at a grand total of potential for 140,000+ downloads just because you did a good job. When you think about all the issues with search and discovery on the App Store – that is a gigantic advantage for a new startup or someone who’s looking to get traction. ANDREW: I think those numbers pretty much jive with what we’ve seen on iOS, maybe even higher, depending on –. I think it depends a lot on what category your app is in, because some apps will just appeal to more people than others. We’re in music, and we see numbers like that when we’re featured. CHUCK: Yeah, if it’s anything like the podcasting in iTunes, which is a different marketplace, but it’s the same kinda thing with New and Noteworthy, if you get featured in there, your traffic goes way up. The other thing is that when they sort the podcasts, they sort them by total number of downloads or total number of subscriptions – I don’t remember which. So if you have a long-running podcast, it’s easier to get higher up on the list when people search your thing. So it really does makes a difference because if you're a brand new app, you don’t have a lot of downloads, or if you're a brand new podcast and you don’t have a lot of subscriptions, you're way down on the list. JAIM: Especially if you have a somewhat common name; if you have common keywords, it’s going to take a while for you to get anywhere in the top 10 or 20. CHUCK: Yup. BEN J.: Yeah, it’s basically free marketing. I mean, when we launched Free-Time, we were getting a couple hundred downloads and I thought that was it; I thought we had breached the pinnacle of success. I was so pumped; I was like, “200 people have our app, this is amazing!” And then all of a sudden, the floodgates opened. I mean, we were literally getting 10,000 downloads a day, and of course that set off a little bit of a fire in support and bugs and there was all sorts of stuff that kinda rained on us, and press inquiries – it was kind of a tirade, but if you're ready for it, you know what you're about to get and you magically show up in that column, it can really, really change the way that your app is found and discovered and it grows virally from there. So, it can be a huge win. JAIM: Ben, you talked about how a reviewer initially saw your app and recognized it and said, “Oh, this is kinda good and kind of started [inaudible] the process that way. Have you been able to leverage that and kinda worked with the same reviewer?” BEN J.: You don’t know – that was a little bit of a hypothesis. I don’t know exactly what happened; I imagined that from talking with them, they definitely do flag interesting apps that they see, but you don’t get to work with the same reviewer. What I can say though in terms of repeatability, it’s kind of like you're in the cool club once you're there, and it’s kind of a shitty thing to say, but once you're featured, you're on a list. And I know this because we would push updates, and somehow, someone, somewhere, would immediately find it, and so the chances of us being able to just – a reviewer sees us and then pushes it to the feature column is unlikely. You get on a list and that team that reviews the list – iTunes marketing team, or App Store marketing team – they get notifications when you update. So once you're in, you're in – and that’s in your best interests to stay current and keep pushing updates, and just milk it for what it’s worth. On the review side, you don’t get as much access to the people that – I have talked to a few of them; I wish I had the same person because they would be nice to me. But yeah, I wish I did. BEN S.: My first app back in 2009 was featured right around Christmas time, which was freakin’ amazing. It was a great Christmas present, and I had no idea how it happened – it just showed up. I climbed to maybe number 10 in the music category, or number 9, I'm not sure but it equated to quite a bit of sales and it made me switch careers, actually, to become a full-time iOS developer just because I saw the potential. But yeah, I had no indication of why it was featured or who saw it, and what they thought about it, or anything like that. BEN J.: Yeah, it is a little bit of a blackbox, but from talking to some of the people that are on the team, it really goes back to what I said earlier that you gotta look at current apps and see what the trends are, you have to understand Apple’s marketing agenda, you need to know what they're pushing, and you need to know, seasonally, what's happening, and then you gotta make a great app. So it’s a tall order to do it, and there's a lot of work involved with it, but it’s certainly a huge boom. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be around Christmas time – that’s an awesome proposition. But the sad part is that your traffic does kinda drop, and so you gotta figure out – featuring is definitely one thing, but figuring out how to continue to build that momentum is also important as well. ANDREW: I actually wanted to talk about that. I'm curious to know what you think about ways to take advantage of being featured. Being featured gives you this huge boost, but like you talked about after getting maybe a week or two, it really starts to drop off quickly, and it seems like there might be ways that you'd keep taking advantage of the fact that you were featured, or at least maximize that opportunity. BEN J.: Yeah, a lot of people don’t think about that, right? Oh, we’re going to get featured! And then they forget, and even when we first lauched, we didn’t have any analytics in the app, so we lost out on so much data and so much understanding. I think that’s the first key, is having insight in terms of those people being ready to learn from how they use the app and how you should change it to accommodate them. CHUCK: Might I derail you for a second? BEN J.: Sure, yeah. CHUCK: What kinds of things should you be measuring with those analytics? BEN J.: Sure, a lot of clients ask this. They're like, “Well, can we just tag anything and we’ll figure it out after the fact?” and usually what that leads to is a lot of data that no one understands. So it depends on each app, right? But you gotta ask specific questions. You need to say, “What do users who come to this app for the first time think about it? When are they dropping off? When do they leave a particular screen?” It’s a monitoring session link – that’s an important thing. That’s built in with a lot of analytics libraries and we’ve actually built one of our client’s. It’s a company called Localytics, which does app analytics, so we’ve thought about this stuff a lot. And really, it does come back to questions. You have a lot of assumptions as to who these people are, but how do they actually interact with the functionality? And then also getting a sense of what is something that we could maybe refine where are people not necessarily understanding what the intent was? Where are they not getting to sell the functionality you thought was cool? That’s the thing when you burn an app, you have no idea. You think it’s the coolest thing in the world, and then everyone else says, “It is the coolest thing in the world, but not because of what you thought it was.” So for us, we thought it was all about sharing free time, right? We’re like, “Oh yeah, you can find your free time and you can share it” and then we look back at the analytics and no one does that, so we should have been asking the question – and we were, to some extent – what do people find interesting about this app, because that lets you hone in on what your value proposition is. And that lets you define that this is the direction we wanna continue to iterate an update. And you find the rough edges and then you keep iterating, you keep pushing out updates, and then Apple keeps featuring you because they see you're building momentum and you keep harvesting that sort of energy. That’s at least an important first step. ANDREW: Something that we did that’s a little different than analytics is we have an analytics app that’s a paid app – it’s just a straight paid app [inaudible] purchase or anything like that, so we only make money if we sell copies of it. When we’ve been featured, we’ve immediately made it free because we decided we just wanted a lot of users, and you'd get more downloads of course, with a free app than a paid app. But we figured out that one thing that’s valuable from free users is to get their email address for our mailing list and partly we’re in a unique position, because we sell desktop apps, Mac apps that are significantly more expensive, so if we can convert a free iOS download into a paid Mac version, that’s good. But I mean, that certainly built up our email list a lot, really quickly, and of course, you don’t wanna be sneaky or gross about it. You wanna get people’s email addresses voluntarily – and we do that, but it’s worked really well. BEN J.: Yeah, that’s a good strategy; we’ve used that in a couple of apps and it’s been more of a long-term thing. I'm curious in terms of the going free – it sounds like you guys are ready for it, right? And you’ve got a way to upsell, I think, for the individual app user, I definitely would not do that. If it’s just me publishing my own app, and it’s a paid app and that’s all I do, I don’t necessarily know if I'd advocate going free, because it kinda sets a double standard. It completely increases your support costs and just the general cost of operating the app, and the benefits of free users are – it’s a little hard to find. I think, in your case, when you're upselling on the Mac App Store, that makes a ton of sense. ANDREW: Oh yeah, absolutely. I wouldn’t advocate that for somebody who’s just got their own, single iOS app. We’re in a good position where our Mac apps are really our flagship app and the iOS app is kinda the small-time thing and we’re ready for those users who are ready to do something with them, ready for the support. Of course, when we were featured on the Mac App Store too and we’re free there- we just ride the extra money coming in from paid app sales. BEN J.: Yeah. One of the things I'm curious, I mean, you guys have talked about a couple of the apps that you have that have been featured. Has every one on here had an app that has been featured in the App Store? Because I feel like we’re a small percentage if that’s the case. CHUCK: I have a confession to make, I have no apps in the App Store. BEN J.: There you go, okay. CHUCK: So that’s a no. BEN J.: So at least one of us. So this is all for you, Chuck. CHUCK: I appreciate that. BEN J.: When I think about all the apps that I've worked on, that’s the only one that I can recall that was featured. I'm sure there have been some stuff that were on lists like deep into the categories and all, and that’s good, but I think being on the front page is where it’s at. The other thing that’s interesting is different countries. People don’t7 think about that because the iTunes homepage, that’s the big one, right? That’s where the 10,000+ downloads are coming from but there's something to be said about being featured in different locales. And if you app is localized, as much as it may not be as glorious – if you're building apps here, you can’t turn onto somebody and say, “Hey open the App Store and check out the app; it’s featured.” But those can generate some pretty sizable amount of downloads. My app has a very large amount of users in Cutter, and it continues to be featured in Cutter. Blows my mind as to why, but for some reason, based on just traffic and downloads, we have a lot of people there, and so I certainly wouldn’t discount that. It’s not something that I think happens out of curation. There are some different locales that are curated by a regional representative on the marketing team; some of them are just based on traffic, and downloads, and features across other categories. But they can add up and it certainly helped a lot in terms of overall downloads BEN S.: What kind of tool do you use to track this information? You mentioned keeping an eye on your rank in other stores, and obviously, you need to keep on top of reviews also. Do you have any recommended tools? BEN J.: Go to one for me is App Annie – I don’t know if you guys are familiar with that. ANDREW: That’s what we use too. I use that for my personal apps and we also use that at Mix and Key. BEN S.: I've used AppViz as well; I like those guys a lot actually, but they're kinda like on the indie side of things. It’s not a free product, so there's certainly some cost there even on a monthly ongoing basis. Just looking at the sales that we had, it wasn’t as much of a value prop for us, but they're still a great thing for larger companies that have a budget to do it, they’ve got some really more in-depth tools. But App Annie’s pretty slick. It definitely keeps you up to date, and that’s the best email I get every day. I don’t know if you guys get this but, “Hey, you made money while you were sleeping.” I love that email. I forgot, I just published an update to an old app of mine at Google Touch for kids, and it’s completely right with Sprite Kit and everything, and I was hoping that it would make a little bigger splash – and it did. I started getting one or two downloads a day and stuff like that. I just checked in App Annie, apparently I'm huge in Panama – I had 23 sales yesterday in Panama for some reason. BEN J.: Well done. BEN S.: Well, I guess I never would have known that. I don’t really pay attention to App Annie very much, partially because this app is just getting back into the store, so. I don’t know. I’ll keep an eye on it. BEN J.: It’s a good way to keep a baseline and the other thing is it keeps a lot of historical data. That's one of the ways I've been able to keep tabs on how many times have we been featured, right, because they keep track of that sort of stuff. And so that sort of historical knowledge of sequence and cadence lets you know that updating every four to six weeks is a good thing because Apple’s primed and ready after a couple of months to be like, “We’ll throw you another feature.” Things like that, it certainly gives you a little more perspective on the bigger picture, which I like a lot. CHUCK: I wanna go back to something you said earlier. You said that you have to make a great app – are there things that people kind of overlook when they're building apps that would make it so that it’s not a great enough app to be featured? BEN J.: I think there are. I think that a lot of times people really go for breadth as opposed to breadth, and it goes back to the apps that Apple builds. They're pretty straightforward apps; no [inaudible]; pretty simple. Mail – that’s all that does. They are kind of whiz bang apps that have lots of different functionalities and can do lots of different things, or if they are, they're hidden in that kinda secondary benefit. And I think that Apple really appreciates simplicity, obviously, and I think that apps that do that can certainly stand a better chance. I think that from a design perspective as well, a lot of people try to customize and over-brand and just kinda really push their name as opposed to pushing their app. One of the great talks I saw in New York was from one of the UI evangelists who isn’t with Apple anymore named Mark Kawano, and he just gave a great presentation, which I think people can look up. It was at the New York Ted Talks about what are the things that you should be doing in your apps and what are the things that you shouldn’t, and one of those things is over-branding – putting your name on every page and say, ‘We’re so awesome! We’re awesome! We’re awesome!” and not ever giving users something. BEN S.: That’s a really hard one. BEN J.: It is. BEN S.: You can obviously say – you don’t need to say it on every page, but pretty much everybody wants like a splash screen with their logo on it, and then at the navigation bar at the top, you got your logo there. I've pushed back as hard as I can with clients apps to say they’ve already tapped with their finger the button that says your name on it, like they know which app they're in and basically you're just regurgitating the stuff that Mark Kawano talked about in that talk, which is excellent, by the way. He talks about the importance of the ‘get app’ icon and testing it in various sizes so it’s recognizable and not too busy, and it’s a really great talk. Of course all the stuff in that talk is only iOS 6 related –. BEN J.: Right, right. I wish I could redo it, come back, and do it for iOS 7. You're totally right, that is a tough line. It’s funny if you look at Free-Time currently; I'm currently redoing it because it certainly has the name all over it, and that’s one of the things that I probably learned in hindsight. It’s a tough thing with clients too, because they want their logo, they're paying for it, right? But you're right; they’ve tapped on the icon –. I usually am okay with a splash screen; I think a splash screen is a nice way to welcome someone into an experience, but it’s the constant reminding them of how awesome the app is and not letting them explore it that I think too many apps kinda fall into that trap. So it’s a tight line to balance, but I think if you can do it well and really kinda get it out of the way –. Say, ‘Here I am, this is what we do, and we’re great. This is for you; it’s something that you can use. It’s your personal app” and then get out of the way – I think that’s a great way to make Apple happy. And then obviously there's easy stuff too, like following UI conventions and not reinventing crazy navigation patterns and changing assumptions, not making a tab bar app. Not a tab bar app. That’s just a quick way to fly in the face of Apple. You break some of those very classic UI conventions, and they’ll scoff at that. They won’t feature something like that. I will say in the last probably six months, I have seen the bar drop a little bit on the featured apps, and it’s a little bit discouraging because I've seen some apps that I know are featured because of their partnership with Apple. I won’t name names, but large brands that may have something to do with a big sporting event recently that involved the entire world. Not a great app, but it’s kind of topical, so I think they kinda got it shoved down upon them, but that certainly did not follow the UI paradigms. CHUCK: I don’t know what you're talking about, because the big sporting event that involves the entire world happens in June. BEN J.: You're totally right. CHUCK: The other one doesn’t matter. BEN J.: Or it’s the World Cup app, yeah. [Chuckling] JAIM: That was the NHL playoffs. BEN J.: Yeah, the Bruins. The Bruins game, yeah. I think there are certainly simple things but reading the hig –. I tell people this all the time, reading Apple human interface guidelines – I know the guys who wrote that and that’s all they do. They literally just write and refine and write that document and it is in many ways the bible, and following it as close as you can is a surefire way to get in a really good spot with Apple. JAIM: Are there some other ways to raise your visibility with the App Store? I mean we can make up an app that behaves well, that uses the new features Apple wants to do, but are there other avenues we can take if you're just some lowly app developer and don’t have big pockets behind you? BEN J.: Yeah, so one of the things, you can reach out to the App Store marketing team. I think they have an email address on their site. One of the things I’ll tell you that we’ve used in the past that has worked well is actually doing some of the work for them – people love when other people do work for them, right? That’s just a basic thing. When you send the App Store review team some thoughts on, “Hey, here’s 10 apps that are similar around this particular theme” – maybe it’s a holiday theme, or maybe it’s a sporting thing and your app just happens to be one of those – “it would be awesome to see a category of productivity.” We did this with apps for getting stuff done, and we just said, “Hey, here’s some other cool apps and they're great apps for getting stuff done.” I don’t know if that had anything to do with that [inaudible] there was a ‘getting stuff done’ category that came out shortly thereafter, but we had mentioned it and they included Free-Time. It was on there for a long time. Those sorts of curated categories, I think, and telling them and giving them some free work is absolutely a good trick, so that’s one. The other, I’d say, is being a good steward of the social media channels and telling a great story. That’s why the social piece is a part of this as well. It’s about telling that story and so that the app exists, but how can you tell that story outside of the app? Videos, and demonstrating the functionality and the context of the app in the real world, engaging with people on social media channels – I think that just kinda all goes into the cohesiveness of the product, ultimately building a product, and I think Apple likes to see that. You can get a lot of buzz also, in other ways outside of the App Store, and Apple picks up on that. When they see apps kind of go a little bit of viral, they wanna be out there and say, “Hey, is this an iTunes exclusive? Is this only on the App Store?” Because that’s their big thing now. It’s like, “only on the App Store.” So yeah, it’s all a little bit of a crapshot right, but these are all good things to do. I think that’s the important thing here is that regardless whether you do this and you don’t get featured, it’s a good thing to do for your product. BEN S.: That’s like the best advice of the episode, just in general. I think when I was getting into startup with iOS development, the local meet-up group here, they had a healthy fear/respect of the app review system and Apple’s opinion of the developers, in general, so don’t do things that are explicitly called out in the hig. Don’t deliberately just ignore the advice of Apple. Sometimes they’ll say something dubdub or publicly, and you don’t really know what they mean, but you can kinda guess what they mean, like, “Wink, wink – you should look here” type of things. Oftentimes, you just listen to the advice; try to stay within the rules. There's no guaranteed recipe to get featured. Certainly I would say, I would be completely scared to try any of the scammy, buy your downloads-type things because like you said, maybe you're on a list, like a positive list, once you’ve been featured and people maybe get a second look at your app the next time you publish one because you were featured before. But the reverse of that is certainly true where they’ve got a list of people who are troublemakers or whatever [crosstalk]. BEN J.: A naughty or nice list. BEN S.: Yeah, exactly. Good or bad, it’s the world we live in and if you choose to develop for this platform, I think that it’s not going to hurt you to play by their rules. BEN J.: Yeah, absolutely. I would totally agree with you or second your statement about the ‘buy your way to the top’ sort of approach. I think that’s generally bad, at least now. I remember we used to do – we did app-a-day once, and it generated a ton of downloads. But this was also before I think they had actually figured out how valuable what they were offering was, and not it’s gotten so diluted and the number of people –. At the end of the day, you're buying people that are coming to your app just for a split second and they're bouncing. It doesn’t really translate and it feels kinda scummy and you just have a bad taste afterwards. And I think that you're absolutely right – it’s something that Apple notices. Engaging in those sorts of tactics isn’t necessarily the way that they see as a valuable use of people’s hard-earned dollars, so. I kinda go back and forth on those sometimes, because I've certainly seen them do lists, but I think it’s really more of a left on the charts. That’s about it. CHUCK: So you mentioned something about ‘only in the App Store.” Do you not get as much credit if you have it in the Android App Store as well? BEN J.: You know, maybe they're kind of like, in a backhanded way, starting that war against Android. They haven't done this. I mean, this is a new thing; I would say, probably the last year. Maybe even less than that, but yeah, there is a new section that they have very prominently have pushed even – I think it’s still up this week. That is, only in the App Store, and it’s kinda this new badge. And maybe it’s a little bit of a – not a threat, but a ‘hey, stay with us, and then it’ll be good; we’ll help you out’ but I don’t necessarily know if it’s a good way to do it. Really, what I'd say is make the business decision yourself. And there's a big difference between the indie dev and the company that already has an offering and just needs to get out to people, right? That's a totally different scenario. But if you don’t have to be on both platforms, then stick on one, right? Again, it’s good that you – it’s more likely you'd get featured because you're only on the App Store, but you also don’t have to build apps on multiple platforms, so it’s good for you regardless. I don’t know [crosstalk] BEN S.: I like the way approach [inaudible] people used to 7ask me, in fact, constantly ask me, “What do you need to build an iOS app? Do you need to have a Mac?” No, no, no – you get to buy a Mac. [Chuckling] ANDREW: As a little counterpoint to that, our desktop apps are on Mac and Windows, and we were just recently, a few weeks ago, featured on the Mac App Store or one of those apps that's on Windows too, and it didn’t seem to hurt us. But maybe they don’t care so much about Windows now as they do about Android. BEN J.: Yeah, I definitely don’t know – I have less experience on the desktop side, but I've certainly seen apps that are iOS or on the App Store only just get stupid amounts of love from the App Store team. I feel like the next time I submit I should say, “By the way guys, we’re also App Store only.” BEN S.: I’ll put it in my App Store description. BEN J.: Yeah, so you have the special reviewer notes and at some point I saw a screenshot and somebody said, “Man, you're looking mighty handsome/pretty today!” [Laughter] I was like, “Hey, can’t hurt.” CHUCK: There you go. BEN J.: Maybe I’ll try that when we submit our new version. JAIM: [Crosstalk] idea for all our listeners. To do list with iBeacon, and iOS exclusive. Go. [Crosstalk] BEN S.: Yeah, you gotta have Passport too. BEN J.: Here’s the one hint I will say – they have been pushing this extremely hard for the last, multiple years, but auto layout. People that are building apps that do not include auto layout right now, I completely understand why they aren’t doing it, because it’s tough, like it’s tough for me too, but there's no doubt in my mind that auto layout is going to be a very big part of iOS 8 and they're going to love the apps that just work right out of the box. BEN S.: Yeah, I mean, if all of the rumors about the larger screen sizes are true, which I think they are, they’ve been winking at this, “You should use auto layout.” BEN J.: For years. BEN S.: Yeah, and then the taller phone came out and they're like, yeah. It was in 2010, they're like, “You should use auto layout.” And then 2011 – I don’t remember the years. They're like, “You should use auto layout” and then the next year came out, and there's a new phone, and they're like, “Do you remember last year, that time when we told you you should do auto layout?” BEN J.: Yeah. BEN S.: Your app would just look fine. BEN J.: Yeah, I think that’s the best way to do it – getting on that bandwagon and jumping in with those guys and saying, “Hey, we’re with you. We’re 100% behind you; we’re going to take the latest, greatest, and do cool things with it.” They're really psyched out about that. CHUCK: So one more question I have, and that is, it seems like we've talked about awesome apps that do something on the phone; are you less likely to be featured if your app is an interface to an online SAS product? BEN J.: I don’t think so. Most of the apps that I can think of that are featured on the App Store have a back end some way, somehow and have an existing product that could be used even outside of the app, so I don’t think it’s that. What I will say is that one of the sad realities is that oftentimes, I don’t think they feature apps that include hardware as much as they do apps that can be completely used out of the box. Because they gotta think about the people that – I mean, think about it yourself, right? You're in charge of the apps, there's millions upon millions of people that are downloading it, and if you put an app that only has 1000 people that have the hardware for, it’s just a bad experience all around. So I think they do probably take that into consideration when it comes to what apps they feature; I think it’s less on the SAS side just because ultimately, if they're building an app, it needs to function on its own anyways. They're unlikely to [inaudible] just says, “Hey, you gotta pay $40 just to get this.” So, yes and no. ANDREW: Well, and I think the other thing is of course they're not like they’d feature apps that they don’t have a somewhat broad appeal. Some really niche thing that 10 people want, they're not going to feature it. BEN J.: Yeah, definitely. Mass appeal is a big one. But again, you just start talking about these categories, too, right? Like there's lots of very specific categories that kinda appeal to a certain subset of people, so you can still get that. You probably won’t get the big feature on the main page but you can certainly get into a category, both the top-level categories like productivity and medical, but you can also get one of those secondary kinda featured categories too. So there's all sorts of ways to do it. I guess, I wouldn’t wanna discourage anybody who has a niche app because they're still doing cool stuff too. CHUCK: Alright. Well, is there anything else that we haven't asked or covered before we get to the picks? BEN J.: I feel like we’ve got everything. I wish I had the magic bullet of sorts, or the secret to all of the success in featuring on the App Store, but it ultimately comes down to making something great and just believing in it. As disappointing as that may sound for people who are like, “I want a recipe!” Hopefully that's at least helpful. CHUCK: Alright! Well let’s go ahead and do the picks then. Ben, do you wanna start us off with the picks. BEN S.: Sure. I just bought a new guitar and I love it, so I'm going to pick Fender American Stratocaster – it’s just so awesome. If you're a guitar player, you probably already know. [Laughs] I'm going to pick it anyway. JAIM: [Inaudible] was a car somehow? BEN S.: Second pick, I work at a team room and all of us actually play guitar. We talk about pedals and effects a lot, and I've been in the market for a nice Chorus pedal, and I've found a lot of good comments from BYOC Chorus pedals, which means Build Your Own Clone. You can buy a kit where it comes with a printed PCB and a bunch of capacitors and transistors and resistors and everything else you need – little ICUs so you can solder, if you're good with soldering – and it comes with a nice little enclosure, with the knobs and everything. So you follow directions and build your own pedal. You're not going to save any money, because it costs as much as a good boutique pedal but you can paint the enclosure yourself and have a sense of accomplishment and probably learn about the things about electronics and guitar signals along the way, so I will pick that. And then my last pick, I decided to pick up the Diablo III expansion, and I really like it. I replaced all my gear in the first run; the first run I did, which was only about 30 or 40 minutes, so plenty of fun to be had there. Those are my picks. CHUCK: Awesome. Jaim, what are your picks? JAIM: Alright, I've got one pick. We’ve all had that problem that we stayed up all night working on and ended up being like a one-character fix – we had a semi-colon out of place or something, and we all know what we have said after we figured out the problem. But some people actually committed those things to GitHub, and there's a place where you can check that out. I've been reading Commit Logs From Last Night: Because Real Hackers Pivot Two Hours Before Their Demo. [Chuckling] Not safe for work, but fairly entertaining. That’s my pick. CHUCK: Funny. Andrew, what are your picks? ANDREW: I got a couple of picks today. First one is a thing that a co-worker of mine found today. It’s by somebody at Realmac software and he’s basically written a Cocoa app. It’s a front end to a command-line app that I don’t think there are many people who know about it, but it’s part of the developer tools. The whole is it lets you update the metadata for your apps on iTunes Connect really much more easily than going to the iTunes Connect website and clicking through every single localization and uploading every single update and screenshot, etc. I don’t really know what it’s called. Oh, it’s called Connector, and it’s an open source app on GitHub. Pretty cool, could save a lot of time – at least for people who need to update a lot of different localizations or a whole lot of metadata for their apps. And then my second pick is another record store pick. I was in Denver last week, and I found this record store that is called Twist & Shout, and I have to say, it’s one of the best record stores I've ever been to. I was really, really surprised and impressed with their selection. They had rare stuff and new stuff and old stuff and used – I found a lot of cool stuff and my wallet came out a lot lighter, but –. So, it’s Twist & Shout records. And those are my picks. CHUCK: Cool. I've got a couple of picks; my first pick is Heil PL-2T Boom Arm for my microphone. I was using another one that I bought a few years ago, and this one’s really nice. I'm not sure how to explain how it works differently; it doesn’t have the springs on the outside, which I'd always bumped and then there’d be this funny noise. The other thing is the way that it articulates the part that has the microphone on it allows me to just kinda put it in front of my face without putting it in my line of sight, my monitor, and so it’s really nice to really nice to be able to just sit back and record the podcast or screencast, and be able to still see the screen without it hanging from the boom arm in front of me, and so I'm really liking that. A few other picks I have – I may have picked this on the show before, but the book Platform by Michael Hyatt. It’s a terrific, kind of basic marketing strategy book, and I know we’re talking about getting featured and I'm aware that if something kinda takes off in the App Store, a lot of times that'll get noticed as well, so if you can build some hype about it outside of Apple, like you said, then that can help and this will kinda walk you through some of that. I've also been reading the Dave Ramsey books, so the Total Money Makeover. I listen to it on Audible, and I'm listening to it once a month as my penance for not being out of debt, and it just kinda spurs me along to do that. And then the other one that I'm reading is called Smart Money Smart Kids, and it’s Dave Ramsey and his daughter Rachel Cruze and they're talking about how you teach your kids about money, and I've been really, really enjoying that and have been getting some terrific ideas about how to teach my kids how to handle money. I’ll put those in the show notes. And Ben Johnson, what are your picks? BEN J.: Alright. So, I have a couple of picks. I have two apps and then some other stuff. I will start with the apps. I have one that is currently featured, and then one that isn’t featured but should. The one that’s currently featured is a really fantastic app called Breeze. It’s an activity tracker; it’s by the guys over at RunKeeper. They're here in Boston and they actually demo-ed it at one of our events last night. Super great app, great animations, very simple, very focused – a really good example of what it takes to get featured. Unfortunately, you have to have 5S, but if you don’t have one, look at the screenshots and see how simple it is, and that’s my first pick. And then my second pick is a very, very cool app that I saw demo-ed last night as well. It’s called CanOpener, and it is basically, to get along with the audio theme, a really cool app to allow for tuning and tweaking the audio that goes into headphones or speaker systems, and it is unbelievably cool, and very slick. And then my two non-app picks – one is Sanebox. I don’t know if you guys heard about this, but it’s an email management tool that is basically saving my life right now based on the amount of email I get and it just very intelligently hides things for later. And then the last is a good tool for being featured, which is called Pop. It is a new open source framework from Facebook that has lots of cool things in terms of animations and fluid, and physics, and mechanics based on their new app, Paper, which has been out for a while and has some very cool interactions in it. I'm looking forward to integrating it in some of our apps here to kinda raise the bar in terms of interactivity and user experience and awesomeness. So those are my picks. CHUCK: Awesome! Alright, well, thanks for coming on the show. We really appreciate you taking the time and helping us figure some of this stuff out. BEN J.: Yeah, happy to. Hopefully I was able to help. Like I said, it’s not all about getting featured. If you do, celebrate it; but if you don’t, you're doing some good stuff, and keep on doing awesome things. CHUCK: Alright, well I think that’s it. [Hosting and bandwidth provided by the Blue Box Group. Check them out at BlueBox.net.] [Bandwidth for this segment is provided by CacheFly, the world’s fastest CDN. 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