Blood, Sweat, and a Great Product

March 17, 2014

In the previous post Why and How to Get Your App Featured on the App Store we’ve started a discussion on what it takes to get featured by Apple. Now I’d like to focus on the the first component of the winning formula and elaborate more on building a quality product.

Building a good product is much more than just coming up with a bright idea. It’s a journey that will require lots of efforts and resources along the way. And only the best ones will make to the top.

What does a “great product” mean for users?

Firstly, the user experience. Competition in the App Store is crazy (there are about 1000 apps submitted for review every day). Even if a user downloads your app and launches it, you will have just a few seconds to make the first impression. Many apps fail to impress users, hence, according to Localytics report 22% of downloaded apps are only used once before being totally abandoned. You will not have a second chance to make a first impression.

Secondly, a product that aims to solve a specific problem. Make it focused, useful and useable. Whether it’s a convenient calorie tracking app or a cool PDF reader, try to become the best at one very specific area. Seek and address specific pain points. Identify the problem you’d love to work with and build a solution for it.

As you can see, most of these come out of design. It’s crucial to have a good designer on board. Founders at Realmacsoftware who had at some point amazed us with their Clear app say: “It’s increasingly rare for one-man development shops to get featured on the iOS App Store these days, but if there’s one thing that I’d advise it would be to reach out and hire the most talented UI/UX designer you can afford”. However, if you don’t have one or can’t afford a full time designer, you can also always refer to Dribbble and Behance which represent some great talents.

What does a “great product” mean to Apple?

Long time ago Steve Jobs said: ”For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through”. Since that time design is a big thing for Apple. It starts with your app icon (which will be the main anchor for the users) and ends usability and pixel perfect design on each screen. Speaking of featuring apps, Apple is always looking for the apps that portrait their latest design trends. With the major update of iOS, flat design, translucence and blur effects, focus on clarity and reducing visual clutter came into place. Now these are the new beacons for mobile designers. So try to adhere to Apple’s HIG, although don’t be afraid to take risks as well. By the way, apps with great design are also picked for the Apple Design Award.

Except for featuring their latest design trends, Apple is also looking for the apps that highlight their technological advancements. Early in the day Steve Jobs proclaimed the marriage of software and hardware say that “people who are really serious about software should make their own hardware”. Hence, when working on the new product try to keep these in mind:

  • take advantage of the latest iOS devices (i.e. improved camera and performance speed), use hardware APIs like location, WiFi/Bluetooth, accessory kit;
  • showcase the latest SDK features if applicable (Game Center, Passbook, Maps etc.);
  • support the latest OS releases and use APIs like iCloud, AirPlay, AirPrint, notifications, in-app purchases;
  • think about all of your users including visually/hearing impaired and with learning disability and add accessibility options like voice over, closed captioning, zoom, mono audio and white on black mode.

Transit is a mobile app that shows you in real time the buses around you. It was featured by Apple many times and Sam Vernette, the Founder, says that being featured helped them to get 100,000 weekly active customers without doing any paid marketing. He also elaborates on using the latest Apple’s technology: “It’s more important to keep your app up-to-date with the latest OS rather than worrying too much about supporting older versions. With Transit we pay more attention to refreshing the app for the latest technology rather than spending too much time redesigning for older versions”.

Ingredients of a Great App

John Geleynse, Director of Technology Evangelism at Apple, has craftily summarized the fundamental criteria that make your app stand out. In this short video Ingredients of a Great App” he names the main eight characteristics: delightful, innovative, state of art, connected, accessible, localized, designed and disruptive. How to interpret “delightful” or “designed”? Check out the video!

To add to the list by John Geleynese, here are a couple of life hacks to remember:

  • offer multiple-language support when selling to different countries or worldwide;
  • make sure it’s NOT a free app. Apple is much more likely to feature a paid app as, obviously, they will make profit on it;
  • provide regular updates (and bug fixes at least once a month) to show continuous improvement;
  • get a lot of positive reviews (encourage users to add reviews);
  • consider making it universal (that runs on iPhone, iPad and Mac);
  • innovate and take risks (a couple of years ago something like Siri surprised the market and was purchased by Apple later on in 2010. Nowadays, it’s an integral part of the Apple’s iPhones starting with iPhone 4S).

Now your product is all set. You love it, users love, how to get Apple to really love it?

Why and How to Get Your App Featured on the App Store.