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This article was published on October 29, 2013

The secret to getting featured on the App Store? You have to think like Apple

The secret to getting featured on the App Store? You have to think like Apple
Dan Counsell
Story by

Dan Counsell

Dan Counsell is the founder of Realmac Software, a small, award-winning independent iOS and OS X development studio behind Clear, Ember and Dan Counsell is the founder of Realmac Software, a small, award-winning independent iOS and OS X development studio behind Clear, Ember and Rapidweaver.

This article was originally published on the Realmac Software blog. Realmac Software is the OS X development studio behind Clear, Ember and Rapidweaver.

We’ve been fortunate enough to have our apps featured a few times on both the iOS and Mac App Stores, and we often get friends and developers asking us what our secret is. Unfortunately, there’s no secret or shortcuts to getting featured… but then you probably knew that already, right?

It’s worth understanding that Apple doesn’t feature apps to help us developers, it features apps because they benefit Apple and its customers – as long as you remember that, you’ll do just fine.


That said, there’s a number of things that people often overlook that we feel can improve your odds. So here’s my shortlist of things that you can do to increase the chances of getting your next app featured.

1. Build a great app

I know this is obvious and much easier said than done, but it really is the most important thing to keep in mind. If you’re building an app to try and make a quick buck you’re not going to get featured. If you’re passionate about building great apps and shipping something you’re proud of, the chances of being featured are much greater. Sooner or later Apple will take notice of you – consistency is the key here!

If you look at it from Apple’s perspective, Apple only want to highlight apps that show off how great the Mac and iOS platforms really are. They certainly don’t feature apps as a favour to developers — again, they do it because it benefits Apple.

2. Target the “Latest And Greatest”

Going to WWDC (or just watching the videos) is a great way to find out what new APIs are in the next OS release and what Apple’s focus over the next year is going to be. This will give you invaluable insight into what you should be supporting in your app.

One example of an API that you should be looking to adopt is iCloud. This is a major strategy for Apple and I believe iCloud is going to be key to the company’s long-term success. If there’s a place for iCloud in your app and you’re not using it, now is the time to adopt it!

Remember it’s in Apple’s interest to highlight apps that show off the latest OS and hardware releases as that drives adoption of those technologies and devices – it all comes back to doing what benefits Apple.

3. Make it universal

Providing it makes sense (and it doesn’t always) your app should be available on Mac, iPhone and iPad. By doing this you have a much better chance of being featured – here’s why.

Imagine this scenario; Apple are looking at putting together a feature on productivity apps, they have literally hundreds to pick from. Are they going to pick the one that’s available on Android and iPhone – or are they going to pick one that’s a universal iOS app, uses iCloud and is available on the Mac too?

If I were Apple I know which one I’d pick.

4. Invest in good UI & UX

Competition in the App Store is absolutely insane, you’re now competing with huge companies that have endless resources and world class teams at their disposal. Chances are you’re going to need to step up your game!

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.

If you don’t have the funds to hire someone full-time, then Dribbble or Folyo are great places to find new and upcoming designers who might be happy to team up with you to work on the next big thing.

5. Get media coverage

This is pretty tough to do but is absolutely essential for a successful launch. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s crazy how many app developers leave it to the last minute or plan to do it after they ship.

Ideally you should be trying to build some hype to get bloggers and tech sites talking about your app before it launches. I’d suggest putting up a teaser page that includes a promo video or at the very least some screenshots and information about what your app does and when you plan to release it — teaser pages that have little or no information about the app are pretty much useless.

You will also need to make sure you have an email sign-up form and all the usual social buttons on the page to help you build up a following of people interested in the app. A timely announcement when you launch will help propel you up the App Store charts, giving you some much needed visibility and increasing the chances that the right people at Apple will take notice.

You should’t start teasing your app too early – a couple of weeks is generally about right. Any longer than that and you run the risk of people getting frustrated or worse still, a competitor stealing your idea and launching before you.

One more thing…

Keep in mind that Apple get almost 1,000 app submissions a day, and the small team in charge of reviewing them may just simply miss your little gem of an app due to the huge amount of drivel that gets submitted everyday.

To make sure Apple know about you and your app you should try getting in touch with someone at Apple. I know they sometimes seem like a walled garden, but if you genuinely have a good app, Apple will want to know about it.

How do you get in contact with Apple? I’d recommend going to WWDC, chatting with Apple developers after the sessions and in the Labs, submitting Radar Bug Reports and generally networking with your peers as much as possible. Apple will also reach out to developers who pop up on their radar, making your marketing efforts even more important!

There are over 1,000,000 apps in the App Store, so the chances of getting featured are pretty slim. The good news, however, is you can still have a successful app even without ever getting featured. It’s not a make or break deal, it’s just the icing on the cake.

Good luck!

Top image credit: Lightspring/Shutterstock