It’s that time of the year again. The time when we wait for Santa to arrive, there’s the smell of cakes and turkey dinners and festivities in the air…and the guys at Apple App Store take their annual, week-long holiday. This year, iTunes Connect will remain closed from 22 to 29 December. In today’s discussion, we will look into what this annual shutdown actually means for iOS app developers worldwide:
- A great opportunity to showcase apps – The Christmas holidays have traditionally witnessed the highest number of app downloads from the Apple Store. In 2014, the total number of downloads jumped by around 150% during the Christmas weekend, compared to the combined figures during the first three weeks of December. It’s a happy time for Apple in general too, with more than half of the total count of new smart device activations being Apple devices. During the Santa season last year, the number of new Apple devices sold was almost 3 times that of its nearest competitor, Samsung (52% vs 18%).
- No new apps will release during this time – iPhone app developers clamour to get their applications submitted, approved and showcased at the App Store before the shutdown – to enhance the chances of high download figures. During the iTunes Connect shutdown window though, no new app – or even new updates to existing apps – are accepted. It’s always a good idea to get apps ready and at the store before the latter closes down. Missing out on the festive period would be a big opportunity missed.
- Be extra careful while testing – If you are not extra-finicky with your mobile app testing during this time, well…you’re stuck. If there’s an undetected bug in your published app – there is no scope for releasing a prompt bug-fix update. What’s more, even when iTunes reopens, you will have to wait for 15 days (maybe more) before your update gets reviewed and published. In the meantime, thousands of users can come across your buggy app, have a poor app-experience, leave negative ratings and feedback – all of these combining to a lowly app store ranking (remember how we talked about zombie apps sometime back?). Make doubly sure that there is no glitch in the iPhone/iPad/Watch app you are planning to release this Christmas.
- Submit your holiday apps nice and early – If you have submitted a new app last week, or worse still, will be submitting one today…you have missed a trick. Experts on Apple app development emphasize on the importance of submitting new apps at the App Store within the first 10 days of December. The average app store review period is 7-8 days, and an early submission would leave enough buffer time for the software to get approved and published. Developers would get the time to fix initial bugs too, if necessary.If you are late, note that the ship has already sailed!
- Accessing app analytics data – This does not go for a break during the app store shutdown. iPhone developers can still access and monitor all the mobile app analytics data that they require from the store. If anything, this is the best time to examine the trends in app-usage behaviour (since activities related to new app development is stalled for a week). With the newly gained insights, mobile app companies can chalk out plans to provide better user-experience with their upcoming applications.
- Make your apps bring in the holiday feel – It’s Christmas season, so why not make mobile apps – on which US teens spend more than 90 hours a month, and young men 72.5 hours a month – part of the festive feel as well? The onus for doing this lies on UI/UX designers and animators. From new, cheery layouts and interfaces, to in-app greetings – there’s plenty of ways in which developers can tweak their apps to add a seasonal feel to them. In iOS games, subtle changes can be made to the gameplay as well. It is also a good idea to change up the screenshots on the app page at the store – specifically for the festive season. While searching for apps, the cheerful new screenshots would capture the attention of users.
- It is not possible to change app prices – This one is important for publishers of paid apps. Just like app updates, no changes in the prices of iPhone applications are reflected during the Christmas shutdown period. The app monetization strategy (in re the pricing) has to be finalized well in advance. The number of app downloads spike significantly during the holidays – but if your pricing strategy is wrong, you will miss the scope of earning higher revenues.
- Is the annual shutdown an Apple-only thing? – Yes, but things can change in the next couple of years. Till last year, Google Play Store had an automated app review system – which meant that any form of yearly shutdown was not necessary. However, from March 2015, Google moved over to a manual review system, implying that a holiday break – similar to Apple’s – might be required. There has been no announcements about this for 2015, but a few years down the line, annual shutdown can arrive on Android too.
- No change in app rankings – This one can be a game-changer for iOS app developers. From the 22nd to the 29th of December, iDevice owners will not see any changes in the app store rankings. In other words, app visibility remains static during the shutdown (a ‘Code Freeze’) – and the applications with higher rankings stand to gain more from the higher download activities. Optimize your app well prior to release in December. If the rank of your app is low, you won’t be able to fix it during the holidays.
- Fresh SDK integrations have to wait – Yet another extension of the ‘no app updates’ point. When iTunes Connect is down for its annual break, developers cannot integrate and use new SDKs and APIs in their existing applications. Such changes, if made, will not be reviewed by Apple – and will go into the queue of waiting apps. During the Christmas period, such backlogs are long – and it can take upto 20 days until new SDK integrations are approved.
- Time to learn – You cannot submit new apps, cannot release app updates, cannot change app prices – so what can you do when the Apple App Store shuts down in December? Well, plenty! This is the ideal time to enhance your knowledge about making mobile apps for the iOS platform in general. Join a short app development training course, learn all the latest techniques of Swift/Objective-C coding, get familiar with the new Xcode version, and learn how to use sprite sheets (vital for app animators). App developers are busy round the year with clients’ projects – the holiday week gives them the chance to bolster their professional expertise.
- Using templates to make changes in the UI – It’s advisable to make all the necessary changes in the app UI well before the shutdown. However, in case you are somewhat late – there is the option to make such tweaks on-the-fly (going through the Apple Store is not possible). Do such changes ONLY if they are absolutely essential, and avoid trying to push big updates. The last thing you want is your app becoming ‘unavailable’ during the entire holiday period.
All other general access features and functionalities related to developer accounts remain the same when iTunes Connect is down for its yearly break. The total number of app downloads from the App Store has crossed the 100 billion mark, the user-count has grown by nearly 20%, and revenue from iPhone app development has increased by a whopping 25% in 2015. Prepare well for the upcoming App Store shutdown week, and make your apps really, really successful during the holidays.