Acquisition & Engagement

25 fat new features: What Apple’s all-new App Store means for app marketers

John Koetsier

Apple image showcasing the new App Store

Apple is making huge changes to the mother of all apps, the app from which all other apps flow — at least on iOS — and probably its most popular app ever.

I’m talking about the App Store, of course.

And if you’re a successful app developer or publisher, that should freak the living daylights out of you.


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You’ve attained a certain status. You have a certain familiarity with the environment from which your business flows. You’ve learned to navigate its rivers, often surprising you with hidden dangers and always spawning new sandbars on which the foolish founder. And you’ve earned some hard-won rank and stature, leading to some degree of organic business in the fastest-evolving marketplace ever yet built: the mobile app ecosystem.

Now it’s all going to change.

Some apps that Apple blesses from on high are going to see massive install boosts … think 2M or even up to 15M installs in a single day.

Others are going to have to continue to toil in obscurity.

I asked dozens of mobile experts for their opinions on the new App Store, focusing on what it means for app marketers and publishers. And then I ran some calculations on what 500 million weekly visitors to the App Store means for apps that get featured in Apple’s new main attraction listings. And finally, I tell you what the experts really, really, really don’t want to be seen saying publicly, but is absolutely most likely to happen in the new App Store format.

This is a 3,000+ word blog post; use these links to navigate quickly:

Let’s start with what’s changing.

25 new App Store changes

I count 25 major and minor App Store changes (it helps if you pause Apple’s WWDC videos on certain slides). Let’s start with the bigger ones:

13 main new features

  1. New home screen with a featured app
    As we all know, Apple will feature one app per day. The listing will be large and colorful; it will include both video and editorial content, and there is the option for social sharing.
  2. The great divorce: apps and games
    Apps and games are finally going their separate ways, allowing more room for each to breathe

    1. App of the day
    2. Game of the day
  3. Showing in-app purchases on app listing pages
    Apple will show in-app purchase options on app listings, which not only gives people a better sense of what can be purchased in an app but also enables quick purchase right from the App Store. (Interesting possibility: This might be usable by some developers as a way to push new paid upgrades or updates.)
  4. How-to video guides
    Apple will create videos showing key features and use cases for some of the apps it features. In some cases, Apple might even use app publishers’ own videos, depending on quality and tone.
  5. New bottom tabs
    The five bottom tabs used to be Featured, Categories, Top Charts, Search, and Updates. Now they will be as follows. Interestingly, there are now multiple “featured” opportunities. Today is clearly the most valuable, but being shown prominently on the Games tab or the Apps tab will be worthwhile also.

    1. Today
    2. Search
    3. Updates
    4. Games
    5. Apps
  6. More videos
    Apple will allow more videos on your app listing pages, up to three I think). This is huge, because videos are critical for getting quality app installs.
  7. Top charts badging
    This might seem like a minor feature, but I think it’s huge. Apple will now badge your app with some kind of “Top App” badge when it is in the top charts somewhere. That’s part independent third-party validation of your app, part social proof, and part extra bling, all of which make your app stand out.
  8. Reset rating
    You screwed up and everyone hates your latest update, and now your app sports a brand-new 1.7-star rating. In the past, you’d be in ratings purgatory for weeks and months — maybe years — until you could strain and struggle to get it higher. Now you can reset the rating on a new and improved version and just start over. This is critical, because ratings are part of what users look at to make download decision … and, perhaps more importantly, part of what Apple uses to rank apps and order search results.
  9. Responses to reviews
    Dipweed Dave is upset that your sweet photography app doesn’t accomplish cold fusion too, and he’s complaining in as public a fashion as possible. Now you can politely redirect him to a better option: Appus Impossibilus.
  10. Auto-renew with Apple Pay
    Faster, easier money to your pocket? Score.
  11. Faster app review
    Apple app review is always a fun subject to bring up with developers. Apps that charge $99/week to basically do nothing make it through, and your app gets held up because you misspelled a word. Relax: Apple’s making it better.
  12. Expanded free trials
    Just like #10, anything that makes it easier for you to onboard new installs and move them down the funnel from users to customers is generally A Good Thing™.
  13. New search interface
    Search has two major changes. First, it will include all the editorial content from the Today, Apps, and Games tabs, and second, it will be substantially more visual, with large app images accompanying app titles in a stream of results.

In addition to these major new features, there’s at least 12 more that I, in an admittedly totally subjective manner, am characterizing as minor new features. And yet, some of them will be absolutely huge to various developers, especially the ones around more beta users, subscription transfers, the new reviews API, and so on.

Plus 12 more not-quite-so-massive new features

  1. Testflight more beta users
  2. TestFlight multiple builds
  3. App Store cleanup
    Cleaning up old apps, presumably; getting rid of abandonware.
  4. New iOS design resources
  5. Localized enrollment
  6. Schedule a call
    I’m not certain what this is, but it seems like either a support feature for your app users, or (more interestingly) the ability for you to schedule a call with Apple.
  7. Unified developer services key
  8. Reviews API
    Imagine being able to showcase great reviews on your site.
  9. Subscriptions reporting
  10. Phased release
    No melted servers!
  11. Subscription apps transfer
    This is interesting: to a new device, or perhaps even to a new person (for example: from a parent to a child).
  12. Receipt enhancements

What experts say is a big deal

There’s a lot in these changes, so it’s no wonder that Apple said that this is the biggest revamp of the App Store ever. There’s also a lot to like in what Apple is doing.

Separating apps and games: big win

Beside a new home screen for the App Store with a featured app, this is probably the biggest deal.

“Separating apps and games is massive and way overdue! It’ll be interesting to see the ‘Top Paid’ category for apps. There have been so few non-games that use upfront payment for a long time now.”

 – Chris Maddern, chief product officer, Button

The separation will make it easier for users, say some:

“The new tabs for Today, Apps and Games will make it much easier for users to see what’s new, read editorial and watch videos for discovering apps and specifically games.”

 – Bob Ferrari, CEO, Bare Tree Media

And that should drive installs and revenue …

Splitting the games and the apps, adding more video content that will auto play and strengthening the guidelines on the copy will move the needle for quality apps who care about their users.

 – Simon Lejeune, growth manager, Hopper

Excitement upgrade: still apps, but not a store anymore

At WWDC, Apple’s global VP of marketing Phil Schiller  said that the new App Store was bringing the excitement back to apps, like the days when apps were innovative and it was fun to go to the store to see what what was new.

He’s right.

The old App Store is pretty boring. The new App Store will almost be like a news feed of what’s new and cool in mobile.

“I think that the main things changing are that the App Store is not a store anymore,” says Kirill Chekanov of Alfa-Bank, one of the largest banks in eastern Europe. “It’s media and we as app developers have to deliver even more content to entertain and bring value to App Store users.”

Video, video, video: time to get creative

It’s pretty clear that video content is going to be huge in the new App Store. Video is already a major piece in sealing the deal with potential downloaders; now it’s going to be critical early in the funnel too, with people who see videos about your apps before even searching for them.

“Video has become a dominant medium for brands to communicate with their audiences, and we see this ramping up in the App Store.

Across the separate “Games” and “Apps” tabs for instance, the editorial team will be promoting more videos as part of their content strategy. And even in the app product page itself, developers can now submit up to three video previews, the first one of which will auto-play without audio (similar to Facebook). All this amounts to the importance of creating compelling and channel-specific video content. Apps should take advantage of these changes to not only create or update explainer videos, but to create content that is more lifestyle-oriented.

Take a payment app for instance; instead of only walking someone through the features, look to produce a humorous 15-second clip of people trying to split a bill.”

 – Matt Asay, VP of mobile, Adobe Experience Cloud

Engagement and discovery

A lot of what Apple has done will improve the App Store’s ability to help people discover new apps and engage with them. Some of that is building on the success of the Apple News app:

“As some news publishers have seen, both the format and the contextual ad inventory of Apple News has led to increased subscriptions and higher engagement. It makes sense that they’d take a similar approach with the App Store where Apple aims to motivate consumers to revisit the store on a more consistent basis via the Today section and more visual-centric design.

Relatedly, Apple is making concerted efforts to enhance search. Last WWDC they announced Apple Search Ads which have performed remarkably well in terms of conversion rates and cost per acquisition. Now, they’re going much further in integrating app-related content, like developers themselves, in-app purchases, categories, editorial stories, tips and tricks, and collections. This introduces many more discovery points for app publishers.”

 – Patrick Haig, director of product, TUNE

Ratings reset: game-changer

This is a major, major opportunity to start fresh after you’ve had problems.

” … developers can choose to reset the rating when submitting an update.This has long been problematic if an update had a bug that caused the user rating to plummet (or, in my experience, parents who don’t know how to actually control the sound on their devices submit a nasty review). Lots of developers will appreciate the ability to choose to start fresh.”

 – Layla Masri, president, Bean Creative

This is also an opportunity to test optimization strategies, says Adobe’s Matt Asay:

Mobile app trackingApp ratings have always been critical for attracting new users. With the app page redesign where the rating is now more prominently shown, this is more important than ever before. One of the biggest changes for developers to take note here is the ability to reset ratings. If your app hit a rough patch and the ratings took a tumble, it might merit starting from scratch once the issue has been fully resolved. It also gives you the opportunity to ensure all the appropriate mechanisms are in place to optimize app store rankings. This includes everything from A/B testing different variations to “deep links” that take users to the right destinations when they’re navigating across apps. With changes coming to review prompts that will likely drive more user responses, developers can’t afford not to polish their optimization strategies.

– Matt Asay, VP of mobile, Adobe Experience Cloud

In-app purchases on the app listing: more $$$

Shockingly, developers are happy with most things that might make them more money …

“Driving in-app purchases before a download will allow developers to advertise sales before a download even happens, which in turn allows Apple to start making money before someone even downloads.”

 – Tom Cummings, VP of new markets, Fiksu

However, some mobile experts foresee some potential issues here over the long term:

“They’ve clearly invested in the area that’s driving the most revenue for the App Store and developers: games and in-app purchases. It seems that the new break-out of in-app purchases could help grow that business further and feature new expansion content. On this, however, there’s a concern that while it’s an investment in the key revenue-driving area, it’s not what I would consider an important driver of innovation in the ecosystem and will likely lead to new forms of abuse — for instance, rapid releases of expansion content.”

– Chris Maddern, co-founder and chief technical officer, Button

Higher conversion rates are likely

By improving app listings as well as the major tabs in the App Store, Apple is likely going to be improving conversions.

“By giving more control to developers and advertisers on their listing and improving the user experience of the App Store, Apple is helping marketers convert more visitors into new users for our apps and improve the bottom line of their investment.”

– Simon Lejeune, growth manager, Hopper

Localization: smart

For the first time, Apple is allowing localization so that the same app listing can appeal to multiple countries in multiple languages.

“In the new App Store developers can submit up to three video app previews and five screenshots, which can now be localized so a customer in any country can have a customized version of the video.”

 – Megan Gerardi, director of client success, Fiksu

This is very welcome and extremely powerful, but will increase testing requirements, however:

“Apple is also finally allowing developers to localize App Previews (was possible to only have one language/one App Preview), include up to 3 videos, and will autoplay them with muted audio. This is huge as it finally makes the product-page-browsing experience much more seamless for the consumer and gives the developer a lot more real estate to convince that consumer. Combined with five screenshots, that’s eight separate assets to consider (and A/B test).”

– Patrick Haig, director of product, TUNE

Discoverability: the name of the game

If there’s one thing game developers, publishers, and marketers want, it’s more discoverability for their app. That’s a major plus of the new and improved App Store.

“Apple is making the app store something that users want to go into everyday to discover new apps.”

 – Joaquin Brown, CEO and lead developer, Yoga Wake Up

Part of that is right in good old fashioned search:

“Apple is making concerted efforts to enhance search. Last WWDC they announced Apple Search Ads which have performed remarkably well in terms of conversion rates and cost per acquisition. Now, they’re going much further in integrating app-related content, like developers themselves, in-app purchases, categories, editorial stories, tips and tricks, and collections. This introduces many more discovery points for app publishers. It will remain to be seen how app developers can leverage this to expand their search footprint, as we know that 65% of downloads originate from search. But, it does point towards more sources developers can have control over to influence their search presence.”

– Patrick Haig, director of product, TUNE

It’s possible Apple is even taking a cue from stories in social platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Messenger:

“Apple has always tried to increase the usefulness of the App Store, efforts which have typically focused on discoverability. With this latest update, Apple appears to actually be increasing engagement and relevancy, with cues from other “story” platforms that garner high engagement, including Snapchat and Instagram.”

– Megan Gerardi, director of client success, Fiksu

Splitting apps and games: huge

It’s almost hard to over-estimate how important and how big this change is … and how much mobile marketers have been waiting for it:

“Separating apps and games is massive and way overdue!”

 – Chris Maddern, chief product officer, Button

This change makes non-game developers feel like they have a shot at top charts that they didn’t previously:

“The changes made … feature a new app every day and separate out games from other app types at the top level, giving individual developers and small companies a greater change for app store exposure.

An app like Duolingo which teaches languages to users on their mobile device [was] vying for the same front page space as time wasting Candy Crush. Only apps that make it in the top 50 soon after submission are able to gain any real user base because otherwise, they [were] almost impossible to find while simply browsing for apps.”

  – Ryan Rusnak, chief technology officer, Airspace Technologies

Get ready for millions of app installs in a single day

If you run some very basic numbers, a few things quickly become very apparent. Some apps are going to get very, very blessed by App Store editors. So blessed, in fact, that their servers might melt down.

At WWDC, Apple said that the App Store gets 500 million visitors each day.

Assuming that’s spread evenly throughout the week (and it’s not — there’s a weekend bump for many but not all apps) the App Store gets over 71 million daily users. That’s pretty amazing.

On a busy day, however, that might be 150 million …

And one app is going to get top billing on the new Today page.

Now, there’s nothing we know now that says that Apple will choose the same app globally, and I think that’s significantly unlikely. However, it could happen across five or six English-speaking geos simultaneously for a major localized app like an Uber, a Twitter, or other, especially if that app releases a major iOS-specific feature.

The question becomes: what’s the clickthrough rate (tap-through) on featured apps on Today, and then what’s the install rate.

From TUNE’s app store analytics product, we know a few things about CTR and install rate:

  • impression to app listing clickthroughs average about 10% but some are at 20% (impressions are views of your app logo/name in search or other places, like top charts)
  • app listing views to download rates average about 30-40%, but some are at 74%

The really hard question is: how will the clickthrough rate change from today’s momentary glimpses in a list of search results to tomorrow’s front-page full-featured Apple endorsement? Also, how will overall clickthrough rates increase now that Apple enables downloads right from the featured listing … not requiring people to click through to the full app listing page?

Whatever it is, it’s likely to be significantly better, not just a percentage point or two better. Perhaps as much as 2-3X better, especially with the direct download from a Today tab feature.

And, with improved app listing pages, conversion rates from app listing views to actual installs could jump too.

Estimates on the low end in a major geo: 2-4M installs

Let’s assume the following:

  • Your app is featured in only one country
  • 10-20 million people see it on the Today page
  • 2-4 million download the app (average conversion: 20%)

This is actually not far-fetched.

It’s below some of the numbers we see at TUNE. In data I saw recently, the lowest conversion from app listing screen to download was 21% in the Photo and Video category. Entertainment was at 47%, News at 32%, Shopping was at 56%, and Games were at 30%. A successful developer I chatted with said he averaged 10% clickthrough rates on Apple features in the past, for his app with millions of installs. That’s impressive enough, but given the new direct install button, the app listing screen conversion rates might be more relevant.

And, we’ve seen similar things before … not at quite this scale, but close: Apps that shot up from perhaps the 300th-most-installed app to top five, just from Apple featuring them.

That’s massive, and that’s with Apple’s old iOS10 featuring system.

But, cut the conversion rates in half, and you’re still looking at almost a million installs in a single day.

Estimates on the high end in multiple major geos: Up to 15M installs?

On the other hand, let’s try a few different assumptions:

  • Your app is featured in multiple countries
  • 75 million people see it on the Today tab
  • 15 million people install it right from that tab (20% CTR again)

15 million installs is a little harder pill to swallow, perhaps. And it’s an extreme case, with all the stars aligning: major geos, popular category, popular app with broad appeal.

But it’s not completely beyond the bounds of possibility.

With the old featured app system, some apps have seen a 59X increase in installs, with hundreds of thousands of new daily active users. Average days in the App Store might be 71 million users, but there will be busy days too, with perhaps double the average. And, there are more than 1.3 billion iOS devices in use today. By the end of this year, Apple will have sold perhaps 200 million more, meaning even more visits to the App Store.

With the right app on the right day, it might just be possible.

Plus, don’t forget, it’s not just about Apple featuring you.

When Apple features an app, other people notice. Influential people, and people in the press. That wave of publicity can add to and amplify the initial boost. Particularly for apps with built-in virality and social features, this could lead to absolutely immense numbers of new users.

Of course, a few caveats

We don’t currently know how people are going to react to the new App Store, and we don’t know what the conversion rates will be. Also, and perhaps more importantly, it’s possible that many if not most of the 500 million people visiting the App Store weekly are clearing notifications: seeing that they have 5, 10, or 20 apps to update and just going to the App Store to get rid of that little red number.

It’ll certainly be fascinating to see the results of the first few features.

While Uber, Twitter, and Amazon might be able to handle the strain of onboarding tens of millions of new users in a single day, that’s unlikely to be the case for most indie games. Apple knows this, and is going to do whatever it can to make the first-day experience for apps it features positive.

So Apple will probably feature different apps in different countries, and work with app publishers well in advance of featuring them to ensure they can handle the load. (That in itself could be hard: did you build your app to be easily scalable, can you handle the additional cost of a few million new users, who might have a month-long payback period, and so on.)

Apple’s building in phase release for app updates, but it’s hard to see how this could be done for editorially featured apps.

Down the road, I expect something like a Siri-ification of features that tailor recommendations to your demographic, your already installed apps, and any other pieces of data Apple knows and can use about you.

But for the initial days of the Today tab and Apple features, some developers are likely to get royally slammed, in the best possible of ways.

Summing up: buckle your seat belt

The changes coming along with the next major iteration of the App Store are bigger than any since the beginning of the App Store. Better keep your powder dry for any needed user acquisition if the app store optimization odds do not fall in your favor, and do all you can to merit an Apple editor’s selection.

And buckle up: change is coming!

The hard truth of the change is that while excitement is coming back to the App Store and engagement is very likely going to rise, the number of apps that Apple is going to feature is going to go down.

Apple features literally dozens of apps in a geo on any given day today: New Apps We Love, New Games We Love, local apps, apps with special offers, time-sensitive apps for holidays like Valentine’s Day, and so on. That number might not be getting cut down to just one, but it’s certainly going down. At least in the major new feature slot on Today, and similar slots on the Apps and Games tabs.

That means your chance of being the ONE is not huge.

And with the potential reward so high … the competition to get there will be fierce.

I think that Apple will use this power to promote smaller developers, and won’t often gift it to those who are already kings of the mobile app ecosystem. And that’s a huge positive. But it still won’t be easy.

Welcome to a whole new world of app marketing.

(Oh … and I can almost guarantee I have not talked about every new feature. Add any you see are missing in the comments.)

Author
John Koetsier

As Mobile Economist at TUNE, I forecast and analyze trends affecting the mobile ecosystem. I've been a journalist, analyst, and corporate executive, and have chronicled the rise of the mobile economy. Before joining TUNE, I built the VB Insight research team at VentureBeat and managed teams creating software for partners like Intel and Disney. In addition, I've led technical teams, built social sites and mobile apps, and consulted on mobile, social, and IoT. In 2014, I was named to Folio's top 100 of the media industry's "most innovative entrepreneurs and market shaker-uppers.” I live in British Columbia, Canada with my family, where I coach baseball and hockey, though not at the same time.