Every year around the end of December Apple is kind enough to send its employees on vacation while it performs updates and maintenance requirements to the iTunes App Store. This time period, known as the App Store Freeze, is a yearly lockdown that went on from December 22nd through the 29th last year. During this time, Apple froze the App Store’s rankings for up to 8 days around the most crucial phone activation and app download frenzy of the year.
With over 700,000 apps in the App Store competing for the top 25 ranked spots in each category, the App Store Freeze can have extreme consequences during a time when consumers are so ready spend.
Flurry reported that between Christmas and New Years alone last year, over 20 million new devices were activated with more than 1.2 billion apps downloaded. By comparing the 242 million app downloads on Christmas Day 2011 with the 85 million installs on Christmas Day 2010, one can only imagine how much these stats will increase this year from 2011’s already mind-blowing numbers.
So, what does this mean for app developers?
Our advice for iOS developers & app owners would be to consider the following:
1. See the Freeze as an opportunity to make money.
Don’t be intimidated by the approaching deadlines and increased competition. The circumstances provide a chance for you to achieve a good position in the App Store. Not only that, but it will allow you to lock in those desirable stats, giving your app more visibility, and thus making you even more money than you originally would have – if you go about it correctly.
2. Time your updates.
The key takeaway is that developers must release updates to Apple early enough to be approved, but close enough to the Freeze date to sustain a high ranking for their app. This is because apps tend to rank higher right after a new version has been released. To be safe, I recommend submitting your app for review at least a few weeks prior to the cut off date so that you have time to boost rankings once the submission has been approved.
3. Be prepared with a Holiday theme.
A great way to take advantage of the App Store Freeze is to acquire an app that will be heavily downloaded during the Holiday Season and bulk up your portfolio for a greater chance of exposure. For example, Santa Tracker HD allegedly makes $20,000 every Christmas Eve and tons of children download apps like Xmas: Christmas Countdown in anticipation of Santa’s arrival as well. Since there’s no time left to build one of these and establish substantial traction, acquiring a holiday app of this nature is your best bet this time of year.
Another option is to create a Holiday version of an already existing successful app, which will take less time to develop and can be easily cross-promoted within the original app’s portfolio. Well-known apps like Angry Birds often do this as a chance to re-engage users and keep them active.
4. Compete strategically when it comes to promotions.
There’s no way to out-win big brands during the holidays. Take it from EA, a company that’s garnered the top stops during the App Store Freeze for two years in a row. Although they attribute their success to creating great games “available at the right price, at the right time,” a large portion of this success comes from advertising dollars, which indie developers don’t necessarily have a budget for. Instead of taking these brands head on, one promotional tactic developers can employ is to use their advertising spend after the App Store Freeze is undone when consumer spending is still lively with all the new devices activated. Developers can also compete by at least putting their apps on sale alongside these brands. Although there are tons of apps that implement these strategies, there are also tons of consumers looking to buy – which is important to never lose sight of.
5. If all else fails, be prepared with App Store SEO (aka ASO).
Even if you’re app doesn’t do as well in the rankings as you would’ve hoped, there’s still another discovery opportunity to take advantage of – search terms. Although iPhone users will undoubtedly scan the top ranked apps, they’re not going to plow through every iTunes gift card without hunting down some of classic game formats on their own. An app such as Pinball Xmas BR, is a common favorite that could be highlighted throughout the holiday season with its Christmas theme. My best piece of advice would be to go through the new iOS 6 ASO tips & tricks and apply them so that your app is one of the first to pop up when certain keywords are entered in the iTunes search function.
One last thing I also think is important to note is that with Apple’s recent change in guidelines restricting apps promoting other apps, there will be less and less options for app discovery this year. My guess is that this may cause App Store rankings to carry even more weight, since there won’t be any other means for consumers to search for apps. But as long as you’re aware of the upcoming deadlines, you’ll be able to use the holiday App Freeze to your advantage and make money off of the consumer spending that occurs during this cheerful season.