watercolors featured app store

featured appOur first gaming app, Watercolors, was featured by Apple two days after its launch and reached over 1 million downloads in the first two weeks because of it.

How did that happen? Is there any luck involved in getting featured? Maybe, but there is definitely a lot you can do to improve your chances significantly:

1. Pay godlike attention to detail when it comes to USER EXPERIENCE

Look, Apple is a design driven company from head to toe. In this context DESIGN doesn’t only refer to the visual aspect as is often mistakenly misinterpreted. It’s about the entire USER EXPERIENCE. That means that you have to pay great attention to everything your users will go through when using your app.  All their senses have to be overwhelmed with beauty and excitement and their experience has to be seamless.  Let’s break that down and see what exactly you can do as a developer to achieve this:

A. Visually

  • Notice the way the latest iOS version looks and make your app fit in. Is it colorful?, is it cartoony?, is it sober?, is it playful?, is it serious?, is it static?, is it dynamic?, are the elements rounded?, are they sharp?, how exactly would you describe it?
  • Keep it clean. Keep your graphical elements to the minimum. Too much visual noise on the screen will stress your users’ eyes. They will simply not know where to look first and it will be harder for them to find what they are looking for. More so, it will usually just look messy. So keep it clean and simple.
  • Follow the trend. Look at the featured apps that are similar to the one you’re going to create and follow the same trend. We were highly inspired by gaming apps like Dots and Blek, which were among the first to bring a sense of art into casual games. With Watercolors, we knew from the beginning we were going to follow the same artsy trend.
  • Put your touch over it. Don’t be afraid to come up with something new, put your touch over it, but keep it Apple-ish.

B. Auditive

When it comes to choosing the sounds for your app, here are the questions you want to answer first:

  • What do I literally want my users to feel when hearing this sound? Sound is a powerful tool that brings a new dimension to your app. It brings it closer to nature, to reality, it brings it to life. What a person feels is highly influenced on what he hears, so make sure your sounds transmit what you want your users to feel in that precise moment.
  • What is the natural sound that would fit when pressing this button, swiping this screen, dragging this object and so on? Congruency is the most important thing you want to achieve with sounds. If a sound and a gesture don’t match, or a background song and the theme of your app are not on the same pace, your users will get the feeling that something is off.

C. Interactive

  • Keep your bugs to the minimum. There’s no more of a turn off than having a crash or encountering a major bug.
  • Keep your app simple. Steve Jobs believed that a good product shouldn’t need an instruction manual. Your app shouldn’t either. Actually not even a tutorial if possible. In this case less is always better: less screens, less swipes, less taps, even less features. So always be asking yourself ‘is there any way I can have the same feature only simpler to use?’ The down side is that more often than not a simpler to use feature is usually more difficult to implement, but guess what… in the end this is what makes a product great.
  • Keep your app intuitive. People that are familiar with Apple products know their way around an Apple app. Don’t change it! You don’t want your user to search for the back button when she is used to having it on the upper left side of the screen. Follow the Apple UI guidelines. Make sure both a 10 year old and your grandma can easily have their way around your app.
  • Pay attention to transitions and animations. A mobile app has a dynamic perspective when it comes to design that not many think of that much. There are many ways through which you can transit from one screen to another. There are also many ways a swipe, a pinch, a drag, a zoom or any other dynamic interaction can feel. Pay great attention to each. It’s what creates that feeling of flow when the user interacts with your app. This is a big one because it can easily be overlooked. It’s not the UI designer’s job since he usually only provides static graphics, and it’s not the programmer’s job to make the calls. This is when the product manager should address the matter, gather the team and together take clear decisions. This is the best example to show that UX is not a one person’s job, but a team’s job.

When you’re designing the app, literally think of making art. Think of the feeling you had when you bought an Apple product. That’s the feeling your users should have when first using your app.

And of course we’re all on a deadline, but make a conscious decision from the beginning to invest time and effort (which also translates into money) in paying attention to detail. For example, with Watercolors, we’ve spent 2 full days (a team of 3) just to come up with the exact shades of the 6 colors we’re using within our app.

2. Create apps for the latest models of iPhones and iPads

With every new model they launch, Apple upgrades the hardware components: processor, camera and so on. If you have a great app that takes advantage on the latest hardware improvements, it will be in their interest to promote it since they will sell more devices. In the end Apple gets the most revenue from hardware, right?

3. Launch your app exclusive for the App Store… or at least launch it for iOS first

Everybody is familiar with the expression “only on the App Store”. It creates the exclusive vibe Apple takes pride in. And it’s understandable. It makes people want to buy iPhones and iPads. This should be your goal. So make your app available “only on the App Store”… at least at first.

4. Integrate as many Apple services within your app as possible: in app purchase, game center, iTunes, newsstand, passbook, iCloud.

Again, Apple will benefit directly if you integrate any of their services. The more your app uses, the better. A major advantage is if you are amongst the first to integrate a service right after they launch. Being in the promotion period and having less apps to prove their service, will make it more likely that they will promote your app.

5. Have at least a few hundreds downloads/day during the first days after launch

Having a decent number of downloads in the first days of launch will mean that your app will quickly advance in the charts. A good launch might be essential for your app. 

6. Have your app compatible with as many Apple devices as possible: iPod, iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch

This is both an advantage for your users which can then use your app on all their Apple devices and for Apple which will sell more of their products.

7. Time your launch properly. Thursday is the day editors change the featured apps on the App Store

There’s a big debate regarding the best day of the week to launch an app. With Watercolors, we’ve launched on Tuesday and got featured on Thursday. Many consider it one of the worst days to launch, but then again… worked for us.

8. Get covered by as many publications as possible

Just placing your app on the store makes it very unlikely to get noticed and featured no matter how good of an app it is. Make sure you do a proper press launch and try to get covered by as many publications as possible. They say that Apple’s editors keep an eye on MacWorld (apps reviews) and Touch Arcade (app games reviews). Who knows? Might be true :). Find more on how to properly launch an app HERE.

9. Have a connection inside the company

Personally getting in touch with an Apple editor is definitely an easier way to get your app seen by the right people. Networking is important, so keep in touch with the community, attend app events and who knows, the person sitting right next to you might be an Apple editor.

If there’s any other tips you’d like to share on getting featured on the App Store use the comment section below. Also, if you find this article useful don’t forget to share it with your friends.

As they say… sharing is caring! :)





  1. Very insightfull article, did not know some of those points! Thanks &for many apps featured on the App Store!

    Liz
  2. I remember you posting on reddit! I am glad you guys found success, and this is very insightful article!

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