So you want a mobile app for your company but you don’t know how to get it built? In this series of posts I’ll tell you all about how you go from idea to App Store. We’ll cover all of the steps: from firming up your initial idea to finding a developer to getting your app out to your clients.
Today we’ll talk about the last step (of the initial launch, at least), getting the app in Apple’s iOS App Store and what happens after the launch. The previous posts in the series include:
- Firming up your app concept: before talking to developers
- App design: What does your app do?
- How to find the right app developer for your project
- Engaging a developer: Contracts, milestones, and other considerations
- Working with an app developer: Communication and testing
- Putting your app out there: App Store submission and what happens after launch
Preparing for App Store Submission
So you’ve run your beta tests and updated to app based on tester feedback. It’s as bug-free as you can make it and the UI is all polished up. Now it’s time to get it out for sale. If you’re all gung ho and reading this section before the app is ready, that’s great, because some of the registration can take some time.
Try not to leave this section for the last minute or you could end up having to delay your launch. A good developer should have you setting up the accounts at least a month in advance.
What you need to set up depends on who you want to get the app out to. I’m assuming that most people want to put the app for sale in the public App Store. If you want to have the app only available to the employees of your company, there’s a separate program for that: iOS Enterprise App Program.
In addition to everything below, you’ll want to start your marketing efforts before the app is available or at least have your marketing ready to go on launch. Marketing apps is a huge topic in itself and you probably know how to reach your customers better than I do, so let’s just focus on the logistics of getting an app in the App Store.
If you want to make apps available only to your employees or if you want the app to show up as developed by a company in the App Store (which you generally do, the alternative is to have it sold under your personal name), then you need a D-U-N-S number. You can apply to get a D-U-N-S number for any company for free. Getting a D-U-N-S number issued and having Apple recognize it can several weeks, so apply this early if you don’t have one.
Enterprise Developer Program
The iOS Enterprise Developer Program costs $299/year and lets you distribute apps to employees of your organization without restrictions. If you’re building an internal app, then you don’t need to worry about Apple’s restrictions for App Store apps or wait through a review period. Your apps won’t show up in the public app store.
Custom B2B Apps
What if you want to sell an app only to a company that isn’t your company? Or to just a few companies? There’s a little known program by Apple specifically for this case: the Custom B2B Program.
If you’re doing high touch sales for high value apps to organizations, then the Custom B2B program is for for you. It allows white labeling as well as customization for individual organizations to deal with back-end integration, differing security requirements, and other organization-dependent needs.
Custom B2B apps aren’t visible in the public App Store but Apple does handle the distribution for you, allowing your customers to download the app directly from Apple’s servers so you don’t need to host it. Your client companies will need to subscribe to the Volume Purchase Program for you to allow them to download your app.
Public App Store Developer Program
This is what you think of when you picture putting an app in the App Store. The iOS App Store Developer Program allows you to upload apps through iTunesConnect that customers can buy through the App Store. It’s $99/year and allows unlimited apps to be published by your organization.
So pick your developer program and head over to get signed up. Either at the iOS App Store Developer Program, the Custom B2B Program or the iOS Enterprise Developer Program. You’ll get prompted to create an account or to reuse an existing iTunes account. I’d recommend creating a new account, especially if your iTunes account is the one you use for buying apps personally. Best to keep your business & personal needs separate.
You can add multiple developer programs to your account. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a company to have both public App Store apps and internal Enterprise apps.
Once all of your registration is sorted out, including providing your D-U-N-S number if needed and possibly faxing some proof that you do represent the company to Apple, you’ll have an iTunesConnect account to start working with.
iTunesConnect Initial Set Up
Unless you’re only making apps available to employees in your organization, you’ll need to set up some legal and financial info with Apple. Log in to iTunesConnect with your new account. Before you can put any apps on the App Store, you’ll need to accept some contracts with Apple and sort out how you’ll get paid (if the apps aren’t free). So click on the “Agreements, Tax and Banking” section. You’ll see a list of possible contracts. You’ll need to request and agree to at least the Free Applications Contract.
If you’ll be accepting payment in the App Store, you’ll also have to accept the Paid App Contract. And you’ll need to provide banking details for Apple to do direct deposit of revenues. Apple takes 30% of any App Store revenues, whether for paid apps or in-app purchases. If your app is free with in-app purchase, you will still need to agree to the Paid App Contract.
For each contract, you’ll need to supply your contact info and tax info. For the paid contract, you’ll also need to provide tax info (depending on your country). That might include mailing or faxing forms to Apple, so again, it’s best to do all of this set up well in advance of your target launch date.
iTunesConnect User Accounts
Next, you’ll want to set up an account in iTunesConnect so your developer can upload your app. They’ll do this after you fill in all the marketing info to be displayed in the App Store. So head over to the Users & Roles section and create a new user account using your developer’s email address (they might have to give you a new one if they have other iTunesConnect accounts) and give them the Technical role (unless you want them to be able to see your contracts and sales info). You can also add more users who can see different bits in iTunesConnect, including limiting their role to just the legal or sales bits.
Now your iTunesConnect account is all set up. Now we’re reading to start working on your specific app. If you add more apps in the future, you don’t need to repeat anything that we’ve discussed up to this point.
Submitting the App for Review
In iTunesConnect go to the “My Apps” section. You’ll want to hit the + button then choose “New iOS App” (a bundle is a group of apps that’s sold together, but you need to get your first app live first). Then start filling out the numerous fields. You can set up all of these details without the app. In fact, they need to be set up before your developer can upload the app for review.
From your developer, you’ll need the bundle ID and version number (probably 1.0.0). The bundle ID is a unique identifer for each app. Both of these values are baked in to the code. Your developer might need to add the bundle ID to the developer portal so it shows up in the dropbox for you to select (assuming you’ve created a Technical user account on iTunes for them). Depending on you app’s features you might be able to select the wildcard option (but you should probably just have the developer create a real bundle ID). Again, your developer should be able to tell you what to choose here.
You’ll also need screenshots, either from your developer or created by a graphic designer. Usually it’s best to use actual screenshots from the app so coordinate with the developer to get screenshots that clear show your app’s full capabilities. You can have up to 5 screenshots and should provide them for each screen size that the app can run on. Apple also lets you create a preview video, so upload that here too.
Keep filling out the forms (at least the Version and Pricing tabs). You can collaborate with your developer. If so, ask them which fields you need to fill out (or even better, have them tell you what info they need from you and have them input it in iTunesConnect, subject to your review).
A few tips for filling out the info:
- The App Name is what will be displayed in the App Store. It’s not a bad idea to toss in a short description or tag line as long as it fits in the 255 characters allowed
- Keywords are limited to 100 characters so don’t waste characters on spaces. Seaprate keywords with commas and don’t bother using phrases. E.g., realtor, brochure, sheet, template, house, home, buyers, sellers, listing, condo, pdf, selling, agent, owner, sale
- A support URL is required so users can contact you if they’re having problems with the app. Apple will reject the app if you don’t provide a support URL. It doesn’t need to be fancy, even just a page with a link to an email address is fine.
- The SKU number can be whatever is convenient for you (and it doesn’t have to be a number). I usually just use the app ID
- Lots of these fields are only editable when you’re uploading a new version of the app. So take the time to get them right now.
- You can limit the app to just some countries. By default it’s available everywhere that Apple has an App Store.
- If you have in-app purchases, they’ll need to be reviewed along with your app. Make sure your developer has them set as “Cleared for sale” and that they get included with the app for review.
Under “Version Release” you can set up the app to be automatically released when it’s ready. You probably don’t want that, especially for the initial release. Choose “Manually release this version” so you can choose when to make the app live in the App Store.
If you have in-app purchases, your developer should set them up in iTunesConnect for you.
Your developer will be able to upload the app from Xcode once you’ve created the app’s record in iTunesConnect.
The Review Process
Finally, you’ll get everything filled out and your developer has uploaded the app, created the in-app purchases (if needed) and all the text has been carefully checked for types.
In iTunesConnect, click on the “Submit for Review” button. You’ll get a few questions about your app then sit back and wait. How long? Usually a week or two. The App Review Times website tracks recent reports and Apple publishes data on how many apps are approved within 5 days of submission.
Don’t worry too much about the app review process, unless your developer told you that something is bending (or breaking) the rules. If so you should have a back-up plan to handle a rejection.
I’ve submitting at least 10 apps, usually a few versions each, and only had one weird response from Apple that delayed an update by a few weeks. Employ an experienced developer who’s familiar with Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines and you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
While You’re Waiting
Now would be a good time to get your marketing engine fired up. It’s usually a mistake to stay in stealth mode until an app is available. You’ve got all the copy and images that you needed for iTunesConnect, start making use of them.
Consider updating your beta testers to the launch version of the app. They can keep providing feedback and possibly even provide reviews for your marketing copy.
Also, keep using your app. Day-to-day testing is a great way to get a real feel for the app now that some of the pressure is off. If you had a list of “maybe sometime” or “v2.0” feature, now might be a good time to go throuh and re-prioritize them.
Once the review is complete, you’ll get an email from Apple with either approval or rejection. If it’s a rejection, discuss how to address the issue with your developer and have them submit an updated version of the app to be reviewed.
If the app is approved and you chose “Manually release this version” when submitting the app, then you’ll need to log back in to iTunesConnect and navigate to the app. The button in the top right corner will have changed to “Distribute”. Click on that button to make the app available for sale. Apple uses a network of servers to distribute the apps, so it’s possible that the app won’t show up for up to 24 hours in some areas. Usually it takes no more than 2 hours.
Delete the beta app from your phone and download it from the App Store. Then roll our your launch marketing.
Once your app is in the App Store, you’ll probably want to know if anyone is using it :) Your developer may have build in some analytics to get some richer data about usage but the simplest data to track is downloads & sales.
There are 2 sections in iTunesConnect that you’ll use: Sales & Trends and Payments & Financial Reports.
Sales & Trends shows you downloads & purchases of your app and in-app purchases. You can filter on Territory to see where your app is being used or on Platform to compare iPad & iPhone users. Most of the other filters are useful when you have multiple apps, like comparing the performance of apps in different categories.
Above the filters, you can toggle between units and proceeds. Units shows you the number of downloads and proceeds shows you the revenue from those downloads. Differences between the two can come from changes to your app’s price or sales of in-app purchases. You can play with the date range to compare month-to-month or weekly sales, or to see your total revenue over time.
In the top left, click on Top Content and switch to reports. This section lets you download your sales data for analysis in another program like Excel.
Payments from Apple
In the Payments & Financial Reports you can check out how much Apple owes you. This section also shows units by territory, so you can see the impact of different currencies on your revenues. Apple pays out App Store revenues once a month, paid about a month later.
To check out reviews that users have left for your app in the App Store, head back to the My Apps section where you set up the app for submission. Select your app then choose the Reviews tab. This section will show you all of the worldwide reviews, as you select each country from the dropdown list. If you check your app on the App Store yourself, you’ll only see reviews from your country.
If you don’t want to log in to iTunesConnect but do want to track your sales regularly, sign up for App Annie. Then App Annie will send you daily emails of your sales & downloads or a weekly report. The reports will also include any new App Store reviews of your app.
The work is never done. Keep getting feedback on your app to make it a greater experience for your users. Start planning your first app update or your next app. And definitely keep up your marketing efforts.