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App Store FAQ: What developers and customers need to know!

Apple doesn't focus App Store updates around WWDC any more. We saw many changes happen right before the annual conference this year, and we've now seen additional changes follow in the fall. With App Stores in over 155 counties, including over two-million apps in 25 categories, and around 100,000 new and updated apps submitted each week, it's more important than ever for Apple to stay agile and adjust as and when needed. Here's the latest!

Note: Updated September 28, 2016.

When are search ads going to be available to developers?

Starting today, September 28, 2016!

Where can I find more info on search ads?

Right here: https://searchads.apple.com (opens in new tab)

So, Apple's going to purge abandoned apps from the App Store?

Kinda. Here's what Apple has to say about apps that have been abandoned or have otherwise failed to update with the times:

Quality is extremely important to us. We know that many of you work hard to build innovative apps and update your apps on the App Store with new content and features. However, there are also apps on the App Store that no longer function as intended or follow current review guidelines, and others which have not been supported with compatibility updates for a long time. We are implementing an ongoing process of evaluating apps for these issues, notifying their developers, and removing problematic and abandoned apps from the App Store.

Abandonware clogs up the App Store, making it harder for customers to find apps in general, and find the best apps for the needs in specific. If an app hasn't been updated for Retina, for 16:9, for the new big and bigger iPhone size classes, and most importantly, for ongoing bug fixes and adoption of newer, better frameworks, it shouldn't be on the App Store, any more than a derelict brick and mortar should remain in the mall.

Hopefully Apple goes after the thin web wrappers next...

Also, buh-bye SEO scam names?

Also kinda. From Apple:

Search is one of the most frequently used methods for customers to discover and download apps from the App Store. In hopes of influencing search results, some developers have used extremely long app names which include descriptions and terms not directly related to their app. These long names are not fully displayed on the App Store and provide no user value. App names you submit in iTunes Connect for new apps and updates will now be limited to no longer than 50 characters. You can learn more about creating effective app names, as well as icons, keywords, screenshots, and descriptions, by reading the App Store Product Page.

In other words, be succinct, and don't be a scammer.

Brilliant, but why did this take so long?

There's no excuse. People inside and outside of Apple have been begging for these changes for a long, long time. Previously, though, the App Store was in a multi-legged race, careening down a hill at a million dollars an hour. And that makes it hard to adjust without tripping and falling.

Now, since the last re-org, the App Store is still racing, but it's a far more focused race. That's the advantage of having one name on the door, and one person who's job it is to make the App Store an amazing product.

So, call me optimistic.

Note: Updated June 8, 2016.

Has App Review really gotten faster?

Yes! It's not just a beautiful dream! App review has gotten much faster. About half of all reviews are now being completed within a day, and 90% within two days. That's a huge improvement from the previous 7-10 day waiting period.

What do faster App Review times mean for customers?

Developers can iterate faster and not hesitate simply to avoid getting stuck in review. They can also fix bugs faster, which is better for everyone.

How did Apple improve review times and why did it take so long?

Good questions. Apple's internal tools have gotten better, which automates all the heavy-lifting and, as of a month or so ago, they reorganized the review team to smooth out some long-standing problem areas. The rest sounds like "policy changes", which means the will to do it.

Since Phil Schiller, Senior Vice President of world wide product marketing, is now in solely in charge of the App Store, the power and responsibility to get things like that done are his. And he's pushing it through.

What's new with Subscriptions on the App Store?

A lot! Previously, subscriptions were only available for streaming media (think Netflix or Spotify), cloud services (Dropbox or Office), news (New York Times), and dating apps (Match.com). Now, they're available to all apps in all categories.

Most interestingly, after the traditional 70/30 split in the first year of subscriptions, Apple will only be asking for 85/15 for subsequent years.

Wait, stop, is this the end of Apple's 70/30 split?

No. It's unique to subscriptions and only kicks in after the first year. So, if Apple's huge customer base helps get a subscription, Apple still gets its usual cut. After that, it drops down to 85/15 — which is what some big subscription services like Netflix have been reportedly getting for a while already.

How much will subscriptions cost?

Whatever developers set them to. What's more, territory-specific pricing will be available, with 200 price-points across the board (up from the previous 87). That way, developers can properly price for each market, and have the flexibility needed to adapt (for example, if competing services or other platforms change prices).

How will price changes be handled?

Well, first, prices can be maintained for existing subscribers, even if they're increased for new subscribers. So there's an option to keep existing, loyal customers on lower price plans for longer.

If and when a price increase does happen, a push notification will alert customers and the customer can choose to accept the price change or cancel the subscription. If customers don't respond, the subscription will end automatically to prevent negative surprises.

In other words, increases are opt-in, not opt-out.

Customers will also be able to easily manage subscriptions and developers will be able to offer upgrades, cross-grades, or downgrades for customers who want to change their subscriptions.

Wait, stop again. Upgrade pricing?!

Only for subscriptions. For example, if you go from a single to family plan, or a lower to higher level of service. This doesn't change anything when it comes to apps going from version 1 to version 2. At least, no word yet.

Here's the big BUT: But, it might be possible for developers to figure out a subscription model that lets them, for example, charge periodically for a Twitter client or to-do list or another kind of app. It remains to be seen what that experience would be like for the customer, though. (What happens if you don't renew? Do you have to stop using it? Would you be able to get your data out? Lots of unknowns!)

Is app discovery improving?

In several ways. The App Store used to get a major refresh every Thursday. Now that's happening more frequently, so more apps can be featured more often.

So I'll need to check more often?

More like, however often you check, there's a better chance you'll see new and interesting apps and games.

Later this fall, Apple will also start filtering out apps you already have, so new apps are easier to spot, and sharing will become faster thanks to 3D Touch.

3D Touch? Tell me more!

You'll be able to 3D Touch on an app on your Home screen and instantly share it with a friend. Warp speed!

Okay. Gently now — Search ads...?

Yeah. Deep breath. The simple truth is this: If you've used Google, you've gotten search ads. It's something that, historically, has worked well both for platforms and ad buyers. A lot of how this turns out, though, will depend on how Apple implements them.

How will search ads work?

Search ads will show up when you search for an app or game in the App Store. They'll be labeled as ads with a blue background and an "Ad" icon, so they shouldn't be mistaken for organic App Store search results.

Apple will also make sure that what we see in the ad is what we get in the app. So, if you're searching for a Lego game, you should never see an ad for a calculator app.

But developers with deep pockets can buy their way to the top?

Hopefully not. Apple is prioritizing relevancy, not ad spend. So, the best app for you should always show up, not the app where the developer spent the most on advertising.

We'll have to see how that works in the real world. Apple will likely tweak to make sure it doesn't get gamed or abused, and that the best experience is achieved.

Should I worry about app search? Is Apple becoming Google?

Apple has offered some forms of advertising for years, going back to when Steve Jobs introduced iAd. All app search ads will have to adhere to Apple's privacy and security policies, and no ads will be shown to accounts where the owner is 13 and under. So, your data stays your data. Developers, hopefully, will just have an additional way to reach you.

When do search ads start?

The ad search program starts in beta in the U.S. this Monday and should broaden this fall.

Developers can find more information at https://developer.apple.com/app-store/search-ads/{.nofollow}.

Anything else?

I'll keep updating as more (and better) information becomes available. If you have questions, drop them in the comments below!

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Rene Ritchie
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

27 Comments
  • I wonder when Apple is going to invest some time in the actual search algorithms in the App Store, iTunes, etc. Right now, it seems more primitive than what we were using back in the mid-90s. It's like it's based on a couple of fields and can't even handle word order or simple word variance. When I want to find an app, I can either spend an hour looking around the App Store, trying to find something that will do what I want... or I can do a quick Google search and *HOPE* someone has talked about or reviewed such an app. But, finding anything meaningful via Apple's search technology is pretty much luck.
  • Agreed. Coming from Android, I was pretty underwhelmed by the search results in the App Store -- even when I knew exactly what it was that I was looking for... by name, even! I don't understand why searching for the exact name of an app gives me the actual app several down the list of results.
  • I think it's just really simplistic search technology... think of the default search on many blogs, or if you've been around long enough, Alta Vista search engine days. As for why the exact match seems to so often fail, it must have some other weight factor that's pushing the others above. But, whatever it is, is messed up, because it will often throw a bunch of spam apps ahead of the real, popular one. (And, how all those spam apps ever made it into the store is curious too.)
  • I would take this allot further than that. Search should be like Spotlight on OS X where u search based on character entered.. i.e type "a" reveals all files beginning with a .... "ab" all files beginning with ab and so on. Rather than what we have currently where any letter in *any app name* is revealed first, regardless what was actually entered. Thus,, while u get what u want, u still must sift though apps which is not even relevant to the search but with those letters in.
  • Perhaps Apple could also fix its user review/comment system. I tried to review an app a few weeks ago, and I kept getting the error that the nickname I used was already taken, even when I tried nicknames so obscure that they couldn't possibly be in use. And it sure wasn't helpful that, each time this happened, I'd have to reenter my comment. I figured out to copy it before attempting to submit, but I had to learn that the hard way, after my first one was wiped out. In the end, I never could submit that app review.
  • And allow the developer to leave one response to reviews to help with FUD. Not a whole thread of back and forth. Just one reply.
  • I think that is a fantastic idea. When I leave reviews I feel like it just goes into a black hole.
  • Upgrade pricing still a gaping hole. Why can't they let developers tie a new app price to previous versions? As in, if buyer have app A purchased, developer can set upgrade price for app B to be lower. Or full price if app A is not purchased. Maybe they'll be able to maneuver this subscription model as a way to do it.
  • I hope this doesn't turn into a thing where all apps are charged monthly Sent from the iMore App
  • It will, trust me! Apps will be just like Apple Music, pay, pay and pay some more, you own nothing!
  • If that happens no one will buy apps and developers will go under
  • Interesting stuff. I wonder if they announced it now because there is so much to announce at WWDC, or because they aren't sure what reception it will get. Personally I am very happy that they are changing things because the current model doesn't work for me (no-one ever finds my app), but I'm not sure about the changes they are suggesting. The improved app discovery sounds great if it works, but the fact that they are introducing paid ads makes me think that it probably won't, at least for indie developers like myself. I am also not convinced by subscriptions. As a user I would never go for a subscription-based app, so I wouldn't consider it as a way to sell my app. But, as I say, it's good that they are changing things, so hopefully the changes will work out better than I expect. At the very least the improved app review times are great and the more frequent refreshing of featured apps has got to be a good thing.
  • My guess, is knowing Apple, they'd "remind" us all again at WWDC.... Its not normal for a change to happen with them so close to an event and Apple just "keeps silent" on the matter. Particularly, when they know it will be a boom in the right place. It's like passing up a golden opportunity .
  • With regard to subscription pricing, I wonder if developers will start offering annual pricing to keep users for the year. For instance, two apps I subscribe to through iTunes are: HBO Now (about 6 months a year)
    CBS All Access (about 9 months a year) As it stands now, Apple will always get 30% of what I pay, where if they offered me annual pricing, I could pay the same or less (for a full year) and billing annually I would be more inclined to keep it all year, and they get more from me. Sent from the iMore App
  • Just did the math. I'll use CBS All Access as the example. I do 9 months @ $5.99/month. CBS gets $37.74 from me, then I take 1 June to 31 August off. So I am considered "new" when I renew in September. The second year, CBS gets $37.74 from me again. I pay $53.91 each year. That is a total of $75.47 to CBS over 2 years, paying Apple 30% each time. Now, they could offer an annual price of $49.99 for a full year. CBS gets $34.99 the first year from me. Then, in year 2, because I remain a customer non stop, CBS gets $42.49 for me. That is a total of $77.48 to CBS over the two years. So I pay less, CBS gets more. The future years are where it gets even better for the developers. Small amounts but it adds up. Sent from the iMore App
  • CBS are really only interested if they get more and don't really care if you save a few dollars. Your scenario would only work out better for CBS if a lot of folk do as you do. If the majority don't, and just pay each month, they'd just be giving everyone else a discount so that you got a better deal. Of course, only CBS know who does what.
  • so that means Apple would get 30% a "year^ if u subscribed for year to something ? Sounds like the developers will get the best out of that one only.
  • Oh boy, search ads! Just what I needed. Nope sorry, that wasn't it. What I really needed was a search that when I type in the name of an application then the application shows up in the first few of the results. I needed a way to delve through the mass of apps rather than just one or two levels of categories. Showing me the 75,000 (or however many) sports games there are doesn't really narrow things down. Let the developer add a few keywords or subcategories to help shrink that number down to something more manageable. Showing me an ad that a developer paid for in the existing terrible list of search results does not enhance my experience. Apple is losing it's focus on the user experience and has been for the past couple of years.
  • i'd be ok with search ads in the App store, but only if my search results all came first, followed the adds at the very bottom.., That way i will never see them. If the ads are intrusive and u must scroll to the bottom of the page to see. then it will work... Customers and browse, and very few will see the ads if they are all on the bottom of search results page. Otherwise,,, nice knowing ya
  • Great job Apple, hope all iPhone users are ready to bend over. Subscription will end the era of owning apps. Everything will be a service that you pony up for, or get nothing. There may still be some free apps, or pay once apps, but they will be at the bottom end of the quality and functionality scale. Anything worthwhile will be subscription.
  • Look into FOSS apps then?
  • But Apple Music didn't get rid of me owning my music. I just choose not to use Apple Music and purchase from the iTunes store instead. I don't see why the App Store couldn't be ran the same way. Pay $9.99 month to be able to use any app you want, or pay for them individually in order to own them if you like... Sent from the iMore App
  • I would love it if there was some way to get developers to go back to actually keeping real change logs instead of "We update the app regularly blah blah blah". I like to know what specifically has changed.
  • Would be good if Apple did that in software update as well
  • I don't have any subscription apps now, nor will I! I'll do without apps if it comes to that.
  • Is there going to be a way to get rid of apps you already have installed that are now not up-to-par with new devices as you have stated besides apps just going away in the App Store? Keep ROCKIN' sir! Sent from the iMore App
  • 3D touch would be to easily share a link to apps,,, I can't see Apple allow u do 3D Touch and share an app to someone who has not punched it.. That would be a violation of their own TOS. I can see Apple doing the "spring cleaning" and while u can call it a clutter, lets be realistic here... Their only doing this to force uses to buy new phones or developers re-do their apps.. Developers take breaks all the time on projects.. and u can't expect Apple to force developers into a hole to say "either update this (ancient) app, or we'll remove it" because not everyone is up-to-date... Some older apps work better and flawlessly then newer versions in some cases as well. And Apple getting developers to *potentially break" their newer updated apps is not a good idea. Plus many people still use older OS's, older phone (3GS) .... Are Apple wanting to eliminate that 1 or 2% of people ? "Sorry u must buy a new phone" That's what Apple is saying, while in other cases, the app may not even work on newer OS's I agree, a cleanup is required. but Apple needs to re-think this a bit. Who will this hurt ? I can only imagine "search ads" would be ads in the App Store ? If so, its time to also have ad blockers for other thing but a browser....... Apple makes money and now they wish to wreck it on a nice layout ? No thanks. I can see that would go the way of IAds pretty quickly. But, will see.