Under the Radar

77: iTunes Connect, Part II


00:00:00   Welcome to Under the Radar, a show about independent iOS app development.

00:00:04   I'm Mark O'Arment.

00:00:05   And I'm David Smith.

00:00:06   Under the Radar is never longer than 30 minutes, so let's get started.

00:00:10   So today we're going to continue from what we did last week where we were talking a bit about iTunes Connect.

00:00:17   And we thought it would be kind of good to dive into the specifics about setting up a app in iTunes Connect.

00:00:24   And I think specifically, not the actual practical part of setting it up in iTunes Connect and where the boxes are and what to set up,

00:00:31   but there's a lot of metadata that you have to set up when you're creating a new app that I think is something that is often hard.

00:00:41   It's like, A, I always kind of put it off doing it because I enjoy the creation of the app part more than I do writing the app store description

00:00:49   or setting the keywords or creating screenshots because that's often a nightmare.

00:00:55   But it's an important part.

00:00:56   The reality is all of the work we do in creating the app is going to be completely wasted if we have a bad presence in the app store.

00:01:04   And the way that we control our presence in the app store is by setting this stuff up.

00:01:08   And so it seemed like maybe a worthwhile episode to kind of go through all the fields that iTunes Connect gives us to set up.

00:01:16   And then you can kind of talk about our experiences in creating, how we set this stuff up, the considerations we have, and kind of go from there.

00:01:26   Sure, yeah, absolutely. I love iTunes Connect.

00:01:29   Yeah. And so I guess the first place, maybe we'll start with the prettiest thing, is the icon, or now actually, the icons, plural, for our apps when we set them up.

00:01:39   Because I believe if you did like, were an app on every platform possible, you would have to create, I think it's four icons?

00:01:47   You'd have the iPhone/iPad icon, and then you'd have the watch icon, the iMessage icon, and I think Apple TV would have a different icon too.

00:01:57   And so you have to create an icon that works well for all of those.

00:02:03   They have all of slightly different constraints and different sizes and different rules, like Apple Watch icons, for example, cannot have dark backgrounds.

00:02:13   That's one of the rules for Apple Watch icons.

00:02:15   Honestly, I don't even know about that.

00:02:17   I've been rejected for it two or three times.

00:02:19   So I've learned the hard way to not do that.

00:02:22   Because basically, because the honeycomb screen on an Apple Watch has a black background that is always black,

00:02:29   they don't want you to have an app icon that kind of blends into that.

00:02:34   If your icon was a white glyph on a black background, you'd get rejected.

00:02:40   So I've had to go in and, for Activity++, for example, which is, on the iPhone version, is essentially a black icon with a colorful glyph on it.

00:02:50   On the Apple Watch version, it has a dark gray background with the same glyph on it.

00:02:56   But something to keep in mind, that when you're creating an icon, there's lots of these little constraints and details that you may have to think through.

00:03:03   It isn't just the 120 pixel version that you're going to show on the iPhone screen.

00:03:12   There's lots of other places that it may show up, including the iTunes Connect version, the big version of it that you have to submit.

00:03:18   That's 1024 by 1024, I think.

00:03:24   I think so, yeah.

00:03:25   So you have to have an icon that scales well between all those different sizes.

00:03:31   Yeah, this is one of those areas where I think designers who are picky about such things used to take great care to custom scale every single little icon

00:03:43   and make sure that the pixels were lined up properly in Illustrator and everything else and custom tweak all the different sizes.

00:03:49   I think now more and more people are just having a batch script that just runs ImageMagick and just takes the big one and resizes it down to every size you need in a big batch automatically.

00:03:59   Because there's so many now that doing anything custom is kind of ridiculous.

00:04:03   Yeah, and I think it's, in reality, there's so many different, it's like the nature of the displays we have.

00:04:10   And actually, probably a good segue into screenshots, because screenshots used to be something that I would go through the process of setting up different screenshots for every single device.

00:04:21   And then if you localize, you can end up, there are times that I've generated hundreds of screenshots that I have to get set up in iTunes Connect.

00:04:32   But last year, I think it was, they changed the mechanism and you can now specify, you know, if you just submit the plus-sized iPhone screenshot, for example,

00:04:44   you can then say, "Use this for all the other smaller sizes," which is something that I've definitely taken advantage of in a lot of cases.

00:04:54   Because you get the impression that these screenshots, they're never displayed at their native resolution.

00:05:02   They're always shrunk down, they're always smushed.

00:05:04   And so being too precious about them, kind of like we were saying with icons, where there's maybe some value.

00:05:13   If you have control over how that icon is going to be displayed, that being precious about making sure it's lined up perfectly and exactly the right size maybe is useful.

00:05:23   But I think the more pragmatic solution for a lot of this stuff is, you know, Apple changes all the time the shape and the size that a screenshot is shown in.

00:05:35   I mean, even just the same screenshot will probably be shown at least three different sizes to a user.

00:05:41   If they, when they're in the search area, you know, the first two screenshots show up there and they're really small, and you tap on it and then they get bigger.

00:05:49   And if you tap on them again, they'll go essentially full screen. And so there's no way that you're going to have sort of pixel perfect artwork there.

00:05:58   And so in the end, I've just kind of simplified and said, "You know what? I'm just going to use the ability to just give one set of screenshots and then make my screenshots."

00:06:08   You know, it's like, "Spend more time making my screenshots good rather than spending that time just creating dozens and dozens of screenshots for not really a huge payoff."

00:06:19   Oh yeah, I've found similar benefits of like, like I recently stopped doing separate screenshots for the 4H phones.

00:06:27   The iPhone SE, 5S, because, you know, once they have the ability for me to have the 4.7 screenshots apply to that, I said that's fine.

00:06:36   Because if I look at my analytics, I can see like which screen sizes are people actually really using in large numbers.

00:06:43   And yeah, it doesn't, the numbers aren't that great for some of the edge cases.

00:06:47   Similarly with iPad, because you can't, I forget, you can't have just 9.7 and have it show up to the 12.9.

00:06:54   Will it ever scale up or does it only scale down?

00:06:56   It only ever scales down. So you have to, you have to specify the 12 inch one at least.

00:07:01   Yeah, that's unfortunate. I wish they would change that, but I kind of understand why they don't.

00:07:06   Because it's easier for an app to scale down than up, you know, with user expectations.

00:07:10   But anyway, but yeah, like generally I've found that like you can now specify so much in, you know, in screenshots and everything else, descriptions, localizations.

00:07:21   You can specify so much that in the early days the standard wisdom was, "Well, of course, why wouldn't you just do it all?

00:07:30   Why wouldn't you give as much information, as many screenshots, as many assets as you possibly can?"

00:07:35   But these days there are just so many that it's actually fairly prohibitive to require that.

00:07:42   I also don't update them unless the underlying interface changes noticeably.

00:07:48   Like if I change, you know, a couple of pixels here or there, I won't update the screenshots because it isn't worth the time.

00:07:53   It has to change a lot for me to actually update the screenshots because it has to basically be a change that people would actually notice the difference between the screenshots and the app.

00:08:02   And similarly, like, you know, there's all sorts of things that you need to maybe do to the screenshots, cleaning them up.

00:08:10   If you like do things like fishing the status bar to make it, you know, like the nice even, you know, full battery, no carrier, you know, stuff like that.

00:08:18   Basically what you get when you toggle into QuickTime capture mode.

00:08:24   Do people know that you can do that? Like is this a widely known thing?

00:08:27   I don't know. It's probably worth specifying here.

00:08:29   Yeah, so basically this is a thing when Apple added the ability to do app preview videos, which we'll probably also discuss,

00:08:36   they added to QuickTime on the Mac, QuickTime player on the Mac, the ability to use the iPhone as a screen capture device and record screen cast movies onto the Mac of the iPhone screen.

00:08:51   And so this is very useful for recording iPhone stuff.

00:08:54   One of the side effects of this is whenever the iPhone is being captured by QuickTime,

00:08:59   the iPhone goes to a special mode where its status bar gets replaced with this perfect version that displays a time as 942, 941?

00:09:08   941.

00:09:09   Yeah, 941 AM and displays it as full battery, full reception, no ugly carrier name.

00:09:14   So it basically makes you a perfect, pretty status bar.

00:09:17   And as long as the phone is connected to QuickTime in this way, it stays that way.

00:09:22   So what I usually do if I can't easily fake them with status bars that I've generated elsewhere is I will take all of my screenshots with the phone in this mode, with it connected to QuickTime,

00:09:35   so I have perfect status bars in all of them.

00:09:38   It's a neat little hack that you can do. I wish it was easier to do this.

00:09:42   There are some hacks, there's something called status bar magic that at one time at least would change the iOS simulator into this mode, which made it even easier.

00:09:53   But I believe that doesn't work anymore or occasionally doesn't work with new versions or whatever else.

00:09:57   But that's a nice little way to get nice clean screenshot status bars.

00:10:00   Yeah, and I think it's probably worth also just talking briefly about what makes a good screenshot.

00:10:05   Yeah.

00:10:06   Because I feel like there's this wide spectrum of what you can do in a screenshot.

00:10:12   On the one extreme, you have the screenshots that are like illustrations or whatever, where you have a 3D iPhone in space.

00:10:25   I've seen a lot of them recently now where they have an iPhone that's tilted to the side that spans two screenshots.

00:10:33   So it's like taking advantage of the fact that the first two screenshots are shown next to each other in the search area.

00:10:39   So they'll take an iPhone and turn it to the side and make it almost a landscape thing across diagonally.

00:10:47   That's the one extreme where you have that or you have lots of words in your screenshots.

00:10:53   It'll be like, "Awesome, amazing, super terrific app written in the screenshot."

00:11:00   Or on the other extreme, you have screenshots that are just screenshots of the app, I suppose.

00:11:06   Like things that are less trying to explicitly tell you a story and more just show you what the app is like.

00:11:15   I've tried both. I think in general, I've tended towards doing the just screenshots of the app approach.

00:11:23   I find that I'm better able to execute it, A, in terms of I'm not a great designer.

00:11:30   Coming up with pretty clever things is not really my forte.

00:11:36   I try and typically in my screenshots, I try to tell a story in the sense of having them be consistent with each other.

00:11:45   So I try not to show the app. It depends on the app.

00:11:50   But if I'm, say, in Sleepless Plus, if I have a detailed view of a night,

00:11:56   that same night will also appear in the first screenshot where it was like the roll-up view and things like that.

00:12:02   Just so that there's some consistency across it that you could see how someone would be using the app.

00:12:08   But mostly, I think the purpose of these screenshots is just to give someone a sense of what the app is like.

00:12:14   And I think you in general do better doing it that way than trying to be too cutesy with it.

00:12:20   But maybe I'm just not artistic enough to make a really good, cutesy approach.

00:12:25   Yeah, I feel like I've never actually tried the whole abstract version of screenshots where you remove--

00:12:32   where it's no longer actually a screenshot of the app and you add text around it and you span it across multiple frames.

00:12:38   I've never actually done this.

00:12:40   And the reason why, similar to your reasons, A, I don't think I would be very good at it,

00:12:45   and B, it feels like that shouldn't be allowed.

00:12:48   It's one of those things kind of like adding keywords after your app title, which I didn't do.

00:12:57   But now I do, in part because when I created Overcast, the strict name Overcast was already taken,

00:13:04   so I had to put something else after it.

00:13:06   But I also now do it because I think it benefits me in search, where now--

00:13:11   the name of my app officially is Overcast colon podcast player.

00:13:14   Similarly, I think doing these fancier, not actually screenshot screenshots, I think it shouldn't be allowed.

00:13:24   I honestly think that should be a rule in the App Store.

00:13:27   Those should not be allowed.

00:13:29   But it's so widespread.

00:13:31   I mean, almost every app with any budget at all does that now.

00:13:35   It is almost ridiculous how universal that is and how incredibly perverted the concept of screenshots have become.

00:13:43   It is nothing like actual screenshots for most apps.

00:13:46   Now they might as well just say marketing image one through five, because that's really what they are now.

00:13:51   There is no relevance to screenshots at all.

00:13:54   Ultimately, I suspect that people like us will probably have to do that at some point, maybe now, maybe in the future,

00:14:02   just because it probably does work better, because it does make your app look fancier,

00:14:07   because you're able to show big marketing text and all these fancy things that a standard screenshot would not show.

00:14:15   And again, I wish it wasn't allowed, but the fact is it is allowed and everyone's doing it,

00:14:21   and we might be at a disadvantage by not doing it.

00:14:24   And of course, the funny thing is I believe it did used to not be allowed.

00:14:27   The advantage of having been in the App Store since it began,

00:14:31   I'm pretty sure it used to be a strict rule that you couldn't do that.

00:14:34   And then people started getting a little bit more clever with it,

00:14:38   where it used to be like every now and then you would have an app where you wouldn't have any words,

00:14:44   but you would put the screenshot on an iPhone, so you just have a little border on the outside.

00:14:50   And then that border got smaller, and then you'd start putting words.

00:14:55   And then I remember, I think when I knew that the war was over and it was now going to be allowed,

00:15:01   was when the official Apple Store app for iPad was released,

00:15:09   and its screenshots included a shrunk-down version running on an iPad with black text on a white background

00:15:19   as their screenshot. And it's like, "All right, well, if Apple's doing it in their own apps now,

00:15:23   I guess that war is done, and now it is allowed."

00:15:26   But yeah, it's a tricky thing because I feel like I don't like it too much.

00:15:32   I mean, I can see why people use it, but for one thing,

00:15:36   any time you put text in a screenshot like that and it gets resized so many different ways,

00:15:41   like text doesn't resize very cleanly and nicely.

00:15:44   And I think it can often look a bit tricky, you know, look not as nice as you might want it to be.

00:15:50   And I think also it makes localization much more complicated,

00:15:57   because suddenly, in a lot of apps, the core of the app doesn't need localization.

00:16:03   It's like if I have an app that displays your step count, like your step count is your step count.

00:16:09   And I mean, there's certainly some countries where you would display,

00:16:12   there's different small little texts that are different, but you can get a better sense of the app.

00:16:17   But if I have big letters above, you know, "Step count,"

00:16:21   that only really works if you're looking at the app store in English.

00:16:25   And so doing something more specific is a little bit problematic in that regard as well.

00:16:30   Yeah, and it's also interesting that the watch and app preview videos

00:16:36   explicitly prohibit anything beyond screenshot of the actual app running.

00:16:41   But I know in preview videos it seemed like that was started,

00:16:45   and maybe not getting enforced as strictly recently, and that's probably over too.

00:16:49   Though it's important to remember that with watch screenshots,

00:16:52   you want to set the time to 10.09.

00:16:55   Oh, yeah.

00:16:56   That is the official--

00:16:58   these things are always kind of funny that they become these little traditions that,

00:17:03   you know, iPhone screenshots should be set at 9.41, watch screenshots should be set at 10.09.

00:17:08   Well, that's not because of the unveiling time. That's a watch thing. Long story.

00:17:13   Yes, because it makes the watch look happy, right?

00:17:15   Yeah, pretty much. And it shows the logo and it frames it nicely.

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00:19:35   So, the next kind of big area of setting up an app in iTunes Connect

00:19:40   is probably writing the description, which is an area that I feel like I have very mixed feelings about

00:19:46   because it's displayed very prominently.

00:19:50   At least the first two lines of it, or the first couple sentences of it,

00:19:55   are displayed very prominently in the App Store.

00:19:57   But I know for myself that I never basically read them for any app that I've ever downloaded.

00:20:04   I mostly just look at screenshots and base my decisions of if I want to download the app from that.

00:20:10   And so, I kind of go back and forth when I'm writing these on how important they are,

00:20:15   how much information I want to put in there, do I want to do it as kind of like a wall of text,

00:20:20   or should I do a bulleted list.

00:20:22   There's definitely this weird tension there because it is one of the few opportunities.

00:20:26   This opportunity to reach out to our customers and talk to them directly.

00:20:31   But I think in recent years, what I've tended towards is the App Store description is as short as I can write it.

00:20:39   I tend to write one paragraph, maybe four or five sentences at most,

00:20:43   that describes the app and its core functionality.

00:20:46   And then below that, I tend to do a bulleted list of the checklist features that someone might be wondering about.

00:20:54   It's like, does this integrate with this, does this, use this, that kind of thing.

00:20:59   And then I just like, that is my description.

00:21:00   So the top level thing, and especially that first sentence, has to be as good as I can make it

00:21:05   because for most users, that's all they'll ever see.

00:21:08   And so I want to make like, describe the app in, it's like the elevator pitch for the app.

00:21:12   It's like in that first, you know, maybe 120 characters or so,

00:21:16   you really need to be able to dial in exactly what the app does and why someone might want it.

00:21:21   Anything beyond that first couple of sentences, I find not to have much effect at all.

00:21:26   And this is yet another field of the App Store, just like screenshots, where like, you know,

00:21:31   abuse was pretty rampant from day one and so it stopped very quickly,

00:21:35   it stopped being used for any kind of search relevance, as far as we can tell.

00:21:38   And it's, you know, most app descriptions are filled with like, you know, star, star, star,

00:21:45   on sale now, star, star, star, or a list of apps that it's similar to,

00:21:50   or a list of like, you know, websites that might have said something about it once,

00:21:55   10 years ago or something, like, they're fairly low value as a reader.

00:22:00   And I find that as far as we can kind of guess or figure,

00:22:06   it doesn't seem like people read them very closely.

00:22:09   This is one area though where, like, and this applies to a lot of these metadata things,

00:22:14   that if you have a free app, you're at a serious advantage

00:22:17   because if you have a paid app, I feel like people will,

00:22:21   people probably give these things more scrutiny.

00:22:23   Description, screenshots, everything else.

00:22:25   Whereas if you have a free app, it's so easy to just tap that get button

00:22:29   and just try it for yourself, which is way better than trying to spend 15 minutes

00:22:34   waffling over, you know, four different app descriptions, figuring out which ones.

00:22:37   Like, if it's free, you can just get it and see, and see for yourself whether it's free or not.

00:22:41   And so, I think for free apps, these things matter a lot less.

00:22:45   But for paid apps, it's obviously probably a different story

00:22:48   because the buyer behavior is different.

00:22:50   But this is kind of yet another area where if you have a free app,

00:22:53   you do have some advantages that, like, you can put pretty much anything or nothing

00:22:57   in these screenshots and description, and as long as it's, like, slightly relevant,

00:23:01   you'll get people downloading it.

00:23:02   Yeah, and I think it's also probably worth saying,

00:23:04   there's some weird things that you may also have to include in your description.

00:23:08   Yeah.

00:23:09   Like, I know for myself, I do a bunch of apps that integrate with HealthKit,

00:23:13   and I need to include in the App Store description a little, I have a little sentence that says,

00:23:19   you know, this app integrates with the health database on your iPhone,

00:23:23   you know, you'll be given the option to grant or deny access to this or something like that.

00:23:28   Like, if I don't have that in my App Store description, my app will be rejected.

00:23:33   And so, it's something to keep in mind that image varies based on the category,

00:23:38   but, like, for example, that's something that you may need to do.

00:23:41   So, in a weird way, this is the place where you put, like, the small print, you know,

00:23:45   this is the, like, the legal disclaimers and things, like, you may need to also just put those

00:23:49   at the bottom of your description field to cover yourself there as well.

00:23:53   Yeah, same thing with auto-renewing subscriptions, also have one of those required blurbs,

00:23:58   and this really isn't documented anywhere, so you just have to basically submit an app without knowing that,

00:24:03   get rejected, have the rejection tell you what the description needs to include, and then resubmit.

00:24:07   A lot of people have to go through that.

00:24:09   Thank you, very special thanks to Curtis Herbert of Coca-Love fame for saving me that rejection loop

00:24:15   on Overcast's subscription last fall, because he reminded me of it, like, right before I submitted.

00:24:19   Or, no, it was right after I submitted, before it was reviewed, so I could still go and edit the description.

00:24:24   Yeah, because, I mean, the reality is, though, yeah, I don't worry about descriptions as much as I used to.

00:24:29   I worry, I agonize maybe over the first two or three sentences, and then beyond that,

00:24:34   I'm just trying to be plain and simple and straightforward, and I feel like that accomplishes most of what a description is trying to do.

00:24:43   So I think the other areas that you go through, you have to set the ratings for the app.

00:24:48   I think that's fairly straightforward, like, you just kind of think about your app, and like, does it include this?

00:24:52   Does it include that? And you just kind of check the box, and, you know, it's...

00:24:57   The nice thing about that section is that, as you're just saying, does it do this, does it do that,

00:25:02   the rating that your app would get as a result will update in real time, and so you can get a sense of, you know,

00:25:08   like, why is my app 13+ or whatever? Then you can work out which of those criteria is doing that,

00:25:16   and then, you know, decide, obviously, if for whatever reason that would be problematic for your application,

00:25:21   then you can make the appropriate changes. And the keywords for it, I think, is the next area that...

00:25:28   It's basically, you just try and... This is where I have to be like, there's probably some, like, dark magic about this,

00:25:34   where people go into great depths of trying to work out what the optimum keywords are for an app,

00:25:41   and I used to go down that road a bit more. I mean, I try and be thoughtful about it now,

00:25:44   and I always make sure that I fill out my keywords field, because in theory, these are the keywords that are used in search

00:25:50   to determine if your app is going to show up or not. But, I mean, the weird thing about it is,

00:25:56   unless your app is showing up very highly for one of these terms, it doesn't really matter if you show up on the search.

00:26:05   So if you include a term that you're going to be the 100th search result for, it's as though you didn't include that keyword,

00:26:14   in some ways as well. So mostly, this is just trying to sort of cover your bases, and just put things in there that will help

00:26:23   the app store search engine understand your app better, give it a lot of words, and then hopefully...

00:26:31   Sometimes it's probably useful, like if your app does... has a couple of... branches a couple of different genres of app,

00:26:40   or does a couple of different things, then maybe it makes sense to be crazy thoughtful and dive into it.

00:26:46   But beyond just that basic stuff, I kind of just sit down, think for ten minutes, and then move on.

00:26:52   Yeah, and there are services and stuff that will help you allegedly optimize keyboards and stuff like that,

00:26:58   and honestly, I've never found their high prices worth the risk of even trying them, because it seems like it's very much like SEO tactics,

00:27:05   of like, this might work, but you also are probably just getting ripped off.

00:27:10   Yeah, and one thing I will say that's probably worth thinking about is, using the new search ads interface that we got with the search ads stuff,

00:27:19   you can there, you can specify... one of the things you can see is what keywords are showing up, are converting well against your app,

00:27:30   and these can be ones that Apple is generating, not necessarily your generating yourself,

00:27:35   and so one thing I have done subsequently is I'll run a search campaign for an app, and they'll go in and make sure that there aren't any keywords

00:27:43   that are doing well in the search ad thing that are, for whatever reason, not showing up, I didn't include in my keywords,

00:27:50   and so it's just a good little check to be like, "Huh, is there something here that I need to... that I should include in my keywords?"

00:27:57   Or alternatively, you can see sometimes there's keywords that seem like they would be good keywords for your app,

00:28:03   but when I run a search campaign against them, they perform really poorly, and so it's probably like,

00:28:08   "Actually, maybe I don't want to show up in that area, there's a better keyword that I could put in place of that one."

00:28:14   So that's another little tool that we have as we're trying to hone those in.

00:28:18   And the last area is probably the app review notes area, which in some ways is something that you may think,

00:28:26   "Oh, I never really need to use," but I will say, it's always a good idea to try and think of it,

00:28:30   is there anything that you want to communicate to the app reviewer about your app?

00:28:34   And if so, put it in that field. Anything you've been rejected for in the past that you've since fixed,

00:28:40   like I have a whole list of these for all my different apps that I'll, you know, like, things that they,

00:28:45   I was rejected for and I have since fixed, I will indicate that and write that out in the app review notes

00:28:51   and just say, "Hey, there used to be a problem with this, it has since been resolved."

00:28:57   Because sometimes the app reviewer will miss something and it just saves a bunch of time to just be very upfront

00:29:03   and explicit and say like, "You used to, you know, I used to not have a restore purchases button.

00:29:08   I do now, it works, it's great." And like, it just has saved me, I think, time over,

00:29:13   it's probably saving app reviewers time and my time to just be clear about these things.

00:29:17   So, you know, take advantage of that field if it's something that you can think about.

00:29:22   And with that, we're out of time this week. Thanks for listening everybody, and we'll talk to you next week.

00:29:26   Bye.