App Publishing – Lessons Learned

If you want to be successful, double your rate of failure.” – Tom Watson

The Art of Publishing an iPhone App

I apologize for my lack of correspondence this past month – I’ve been going full throttle on developing my first real iPhone game. I decided to do this for two reasons:
1. I love doing it
2. I want to have a data mine that I can relay information to everyone
During this project I went through literally every different aspect of iPhone development on a level that I had previously never appreciated – long nights working through Xcode, iOS simulator de-bugging, provisioning profiles, the works. I began to feel joy when seeing the words “Starting Build” or “Compiling” at which point I knew I needed to (ahem) get a life.
I’m by no means a great Objective-C programmer, but can understand it well. It’s helped my HTML and CSS grow indirectly, which is nice.
If you’re interested in seeing the app, check it out here:
I’m going to write a monster post in a few weeks when I get some marketing data behind this, but for now, I wanted to give everyone a quick list of things to be aware of when creating an app.

Testing on your device (iPhone, iPad)

Assuming you want to be part of the testing process, you’re going to want to have Xcode installed on your computer. This will come with the iOS simulator (a mock device on your computer) so you can see what the app looks like when exported from Xcode. This is really easy to do when you have a bug free project.
When you’re ready to incorporate your device to the process, the real fun starts. Apple makes the process pretty confusing if you’re not used to it, the same way setting up hosting or a DNS for a website can be if you don’t know where to start.
Basically, this process validates your device with your developer account so that Apple knows you have approved this device. It goes something like this:
Generate a set of keys and request for Certificate on your computer -> Upload to your provisioning profile (in the account -> Generate a development certificate -> Download that to your computer -> Setup a provisioning profile for your device -> Validate that profile with the new certificate
WOW that sounds geeky. But it’s how it works.
Apple walks through the process with a good Wizard program so you should be able to get most of it done yourself. I would recommend doing this a few times just to understand how it goes.
I can almost guarantee this will make you want to pull your hair out for the first few hours, but it’s great experience. Being able to set this up allows you to do much more exciting testing.
LESSON I LEARNED: If you are working with a developer somewhere else, make sure the certificate is built off the private keys you make on your own computer, then send them the private keys. Otherwise you’re going to do everything right and still get the “No match for provisioning profile” error message which is easily the most infuriating thing you’ll ever see.

Icons and Screen Shots Are Worth Their Weight in Gold

After researching the app store for hundreds of hours and talking to dozens of developers, the biggest game changer I have seen aside from outbound marketing is the design of the app store page. This includes the icon, screen shots (up to 5) and the description.
Take a look at the top 25 in any category – notice that they all look like a million bucks. Icons and screen shots that are done well convey that you spent a lot of time thinking of the user experience. Mobile apps need to appeal to the user’s visual perception, provide personal insights, and make an emotional connection. If you’re interested in learning in improving your design skills, you’ll like the post 4 Things to Keep in Mind When Designing an App.
I went as far as to hire three different designers to get the icon and splash screens done the way I wanted them, and I still think they could be better (for version 2). On a few of my development apps that I put out earlier this year, I updated the screen shots with Photoshopped versions of the app and had a 30% increase in downloads.
LESSON I LEARNED: Do whatever you need to do to make the icon and screen shots awesome. Ask 20 people what they think every time you get a design and ask them to be brutally honest. Your ego doesn’t make you money, good design does. Keep pushing until you get something that looks like it’s worth the price.

Power Trio: Openfeint, Game Center, In-App Purchases

To clarify – the first two are only applicable to games. Similarly, if you are looking to make money in the app store, you better be in the game business. The numbers CRUSH everything else in terms of downloads and revenue. Let me explain.
Openfeint: ( This is a gaming network with over 120 Million people. You can incorporate leader boards, achievements, and marketing through this explosive channel. The exposure is pretty incredible and allows for app users to track their play and compete against people in the community. The best part is that the integration is VERY easy to do. If you have the option, integrate this with your game app at all costs.
Game Center: This is Apple’s gaming community and works very much the same way as Openfeint. This allows gamers to do the same sort of competition, which always helps. Similarly, it adds credibility to have the Game Center icon next to your icon in the store.
In-App Purchases: I’ve written about this before, but I want to stress this point now that I’ve gone through the process and am seeing what works and what doesn’t – create in-app purchasing into your app. There are three major reasons for this:
1. It is not very difficult to do
2. It can increase your revenue by 2-3x
3. It gives you the flexibility to monetize free app promotions and free app download numbers (nearly 100x paid downloads)
LESSON I LEARNED: All three of these are wildly easy to integrate and provide huge upside value. I cannot stress these enough. The first two are only for games, but the third needs to be in every app you make. You will dwarf any revenue you make on iAds, I guarantee it.
The prerelease of an app is as, or even more, important as the actual release. You need to iron out all the details during the prerelease stage to make sure that all bases are covered when you finally release your app. If you’re interested in learning more prerelease essentials, check out the post Launching an iPhone App.

Next time: Breaking the App Store

In a few weeks I’m going to do a much deeper dive into the analytics of the app store and prove that marketing, design, and clever development can make the your app a money machine. See you then!


  1. josef huang
  2. Ryan

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