Everything app developers need to know about iOS 11 and the App Store changes
iOS 11 will be released in September, but beta versions of the new operating system have been available since June for developers and app publishers to adapt to major changes before its release. This update will be the most comprehensive update to the App Store itself in several years, and app developers need to be aware of how it’ll impact their businesses.
The timing couldn’t be better. With the number of active apps on the App Store set to soar in the next few years, and the recent introduction of new tools like ARKit, there’s never been a more exciting time for app publishers to unleash their creativity, and iOS 11 is chock full of opportunities to do just that.
For developers then, it’s important to get yourself up to speed and incorporate the new opportunities of iOS 11 into your next release. First, a quick summary of the key changes, then we’ll dive into some of the related opportunities and impacts for developers and app publishers.
What’s new in iOS 11?
App Store homepage: There are more ways to get your app discovered and in daily rotation on the homepage and in app categories, but fewer individual “featured” slots. Here you can find what they are looking for in featured apps. Apple mentions that you should put in your request to be featured 6-8 weeks before you officially launch a new feature or app.
Games get a new home: This makes sense—games account for about 43% of all new apps, according to Sensor Tower. Now, they have their own showcase. This will ease the discovery process for both individual titles and different gaming genres.
App names and subtitles: The allowable limit for app names has been halved to just 30 characters. On the upside, you now have a sub-title section (also 30 characters). Both are indexed. Net-net: branding and honing your keywords just got even more important.
Descriptions and promotional text: App descriptions can only be modified with a release, meaning less margin for error. On a happier note, you now have a promotional text field of 170 characters that will be great for things like virtual currency sales, cross promotion, etc.
In-app purchases and subscriptions: IAPs get their own section on the product page so users can get a better sense of your offerings before they buy. IAPs also appear in search results, creating the potential for faster discovery and monetization in the early days of usage.
Ratings and reviews: Ratings persist as you release new versions, so you are less likely to get hosed over a wonky version update. API updates mean users are capped at three reviews, and for the first time, developers can respond to reviews (a great chance to demonstrate the quality of your user support).
Discoverability and searches: Because app names, subtitles, and IAPs are now indexed, your ASO needs to compensate. There are more visible previews available, but total available space has shrunk, meaning the next app in the gallery gets more of the user’s total screen space. Although the algorithm might see its influence on app rankings decrease a little in some cases, it will remain the main source of app classification and indexing.
Product page: Everything is bigger, lighter, and brighter. Videos autoplay on mute (except in China and India), creating a compelling visual dynamic. Localization is in full effect.
Automated uninstalls: Apps that have never been used, or at least not in a while, are automatically removed from the device. However, this functionality is left off by default but can be toggled on or off by the user.
Limited A/B testing (and more on the way): This goes back to the promotional text field, which lets you test messaging without a version update or A/B testing tools. Rumor has it there’s more built-in A/B testing coming. This rumor is a clear sign Apple is moving quality App Store Optimization to the forefront for app publishers who want to compete.
Business Chat: A big change that hasn’t gotten as much buzz as some of the other updates in iOS 11. This means users won’t need a Twitter or Facebook account, for example, to get real-time responses to their questions.
More messaging integration: iOS 11 will provide users much easier access to iMessage apps. Think about how you can leverage this for the good of your app.
Support for augmented reality: The release of ARKit has given app developers the tools they need to create new, immersive experiences that bridge the divide between the physical and digital worlds.
Support for machine learning: iOS 11 will ship with Core ML, Apple’s framework for app developers to integrate their own machine learning models or use pre-trained models. Core ML will allow devs to build tools that anticipate a user’s needs, offering contextual suggestions.
Games get their own showcase
48,231 new gaming apps were released in May 2016, about 10 times more than were in the entertainment and education categories at that time. Noting the opportunity, the App Store now separates games from all other apps a in new section of the app store, giving the option for a more game-centric UI. The games section features more videos, badges to highlight featured games, and developer responses to reviews, which creates more opportunity for developers to engage their intended audience. Tack on the introduction of promotional text and featuring of IAPs, both on the product page and indexed in search, and it’s a game changer.
Fonts are bigger, icons are bigger, you can have three videos instead of one, up to 20 IAPs can be prominently featured, and ratings are much more apparent, which will have a significant impact on installs. Underlying all of this is the switch to a curated editorial approach, moving away from Apple’s long-time policy of algorithmic surfacing. You can also now have up to three vertical screenshots, allowing users to preview more of your app’s UI.
If a user has installed your app—even if they’ve since removed it from their device—the latest updates text is moved under the Ratings section. The upshot of this is that rediscovery just got a bit easier for app publishers looking to win back lapsed users and scale their aggregate lifetime value.
In-app purchases and subscriptions
Direct from your product page, users can elect to buy IAPs (you can have up to 20), providing an excellent secondary POS outside of your app—smart developers must take advantage of this. With your IAPs now showing up in search (and having their own little page), it’s essential that you nail your keywords and marketing here as well, or you’re going to leave money on the table. The App Store helps you out a bit here by presenting users with an easy way to purchase your app from the IAP page if they don’t already have it—one more crumb on the trail of discovery.
Ratings and reviews
Control is the main thing you’re gaining when it comes to ratings and reviews. iOS 10 made things hard on developers by resetting ratings whenever a new version of your app was released. That’s gone in iOS 11, which lets publishers carry over their full rating history. That’s good news for indie devs who, in the past, may have withheld new version releases as a way to limit losses from re-set rankings and reviews, sometimes to the degradation of user experience.
Now, when a user has abandoned an app, it can be automatically removed from their device if they have enabled automated uninstalls. The good news for your users is that all of their data will be retained. For devs, it’s unclear how these uninstalls will be logged and whether or not it will be possible to see that an uninstall wasn’t a result of a specific technical performance error or otherwise. On the surface, this will have serious consequences for metrics like retention. But ask yourself this question: Do you really want to spend your time studying cohort data on users that aren’t giving you the opportunity to monetize?
Business Chat was sort of glossed over in the WWDC keynote, but it’s an important update. In a nutshell, Business Chat can eliminate the need for your user to have a Twitter or Facebook Messenger account for your app to connect with. That’s a big deal because this removes barriers to adopting iOS 11’s in-app messaging capabilities.
The primary benefit of Business Chat over the Messages app is improved customer satisfaction, which yields improved rankings. One of the interesting implications here is the opportunity to tap third-party chatbots (or create your own), or to offer automated support for your app.
Harnessing the power of Business Chat is low-hanging fruit for any app developer, and a superb extension of the customer service capabilities of any enterprise. Look for a lot of brands to jump on board with the tech in the next several months.
There’s a bunch more that can and will be written about the impacts of iOS 11 for app publishers and developers. If you’re planning a release or version upgrade, you should familiarize yourself with iOS 11’s core changes to make the most of the new tools.