Delivering for the web is easy. In a sense, websites are continuously released: from the moment a site is online and reachable on the internet, it’s more or less job done.
When it comes to releasing fresh iPhone apps, product managers have no such luck. Even distributing test versions of the app requires setting up a list of complicated things like development certificates and testing groups. If the app is the company’s first, the first step is to create and Apple Developer account, which takes some extra paperwork.
The good news is that a lot of those steps you’ll only ever need to do once. Even better, you can partition this work nicely: admins can get started on the paperwork while developers hack away.
Publishing a brand new app, on time, on a new account takes planning. But, as it’s often the case with project management, by thinking ahead the release date gets compressed.
What does it take to release an app to the App Store?
Publishing an iOS app takes three distinct steps.
- First things first, you need an Apple developer account to get started. Setting up an account is as simple as filling out a form like many others, but Apple needs to accept the application and that might take some time. Having the app ready isn’t required for this step: you can get started with the company documents only.
- Once you have the account, you can go ahead and set up the app on App Store Connect. (Or invite the developers who will set up the app.) This is still only the meta data: things like descriptions, screenshots, or in-app purchase SKUs. Developers can set up push notification and distribution certificates. The app bundle itself is still not required for this step, but now we’re getting close.
- Apple reviews each app before it lets them into the App Store. Leave enough time for this review: the test itself doesn’t take too long these days, but Apple can get rigorous, and rejections can delay your release. The golden project manager rules apply here: make sure to start early and get some buffer time in.
If there’s one thing you should know about software developers, it’s that none of them likes to do the same thing twice.
There are many services today that make the publishing process easier. Setting up Fastlane or Bitrise is definitely a developer’s job, but once it’s done, submitting a new app update takes a simple button click. Something that you, or other members of your team would be able to do without expert help.
Adding these pipelines costs money and development time of course, so consider the price to value ratio. For small projects with rare releases it’s not worth spending the time and paying some $50 monthly on extra services. On the other hand, fast moving teams will benefit from a dedicated CI/CD process, because each app submission can eat up many hours of precious time.
Quick tips for submitting apps
Getting your app accepted on the App Store will be the pinnacle of success for many budding developers. As always, luck favors the prepared:
- First and foremost, you must be sure that your app works. Apple has an understandable tendency to reject anything which is still experiencing ‘glitches’ and teething problems, and this will hold up the review process significantly.
- Where possible, also be sure to keep your app simple and user-friendly. Apple will check everything from your usability to crashes and obvious errors, so having a streamlined version of your app accepted is far simpler than a more complex one. Features can always be added in consecutive updates.
- Follow the submission guidelines to the letter, even if they feel overly complicated. Read the fine print and follow it.
- Prepare for rejection, as Apple has recently reinvigorated its publishing model – leading to many unexpected rejections from otherwise successful apps. Check your guidelines are up to date and current.
- Don’t panic. You can always resubmit your app if it doesn’t meet the criteria at first, and there are other outlets where you can list your app (Google is noted for being particularly ‘open’ in its submission process).