Calling our app famous is an exaggeration, but if you are reading this post because of the headline you have just learnt a valuable lesson about getting your own app noticed.
Chatterbucks has however been posted to the App Store homepages of iTunes US, UK, Across Continental Europe, Latin America, India and more, so it has bubbled up to the surface from a sea of other apps.
To celebrate we are also making the app available for free for a limited time.
Now for the actual lessons/tips for improving your odds of creating an iPhone App success
Lesson 1 - Simplicity stands out in a crowd
The common predicament of the app maker is that they have loads of great features that they want to show off, but there are only a few pixels initially available to achieve this.
Think of a billboard on the side of a motorway with people wizzing past in their cars. If you try to sell all of your benefits in the handful of seconds available you will clutter the message to the point of incomprehension (in a semiotic sense saying everything at once is equal to saying nothing at all).
We tried to reduce our idea (and its icon) to the essence: Money + Talking +Playful.
We also looked at the colour-rich and vector-dense icons we had to compete with and designed something that was the opposite. As you can see on the above App Store screenshot, our icon really stands out in a group of icons by visually saying less.
Lesson 2 - Give people something to be curious about
Colonel Sanders had his secret herbs and spices. Coca-Cola have their secret recipe ingredient known as 'X'. What have you got?
In our case we have Natural Feature Tracking AR which allows you to augment 2D images (logos, illustrations, pictures, packaging etc) without needing a barcode/glyph/marker, so we wanted to let people know that our app has a special ingredient in the mix too.
There isn't a standard icon for the kind of advanced computer vision technology we put into a users fingertips, so we made our own. People kind of know what AR means, so we went for a simple 'AR+'. The text then sits in between two colour ribbons which symbolise the layer it augments between you and reality.
The important thing is that you signify somewhere within your promo material that your app has something new/different going on that will tap a potential user's curiosity.
Lesson 3 - Create promotional content that others can leverage for mutual benefit
When we launched we posted a video on Youtube and within a few minutes an AR Blog had picked it up and added the video to a post. This lead to a mention and video embed in Die Zeit (The New York Times of Germany). We also had a mention on THE NEXT WEB with our video included (after we contacted them). This started the ball rolling.
By creating promotional tools (like videos) that bloggers and other press can spice up their content with you are greatly increasing your chances of receiving a writeup.
If you write a press release, keep the tone informal. Journalists like dealing directly with the creators and developers of apps, so share your new invention as you would with a friend in a bar and not in what you perceive to be the correct PR speak.
Another thing to think about is that mainstream press look to more obscure niche sites and sources to see what trends are bubbling up, so target the niche sites and try to get mentioned there, rather than hitting the reception desk of a big media entity where you are unlikely to get a call back or an email opened unless you are previously known to someone on the inside.
The thing to remember is that somewhere out there, someone is responsible for discovering and sharing the new new thing with their audience. Seek these people out. Look for who has recently posted on a topic that relates to you, and try starting with them.
Lesson 4 - Invest some time to make your App Store images look enticing
When we first released Chatterbucks to the iTunes App Store the last thing we got onto was making the screenshots look good.
It wasn't that we didn't care how our app was presented, but like anyone making an app, it takes so much work to create the initial product that you are a little burnt out by the time it comes to add the polish to make your app look enticing in-store.
Our first round of promo images sucked. They were basically random screenshots from within the app that gave a potential customer no idea of how the app worked in the real world (Chatterbucks is an AR app, so context is crucial).
When we swapped in some glossier app promo images that gave more context to a potential customer of how the app worked (in our case this meant showing the app whilst someone was using it in real life) our sales immediately jumped by 300%!!.
Lesson 5 - You need to help Apple/iTunes discover you
A few days after we launched Chatterbucks there was an in-store feature on AR apps, but we weren't on the list. We obviously wanted to be added because not only did we tick the Augmented Reality box, we went way further with our markerless tracking powers.
We contacted iTunes and asked how we could flag our app as being AR enabled, but we heard nothing back. A few weeks later we received a mail asking us to provide some promo assets. We made them and sent them over, but nothing came of it. A few weeks after this we turned up one day on the UK iTunes homepage as a New & Noteworthy app. From there Chatterbucks has spread pretty quickly to other iTunes App Store homepages around the world as a Staff Favourite.
We are under no false assumptions that this part of the equation was truly ours to influence, but if we hadn't followed up on a genuine app-related question, we might not have made it onto the radar of someone whose responsibility it was to help innovative new apps bubble up from obscurity.
Everybody will have a different experience. Hopefully by sharing ours you might be in a better postion to improve your own. If you have any other useful tips/lessons learned based on your own experience feel free to post them as a comment below.
We have made our AR+ icon freely available under a Creative Commons license, so feel free to use this Augmented Reality Icon for your own AR apps.
If you want to see more of out Natural Feature Tracking AR in action take a look at our Wired Magazine AR takeover.