How to leverage Apple Pre-Order for your iOS app launch

There was a time when the only thing you could get from pre-launch buzz were email signups.

Not anymore.

With Apple app Pre-order, you can now send people to your Product Page (where they can check out your App Preview video and screenshots), so they pre-order your app and automatically get it as soon as it is officially released.

Not only does it allow you to get a good amount of pre-orders (and therefore downloads on the first day), it also gives you the possibility to start working on your app metadata for your App Store Optimization efforts.

Let’s have a look at how this whole Pre-order thing works, and how you can best leverage it. With insights from people that have been there.

“we have tested Pre-Orders and for quality products it really seems interesting to use”
– Ido Schoonen, Lab Cave Games

How does Apple app Pre-order work?

Any apps can now be available for pre-order on the App Store.

Opt in for iTunes pre-order

When you submit your app and metadata, you have the option to opt into Pre-order and can then choose a download release date that’s 2 to 90 days away.

iTunes app pre-order
Just check the box and pick your date! (source: Apple)

Just like you can restrict your app release to specific geos, you can decide to make the pre-order available only in specific countries.

Pre-orders from Search Results and Product Page

Once your app (and metadata) is approved by Apple, your app will then be available for pre-order on the App Store.

This means that your app’s Product Page is now live on the App Store, and visitors can potentially see and pre order your app in search results.

Pre Order Apps Search Results Product Page
Your app can already be found, even if it’s in pre order

In the search results, there is a “Pre-Order” mention in blue below the app’s subtitle that indicates the app is not released yet. The same mention also appears on the Product Page.

The “GET” button or the price of the app are still the same, and when visitors tap to get the app that button turns into “PRE-ORDERED”.

PreOrdered App

Added bonus: you get an additional opportunity to get your app featured, as the Today/Games/Apps tabs also display apps that are in pre-order.

Apple PreOrder Games Feature

Note: Promoted in-app purchases do not display on your Pre-Order Product Page until your app is released.

Automatic downloads on launch day

The day your app is officially released, it is downloaded automatically to the customers’ device.

They also receive a notification so they know the app is available and can open the app.

Pre Order notification

How does pre-order for paid apps work?

If you have a paid app, customers are not charge until the app is actually released.

You can change the price of your app during the pre-order period, however know that people that pre-ordered your app will be charged the price that is the lowest (between release price and pre-order price).

Who can pre-order apps?

Pre-orders can only be made to customers running iOS 11.2, tvOS 11.2, and macOS 10.13.2 or later.

People that do not have these versions can go to the product page but when trying to get the app they are prompted to update their OS.

How many and what kind of apps use pre-order?

Thanks to data from Sensor Tower, we were able to have a list of all Pre-Order apps as of July 31st.

When we got a list of 437 apps in Pre-Order, we thought it was pretty impressive and that the feature was already widely used.

But the truth is this is a very low number compared to the number of apps released each day which is estimated to be between 1,600 and 2,200 per day.

“We have seen the majority of Pre-Orders is Reskins so we wonder how Apple plans to deal with that, since they have become more aggressive towards the reskiners.”
– Ido Schoonen, Lab Cave Games

What’s even more surprising is that out of the 437 Pre-Order apps we looked at, only 72 are “legit” apps. The other 365 are cheap Vietnamese reskings: shooting games, biking games, driving games and zombie games mostly. Almost surprising that Apple would let this fly, and very curious to see how they deal with this in the future.

imageLikeEmbed 17
Looking at Pre-Order apps, only 72 were “legit” apps

Nothing against reskins, but we believe these apps do not bring much value into the world. And their listing were not particularly attractive.

How out of the 72 “legit” apps, a vast majority of them are games.

imageLikeEmbed 18

Clearly game publishers seem to be more interested by the feature, which explain why so far there is a “Pre-Order” section only on the Games tab even though Apple says that apps might be featured on the Apps as well.

Pre-Order especially seems to make sense for “sequels” or studios that often publish games: if your startup’s app is already released, the feature is obviously pointless.

Apple Pre Order feature
Apps (non-games) can potentially be featured on the App Store, although it seems there are not even enough apps to make a section (only 8 non game apps as of July 31, 2018)!

Why is making your app available for pre-order interesting?

There are several advantages to this pre-order feature.

“We actually helped a client get featured in the Apple Games Pre-Order section and that led to tens of thousands of downloads”
– Steve P. Young, AppMasters.co

Generate useful buzz before your launch

If you have a pre-launch marketing strategy leading up to the big day of your official release, iTunes pre-order are great.

You get actual results from any action you lead: people can decide to get your app when it is released. As opposed to having people signing up for your newsletter or worse: taking a mental note that “yes maybe this would be a cool app”.

Understand the demand and market for your app

When making your app available for pre-order, you start getting the data in iTunes Connect as what you would get if your app was actually released (besides In-App purchases as they are not activated).

This means you can actually measure your pre-launch marketing efforts by looking at how many app units are pre-ordered each day. You can also know where the customers that download your app are from, or which device they are using.

Improve your metadata and work on App Store Optimization before launch

Because your pre-order app can already be found in the search results and people can check out your Product Page like any other app, you can start optimizing your App Store listing (with enough volume).

You can compare your app’s conversion rate to other apps in the same category (AppFollow provides a benchmark for this) and see where you stand.

Not only your app keywords and app name are starting to get indexed, you can also update them (with an app update) to see how this affects your position for some keywords.

ASO with Pre-order
Glowing Gloves is already ranking #5 for “boxing game”! The following app is a pre-order as well (one of these cheap reskins).

Knowing your app keywords, you can even start thinking about which ones to use when you decide to run Apple Search Ads.

You can test a different icon or a different App Preview video and measure the impact on click-through-rate (Search Results -> Product Page).

In short: there are a lot of insights you can get even before your launch!

A boost of downloads on release day

If you do this right (keep reading) then you should accumulate a good number of pre-orders, which will give a boost in installs (and hopefully great reviews to) on launch day.

Getting on Apple’s radar

With such a little amount of “legit” apps available in Pre-Order, it seems that it could be easier to get on Apple’s radar for a pre-order feature than trying to get it after launch.

Things to keep in mind

Your app needs to provide a great experience from day 1

The day your app officially releases, it’s going to be automatically downloaded on the customers’ phones that chose to pre-order it. They also receive a notification, so there are strong chances they will end up opening your app (that’s what you want at least).

And when they do, the first impression will be crucial. If there are any bugs in this first version, any problems in the onboarding that you haven’t identified in beta-testing, then they will probably never open your app again or remove it from their device.

So to make pre-orders work, have a plan in place that ensures the app experience is great from day 1. If you don’t have this, you’re probably way better off with a soft launch for your app.

Apple Pre-Order features does not replace all pre-launch communications

You can’t rely only on Apple Pre-Orders.

Since you want to maximize your app open rate the day of the launch, you want to keep the interest in your app alive.

So once people decide to pre-order your app, this is almost where the work begins. You need to communicate about your app, keep people posted about the progress made.

In short: once your app is officially released, they should still remember what and why they decided to pre-order. They should be excited when they receive Apple’s notification about your app’s release, not wonder what this app is.

Best practices for pre-order apps

Let’s talk about some of the best practices you should follow once you decide that make your app available for pre order in the Apple App Store.

“My tip would be to definitely use it and pitch apple right afterwards using the appstore.com/promote link. It’s best to set the launch date 4-6 weeks after you pitch and also make the game available for pre-order.”
– Steve P. Young, AppMasters.co

Make your pre-order period 4+ weeks

Ido from Lab Cave Games recommends to leave your app in pre-order for enough time to accumulate an interesting number of pre-orders, and he mentioned 4+ weeks.

Let Apple know!

Once you’ve set the preorder, pitch Apple for the feature through their appstore.com/promote link. Steve P. Young from AppMasters told us that getting a pre-order feature could also set you up for an actual feature later on (since you’re on Apple’s radar).

Direct traffic from marketing campaigns to the App Store page

When communicating about your iOS app before it is released, make sure they know that the app is available for pre-order.

Apple has a Pre-order badge that you can use for this, so make sure to include this in your communications. And direct them to the App Store page.

PreOrder Badge Apple

However you might want to also have them go through your app website, since getting their email will give you the possibility to keep them posted about the app’s progress.

Make your App Store listing stand out

On your Pre-order product page, there is no actual app to download. So people solely on your App Store listing to make their decision.

Make your you make it the best possible!

An App Store Preview video is a must have here, whether it’s for a game or a productivity app. It gives you the possibility to show what using your app is like, while controlling the message.

Apple Pre-order video
A majority of Pre-order apps are using video to show what they are about
Looking to get a high converting App Preview video done so you can optimize your Pre-order Product Page and Search Results? Check out our app video production services and contact us to receive a free custom proposal.

Paid app? Give an incentive to people for Pre-order

We think it might be interesting to take a page from the Kickstarter book here.

If you have a paid app, then you can communicate pre-launch about a special price for people that Pre-order and for the first day of the official app release.

This goes beyond just making people excited about your app: it also leverages the scarcity aspect.

Track performance of your app’s pre-orders

From the moment you make your app available for pre-order to the day it is officially released, regularly check your iTunes connect data to see how many people pre-order (or cancel their pre-order).

It gives you a sense of what’s working when you’re marketing your app pre-launch, and allows you to adjust your app marketing strategy.

Make sure you annonce when the app is available

OK, chances are you were not about to forget this one…

When comes release day, communicate as much as you can around it. You can’t rely only on Apple’s notification, plus it can help you reach more people than just the ones that pre-ordered.

Some insights from pre-order campaigns

Anamorph

Steve Snyder, developer of the Anamorph game (combining 3D art and perspective) put the app in Pre-Order about 5 weeks before launch.

“I would say ALWAYS try pre-orders.  Nothing to lose; everything to gain.”
– Steve Snyder, Anamorph’s developer

Here is the App Preview video for the game, that was live at the time of the Pre-Order (and is still live now). It’s interesting to note how from the video you can understand the game mechanics way faster than with just the screenshots.

We got a chance to ask him the few questions below regarding the experience.

Apptamin (A): Why did you decide to use Pre-Orders?

Steve (S): Basically I planned on a 6-week time frame between when my new game Anamorph was approved by the AppStore and when I was going to release it (for marketing and hoping the App Store would have a look at it for a feature) so I saw that they started a preorder option so I said why not.  I didn’t have any big expectations mainly thinking I may get a few orders while I was waiting for release.

A: How long in advance did you put the app in pre-order?

S: 5 weeks

A: Did you have a different App Store listing for PreOrder?

S: No

A: Did you get featured by Apple in the Pre-Order section and if yes, what would say was the impact? If no, did you try?

S: Yes I was lucky enough to have Anamorph featured by Apple in the Pre-Order section. As a one-person indie developer it was huge. Not having any marketing funds to speak of I was able to build up enough pre-orders where on launch day I could appear right away on the Top Paid lists.

Anamorph Pre Order Apple Feature
Anamorph’s Pre-Order feature on the App Store

A: What volume range of Pre-Order were you able to achieve before launch? How much of that converted to actual download in the first couple of days?

S: If I remember correctly I had about 650 pre-orders.  I don’t really know the conversion but I would guess at least 80% maybe

A: Before the launch, did you communicate about the Pre-Order? Mailing list? Social networks?

S: Social networking

A: Do you feel like it helped with rankings for specific keywords to have the app in Pre-Order?

S: I think being featured was the most helpful

A: Any advices for publishers wanting to try Pre-Orders?  

S: I would say ALWAYS try pre-orders.  Nothing to lose; everything to gain, especially if you’re a small developer like me. I know I will.  As with everything start with an interesting looking game and an eye catching logo (pun intended). 😉

The Company Game

We also talked with the developer of The Company Game, an escape game that will a planned release date on September 6. Or more exactly his father Gary, as the actual developer of the game is his 14 years old son who coded and did all of the graphics himself.

Escape room pre-order

Apptamin (A): Why did you decide to use Pre-Orders?

Gary (G): We thought it would increase out chances of a feature and also wanted to leverage that time to get pre-orders while we refined the game after beta testing feedback.

A: How long in advance did you put the app in pre-order?

G: 1 month. We wanted to launch on 9/6 and felt confident that we would be done with bug fixes and the newest content by then.

A: Did you get featured by Apple in the Pre-Order section and if yes, what would say was the impact? If no, did you try?

G: Yes we did – and the impact was huge. Besides the obvious jump in pre-orders, it also led to review sites contacting us about reviewing the game.

A: What volume range of Pre-Order were you able to achieve so far?

G: We had 1,000 pre-orders in the first week.

A: How are you communicating about the Pre-Order? Mailing list? Social networks?

G: Social networks including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Also texting everyone we know 😉

A: Do you feel like it helped with rankings for specific keywords to have the app in Pre-Order?

G: Yes, the pre-order does amazing things for search in the AppStore. I had a sticker pack once that I had available for a pre-order and while it was a pre-order (it was not featured as a pre-order) it would consistently show up in the top 5 of the App Store search. Once it went live, the position in the search rankings plummeted.

A: Any advices for publishers wanting to try Pre-Orders?

G: I would do it. I would utilize that time to iron out any bugs so that on launch there are minimal hiccups. I think it leads to the best chance for your game to get discovered, even if you do not get the feature.

Glowing Gloves

We already showed the Glowing Gloves App Store listing earlier in the post, and the fact that this AR boxing game is already ranking for some keywords.

Before launch they also have an app website, with a video, where you can sign up for the closed beta. And of course they have the Pre-Order badge there as well.

Glowing Gloves website pre order
The Glowing Gloves website gives a good overview of the game

They’ve also been building a following on social media. They keep their followers updated on progress and tease them with previews using video.

Glowing Gloves Pre order socialmedia

They’re quite heavy on video actually, with several videos already up on their YouTube channel.

Wictor from Bublar agreed to answer our questions as well.

Apptamin (A): Why did you decide to use Pre-Orders?

Wictor (W): Being a young, exciting startup – we saw it as a great opportunity to raise awareness about our upcoming game. Being a new feature in the App Store also made it very interesting, as we deem it to be a good alternative to the more conventional soft launch strategies that you usually find when coming across releases of games and apps today.

A: How long in advance did you put the app in pre-order?

W: We decided to maximize the 90 days given in order to (a) get all the cool features ready for the world to enjoy, and (b) to be able to get all marketing activities in place (so that we open the shop with as many pre-order players as we possibly can.

A: Did you have a different App Store listing for PreOrder?

W: Every App Store listing is always unique, but yeah, of course, we decided early to provide more insight in our product roadmap for the future players to enjoy so they can see better where we are today and where we want to go with the game.

A: Did you get featured by Apple in the Pre-Order section and if yes, what would say was the impact? If no, did you try?

W: We did not try to get featured by Apple in the pre-order section, we really want to push for that when we are live with the game.

A: What volume range of Pre-Order were you able to achieve so far?

W: Roughly 20k + pre-orders with quite little marketing spending.

A: Are you communicating about the Pre-Order? Mailing list? Social networks?

W: Yes – we rock the usual channels as FB and instagram, FB ads, our own landing page, keeping touch with everyone signing up to our mailing list via mail chimp etc.

A: Do you feel like it helped with rankings for specific keywords to have the app in Pre-Order?

W: Not as much as we would have wished for unfortunately.

A: Any pieces of advice for publishers wanting to try Pre-Orders?

W: Know what you want to achieve when going with this approach – and when you do, have you product as ready as it goes. Communication and transparency are keywords in this game!

Conclusion

So far Apple Pre-Orders is a possibility that app developers and publishers barely use, with a very low number of “legit” apps available.

This is an opportunity for you, as it might offer a better way to get noticed by Apple than trying to get featured post-launch.

Besides the feature possibility (which is never a given), making your app available for pre-order also allows you to:

  • Capitalize on pre-launch marketing;
  • Understand better the results of your pre-launch marketing;
  • Get a jumpstart on ASO by ranking for your app’s keywords;
  • Get a boost of downloads on release day.

However make sure of the quality of your app: it needs to work great from day 1, otherwise you risk making all these pre-orders useless. It is also not enough to just put your app in Pre-Order: you want to communicate about it!

Have you tried the Pre-Order feature? Do you have any more insights to share? Leave a note in the comments!

Sylvain Gauchet

Hi there, I'm Sylvain and I'm one of the co-founders of Apptamin. Apptamin is a creative agency specialized in app videos (video ads, app store videos, etc.) where we find engaging ways to present mobile apps and games so our clients can either increase their conversion rates or improve their user acquisition.

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