App Store Improvements: 50 Character Limit, Quality Control, and no App Rot

Written by: Reinder de Vries, September 4 2016, in Business, Marketing

Last week, on September 1st 2016, Apple announced to app developers worldwide a set of very exciting changes.

In summary, Apple will start removing apps from the App Store that are no longer maintained. Additionally, from now on, app titles cannot be longer than 50 characters and most likely cannot include keywords anymore. What does this mean for app developers?

Quality Apps vs. App Rot

The first improvement Apple’s rolling out into the App Store is this: an ongoing process of removing apps that…

  • no longer function as intended
  • no longer follow current App Review guidelines
  • haven’t been supported with compatibility updates for a long time

With these three qualifiers Apple is finally doing something about the increasing pile of zombie apps that no one reviews, downloads, or uses anymore – app rot!

Apple will evaluate apps on an ongoing basis. They will give you 30 days to publish an app update if your app is marked for removal, noting that apps that crash on app launch will be removed immediately.

It’s unclear how many apps fall into this category, but my gut feeling says there’s a large majority of apps that haven’t been actively updated in a long time…

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50 Character Limit: Bye-Bye Keywords!

A common practice in App Store Optimization is optimizing your app’s keywords. You can input a 255 string of comma-separated keywords in iTunes Connect, as your app’s meta data, like “hotels, booking” for a hotel app.

This will help “rank” your app for those keywords, as it will show your app in the search results when a prospective app user searches for that particular keyword you put in.

App makers also commonly add keywords in the title of their app in a slogan-like fashion. An app that’s just called “” will now be renamed to “ – for hotel bookings and rooms.” Often, app makers take this too far and include a slur of words that aren’t always related to their apps.

Why? Because it helps with ranking. Although the evidence is purely anecdotal, it helps to include search keywords in your app’s title because it’ll make your app pop up when a user searches for the keyword in App Store Search.

Moreover, keywords in your app’s title help with recognizability. You only have limited exposure to a prospective user who’s scrolling through App Store pages and if you can make them notice your app by a word they recognize, you’ve just increases chances of that user downloading your app.

Unfortunately for app makers who go big on App Store Optimization: Apple is imposing a 50-character limit on app titles. In Apple’s own words:

In hopes of influencing search results, some developers have used extremely long app names which include descriptions and terms not directly related to their app. These long names are not fully displayed on the App Store and provide no user value.

Received loud and clear, Apple!

Flashback: Worldwide Developers Conference 2016

Remember the Worldwide Developers Conference last June? Apple, again, released a few interesting App Store improvements for indie app developers.

(Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s surprising that Apple mentions “listening to the developer community” so often, and in such quick succession, as in recent months. Is a revolution coming?)

The most notable changes are for App Store Subscriptions, giving indie developers more options when it comes to building a subscription-based business.

Apple is also experimenting with Search Ads, a Facebook Ads-like platform app publishers can use to purchase exposure for their apps using contextual ads within App Store Search.

Additionally, back then Apple secretly rewrote the App Store Review Guidelines to be more “common-sense” and less open to interpretation.

What Does It All Mean!?

Apple’s reshaping the App Store, that’s for sure. What’s been a Free-For-All shootout since 2008, when the App Store launched, is now a turning into a grown-up business canvas.

The #App Store is growing up: 50-char limit + no more app rot: To Tweet

It’s not a secret that the App Store drives iPhone and iPad sales, with Apple profiting billions on the back-end too (30% of app revenue goes to Apple). I think Apple is recognizing the potential for the App Store once more, but also realized it needs to discard of all its waste before the App Store can be great again.

Research and reports show people have less apps on their phones. With landmark app businesses such as Uber and Square, the App Store is moving away from “discardware” one-day-fly apps. App users, instead of “just” buying a $1.99 app for the fun of it, now expect proper app business with repeat value.

Apple taps into this repeat value by boosting the App Store Subscription model, and making it attractive for app developers to switch to a subscription-based app.

But what about those new App Store improvements?

The 50 character limit is something app developers will have to learn to live with. On the one hand, app developers lose the ability to rank via app title keywords, but they gain the ability to rank with Search Ads.

Moreover, I don’t think that this is it, meaning that Apple will continue to improve the App Store over the next year. More ways to market your apps will emerge, as the old ways of ranking will disappear.

The days of quick app clones and build-and-forget arcade games are over, but don’t forget: Apple wants you to make money, because if you make money, they make money too.

Higher quality apps are good for all of us. The end-user is happier and for them, it’s easier to find your app when it’s not surrounded by long-gone zombie apps.

Further Reading

It is time to learn! The old ways of ranking and marketing apps are disappearing, so you need to refine and rework your craft to keep your fighting chance.

Let’s dig a little deeper, and go in-depth, with:

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Written By: Reinder de Vries

Reinder de Vries is an indie app maker who teaches aspiring app developers and marketers how to build their own apps at He has developed 50+ apps and his code is used by millions of users all over the globe. When he’s not coding, he enjoys strong espresso and traveling.

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