Update 2nd December 2009 – it looks like this no longer works, the sort by release date in iTunes now sorts by the version 1.0 date, ignoring all updates. PCalc is now back on page 341 of Utilities. Oh well…
So, not long after my last post I started getting emails telling me about the mysterious “Availability Trick” that was quietly being passed on from iPhone developer to iPhone developer like some secret incantation.
In short, it lets you change the release date of your app, as listed in the App Store, and overcomes the problem some developers have been seeing recently with our older apps banished to the distant corners of the store, even when we ship significant updates.
So, I tried it. And it indeed works.
PCalc is now listed as having been released on the 13th of October, which is pretty close to when the 1.1 update actually appeared on the store. I’ve still missed the main window of exposure of course, but the 4th page of Utilities is much better than the 31st in terms of discovery.
Now, if I was being sensible, I should just keep my head down, be quiet about it, and use the trick next time I do a release like some other people are doing. But, to be honest, that’s not really fair on other developers, and doesn’t fix any of the underlying problems.
So, how does it work? It’s really simple. In the “Edit Application” section of iTunes Connect, there’s a “Pricing” section. In that, there’s an “Availability Date” series of popups.
This date is defined in the help as “the date in which your application will be available for purchase on the App Store”. My understanding of this was that you used it to set a date in the future that you would like a given release to happen on. So, you could upload some music ahead of time, for example, and it would only appear on the official release date.
But if you retroactively edit the value to some point in the past, less than or equal to the date that the update in question actually hit the store, your release date as displayed in the App Store will be changed to that date, and your app will be moved to the appropriate point in the listings.
So, is this behaviour a bug, a loophole, or how it’s actually supposed to work?
The description doesn’t suggest it will have any effect like that, and it’s not mentioned in the App Store documentation either. And needless to say, developers haven’t all had an email saying “oh, sorry about all the changes we made to the store, here’s what you need to do now to ensure your application is listed correctly”.
This seems to be pretty widely known about however and is being used today, so basically we’re back to the situation we were in before the sorting changes, except the people who don’t know about the “trick” are being penalised in the listings.
Perhaps the whole release date issue isn’t really a policy change at all, and we’re all seeing shadowy patterns and conspiracies where there aren’t any. Maybe it’s all just down to a lack of communication and documentation.
Put it this way, if PCalc is listed on the 31st page of the store again by the time you read this, then at least we know the answer…