Apple's App Store Freeze: Will It Thaw This Year?

By Thomas Sommer | December 12th, 2013

In the midst of the holiday season and with the end of the year closing in, many game publishers are again planning to rely on tactics involving the much talked-about App Store Freeze. Understandably, remaining stuck in the top positions of the iOS free charts for a few days without having to incur any additional spend is any publisher’s dream. However, in 2013 these plans may well come across a small glitch:

What is, erm…, was the App Store freeze?

Every year since 2009, iOS chart rankings (specifically: top paid, top free, overall and in specific categories) have remained frozen for a certain amount of time around Christmas. During this period, apps having reached top positions as the Freeze took place remained there unchallenged, benefiting from incredible exposure as millions of iOS devices were unwrapped and new, uneducated users rushed to the top charts to discover apps to download.

It should also be mentioned that only the front-end of the App Store was frozen; Apple kept on running its algorithm in the back-end (which could be accessed through their XML feed, used among others by app store analytics companies). This explains why the rankings jumped at the end of the Freeze: the front-end rankings were simply realigned with the calculations which kept on being performed under the hood during the whole time.

This is not the Freeze you’re looking for.

One of the reasons behind the sometimes staunch belief that the Freeze will happen again this year is the seemingly widespread confusion between the App Store Freeze and the iTunes Connect Shutdown. While the Freeze has so far been a rather mysterious and unpredictable phenomenon which was never acknowledged by Apple, the Shutdown is known beforehand. It simply consists in iTunes’s annual break, when all employees can go home and enjoy the holidays.

During the iTunes Connect Holiday Shutdown, Apple restricts the access of iTunes connect for developers, preventing:

  • The submission of new apps
  • The submission of updates
  • Price changes
  • Description modifications

The iTunes Connect Shutdown has little consequence on the daily functionalities of the App Store as it is indeed announced by Apple in advance, and should not be hard to prepare for. This year, it is set to take place between December 21 and 27.

Before December 21, make therefore sure to:

  • Give your app its definite price.
  • Update your description (in particular if you wish to give it a “holiday” feel)
  • Leave sufficient time buffer when you submit your app or an update so that it get reviewed before the Shutdown.

On top of this, do not schedule any price change during this period, as it would cause your app to become completely unavailable for download until December 27.

itunes connect

Now, why won’t the Freeze happen this year?

Induction. A straightforward assumption, given the trend that saw the length of the Freeze decrease continuously year after year since 2009.

Specifically:

  • Length of the Freeze in 2009: 1 week
  • Length of the Freeze in 2010: 4 days
  • Length of the Freeze in 2011: 48 hours
  • Length of the Freeze in 2012: 8 - 20 hours (depending on observations)
  • Length of the Freeze in 2013: meh

This assumption is obviously not 100% certain, but we wouldn’t advise anyone to count on the Freeze for their holiday marketing strategy this year. This trend also seems to take part in the more global current transition in user acquisition practices from quantity to quality.

As we reported on it earlier this year, Apple has already changed the ranking algorithm to reflect and drive this paradigm shift.

These holidays, stay warm inside and relax: the Freeze won’t happen.

app store freeze icon

Thomas Sommer
Thomas heads up content marketing at AppLift. As such he’s in charge of sourcing, curating, creating and distributing insightful content to increase visibility and thought leadership for the company. Thomas loves to scrutinize the relentless and trilling developments of the mobile industry. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Thomas