For most mobile engineers, the end game is to release our own apps. For the few projects that make it to the App Store, it can be pretty hard to keep them alive over time. Eventually, the question comes up: should I remove my app from the App Store? Today, I’ll share about the thought process that makes me sunset one.
Apple shared in a recent post about new process (and potentially new rules) to keep the quality of the App Store high. Reading this, you could think your app lives it’s last moments. So, is it’s time to remove your app? I believe there are few things to consider before taking this decision.
First thing to consider is the purpose of your app, what’s its goal? We need to go back where it started: the first steps of your app.
Any mobile app development should start with a specific goal in mind.
- It can be to save time or to save money.
- It can be to improve the user experience of an existing service.
- It can be for entertainment like any video games, to have fun! It can be to learn or educate.
- It doesn’t have to be only for your users, it can be just for you, to learn a design pattern or a new framework. Why not?
- There are many more reasons you app can make sense…
So does the app fulfill its purpose? Do users save time or money as promised? Do they have fun when using it?
If NO, then it’s a sign maybe the app isn’t meant to go further: if it doesn’t fulfill your own goal, it can be hard for you to stay motivated and work on it, it will be even harder to convince users to make them use it. A game app that isn’t fun to play is hard to get user on it.
If YES, it means you are right on track where you wanted to be and that’s amazing. Does it mean you “have to” keep it? Of course not, there are more things to consider.
If a purpose or personal goal give you the direction, motivation will make you go the distance. However, it’s a complicated resource to manage.
Some days you can be super motivated, you are ready to go beyond for it and make this app the best ever. But some other days, you cannot just open your Xcode project, you’re over it already.
Purpose and motivation sometimes go in pair: if your app doesn’t yet fulfill its purpose, do you feel motivated enough to turns things around and push further to make it better?
Being motivated is something difficult to cultivate, if you feel more often on the lower side, it can be another sign to free yourself of it and sunset your project.
There is also the weight of responsibility that can come with maintaining the app: you feel obliged to support and keep working hard even though you don’t feel like it anymore.
However, if you still feel really great about working on it, then keep up the great work!
Let’s be honest, making an app can be time consuming. All those nights you are working hard on it, designing the best user interface and debugging that feature.
Of course, time is a finite resource and it can be tricky to find time for your project. Over months or years, your interests and priorities can change, having some family time, enjoy dinner with friends, traveling and discovering the world.
If you would prefer doing something else rather than working on it, then maybe keep maintaining the app is not the best balance for you. It can build frustration and make your slowly hate it. That’s not how you want to feel about the app you’ve been committed to and cherished for so long.
On the other hand, if it’s your priority to make it work, or you have lots of time on your end, then nothing is stopping you to make this app the best.
I can’t mention resources without talking about money.
Some apps require back-end services, maybe a landing web page to improve acquisition, maybe a designer to make the app slick, and more expenses around it. Of course, there is also the Apple Developer program cost to bear.
In this case, I can only suggest to keep your expenses to a level you are comfortable with. It can be dangerous to chose pursuing with your project if money gets tight. There are also a lot of free resources, and plenty of ways to learn, you can still pivot to a leaner approach.
The last point I feel is worth mentioning is your app retention, how often mobile users come back to your app.
If it’s a seasonal product, it can make sense to pursue even though the metrics are low sometimes, like a Christmas app to update every year. That being said, not all seasonal apps make sense to keep.
Myself, I developed an app for the French Election in 2017, it peaked to few thousands downloads which was great, but it only make sense during elections, every 5 years. There is no point for me to keep it around in between.
Now, if the retention and app usage isn’t too good, you need to investigate and see what’s missing. It means to spend more time and resources, digging deeper in your motivation tank, maybe adjust your goal and the app purpose to get there. You can make it, but it won’t rarely without effort.
Back to Apple’s post.
[…] developers of apps that have not been updated within the last three years and fail to meet a minimal download threshold — meaning the app has not been downloaded at all or extremely few times during a rolling 12 month period.
If you need users to download your app, consistency on your end is also required, to release updates often enough and stay in the clear. Are you ready to be that consistent?
Updating once a year is largely feasible, at least for the new iOS versrion, but maybe they expect more of us, to push forward and keep the quality and compatibility high, who can say.
So why am I talking about sunset an app and remove it from the App Store? Well, it wasn’t related to Apple’s post at all at first.
After few years working on Japan Direct, a side project of mine, I had to go through this process and those questions.
Japan Direct made traveling easy for foreigner visiting Japan. It was really interesting project, the app usage was quite good and I was really focused on the customer needs. It reached more than 110,000 downloads in its first two years and 4.7 stars from more than 6000+ reviews.
It felt I was building the right product and solving a real problem. That’s more than what I could ask for.
Over time, I slowly lost interest in it: I had limited time to work on it and the technical limitations from the itinerary service I was using limited me a lot.
Then in 2020, as the pandemic affected everyone, I saw the numbers of users and downloads dropping drastically. With no users to share updates with, I didn’t have a lot of incentive to make the effort. At the end, I just paused the development, waiting for better days.
Fast forward to 2022, I saw mobile users coming back as the companies slowly reopened but I wasn’t still unsure to keep going on.
Eventually, the decision was made for me.
The train timetable source I was using discontinued their service, making the app pretty much useless.
I looked around for a new replacement service but the ecosystem change quite a bit since 2017, there are new train and transport companies with better services that I could deliver. They also had ownership on their data and make a business from iti, something I couldn’t do.
In short, my app was no longer needed: it fulfill its purpose for a while until it didn’t anymore. The same week they terminated their service, I sunset the project remove it from the App Store.
Does it sound sad? It’s not.
It’s the technology lifecycle, mobile app follows the same way: there is a need and your app can change lives, then interest decrease, get obsolete and finally fade out and die, and that’s okay. Even the top companies struggle to renew themselves and keep up with those changes.
Personally, I believe it’s also a good thing: I can focus on other projects, something new that can replace this brain space :)
So what does it mean for your project?
Well, this is up to you, every project and person is different. The important part is to find a balance that suits you, understand that it’s okay to sunset your app if it takes the burden off your shoulders.
You also have alternatives to deletion, maybe you can find another contributor to take over your project.
Selling or transferring it to a different organization is also a great way to keep it alive and good memory without being actively working on it.
At the end of the day, it’s about doing what makes you happy.
Thanks for reading
Photo - Md Mahdi