We understand that developing an app is a huge undertaking. The blood, sweat and tears that go into this project shouldn’t be limited to the app itself. Being smart about how you present your app will play a key role in how it does in the app store of choice. This includes giving your app a good “face”; or app icon. Before you call up your friend’s sister’s nephew because he has Photoshop installed on his computer, here are some tips to consider when designing a good app icon.

Take the app icon design seriously
With millions of apps in the App Store and Google Play Store, standing out is of utmost importance ‒ especially if there are similar apps in your category. Think of it this way – on a crowded bookshelf, the cover of a book that catches the eye and follows good design principles will be looked at first. Consumers judge books by their covers, even though their mothers told them not to. A strong brand throughout is key; don’t make app icon design the last priority during the development process.

Research, research, research!
Unique app ideas are worth a million bucks. Sadly, someone has probably already come up with yours.Find out who your competitors are and what their icons look like. Are they colorful, do they have a unique look or a fun avatar? You may assume a Scrabble tile is a great icon idea for your new word game; maybe you should do a quick search first. Don’t copy your competitors or Apple might assume your original app is a ripped off copy of Words With Friends – or your competitor might slap you with a copyright infringement lawsuit.

How many different variations of Scrabble tiles can there be?

Keep it Simple, Silly
Some of the best icons in the store have a simple, unique look and stand out during a quick scan of search results. Pretend your icon is a billboard on the side of a highway with a 70 MPH speed limit.If there is too much going on in the app icon, the app will most likely be skipped because someone shopping on the App Store won’t have time to process everything. An icon is also not the place to throw in every Photoshop trick and filter you know. (See note later.)

Consider color
Everyone has a favorite color, but that doesn’t mean it should be in your app icon. How do you finda color scheme that will be attractive to your target audience? Kissmetrics has a great infographic on colors and purchasing power, detailing the psychology behind selecting certain primary and secondary colors for branding. There are also numerous websites and books that go into great detail about color theory and psychology. Once you’ve selected a base color for your branding, check out Colors on the Web, a free tool that allows users to generate eye-pleasing RGB schemes based off of one color.

A quick search for “kids” apps yields bright, fun colors.

Avoid the “deadly sins”
There a number of unspoken rules to keep in mind when designing a good app icon. Things like vertical stacked type, fancy – and illegible – scripted fonts, bad color choices, Googled (read: copyrighted) clip art, using Comic Sans in general, and unnecessary drop shadows should be avoided at all costs. Items unique to the app realm, such as shine filters, should also be evaluated with scrutiny. Just because another app uses it in their icon doesn’t mean it will work for yours. Many filters and “tricks” can make your app seem unprofessional and untidy.

From Building iPhone Apps – these are just bad.

Bonus tip – don’t forget about screen shots
You’ve spent all sorts of effort, time and money on an exquisite app icon design. Why upload boring screen shots? The screen shots give you another opportunity to showcase your app and brand. Design Boost did a great post on creating screen shots that sell. Adding callout text, graphics or other enhancements to your screen shots can further entice a shopper into buying your app.

iphone-chinaAt 8 o’clock in the morning on October 30th, 2009 (read: 5pm tonight, Pacific Apple Time) , the doors of China Unicom’s retail stores opened to the Chinese populate and offered 5 Million new iPhones into the global marketplace. While the launch got mixed reviews, amongst concerns of the disabled Wi-Fi features, a hefty price tag and the fact that rabid iPhone fans already were probably using one of the two million gray market iPhone in the country, the fact remains – the largest wireless market in the world now has open access to the iPhone.

So what does this mean for app developers? While many developers have always traditionally focused on the US as the only major iPhone market that matters, and with that English as the only major language – a major non-English speaking country poses an entirely new set of challenges.

I’ve already seen a number of sites  pop up that would be happy to do a direct translation of your app. I’m sure many of them are quality sites with quality native translators. Make sure you do your homework however – a second rate translation can be spotted by a native speaker of any language a mile away. (Anyone else remember the English to Spanish translation of “Got Milk” that led to billboards that screamed out “Are You Lactating?”). Never try to use a free online translation program to perform your app translations. While they may work for single words, they are not designed to be able to properly navigate grammatical structure.

Translation of your app however, is only the first step. You must also translate your app description page (often providing it in two languages can be benifical) and app name. A potential client last week contacted me from Russia with a checkers based game app that use the Russian work for checkers as part of its title. I see where they are going with this – but the reality is, I would never be able to spell it if I was searching for it.

Oh yes – let us not forget search.

Search is one of the most important functions to getting your application found. Your keywords are of utmost importance to how your app fares in any of the app stores around the world. Unfortunately, doing well in search in other countries is not as easy as taking your English keywords and translating them to another language. Search is about understanding how someone in that country will think – and in understanding how they think, also understanding how they navigate to find a product. What makes a perfectly logical search string for you may not make any sense when translated, and as we know – the app store only recognizes direct keyword matches.

Every market is different, and every country has different needs. Did you know that in China there will be not one, but two app stores? Yup – the one from Apple and the one operated by China Unicom. Did you know that writing in red lettering indicates the writer will die soon? That three (and multiples of three) are considered lucky numbers, but four signifies death? (4! sorry… had to do it). Oh yeah, and white, blue, black, storks, cranes, clocks and handkerchiefs also are associated with death. (Are you dizzy yet?)

Promotion in China will be its own hurdle. PR is handled differently, as are blogs. There are new forums to reach out to as well. Are you ready?

All this to say that Appency is happy to announce we have a partnership on the ground in China and will be happy to assist in your localization into this new market with all of the above. The time is ripe – before the app store gets too crowded – to make your mark in the Far East!

 In a major policy shift, Apple has emailed developers today announcing that they were lifting the ban on in-app-purchases from free apps. Previously, the only time you were allowed to upsell additional content from within an application was for applications that were pay-to-download. In their email Apple states

"In App Purchase is being rapidly adopted by developers in their paid apps. Now you can use In App Purchase in your free apps to sell content, subscriptions, and digital services.

You can also simplify your development by creating a single version of your app that uses In App Purchase to unlock additional functionality, eliminating the need to create Lite versions of your app. Using In App Purchase in your app can also help combat some of the problems of software piracy by allowing you to verify In App Purchases."

This drastically changes the business models and marketing tactics for a number of developers, and introduces other potential developers into the mix. Developers no longer need to offer a limited "lite" or free version of their application and another version that is paid – the free version can be made to upgrade via in-app-purchase to have all the capabilities of a paid app.

This also will have a dramatic effect on app raking charts. I can see more developers simply not creating a "paid" version of the app – and always starting their apps at the free level. This will potentially make the free app charts much more competitive then they already are – and the paid apps chart much less.

You also have to wonder what this will do to apps that like to go on sale from time to time. If the app is already free.. there is no need to lower the price.

BEWARE INTREPID DEVELOPER – It may be easy to get carried away with in app purchase and start attaching micro payments to every possible add-on your app can offer. Remember – you are playing with a consumers pocket book – and iTunes gives the consumer quite a bit of shout-out power to cry foul if developers start to come across as nickel-and-dimeing their customers to death. Be clear in your app descriptions what content is free, and what content will require an additional payment. There’s nothing that will elicit a bad review from a consumer faster then offering something that looks free…. and then requiring them to pay to actually get it.

In-app-purchase is still subject to the same payment and pricing models as always, and Apple will still be getting their 30%.