iOS Acquisition

iOS Acquisition: The Black Hole

With over 1.2 millions apps on the App Store, marketing an iOS app isn’t easy. Understanding your mobile user acquisition channels is even harder. I learned this firsthand as a new marketer.

A few years back, I co-founded Speech4Good, an iOS app to help people with speech disorders (like stuttering) practice their therapy techniques from an iPhone or iPad. It presented some remarkable challenges: how do you convince people to trust their therapy practice to an app? But, one of the biggest challenges I faced was understanding exactly how and where new users were coming from.

So if you’re anything like me, then you’ve surely run into this scenario:

It was just like any other day. I logged into Google Analytics, the numbers were largely unchanged (something I had been working to change for weeks). clicks and mentions on Twitter told a similar story; nothing appeared out of the ordinary. That is, until I checked my iTunes Connect “Sales & Trends” dashboard. In just one day, our app sales figures spiked almost fivefold.

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 8.17.56 AM

But, wait, why did everything else look normal? As an analytics-obsessed marketer, what was I missing?

The iOS acquisition black hole

This, friends, is what I will call the iTunes acquisition blackhole.

Over time, you’ve worked hard to create a landing page, app video, beautiful screenshots and a blog. You’ve tried new ways of acquiring users on mobile: sending an SMS to the user’s iPhone, scanning a QR code (which never really took off as most had hoped), or including social referral “Tell your friends!” features in the app. But once a user clicks “Download” (and types in the oft-dreaded Apple ID password), what’s next? Who converted? From where?

Of course, big players in the mobile enterprise space have offered roundabout solutions for a number of years. And companies like Flurry (recently acquired by Yahoo!), Mixpanel and Tapstream have offered tiered plans for independent developers. But for the most part, the independent app developer/marketer (like me) has been left in the dark when it comes to mobile acquisition analytics.

But that’s about to change.

What the future looks like

During last month’s WWDC, Apple finally announced it was stepping up its game for mobile marketers. The new iTunes Connect–beyond a fancy front-end makeover–features a never-before-seen feature: Analytics.


According to Apple’s VP of OS X Platform Experience, Andreas Wendker, “Most importantly, we are adding variable analytics. These analytics will tell you how many people visited your App Store pages. How many users went on and purchased your app, how many remained active over time. And best of all, connecting all of this information displayed right to iOS and is completely automatic. There is no need for any special libraries or code on your part for analytics.”

To translate Mr. Wendker, Apple is on the verge of empowering marketers and developers alike with attribution analytics. Parameters like “provider ID” and “campaign ID” (much like UTM’s on the web) should provide new insights for how users are finding your app. And again, if you’re anything like me, this is nothing short of the holy grail for understanding iOS acquisition.

Why is Apple finally getting around to this?

Well, in the war to win mobile against Android (Google Play now boasts more downloads per day than the App Store), Apple has been forced to improve its support for developers and marketers. Google Play has already supported attribution and analytics for well over a year.

So while the mobile giants slug it out, marketers and developers may ultimately win from increased competition. And it appears Apple is finally shedding light on the iOS acquisition blackhole.

The future is bright for understanding iOS acquisition.

Jack McDermott is a regular contributor to Gainbits who writes on user experience, mobile marketing, and user acquisition. He is a marketing manager at Panorama Education and previously co-founded Speech4Good.

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  • Paulo del Puerto

    Nice! It’s about time.

  • @cole_mercer:disqus couldn’t agree more! I’m very optimistic that the App Store’s changes will change app marketing for the better

  • Im looking forward to seeing some data higher up the funnel. AppStore page views will help app marketers develop funnel analysis and track keyword changes more effectively. This will also be very helpful when optimizing description and screenshots.

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