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Distributing Promo Codes on iOS In-App Purchases

Developers and beta-users take note: you can finally use promo codes for in-app purchases on iOS devices.

On Friday, October, 28th, Apple announced the release of built-in support for in-app purchase promo codes, a big boon to apps in development that want to give early access to the press and influencers in order to generate buzz.

However, there are a few caveats to the new system. First, there are limits. Under Apple’s guidelines, developers can give “up to 100 promo codes for each in-app purchase item, with a limit of 1,000 total in-app purchase codes per app every six months (resetting on January 1 and July 1).” These limitations are fairly standard. In fact, when Google launched promo codes for in-app purchases last January, they started the trend, capping their codes at 500 per quarter.


It’s worth pointing out that these iOS promo codes have other restrictions as well. Not only are the numbers of promo codes limited, but they can’t be used for commercial use, and the codes expire after 28 days of being requested and apply to only one version of the app. Furthermore, you can only request promo codes if you have an Admin, App Manager, or Marketer role in iTunes connect.

Despite these limits, this is a big move forward for Apple. Historically, promo codes have been offered to download apps for free, but if the app in question was a free download with the option to make in-app purchases, promo codes weren’t available to the majority of businesses. However, it’s worth noting that Apple has experimented with promos for in-app purchases before back in 2014 with Electronic Art’s Real Racing 3 app.

This recent announcement follows the release of Search Ads, another promotional tool released in early October of this year that lets developers buy advertisements for their app that will show up in specific App store search results.

These new promos fall within iOS standards, and users of promo codes still cannot rate the app on the App store. In an interesting shift from Google’s Android policy, iOS actually allows these in-app promo codes to activate a subscription as long as the consumer doesn’t already have a current subscription in place (the Google store does not allow this). Promo codes don’t auto-renew subscriptions in iOS once the free subscription is up, which is a good thing for the user, but they can give users access to subscription-exclusive features.

It’s important to note that iOS developers and businesses cannot make money off the subscriptions started via promo codes, and a subscription through a promo code doesn’t count towards the year of subscription needed to earn that tantalizing 85/15 split of subscription fees between the app developer and Apple.

Users can redeem promo codes for in-app purchases across many devices, including Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and tvOS, and the process is as simple as entering the promo code when prompted after clicking the Redeem button in the App Store. If the user has already downloaded the app, the promo will transfer into the app. If they have not downloaded it and the app is free, then the App Store will automatically download the app for the user. However, if the app requires payment to download, the consumer must first purchase and download the app before the promo code will be activated.

Previously, the makers of newly released apps would use a technique called bursting, in which companies would invest in marketing to get spurts of installs to get the app onto the front page of the App Store. These installs would be low-quality, but the idea behind it is that once the app gets exposure and visibility, then they will attract the high-quality users that the app is actually intended for.

With the ability to offer promo codes for in-app purchases, apps dependent on those purchases for the overall experience can provide them for free before the app’s release in order to generate honest buzz about what the app is/does. Now, this may not remove the need for tactics like bursting, but if the press and influencers review the app as it is intended to be used, then app developers have a better chance of acquiring their target audience more quickly. This is an improvement for both the consumer and the business, so here’s to the App Store 2.0.

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