Launching iMessage Pictoword & Being Featured by Apple

By: CK Wang, CEO Kooapps


  • Built & designed iMessage app extension in 4 days
  • Issues during development & submission
  • Over 140k organic installs in the first week
  • Love & feature from Apple, thank you!
  • Amazing Pictoword iMessage trailer

Launching Pictoword on iMessage

We launched Pictoword (iOS, Android) in March 2013 and have been working on the game ever since. In June, Apple announced iMessage Apps during the WWDC keynote. At the time, it sounded like Apple was late to the party after WeChat, Line and Facebook Messenger. One week before the iOS 10 launch date (Sept 13), we decided to take a closer look at iMessage app extension possibilities, especially because it looked like Apple was serious with this platform and could possibly feature us if we got our foot in the door early.

Our team got together and threw around 6 ideas. Due to the time constraint and general CEO worries, I actually voted for an easier implementation where the player chooses puzzles from the Pictoword main app to send to friends and have them guess. However, our engineering team was extremely excited about another idea where we have the player draw the 2 pictures in the puzzle and send them to friends. This latter idea made the game play a lot more dynamic so we ran with it.

Coding the iMessage app extension was actually really fun. Swift had come a long way since we last used it, so we were able to build the entire app extension with Swift 3. Swift 3 and Xcode 8 made a number of things easier such as auto-layout and class extensions.

The iMessage API also allowed us to build a multiplayer gaming experience in a fraction of the time it would otherwise take. What we appreciated the most was not needing to implement accounts, send/receive and all the server-side code plus scaling!

An interesting problem we ran into was that SMS had a strict size limit (a few MB). With more complex drawings, the iMessage data could get larger than the limit and disappear over the network. There’s probably a more elegant solution, but we found out that lighter colors took up less space. So with our time constraint, we changed the black pen into grey as a workaround, saved 50% of file size and kept running.

The other problem, much less interesting, happened during submission, and we spent an entire day on this. Apple was still making lots of changes to their iTunesConnect website — screenshots & uploads were unstable. But the real problem was that we could not figure out how to support iOS 8. Xcode 8 was supposed to be able to support iOS 8 but every submission we made (and we triple checked Xcode plists) ended up dropping iOS 8. This really bothered us because 15% of our users were still on iOS 8. After many Google searches, we found this and had a workaround — excited.

Apple’s review process is now dramatically faster than when we started in 2008. Typically we get approved in 1–2 days, it’s amazing. Our Pictoword iMessage submission was approved a few days before iOS 10 launch and had the status ‘Pending Apple Release’. We got extremely excited. I thought this meant Apple was going to feature us! But we had to pull the build down to fix an iPad crash and no longer had that review status.

Our resubmission was approved on Sept 21 and ended up launching on the same day. The next day, Apple featured Pictoword in ‘iMessage Games We Love’ worldwide. OMG. After developing on iOS for 8 years, Apple features us for the first time. Needless to say, we were extremely excited.

Over the next week, we collected 140k organic installs (yay!) and ranked #8 in overall iMessage free apps. People around the world enjoyed Pictoword iMessage, reviewed us and tweeted about us too! We were completely caught off guard by how popular our iMessage app extension became. In fact, we shipped with no monetization & analytics in the iMessage experience, but of course, we’re working on fixing this.

We will have more data in the coming months, but from what we can tell so far — iMessage is amazing. We’re seeing levels of engagement and excitement we haven’t seen since the iPad launched in 2010. So we’re doubling down on iMessage!

Oh and here’s what showed up on Twitter when we launched. It’s amazing. Thank you so much our loyal fans : )