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The iTunes App Store freeze — when app rankings stop moving for a period of time, traditionally right around Christmas — has long been a cause for both excitement and concern among app marketers. This year, we can confidently say that it’s not just less important than it used to be: It’s downright irrelevant.

Looking back

For a few years, in 2009 and 2010, the App Store freeze was a glorious opportunity for app marketers. A well-timed advertising blitz could push an app to the top of the charts just before the freeze. As soon as the ranks stopped changing, marketers would cut their ad spend and enjoy a free stay at the top of the charts for days — and watch with glee as downloads piled up. Since the freeze coincided with Christmas, loads of people with new phones would be heading to the app store to load up on games and apps, so those spots at the top of the charts were even more valuable than usual.

But this situation didn’t last. In 2011 and 2012, the freeze got shorter and shorter — down to about eight hours last year. That “free” stay at the top of the charts was suddenly much less valuable, so the increased costs of getting there — app marketing is always more expensive near the holidays — were harder to justify.

The vanishing opportunity

Beyond the shrinking duration of the freeze itself, there’s been another critical change in how the App Store works that’s made this year’s freeze into a non-event. Until fairly recently, rankings in the App Store updated every 15 minutes. To be sure of a freeze, we waited until we saw three updates in a row with no movement — a window of about 31 minutes.

Now, as a part of changes Apple’s been making to App Store behavior, rankings only update every three hours. That means it would take just over six hours to confirm a freeze. Remember, last year’s freeze was eight hours total! By the time you noticed a freeze, it’d be over.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that this year’s freeze will be eight hours: it’s gotten shorter every year for the last four years, but Apple does like to throw the occasional curveball at app developers. But with a six-hour delay before you can verify that a freeze is in place, it’s very unlikely that any kind of extraordinary chart-climbing effort will pay off.

And one more thing

Just in case you’re still thinking about trying to time it just right, there’s yet another reason not to gamble. This reason hinges on the difference between the app ranking calculations on the backend and what’s displayed in the App Store.

The freeze is technically only a front-end freeze: the Top Charts visible to users browsing the App Store stop moving. Behind the scenes, though, the algorithms that calculate exactly where each app ranks continue to update throughout the freeze.

The net impact is that pausing app marketing campaigns during the freeze will drop you further behind your competition as the algorithms notice fewer downloads of your app. When the front end is once again updated, your app could suddenly drop — at exactly the time you don’t want it to.

Finally, don’t confuse the iTunes Connect shutdown with the App Store freeze. The Connect shutdown only impacts developers, not users, as you won’t be able to submit updates or make changes to your app description and details during the shutdown, which runs from Dec. 21 to Dec. 27 this year. That makes no difference to how the Top Charts behave.

What should you do?

App marketing during the holidays is a high-stakes affair and demands some specialized planning. For detailed tips on how to approach it, check out the free e-book Top Tips and Techniques for Holiday App Marketing. But keep in mind that this year, there’s one less thing you have to worry about: The App Store freeze is no longer a marketing opportunity.

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