I read today over on techcrunch that the Chipotle iPhone app has been removed from the store due to “request timeouts” (or, in layman’s tems, it’s been removed because it’s pissing off tons of customer who can’t get their burrito orders through).

It’s funny – well, not ha-ha funny – to think that a large and tech savvy company (they have great online ordering, I’ve been told) like Chipotle didn’t take into account server load when they released their app. But, it’s not in the least bit surprising. People just don’t understand the power of a free app with a compelling user benefit in the App Store

When the App Store first launched, I was a part of a team that launched one of the first apps. Our App was mostly web based and our team naively thought that our servers were up to task. Of course we never expected 10000 week a day, much less 10000 downloads a day. We had 10000 downloads before the store was even officially open! Our servers were toast. We’d get one up just to see three more down. In the time it took to get our servers back, we were handed a boatload of horrible 1 star reviews by the community, all saying that our app didn’t work. You’d think people would be nicer to a free app, right?

So, what’s the moral of this story? Well, take it from someone who has been there (and the folks over at Chipotle will likely tell you the same), if you want to be free and you have a compelling app or well known brand, and you want your users to like you, you should consider the following:

  • Take your projections for usage and multiply them by 100. That should keep you in the ballpark for the initial surge.
  • The first week or so in the app store is the biggest. Once the novelty wears off, and your usage slows, you’ll want a server that scales down to meet the lower demand so you’re not throwing money out the window on unused bandwidth.
  • When you release an update, be prepared for a spike for the next couple of weeks.

If you keep these things in mind when releasing an iPhone App that relies on a server for some of its core functions, you’re one big step closer to a successful app and happy customers.