So I think I’ve finally figured out how you should handle the release date when you’re submitting your app. From what I can see, when your app gets approved, it gets the release date you set when you submitted, even if the date it gets approved is AFTER the release date. Consequently, when your app appears on the App Store, it’s already a few pages down when sorted by release date. Not good 🙁
So, I’m guessing you have to set your release date way off into the future (because you have no idea how long it’s going to take Apple to approve your app), so that when it’s approved, you can bring it forward to the current date and it’ll be top of the new releases list. I’m going to be trying this with our next iPhone game, so I’ll keep you posted how it turns out. The one potential problem is that if Apple looks at the release date to determine when they’ll test your app, it might be a while before it gets tested.
Update: Apparently, from reading around, the release date will be listed as the earliest of (i) the date you set when submitting, and (ii) the date it is approved by Apple. So even if you set your availability date to some distant future date, then set it to something sensible when it’s released, it’ll be down in iTunes as the date it was approved. So I guess the moral of the story is this:
When submitting your app to the App Store, set the availability date to a month or two ahead (and remember to update it if you have to re-submit or if it takes Apple ages to approve it), so that it’s always ahead of the date it gets approved. Then, once it’s approved, set the release date to the date it was approved (so it actually appears on the App Store). You need to set it as soon as you receive the “Ready for sale” e-mail from apple, and remember to set the availability date to the date that Apple sent the e-mail (remember to take into account the time difference between you and Apple in Cupertino). E.g. If you receive the e-mail in the early hours of Tuesday morning, and you’re in the UK, then Apple will have sent the e-mail on Monday (their time), so your availability date should be Monday.