AppStore


Apps As Art

We seem to be on a roll again about this whole “indie is not viable” discussion. Next up, Allen Pike on Supply-Side Blues.

If you haven’t read them yet, I posted a couple other articles on this topic [see indie].

Allen’s post is spot-on with my assessment – the AppStore is becoming much like the music industry. Heck, when I was 16, I wanted to play professional saxophone. I might have actually had the chops to do it. At one point I started considering what my career outlook would have been. I noticed my saxophone teachers all had one thing in common – playing wasn’t their main source of income (or probably not; one guy played broadway shows in LA, but even that was inconsistent as shows come and go all the time). Average salaries were low.

Let’s look at another music angle. I have a family member with a reasonably good shot at making it big in the industry, but even then the sacrifice is large for an unknown, and certainly unrealized, payoff. Pick your poison – take a “real job” and do the things you love when you have time in the evenings, or go for it and make peanuts until (if) you make it big.

That’s why this whole thing is bananas. Apps are becoming art in much the way we approach music. And here’s the kicker – as indies, we LOVE to emphasize the care we put into the craft – paying attention to every detail, making it perfect. Tell me that doesn’t sound like something you’ve read on Etsy!

Friends, the gold rush is over, and we’re in this strange, mature, creative industry now. Customers expect loads of great things for free, we do it because we love it and have no expectation of making it big, and the only real money for most of us is taking that other job that actually pays. You know, that one converting CSV files for the sales team.

But you know what – it’s not going to stop me. I will keep on keepin’ on.




The AppStore Ice Cream Truck

Charles Perry (no relation), wrote this follow-up to Brent Simmons’ Love post (app store, indies, etc).

Here’s the question I posted to Charles – Does it change if the ice cream truck is the only one you’re allowed to sell on, yet the entire menu is only the top-sellers?

Sure – don’t blame the delivery truck, but there is significant impact when your product is effectively hidden from view. (How many times have you searched for the exact app title to be presented with dozens of unrelated results?).

Advertising is the obvious answer, and I think that has been the answer for years. I struggle with doing it right. How, where, and how much are all questions I don’t know the answers to. When bootstrapping something and your team is small, it’s a tough sell to spend money on things that may not have a direct correlation to income. BUT how else will people find out about our apps?

We (indies – I count myself as such, though I’m not making a living off it), need to figure this business out. Apple isn’t going to come to our rescue. They’re just the BigBoxRetail of apps. We need to do a better job getting the word out. More traditional advertising channels? Sure. Is there any reasonable way for us as a community to go about educating the average Joe and Jane that AppStore.app isn’t the only (or best) way to find apps? Actually, I wonder if they even care. See my previous post – perhaps the craft and quality movement will creep into digital.

Stay tuned. I hear the ice cream truck coming.

In the meantime a shameless plug: Have you heard about my latest project, Pocket Coach Pro? If you’re interested in getting fit (and I’m not talking about turning into a Hollywood six-pack… just about getting in shape and staying in shape – for your own health), then this app might be the one for you. Go, sign up, and you’ll be on my no-spam mailing list where I will send occasional development updates, take sign ups for beta testing, etc.




Indie Love

Is going indie on iOS viable? Nope. Don’t bother.

First, by Brent Simmons: http://inessential.com/2015/06/30/love

Then, Gruber follows: http://daringfireball.net/linked/2015/06/30/the-love-era

Hit the nail on the head. I have an app currently in development that might have a reasonable chance of doing OK, but I can’t see making my entire living off of it. Sounds great, huh? Here’s the thing – this is a concept I believe in (health), coupled with something I love to do – develop apps that I conceived. To try out-competing megacorp is foolish, but nothing says you can’t have a slice of the pie AND have fun doing it.

One thing I’m reminded of is how I sense parallels to the music industry (or any creative art, for that matter). We do what we do for the love of doing it. Few artists can make a full-time living off the art, but I don’t see that stopping them. Do it because you love it and because some people appreciate it. A few make it big, but not making it shouldn’t matter. That’s where Brent’s most poignant remark comes, “If there’s a way out of despair, it’s in changing our expectations.” True of everything in life, right? It’s often how you respond to circumstances rather than the circumstances you experience that matters.

Let me wonder this – we (Americans, at least) enjoy the big apps from well-known companies. The names sell themselves. Congratulations to them – that’s no easy task. We’re taking another turn. Things like the foodie movement, farm to table, hand-crafted goods, rejection of the mass-produced, etc are surging farther and farther into our society. We have a millennial spirit of idealism that may end up working to our favor. Will “hand-crafted apps” follow? Maybe. I mean, I don’t know if they actually will, but possibly there’s a chance, and I can hope they will.

So, if I may suggest – do it for the love. Any other benefit that comes of it is bonus.




Why I’m Excited about watch OS 2

For those who don’t already know, I have Repetition Workout Counter in the AppStore for iPhone and iPad. The most recent release – version 2.0 – added support for Apple Watch from day one.

I didn’t quite know what to expect out of the Apple Watch. It’s quite an elegant piece of hard ware and software engineering. That is, until you start using third-party apps. The issues I (well, and many others) have is that running the app as an extension on the phone and communicating UI changes over Bluetooth has been problematic. It’s slow. Sometimes it doesn’t connect.

In the case of Repetition, it only does two things – increment a counter, and control the stopwatch function. At times even these are painfully slow – and I’m only sending minimal payloads (most often a single key:value pair) over the air to the Watch.

Now, enter watchOS 2, announced yesterday at WWDC. This is what we developers have been waiting for – the ability to run apps natively on the Watch, some UI improvements, access to hardware components, complications, and more.

For apps like Repetition, that means some key advantages over WatchKit:

  • Immediate UI updates. (counter and timer are immediate)
  • Haptic feedback from the taptic engine (say, a little buzz every X minutes)
  • Better heart rate monitoring
  • No need to be near your phone during workouts.
  • Watch face complications with the current reps and timer w/o having to open the app

So, you can see why we’re excited for these enhancements. I really think the watch is perfect for two things – notifications and exercise. With Apple pushing the Health aspect so much, I wouldn’t be surprised if they felt the same way.




New iTunes Connect “Processing” Purgatory and Usability Issues

The new iTunes Connect has only been out a few days. Overall, I think it’s probably better than the old version – there are just a few things to get used to. It seems there’s a noticeable lack of communication within the new web app – enough that I filed a couple of bug reports.

Two surround the situation where you have uploaded a binary to iTunes connect. The first issue – you are not allowed to re-upload a binary with the same version and build number. However, there is no way to remove the old one. The second is a little less obvious: Uploading the new binaries will place them in a “Processing” state with no indication about what is happening. Fearing something had gone wrong, I tried the upload a few more times with different build numbers & formats – all went to “Processing” with no icon – only the version, build number, and upload timestamp. None of them were available to select so I could submit for App Store review. Xcode said everything was OK, Application Loader said everything was fine. An hour later, all four builds were processed. Thanks, I guess.

No matter the technical process, there are a few key points of communication they missed out on:

  • There’s no indication what “Processing” actually does, or how long it should take. Minutes, hours, days?
  • There’s no explanation about uploading “duplicate” binary version/build numbers until you’ve actually failed
  • Sometimes there are errors saving metadata – generic error message – users should be informed about what entry was wrong, and how to correct the problem
  • In general, I see no clear links to documentation, which would have been helpful
  • Xcode’s messaging is not consistent with Application Loader, which is also inconsistent with the iTunes Connect website.

I believe these issues are easily addressed, however they sure demonstrate how usability/experience is affected when a few pieces of key information is missing.




Case in Point: Orbital iPhone App

Check out this article in TUAW about how an iPhone app, Orbital, isn’t really making it for the developer after less than (nearly?) 100,000 units sold. The article suggests it’s just a case of bad luck. True? I’m not so sure. Here’s why.

Saturation

It seems to me that the App Store is pretty saturated. To clarify – the iPhone App market feels pretty saturated. I don’t mean that good apps don’t come along from time to time, however the sheer volume is daunting. I searched the App Store for “Camera” and came up with about 1200 matching apps.

Marketing

Face it, you can’t rely solely on the App Store to do all your marketing. Get into the top lists and you’re got a pretty good shot of doing well your first couple days. If you don’t, good luck with getting potential customers to find your app out of the thousands that accompany it in the store. It’s time to get involved with good ol-fashioned marketing – just like every other product in this world. Pretty soon developing profitable iPhone apps looks a lot like developing the boxed apps, but without the boxes and retail chain.

I think I’m done blogging about this for a while. Nothing like beating a dead horse.




Thoughts for the App Store

With regards to last night’s post on App Store pricing itself into an unprofitable wasteland, I thought of something.

What if there were two versions of the App Store? One for inexpensive, useless, or just plain bad apps, and another for apps that met certain price, quality, or other criteria?

For those wishing to make iPhone development their business, the current version of the App Store isn’t the ideal marketplace. Finding apps can be challenging – either your searches aren’t quite coming up with what you’re looking for, or you have to wade through pages and pages of apps that don’t interest you. The other problem is the pricing competition with people who may not have similar economic goals as you do.

App Couture

Apple could offer different development tiers. Break the App Store down into groups indicative of where developers enroll. Keep the $99 price point for individuals. After that, add one or two more tiers for the ambitious or the corporate developers – maybe at $499 and $999. I don’t think Apple needs to add additional features. The benefit from joining the higher tiers is that you get placed in the App Store Premium. It’s App Store Couture. Could you also maintain a category for ad-free apps? Never mind the small advertising on the info/about page. I’m talking about those annoying little pop-ups at the bottom of your screen.

With those benefits are going to be some pitfalls. Just because somebody pays several hundred dollars for the premium listing does not ensure a quality product. And what with the fees you pay, will Apple do with it? It’s not up to me, but if it were – how about using some of that extra cash to improve the approval process?

App Graveyards

Let’s take this another route –  take old apps behind the barn, à la Old Yeller. Ok – maybe a bit extreme. Why not make an app graveyard where old apps go to die. By placing certain requirements on how often apps must be updated, Apple could, in theory, keep the App store fresh by keeping new and newly updated apps, while throwing the abandoned ones to the App Store Graveyard. In all likelihood you’re probably not interested in using many of the apps first developed when the iPhone was released. It’s not too big a task for developers to make small, incremental changes on a regular basis. It’s a sticky place to be in. On one hand you’ve spent a lot of time (money) on developing an application, and now you have to spend more refreshing it every so often. The updates might not drive new sales – money wasted, so to speak. Could that problem be solved by simply having to re-submit apps once a year? Uncertain. Surely it would produce some undue burden on the app approval team for apps they’ve already approved before.

Indies

Who wouldn’t like Apple to open up the distribution channels to third parties? I could see this open the possibility for independent virtual storefronts where retailers have the ability to pick and choose the apps they feature through their store. This approach has two possibilities that I think could work. First – Apple could open the iTunes AppStore to an affiliate program: App Store Indies. Online retailers could list apps on their website, but the whole thing link back to iTunes, as it does now. The second scenario would be the ability to distribute apps outside of iTunes, but still retain that special Apple-certified seal of approval that is required already. The apps, registered and digitally signed through Apple, could be available for download, or even boxed up and sold in block-and-mortar stores. There would have to be an economic incentive to Apple and the retailers to make this work. Because Apple owns the only distribution channel, I don’t see any reason why they would want to change unless it meant more dollars for them. That could easily be achieved through higher-priced premium apps. As a consumer, I like the idea of multiple outlets because I come to know and trust certain retailers and go back to them repeatedly. The cream will rise to the top – those retailers selling good apps will succeed, but at least they have the incentive to not bend to the price wars.

Am I biased? You betcha. As a developer, I want to make sure that I can make a living out of what I do. I can’t afford to spend hundreds of hours on projects for the chance of making one or two thousand dollars, 99¢ at a time. The App Store may have become a popularity game, but that doesn’t mean it should do so at the cost of making a living – especially if the iPhone platform is going to continue to be a profitable platform for the developers. If the money leaves, so will they.




Race to the Bottom: iPhone App Store Pricing

I’ve had a notion for some time that the price wars on the app store may be detrimental to the community. I know I’m not alone in this feeling, and have found others online who would agree. Finding like-minded developers isn’t my goal. I’m wondering when, or if, the App Store will begin to resemble something a little closer to desktop boxed software prices.

I think it would be wrong to assume that mobile apps will reach the cost of boxed software. However, I do believe we’re shooting ourselves in our proverbial feet by pricing perfectly good applications at free or even $0.99. Admit this – comparing a $0.99 app to a $2.99 one, both with similar features, ratings, and quality user interface, which one are you more likely to buy? If you were the guy selling the $2.99 app, wouldn’t you feel compelled to lower your app’s price even just a little? I mean, some money is better than none?

Assumptions

You’re going to make a few assumptions, be it good or bad, but one way or another they will affect your sales. These probably fall into two or three areas, 1) lowering your price will communicate better value; 2) lowering your price will increase sales; 3) more sales means more profit.

Better Value?

That’s open for debate. Customers may think they’re getting a great app for cheap (high value), or they can see a lower price (whether your are lowering the price or setting a low initial offer) and think nothing of it because everything else in the category is priced roughly the same.

Increased Sales?

This might also be true. It almost goes without saying – people can buy more cheap apps on the same budget than pricey ones. I’ll give you a +1 for remembering the concept of supply-demand curves you learned in your high school econ class. There is, unfortunately, a wrench thrown into your increased sales equation – anecdotal evidence points to the best sales occurring right after launch and eventually falling off after the 60-day mark. We’re working with a limited time frame to make the most we can.

More Sales, More Profits

All things being equal this becomes a matter of math. Cutting your app’s price in half means you need to double sales to make the same amount of money. Do you think you can do that? Realistically? In the 60-day window where most developers see the largest chunks of their sales?

Closing Thoughts

I’m going to finish up with one thought that should bring this full circle. Before pricing your app consider the cost of the downward price war. You may make more sales, but you won’t make a decent income off of it. Should this trend continue, our users will become spoiled enough that they will hardly tolerate higher priced apps unless they are truly unique and worthwhile. This price war is only hurting ourselves and something will have to change or the App Store will end up a wasteland of low-quality apps because the true developer dollars will go elsewhere, thus making the iPhone/iPod Touch platform much less appealing for everyone.