Author Archives: admin

I’m a Good Demographic to Target

Here’s a list of the apps I’ve either bought or downloaded for free just on my iPhone in the last few months or so.

And this has been a slow period for me.

Of these, I searched for two of them. (Lush and Srcfari.) The rest of them I bought by name, because I had heard of them through word of mouth or other forms of good marketing.

I buy apps often, and I don’t care much how much they cost, for the most part.

I leave 5-star ratings for every app I use whenever it is updated.

I suspect there are competing apps to the apps on my list that are quite good, maybe even better than the ones I use. But I don’t know for sure, because in most cases I’ve never heard of them. And I’m not going to bother to find out. That’s someone else’s problem.

I almost never use Apple’s search, because it’s a harrowing experience for someone like me, trying to find anything useful. The signal-to-noise ratio is terrible for any meaningful research. Instead, I trust my smarter friends and a few select journalists who review apps. I suspect a lot of people like me do the same.

When I need an app that does x, I ask a human being, in other words.

If you want to target the far more abundant, fickle, much more price-conscious, App Store search only crowd, there are far more of those people to grab, no question. You can’t live on people like me alone.

But if you want the Glengarry Leads…

There’s no reason to leave money on the table, is what I’m saying. Leave no stone unturned. Leave no customer behind.

You’re very likely to leave me behind if your idea of marketing is limited to ASO.

Just putting that out there as food for thought.

(And for crying out loud, some of you should consider charging more. I would have paid double for any one of the paid apps on that list.)

Relying on Search

Most people don’t walk into a store and perform a search for colas.[1] They walk in looking for a Coke. They find the Coke and buy it.

If people are searching the App Store for Teleprompter apps, I’ve failed at marketing my app effectively. What I want is for people to go to the App Store looking for Teleprompt+. Or better yet, I want them on my web site, hitting the direct link to the App Store Page.

That’s how I know my marketing is working.

If the majority of your sales come from people generally searching for your type of app, you’re handing your fate over to App Store search, over which you have almost no control. Not somewhere I’d want to be, ideally.

  1. Or a Pepsi. Insert your favorite brand here.  ↩

Regarding the Latest App Store Rejections

We’ve been through cycles of App Store Rejections before. We’ve seen all sorts of strange decisions that we couldn’t comprehend. Sometimes they get overturned, sometimes they don’t. That’s life when you do business with Apple.

This time it’s different, though. This time, there’s clearly a conflict within Apple going on. I simply can’t believe that Craig Federighi’s team built all those wonderful new APIs into iOS 8 and didn’t intend for us to do anything interesting with them.

In Steve Jobs’ Apple, conflict in the senior staff was welcomed, even deemed necessary. In Tim Cook’s Apple, conflict is dealt with a little differently.

I expect one of two things to happen in the coming months. Either the crazy rejections settle down or stop, or a high profile executive goes on gardening leave.

The Wrist Business

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the business side of Apple Watch development. After recording this week’s Release Notes episode, I wanted to further clarify my thinking on why I don’t think Apple Watch Kit Apps are a good place for me to be spending my time.

Let me state up front that I’m not telling anyone else how to run a business. You do whatever you think is best for you. I just hope clarifying my thoughts will help contribute to the overall conversation. Food for thought.

We know we won’t be able to sell watch apps at the time of the Apple Watch launch. So the value to our bottom line for making a watch app has to come indirectly. I’ve seen a few arguments now that this indirect revenue might be significant, and I want to address them one by one.

Some things I’m taking into consideration when looking at the following arguments:

  • First, that it will take me or a small team a minimum of a few months, if not a quarter, working on a watch extension to get it right.[1]
  • Second, any time spent on a watch component is time that could be spent on other improvements to existing apps, other new apps for iPad/iPhone, marketing efforts, etc. In other words, things that could be making me more money.
  • Third, I’m talking about right now. Does it make sense to build a Watch app today, given what we know and what we have at our disposal? All of this could change in a few months, years, etc. What I want to know is what I should be doing right now to benefit my bottom line.

You’ll gain customers you wouldn’t have otherwise had

I think the best case scenario for this argument is an app where the watch and phone are complementing each other very strongly. Apps where having the phone component alone didn’t solve the problem nearly as well as when you add the watch. I’m certain these ideas are out there, but I’d argue there are fewer of them than people realize.

Take Fin, for instance. An obvious watch component to Fin would be to allow the user to start and stop the timer with the watch. But is that enough to convince someone who hasn’t already bought it? Is that so compelling compared to just tapping the phone or iPad screen to start and stop? Wouldn’t that time be better spent making a remote function that would allow the user to start and stop the timer with another iPhone or iPad? After all, there are far more iPads and iPhones out there than there will be Apple Watches, and that won’t change for a few years at least. [2]

One of the first things Charles Perry told me when we both watched the keynote together was that Apple hadn’t presented anything that was better than what he already had on his phone. I had to reluctantly agree. Again, I do think there will be some apps for which adding the watch component will increase value significantly. I suspect the vast majority of Apple Watch apps, however, will be a small convenience improvement, at best. That’s great, and it doesn’t make me want Apple Watch any less as a customer. But does it drive new sales of my apps? I’m not sure.

You’ll make your current customers happy

Although your current customers have already paid you, and thus won’t give you any more revenue, the goodwill you will get from giving away this new watch functionality for free will net you money later through referrals to friends, etc. Or something to that effect.

David Smith presented this argument well on his Developing Perspective Podcast. I don’t completely disagree, but I also don’t see how focusing on a watch extension is a better investment than focusing on another improvement to one of my existing apps.

No doubt, getting watch functionality for free is nice for those who have already bought your app and who will be buying an Apple Watch as well. Do you know how many people that is? Is there any concrete way of measuring how many of your existing users will buy Apple Watches?[3]

If you have an email list of your current customers, you could poll them to see how many would be interested in watch functionality. Old fashioned. A bit messy. But doable.

You may find that although Apple ends up selling millions of watches next year, none of those buyers have bought or ever plan to buy your app.

Meanwhile, what about all the users of your app who don’t want Apple Watch and won’t buy one? Couldn’t you ultimately make more of your customers happy by adding a function to the existing iPhone or iPad app? After all, you know for sure how many people that would benefit.

The notion that a significant portion of your current user base will care whether or not you make a watch component is a massive assumption, backed up by no clear evidence. I like to trust my gut, but I trust it more when I have data that concurs.

You can charge more for an app that has watch functionality

If this were true, you could also charge more every time you add a major new feature to your app. But almost no one does that, and I suspect almost no one will for the watch, either.

I’d argue many of us could charge more for our apps in general. And I do charge more. Because I target customers who are willing to pay more. If you’re chasing a customer base that thinks 99 cents is expensive, however, you’re not going to have any luck raising your prices when you add watch functions. [4]

Apple has set up the WatchKit SDK specifically to restrict developers to free or at best freemium models. They are training customers to expect all software on the watch to be free. If you want to fight them, it’s going to be a long uphill battle.

I make my money on services, not the app itself, so getting on as many screens as possible is a benefit

No argument with this one. If you charge customers a subscription of some kind for cloud services, and the UI makes sense on a watch, maybe you should already be working on a watch app. I don’t make any of my money that way, but I’m thinking about heading in that direction very strongly.

Still, if your service is young, and your iPhone and iPad apps aren’t quite as good as they could be, the watch functionality might be something to put into the “nice to have” category instead. Depends greatly on where your current apps are, and how useful that cloud service is on the wrist.

Being there on day one will give you a great shot at getting featured by Apple

I think indie devs should stop chasing this dream altogether. For one, the majority of features these days are going to large companies who have direct PR connections to the iTunes staff. Or to indies who have a track record of getting featured, and thus the iTunes people are watching everything they do. If you’re a nobody to Apple, you’re most likely to remain so, no matter how successful you are financially.

You can catch Apple’s attention by doing something awesome. It does happen. But just building a watch app isn’t awesome enough. There will be thousands of watch apps on day one. And relying on the minute possibility that Apple will feature you is approaching your marketing from a position of powerlessness. You are letting Apple control your fate where you should be taking that fate into your own hands.

Also, getting featured isn’t what it used to be. It’s a sales bump, but you’re not going to retire on it.

Great innovations come out of experimentation, and you never know what the little thing you play with today might become

Absolutely. There is always a time and place for new ideas, for tinkering. But then there are the products that pay your bills. As long as you balance your time between those two things appropriately, you’ll be fine. If you drop everything in pursuit of the thing you want to play with instead of the thing that will help you succeed in business, you’re, as my co-host suggested this week on the podcast, a hobbyist, not an entrepreneur. That’s fine. The world needs hobbyists. And everyone needs a hobby. Just don’t expect to live on your hobby.

If the argument is that spending a few hours every Saturday tinkering with an Apple Watch app while spending the rest of the week working on other aspects of your business is a fine strategy, I agree. You may be better off researching marketing, or learning Swift in that time, but if it’s between tinkering with the watch or watching a crappy reality TV show, by all means do the watch.

Being first to market will give you a leg up over your competition

I refer you to this video from Dave Wiskus on the benefits of being first in technology. I also would suggest looking at the Twitter streams of many indie devs who struggled to get Today widgets into their apps on day one of the iOS 8 release, only to suffer from difficult debugging tools, changing APIs, Apple’s fickleness with approvals, rejections, rejections after previous approvals, and let’s not forget, the bug in Apple’s code signing that rendered Today widgets inoperable on day one. If you like living on that razor edge, be my guest. Just be aware you’re entering a world of pain, Smokey.

Even if you gain an advantage over competitors because you have a watch component and they don’t, how long does that last? How long before your competitors all make watch components, too, thus eliminating your advantage? Maybe you get some new loyal users out of it, but it’s short-lived, at best. Sounds like a small upside to me.

If you don’t do it all of your competitors will, and you’ll lose sales

This may be true. And it may be a good reason to work on the watch. But don’t kid yourself into thinking adding a watch component is going to make you more money in that case. “Do it or else” is avoiding something bad happening, not making something good happen. You won’t be getting more sales, you’ll just be losing fewer sales. You’ll be dumping months of work into maintaining your status quo, not building your future growth.

Ultimately, you may have to do that to remain relevant. That’s fine, as long as you see it as defense, not offense. Everyone has to play defense sometimes. But defense rarely puts points on the board.

In conclusion

I’m as excited about Apple Watch as any reasonable person can be. I look forward to owning one and to using all the great software likely to be made for it. I just don’t think the watch is going to become a significant portion of my revenue anytime soon, based on what I know today. So I’m choosing to focus the bulk of my attention elsewhere.

Again, I’m not telling you not to make watch apps yourself. You may have better reasons than I do to pursue this.

I’m also not saying I won’t be making my own watch apps—eventually.

Of all of these arguments, making money on services rather than selling apps is the most compelling to me. I think that’s the area where I’m most likely to focus my thoughts in the near future. I have little experience in that world, but I think researching that would do me better than building a watch app for any of my existing products. After all, a subscription-based service has potential to benefit my entire business, far beyond the wrist.

  1. Maybe I’m overestimating that, but from experience, I know developers tend to underestimate far more often than overestimate how long it takes to ship anything. If you’re pretty quick historically, go ahead and shorten that by a few weeks. If you’re David Smith, cut it down to 48 hours. But don’t lie to yourself about how big an investment of time it will be.  ↩

  2. And let’s not forget: getting people to not look at their watches to see the time while performing is one of the central reasons Fin exists in the first place.  ↩

  3. It would be great if someone came up with a way to do this in code. If I could drop something into my iPhone/iPad apps that detected the presence of a connected watch, then I could at least get a sense of how many of my customers would benefit. Not today, of course, because there are zero Apple Watch owners today. But at least for future reference. Is this even technically possible? Someone get on that. Seriously. Make it your OpenSource good deed of the week, if it’s doable.  ↩

  4. It’s tempting to think that people who buy an expensive luxury watch from Apple won’t be cheapskates about buying software. But you know better than that, don’t you?  ↩

Why I’ll be in Indianapolis Next October

We indie developers can be a pessimistic bunch.

Almost every week, there’s a new doom and gloom story brewing. One recent example: Monument Valley Forgotten Shores. Sold as a $1.99 USD in-app purchase (half the price of the original title), the new levels are insanely well crafted and allowed me and many others to rediscover much of what we loved about the game.

But a few hours into the release, Monument Valley was getting some 1-star reviews from disgruntled customers. How dare they charge another $2 for brand new content? You know the usual argument, if you want to call it that.

My reaction? I headed over to the App Store, gave the new version a 5-star rating (and a rare written review as well) to combat the complainers, and then I took to Twitter to voice my opinion, as usual.

In other words, let’s wait it out. Let’s see if these negative reviews are really anything to be concerned about. If they don’t effect the sales of the game, who cares?

But people were already convinced. Developers can’t win. Adding the in-app purchase was a mistake. Negative reviews will kill any app’s sales. Apple has made it impossible to make money on the App Store. No one values software anymore. And on and on.

Fast forward to a week later, and we get Daniel Gray, one of Monument Valley’s creators on an episode of Myke Hurley’s Inquisitive Podcast, explaining that the new levels are a hit. The negative reviews turned out to be a small minority of customers, and the game is selling better than ever.

In light of this revelation, how many of us indies are looking at this as a success story? How many are able to look past our initial anger and realize that this has proven that asking customers to pay for value isn’t impossible?

It’s so hard not to give in to that temptation to believe the worst whenever something goes slightly wrong for any of our fellow indies.

This is why I wanted to create a conference with Charles Perry next year. I want to be a positive influence in the indie dev community. I know I don’t have all the answers, but if I put the smartest people I can find into a room for three days and invite a hundred or so others to join us, I’m pretty sure we can all walk away with a much more uplifting outlook on what it is to try and make a living selling software. Because the success stories are there. Some of us are defying what the naysayers are preaching. And it’s not through magic.

The folks at ustwo didn’t get lucky. Their success is not a fluke. They built a loyal following with tons of hard work that went way beyond the product itself. Yes, the App Store presents a unique set of obstacles that we all wish weren’t there. But we can learn to navigate through them. If we can start learning the right lessons from these kinds of events, we can focus on building better businesses for ourselves.

Join our Release Notes Mailing List to get more information about the conference as it is announced. And join us in Indianapolis next October. It’s going to be enlightening.

My Talk from CocoaLove 2014

The folks from CocoaLove have been nice enough to post my talk from last month’s conference. In case you missed it and want to check it out.

Joe Cieplinski – The Back of the Fence from CocoaLove on Vimeo.

I really had an amazing time, and I thank all the organizers for having me at their show. Check out their web site for all the other great talks. They are posting them as quickly as they can.

Looking Up

The more I read from people I respect who have made a living in this industry, the more I realize that those who have succeeded at our thing are by and large the people who were patient, who didn’t take the easy way out, who built great products but also realized that wasn’t all there is to it, and who, most importantly, bothered to learn a lesson or two about business along the way.

I still have a long way to go.

If you spend 100% of your time just focused on the product, that isn’t going to cut it. A lot of developers have learned to make a kick-ass product over the past few years. That’s a great start, but that’s all it is at this point. A start. Congratulations. You’re now amongst thousands of others who bothered to do the product part well. Now what?

You need to be willing to accept that those people you hated back in your corporate days, the sales people, the marketers, the PR people, actually had an important job that brought value to the company where you worked. Hating them doesn’t take away from the fact that they were providing a service that your new indie shop now sorely lacks. Dropping an app on the Store that’s beautifully designed and superbly implemented is hard, and it takes a massive amount of effort to make that happen.

But it can’t end there.

Your product needs to get in front of customers. You think that’s going to happen because you got a mention on iMore or MacStories? Journalists provide an extremely valuable service, and their mentions can give you a great boost. But that buys you a few days, maybe a week at most. What I always ask myself is: What did you do after that to keep the momentum going? What did you do with that opportunity given to you by the press? What’s the long-term plan?

Most of us put the focus right back on the product. If it just had this feature or that feature. If this were just implemented a bit better. If I just work a little harder at getting the details right. Version 1.2 will be huge.

This makes sense. The product is where you’re comfortable, right? Me, too. I’d rather spend a week agonizing over a font than spend an hour writing an email to a potential ally in a related industry, asking to collaborate on a PR event. The thing is, product stuff is important, but focusing all your energy there is avoiding a larger issue: that you’re doing little to help people discover your existence.

People can’t buy what they can’t see. New features aren’t going to make you less invisible.

And Apple isn’t going to help you there, either.

The App Store is what it is. The competition is fierce. No special placement you happen to get temporarily is going to trump word of mouth generated outside the Store.

Either people come to the App Store already having heard of you and searching for your app specifically, or you’ve already lost. Discovery on the Store itself has for a long time been a fool’s errand. The VC-funded companies own the top shelf space now and will for the foreseeable future. Because they have people dedicated full time to this stuff.

The battle will always be won by the better marketer, the better business mind. The one who plays the long game. Not necessarily the better product. That’s a hard truth to swallow, but it’s been true since the dawn of commerce. Nothing about any of this is new or surprising.

By all means, keep making an awesome product. The product will need to be at least awesome to get you going. But then give it the marketing and sales strategy it deserves. I’ve failed on this front many times over, but I’m nowhere near ready to throw in the towel. There’s still so much to learn. I’ve been at it for years, and I’m doing better now than I was last year. And I plan to be doing better next year.

It’s always a hard time to be an indie. Because indie life is hard. If it weren’t, there’d be even more of us fools trying to make a go at this thing. (There’s a reason why steady jobs get to own you for forty hours or more every week.) Some times are harder than others, opportunities come and go, but the game is always the game.

And I plan to keep playing as long as possible.

Fin 2.0

About six months ago, I started using Fin to time my Chemex coffee brewing in the morning. Not exactly what I had in mind when I made the app, but it actually worked well for that initial 30-seconds of letting the beans “open up” with just a little water before pouring in the rest over the remainder of the 4 minutes.[1]

But here’s the thing: I wanted the first warning to go off at exactly 3 minutes, 30 seconds, so that my screen would change color when I was supposed to start pouring. After all, I’m doing this before my first cup of coffee in the morning; I could use all the help I can get.

With Fin 1, there was no way to do this. The warnings were hard-coded to 10, 5, and 2 minutes.

Right away, I knew I wanted customizable presets and warnings to be the flagship feature of version 2. And so it came to be. 12 presets that include not only the main timer, but the times of each of the 3 warnings as well. Two taps, and you can switch your whole setup to your most-used timers.[2]

I also wanted this version to be a little more helpful for Toastmasters members. The presets will be a big help, of course, for timing speeches of different lengths. But I also added an optional second color scheme for the three warnings. The classic Fin colors are yellow, then orange, then red. The new scheme fits the classic Toastmasters use of green, then yellow, then red.

Another thing that excites me in this new version is the new layout. Thanks to this tip, I finally figured out a better way to handle the custom Courier Pro font alignment issues that were plaguing me for the better part of a year. The new layout is far more smooth and allows for much larger numbers on the main timer. Fin should now be much easier to read from a distance, which comes in handy on big stages.

Finally, I added some delight where I could to the app, to make it respond more to your touches. A little bounce here and there always makes the app feel more fun, and it’s one of my favorite things to do.

I hope you enjoy this 2.0 update to Fin. I’ve been using various progressive versions of it for months now for the podcast, and of course for my coffee brewing and presentation practice. I think it’s more useful than ever.

You can grab your copy here on the App Store as a Universal app for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.

Of course, I made a new video too, to show off the new bits. Enjoy.

  1. I never much bothered with timing my brew precisely when I used the Aeropress, but for the Chemex it really seems to make a difference.  ↩

  2. Maybe 12 is overkill, but I can imagine some of my customers needing that many timers.  ↩

Making Videos at 360iDev this August

I wasn’t going to submit a topic to 360iDev this year. I’ve been having so much fun just sitting in sessions as a spectator for the last few conferences I’ve attended. No pressure. No preparation necessary. I thought maybe I could take a break and let others do the talking a little longer.

But then I remembered that I like to contribute to the community in this way, and I remembered how much fun I’ve had the past two years speaking to this amazing audience. So I thought about it some more and came up with a new idea that I think will be an enlightening talk. Something quite different from anything I’ve done before.

This year, I’ll be talking about making marketing videos and App Previews for apps. This is a subject I’ve covered here on the blog before, and it was one of my most popular series of posts yet. I thought it might be cool to take what I’ve learned over the past couple of years making these videos for myself and for Bombing Brain, and try and pack it all into a simple 40-minute demonstration of the entire process, from start to finish.

This won’t be merely a theoretical discussion with Keynote slides; I plan on getting my hands dirty and actually building a video during the talk. Because I want to demonstrate that videos of very decent quality are achievable on a very small budget and with a reasonable commitment of time. My goal is to have you leaving this talk confident that you can also create good videos for your own products.

This fall, when Apple allows us to post App Previews[1] of our apps directly on our App Store pages, it’ll be more important than ever to have these skills under our belts as indies. Otherwise, a big-budget VC-backed competitor will steal all of our customers with ease. You owe it to yourself and your products to make the most of your shelf space on the App Store.

It should be a fun session. Hope you can join me in Denver this August.

  1. Some of the editorial details are still unknown for App Previews, but I do plan on covering what we do know so far, and the skills you learn for making full-blown marketing videos on your web site will certainly apply to App Previews as well.  ↩

x2y Version 3.0

Today, I’m releasing version 3.0 of x2y, my aspect ratio calculator for iOS.

As I’ve said before, I want to continually find ways to improve this app, as it’s something I use regularly myself. When I first started with this next version, I had only intended to add theme support, as a fun way to change up the colors of the interface for those who didn’t necessarily like the default dark appearance. As I worked on the themes, though, I thought of other features that I’ve wanted to add for a long time but just didn’t think I could figure out easily for a minor update. In the end, I decided to tackle a lot more than I orginally planned and make this the major update for 2014.

Thus, the app is now at 3.0. With the original theme support idea in place, plus a few other key features.

There are four different themes from which to choose, and if you experiment a bit throughout the app, you can actually find four more that are hidden by default. I’m usually not a fan of “easter eggs” as I mentioned on episode 42 of Release Notes, but my cohost Charles Perry convinced me that it might be cool to experiment with hiding some themes if they were discoverable enough not to frustrate people. I think anyone who utilizes most of the features of the app regularly will have no trouble finding all four.

Next in 3.0 is iCloud support, which was far easier to implement than I had imagined. Probably because the data being synced in this app is so simple, I was able to get it implemented in a few weeks of my spare time. I know a lot of developers with far more complex apps have had many issues with iCloud, but for simple key value store sync, I found it to be quite manageable. (At least I think. We’ll see if people report major issues.)

Another big feature I added was support for copying your calculated results to the pasteboard. Just tap and hold on the calculated result, and a dialog will pop up, allowing you to choose from a few different formats to copy. One of the formats is CSS width and height, which I’ve been using quite a bit when coding web sites on my iPad in Textastic and Diet Coda. It’s quite handy.

Finally, I reworked the entire Help section of the app, adding the proper mail delegate to my support link, and using table views as opposed to a giant Web view.

All in all, the under-the-hood changes in this version go far beyond what the user sees. But they make me happy, as the app has matured quite a bit from a “first effort by a novice iOS programmer” to something that is much more solidly based on good design patterns. I still have a long way to go as a programmer, but I learned a ton just in the past few months getting this update ready.

I hope the new improvements will be well received. I want to thank my friends who have been coming out to IOSIRL who helped me with some advice on how to implement all of these new features, especially Soroush Khanlou. And, as always, I’ve gotten some great advice from Tim Cochrane at Bombing Brain on certain implementation details.

I hope that if you like the app and you find the new features useful, you’ll consider leaving me a review on the App Store. Positive reviews help me keep improving the app, and they help others to discover the app for themselves.

And of course, no new major version of one of my apps would be complete without a new video, which I’m embedding here. Enjoy.