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The Collection that Needs no Name

One thing that sounded odd at the unveiling of Apple Watch last September was the way they introduced the three different collections. If you watch the video with the Jony Ive voiceover, you’ll see what I mean. First, Apple Watch. Then Apple Watch Sport. Then Apple Watch Edition.

Notice they didn’t present them in the order of price, as we all know by now that Apple Watch Sport will be the “cheap” option, and the Edition, being made of gold, will be the priciest. But rather, they introduced Apple Watch first, and then the other two, as if the latter two were both variations of the canonical Apple Watch collection.

I didn’t get why Apple Watch collection didn’t get its own separate name and why it was presented first until I thought about it in terms of brand identity. Clearly, Apple Watch is the one Apple wants most people to buy.

Sport is obviously for the athletic-minded (and those unwilling to spend $1k+ on a watch, of course.) They will sell tons of these, I’m sure, and the low entry price will help grab lots of customers who otherwise wouldn’t indulge in such a device. In two or three years, perhaps, they will upgrade to the better versions. But if most people buy this collection, I think Apple will actually be in trouble. The margins on Sport have to be pretty thin.

Edition is meant as a super-high, almost unattainable fashion statement. I completely believe the estimates of several watch journalists and John Gruber when they guess the price of Edition at $10k-$20k. Almost none of us “regular” people will make the leap to that high a price, but this is the watch that George Clooney will be wearing. It’s the status symbol. Apple will sell plenty of them, don’t get me wrong. But not nearly as many as the other two collections.

And that leaves the stainless steel collection. The one with the most options. The one they show off most in pictures and videos. The one that doesn’t need a name. It’s simply Apple Watch. This is the one that will make or break the device’s success.

And it’s subsequently the one that’s hardest to guess at, in terms of price.

On the one hand, as Allen Pike pointed out on Twitter, the stainless steel version could technically be as cheap if not cheaper to produce than the aluminum Sport collection.

But we all know that Apple’s middle-tier products are never priced according to the cost of materials. (And neither are watches, coincidentally.) We also know that Apple loves its high margins. Get them into the store with the “good” product, show them the “best” product to let them know how much they could be spending, then let them settle on the “better” model.

So how do you price an item somewhere between $350 and $10k? Do you slide up towards the high end and make a bet that more people will be fashion-conscious enough to want the higher status? Or do you price it a bit closer to the low end, hoping to grab more of the people who otherwise would be grabbing Sport models?

I don’t know. A range of $800-$1,500 (roughly what John Gruber most recently predicted) makes a lot of sense to me. It’s pricier enough than the Sport to make it a status symbol, yet not so crazy as to be out of the realm of what people tend to pay for nicer watches. I certainly don’t see it being any lower than that.

Would they go up to 5k? Somewhere closer to the middle of the two pricing tiers? If they wanted to predominantly sell Sport models, then yes. But as I said in my talk at CocoaLove last October, Apple’s gift is making you feel like you bought a Mercedes when you actually paid the price of a nice Toyota. They want people to give in to that desire to get the better, classier item. And they do that by being just a little more expensive, not a lot more expensive.

But this is a watch, not a computer or a phone. Perhaps all bets are off once we move into the world of fashion?

How much higher Apple drives that stainless steel collection price will be a good indication of how confident Apple is that they can get beyond functionality and appeal to people’s sense of prestige. I believe the plan is to drive as many people up past Sport to Apple Watch as possible, in order to have a much higher ASP. And that means keeping Apple Watch collection closer to 1k than 3 or 4k in my mind. But Apple may know better.

Sure, a price of 1k–1.5k leaves a massive price gap between Apple Watch and Edition. But the more massive that gap, the better for those who would buy a gold watch, anyway.

My Talk at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw

Last week, while visiting Warsaw for the MCE conference, I had the honor of also being asked to address some students at the Academy of Fine Arts. I had a blast talking with them about getting started in the indie software world.

Daniel Mizieliński, who teaches this group and invited me to speak, has released the video of my talk already. I want to thank him and his wonderful students for the opportunity.

Investing in Your Apps

John Saddington on the first 63 days of selling his blogging app Desk:

The bottom-line, though, is that it means that it is quite possible to “make it” as an indie developer and eek out an income that is substantive and worthwhile. I hope this report, if anything, gives some encouragement to all of those that are interested in seriously (or semi-seriously) pursuing an independent app that creates great value for users and customers.

You won’t get rich off of it (maybe, but… that’s pipe-dream stuff) but you can make a living and with a little creativity and a lot of luck you can make it work. It does work and now I know this first-hand in an intensely-personal way. I am so very, very blessed. The thought of making, on average, ~$500 a day via an app that I love is really stinkin’ cool.

But it doesn’t mean that I’ll be quitting my “day job” any time soon. This is because I really like the pace at which I’ve created for Desk and the very modest growth that I’m experienced is just the right amount of growth that I can personally handle and that I am interested in experiencing.

Desk generated $65,654.85 of revenue in 63 days. Many of us would be very happy with that level of success. Note, however, that he’s not not taking the app full-time, and he’s happy to continue with slow and steady growth.

Lest you think Apple featuring Desk as one of the Best Apps of 2014 led to all this revenue, read Saddington’s entire piece to see how he actually managed to make it happen. It’s a very active strategy that goes way beyond sitting back and waiting for Apple to do his work for him.

For instance, although the app made $65k, he spent $28k in ads and marketing materials. Let that sink in for a while. He invested almost half his revenue back into the product in the form of advertising dollars and other marketing efforts. How many of us are doing anything close to that?

One area in which I’m always ready to admit I’m weak is advertising. I’m basically clueless about this entire arena, especially when it comes to apps. But I’ve been taking notes from Saddington’s recent posts:[1]

  • He didn’t buy one ad. He placed several ads in various different places.[2]
  • He doesn’t need thousands of sales to make it worth the investment. Desk is a productivity tool, not a 99-cent casual app.[3]
  • He advertised with well-known bloggers. Makes sense, since he’s selling blogging software. I doubt a Daring Fireball ad would do Teleprompt+ as much good. But are there influential indie film blogs that would be effective for us? Probably.
  • Not all ads are created equal. The Daring Fireball ad cost him a lot more than the others, but it also had a much larger impact. Like any other product, you get what you pay for with advertising.
  • He didn’t take out an ad expecting to make his money back immediately. Ads have long-term effects you can’t measure with a simple equation. (This is what makes advertising difficult to stomach for engineers.) An ad you purchase today might get you a sale three months from now. You’re raising awareness. It’s not something you try once, decide it doesn’t work, and then drop.[4]

I’m not suggesting everyone needs to set aside a giant advertising budget to succeed. But it sure looks like it helps.

It’s too early to tell what the long-term picture is for Desk, but if you look at the sales charts, Desk doesn’t look like one of those apps that will make the bulk of its money at launch. Yes, there are spikes, but there’s also growth after the spikes. Putting some money back into advertising is already paying off and should continue to do so in the long run. I’m willing to bet Saddington’s marketing skill is going to help Desk settle into a nice steady monthly revenue over the next year. As momentum picks up and word of mouth starts taking off more, the percentage of revenue he needs to reinvest to keep the momentum going should be reduced. I hope he reports back in at the end of this year to let us know how it pans out.

It’s also worth noting that Desk gets a lot of marketing (at the cost of the creator’s time, rather than money) in addition to paid advertising. Saddington blogs frequently, has a regular email newsletter, and releases short videos quite often. All of which are full of great advice for indies. Highly recommended.


  1. Not just this Year in Review piece, but also his excellent Does Sponsoring Daring Fireball Actually Work? A must-read.  ↩

  2. Ever wonder why Squarespace advertises on so many podcasts at once? They know the same people listen to ATP and The Talk Show. But four people you trust recommending a product to you are far more effective than one.  ↩

  3. Some might look at that and say that ads aren’t a good idea for their cheap apps. I say it’s a good reason not to make cheap apps.  ↩

  4. Obviously, it’s not easy to risk large chunks of money this way. One ad for Daring Fireball cost Saddington $10k. That’s a lot of money to put into one spot for a small indie. The fact that Desk is a part-time business helps make these investments a little easier, I imagine. Which is why I think he’s keeping it that way for now. Try not to pay your bills with a new app’s revenue for as long as you can, in other words.  ↩

Craft Apps

Ben Thompson’s piece today about Zoë Keating is an interesting read for any indie developer. The chart alone is worth a look whenever you’re making choices about how to price your apps or services.

Immediately after reading his piece, I sent this tweet, which he was kind enough to put into his footnotes.

I find it odd that so many indies want to make “opinionated” software, which by definition limits the audience, and then price it as if trying to reach the widest audience possible. This strikes me as trying to have it both ways. Either you want to target a niche, or go for scale. If you target a niche with your design and features then try and price the app for the mainstream, you’re going to have a very hard time being sustainable.

The mainstream simply doesn’t care about your high-quality, artisanal approach to app making. They want what’s free and what’s popular. To get their attention, it takes millions of dollars an indie doesn’t have.

The craft beer analogy isn’t perfect, but it does offer a hint as to how some of us might successfully navigate through the overabundance and ultra-discount dominance on the App Store.

A craft brewery like Victory doesn’t try to take customers away from Coors. They specifically target the people who wouldn’t be caught dead drinking a Coors. They are looking for beer snobs, none of whom are drinking the giant brands.

The problem is that there are few people outside the mainstream. So you have to let go of this notion of making up for it in volume. You can’t easily convert people who don’t pay for software with your amazing hand-crafted experience. But by and large, the small group who does look for that level of craftsmanship will be far more loyal, vocal, and happy to pay[1]. You just have to find them[2], earn their trust, and then charge them more for your superior product.

Easier said than done, right? Still, it looks easier to me than competing with funded startups for the attention of the fickle masses.

You’ll never make the money the big startups make, but you won’t have to. You’re paying yourself or a small team, not an office building full of people. Success isn’t about beating everyone else. It’s about feeding your family. To paraphrase Charles Perry on our podcast today, mind your revenue, not your rank.

Is there a large enough market for “craft” apps? I don’t know. But I think trying to couple a superior experience with rock-bottom prices is maybe not the best way to find out.


  1. In many cases, the higher the price, the better. They want to brag about how much their superior experience cost them. A low price can actually hurt you here.  ↩

  2. Guess where they’re not hanging out? The App Store most popular charts, for one. You really need to think outside the App Store to find these customers.  ↩

Excuses

Here’s the thing about excuses: they rarely lead to action. Thus, they are pretty much useless to me in my pursuit of success.

It’s perfectly natural to look at someone else’s circumstances and focus on everything that differs from our own. He doesn’t have any kids. She gets health care from her husband’s employer. He has a large following that I don’t have. She lives in a small town with cheaper living expenses. And so on. Noting these differences can actually help us build a realistic plan for our own success.

The problem comes when you take those differences and turn them into excuses for your own inaction. When those differences lead your mind to that’s why she’s successful and I’m not, or that made it easy for him, rather than I’m going to have to find a way to succeed without that or I’m going to have to overcome that issue first.

Of course someone else probably has it easier than you.[1] No matter how privileged you are, no matter what life choices you’ve made, there’s always someone in an even better starting position. We don’t live in a fair world.

But ask yourself: How does dwelling on this help you succeed?

We all do it from time to time. The human mind gravitates toward finding the easier path. Excuses protect us from having to take risks.

But not taking risks also means not reaping rewards.[2]

This is the reason successful businesses are rare. It’s not that they can’t be built, but that it’s easier and safer not to even try.

If what you want is to feel good about not succeeding, go ahead and let your excuses stop you. You’ll find plenty of other unsuccessful people with whom to commiserate. And you can throw your excuses at more successful people to make yourself feel even better as a bonus.[3]

Otherwise, if you want to actually succeed, you have to fight the urge to make excuses when you should be taking action.

By all means, take note of your disadvantages. But then build a plan for overcoming them.


  1. Of course, easier doesn’t mean easy. Don’t assume that someone’s lack of one or two obstacles means there were no obstacles to their success at all. In fact, often other people have different obstacles, not necessarily fewer.  ↩

  2. No, you shouldn’t take foolish risks. But you can’t take no risks and expect anything good to happen to your business.  ↩

  3. Just kidding. You should stop doing that. Seriously. It makes you look silly.  ↩

Some Thoughts on Dark Sky and Studio Neat

Two interesting articles published today. The first is an announcement from Dark Sky that they have sold a piece of their company to Applied Invention. The second is a status update from Studio Neat on a recent change they made to their business model for Slow Fast Slow.

From the Dark Sky piece:

We’ve never done anything like this before, and any time you introduce new partners you’re taking a significant risk. In fact, I’d put the odds of Dark Sky crashing and burning in the next couple years (or worse: turning into something we no longer love) as high as 50%. But really, that’s a big improvement. If it were just Jay and myself, the odds of utter destruction would be much higher; closer to 100%. The two of us were trying to do the job of a much larger team (i.e. design and development of a sizable app and website and data service, keeping a hundred Linode servers up and running, customer service, corporate development, and all the nitty-gritty work involved in running a business), and that just isn’t sustainable. Continuing down that road would lead to unimaginable stress, burn-out, probable heart disease, and a slow and steady descent into functional alcoholism.

And from Studio Neat:

We stated in the aforementioned post that “if we can generate only one sale of a Glif (or any of our products, really) per day as a result of this ad, it will be worth it.” It is too early to know if the app will continue to drive traffic to studioneat.com once it is no longer featured in the App Store. But, as you can see from the graph below, revenue clearly saw an uptick when we switched to the free model and started directing traffic to studioneat.com.

Now, perhaps some will see both of these developments as bad news for indie developers. You can’t succeed without selling out. You have to pivot to hardware because of the dismal state of App Store pricing. You can’t make a living just selling apps anymore. And so on. The doom and gloom practically writes itself. But what I take away from both of these posts is actually much more favorable.

Companies have to grow to survive, and there’s nothing wrong with bringing on extra talent to do a better job accomplishing your goals. If you have shortcomings as a business person, or you’re just at the end of your rope as far as how many hours you can put into a product on your own, there’s no shame in seeking some outside expertise. It sounds like Dark Sky had gone about as far as it could under the leadership of its founders. If it were being sold outright to some giant company like Google, I’d say good for Adam and Jay, and then I’d start searching for a replacement app immediately. In this case, however, I’m much more cautiously optimistic. It sounds like Applied Invention might actually have some real talent that can bring improvements to Dark Sky. And the founders are still very much involved. I’ll be watching with interest, at the very least.[1]

In the case of Slow Fast Slow, I see some creative business thinking that seems to be bearing fruit. While theirs is not a model I can readily apply to my own products, it does give me inspiration to think outside the App Store for where I might get some money from customers. Remember, Studio Neat is a hardware company first and a software company second. It only makes sense for them to take an app which was not making much money on its own and try to use it to boost sales of their primary hardware product, the Glif. While the “App as Ad” approach is normally only utilized by larger companies, here we get to see it in action from a much smaller indie outfit.[2]

So congratulations to Adam and Jay on their new partnership, and thanks to Dan Provost for sharing some numbers from Studio Neat’s latest experiment. I’m fond of saying there’s no one right way of going about the indie software business, and these guys are living proof.


  1. The absense of the usual corporate mumbo jumbo in the announcement helps. A lot.  ↩

  2. Too early to tell if it will be successful long-term, but I applaud the experimentation and the willingness to share the results.  ↩

Compromises Have Consequences

I remember back in the early 2000s, when OS X was an infant and the Apple Retail Stores were just starting to take off, I would lament with many of my longtime Mac faithful friends about the decline in reliability of Apple’s products. Many of my friends were convinced that Macs were failing at a much greater rate than they had been “in the good old days,” and that the software was buggier than it ever had been. Of course, Apple was starting to sell many more Macs than it ever had, and it had just replaced the core of all of its software in a relatively short period of time, so it stood to reason that the number of duds coming off the assembly line would increase, and that bugs in the software would become more commonplace as well.

How could Apple possibly continue to grow and succeed without a corresponding decline in quality? This is a universal struggle for all companies, and most end up falling apart eventually because of it.

I bring this up not because I disagree with Marco Arment’s post from last night about the recent decline in Apple’s software quality, which is undeniable. I just think it helps to remember that mass market success and decline in build quality pretty much go hand in hand. And that we’ve been here with Apple before. Many times.

Apple is now hundreds of times larger than it was back when I was complaining with my friends, and the software and hardware, despite not being perfect, aren’t hundreds of times more buggy and unreliable than they were then.

Somehow, Apple always manages to right the ship before the quality assurance issues get completely out of control. Maybe we’re in a particularly bad phase at the moment, and maybe that struggle to keep the quality up is harder than it was in the past, but if history is any indication, it’ll get better.

Almost two years ago, I suggested that Apple would be better off slowing down and taking a year off to fix bugs and enhance already existing features, rather than continue the fevered pace of innovation that it had maintained for so many years. Clearly, Tim Cook ignored my advice. And how could he not? After Jobs’ death, the world consistently questioned Cook’s ability to keep the company in its role as the richest, most powerful, and innovative tech company in the universe. He had a lot to prove. There were expectations that needed to be met, and so he met them.

Unfortunately, meeting those expectations has had consequences.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t stay way ahead of the curve and not introduce some bugs along the way. This decline in software quality is a side-effect of the current strategy. It’s a compromise Apple has made in order to reassure the general public that the company isn’t “doomed” without Steve Jobs.[1]

The only question now is how does Apple balance the speed of innovation against the need to maintain quality moving forward? As the Apple Watch starts shipping later this year, and the critics of Cook finally quiet down about Apple’s inability to have a hit new product, will Apple shift gears a little? Will the organization realize that it’s out of whack and start to feel the need for a Snow Leopard moment? I think it probably will.

How Apple accomplishes this feat—slowing down the upgrade cycles just a bit, adding more people, introducing fewer new features per release, etc.—is an open question. Regardless, Apple can’t simply stop moving forward. They can’t just take the year off to fix bugs, as I had naively suggested. That’s what I and many old fans of the platform would love to see, but it’s not realistic for the continued success of the business. Apple has no choice but to push ahead.

I’m not apologizing for Apple. I think the leadership has a lot of work to do. But it’s not as simple as “fix everything” or “stop making new stuff until the old stuff works better.” You can’t ignore the fact that Apple has real competitors who aren’t standing still. And you can’t ignore the consequences of spending too much time fixing bugs and denying the always fickle masses the new and shiny bits.

The unfortunate reality is that “Here’s a new version that’s the same as the old version, except now everything works” is a tough sell.

In the meantime, Arment and others are right to point out these glaring software issues, and we’re right to debate them. Apple’s reputation is indeed taking damage, although that may have been unavoidable. Let’s just not get impractical about solutions or pretend that this is an easy thing to solve. And let’s not assume that Apple doesn’t have a sense of the problem.


  1. Ironically, the decline in quality is now going to be used to spark a whole new round of “doom and gloom” stories about Apple. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  ↩

Most

“Most” is a dangerous word for a small business.

If you start out thinking only of things that work most of the time, for most people, you miss most of your opportunities. If you concentrate all of your efforts on only the things that most people do, or the ways in which most people behave, you will be invisible to your most valuable customers.

You don’t want most people when you’re starting out. You want the right people. The people who are going to become your sales force. Your lifetime loyal fans. And loyal fans generally don’t conform to the norms.

Some customers are worth more than others.

You want to think of every single new customer as a victory and a potential opportunity. You want to be determined to find the people who usually fall between the cracks of standard marketing techniques.

The “most” customers others are chasing are fickle and ultimately worth little to a young business just getting started. They might give you money in the short term, but then they move on to other things. They don’t sell your products to the next five customers. They just drop you as soon as another shiny object passes by.

Chasing “most” gets you a sales chart like this:

Bad Sales Chart

Instead of a chart like this:

Good Sales Chart

As you grow, you’ll want to widen your horizons, of course, but at the beginning, I think you’re much better off not catering to the crowd.

Another thing about this “most” mentality: it gives you an easy excuse not to do things. Most people won’t bother watching that video. Most people won’t read my blog. Most people won’t come to my web site.

And so you do nothing. And then no one finds you.

Building a Showroom

At CocoaLove this past October, I demonstrated how Apple, faced with a terrible retail situation in the late nineties, took matters into its own hands by creating a chain of stores rather than resigning itself to the whims of CompUSA and the other existing brick-and-mortar outlets.

I challenged indie developers to consider this the next time they are tempted to complain that Apple is featuring nothing but free-to-play games from big companies and shoving most of our finely made indie apps into the back corner to be forgotten.

We have as little control over how our apps are presented on the App Store as Apple did with its products in 1997. Is there anything we can do about that? Absolutely.

“But,” I can hear so many saying, “I have no choice but to sell my apps on the App Store. iOS doesn’t allow alternative stores.”

Well, yes and no.

A good number of customers will discover and buy our apps on the App Store as they search for solutions to their problems. Depending on what types of apps you make, search could be the primary way that people find you, but it’s certainly not the only way possible.

Here’s the problem with App Store search: it sucks for us. It’s designed to promote what Apple wants to promote, not what developers want to sell. We can make tweaks to better our chances (and I highly recommend you do just that), but once that’s done, we’re mostly waiting for people to happen upon us. And we have very little data to track how people find us and what percentage of them are buying, at least as of this writing.[1] We also don’t know if or when Apple will change its search algorithms, which could render all our work in this area ineffective in an instant. Even if we’re found, we’re strictly limited in what Apple allows us to show, and everything about the presentation of our product is subject to their approval.

So how else can people find our apps? Well, there’s the Web, and on it we can create any sort of showroom we’d like. We can drive people to that web site in various more active ways.[2] More importantly, we can control exactly what people see when they get there; we at least have some idea how they got there, what they looked at while they were there, and where they went afterwards. Even if they don’t buy our product right away as a result of their visit, we stand a much greater chance of leaving a lasting impression on visitors when they arrive.

Let’s look at some of the differences between waiting for a customer to find you on the App Store vs. driving people to your web site more actively.

On the App Store

Your potential customer launches the App Store app and lands immediately on the Featured tab, with dozens of distractions from banners and icons of different apps, none of which are yours.[3] Already, they are tempted dozens of times over to buy something else before going any further.

The Featured Tab of the App Store on iPad

But this is an unfair comparison, because people could just as easily get distracted on the Web. So let’s say today they aren’t so easily distracted. They are perhaps searching for something similar to what your app does. And so they type a generic term on the search field and get a list of results.

In that list of results, if you’ve done your keywords just right, begged your current users for reviews at the cost of some goodwill, sold enough copies to be ranked well, and sacrificed a small animal or two, the best case scenario looks like this:

Search Results for “teleprompter”

More likely you’re ranked a little lower than the first app on that list. Maybe you’re far enough down that you have to start scrolling to see your app.

Now you’re really in trouble. You need to sell more apps to get to the top of the list, but you can’t get potential customers to look at you while you’re way down on the list. You can beg for ratings, you can adjust your keywords, you can tweak your icon and screenshots, and that will all probably help you move up. But if you don’t have sales under your belt, you’re going to have a very hard time climbing to the top five any time soon.

Regardless, there’s a whole lot of real estate in this view dedicated to your direct competitors, as opposed to your own app.

But you’re confident your app is so much better than all those other apps, right? Maybe, but how does this potential customer know that? What does he or she have to go on at this point? An icon? A star rating? One image? You can and should make efforts to be sure each one of those things is as impressive as possible, but the control ends there.

Will the customer bother to tap into the detail view of each app, compare the screenshots, read the full description, etc.? Some absolutely will, but you’re lucky if many bother with that for more than three of the apps listed. Will yours be one of them?

In any case, your potential customers in this scenario still spend more time looking at your competitors’ apps than at yours.

Those are some pretty tough odds against making the sale. Of course you’ll get some of your sales this way, maybe even a majority, depending again on what type of app it is. But is this the only way to get the job done?

On Your Web Site

Web site for Teleprompt+

Now that’s more like it. An entire page dedicated to nothing but my app.

Maybe the potential customer got here by searching Google for teleprompter apps. Maybe they got here from a blog post I wrote five years ago. Maybe they saw our app’s name in a forum post in a popular audio/visual site they happened to be reading. Maybe they heard the name on a podcast. Maybe they were on the web site of one of our numerous cross-promotion partners who make complementary hardware accessories. Maybe they responded to one of our direct marketing emails. Or, the best possible scenario, they got here because someone they trust, such as a colleague in a similar field, recommended ours as “the one to get.” There is an endless array of ways a customer may have gotten to this point. And some of those are ways over which I have pretty direct control.

They could have gotten to our dedicated App Store page in some of these ways, too, of course, but as of this writing, I have no way of knowing if they did or not. Web analytics aren’t perfect, but they are a lot better than what Apple has provided to date on the App Store.

On your web site, it’s all about your app. You can have links to as many other pages as you like, also talking about nothing but your app. There’s no limit to how much text you write (though I recommend being succinct, of course), how many images you show, how many videos you make, and so on. You can have a prominent support link, so your customers can see that you actually care about standing behind your app. A blog that talks about your app fairly often, along with other topics of interest. Links to partners who make complementary products. An email sign-up form, so you can know who your potential customers are and actually talk to them directly.

And finally, a big familiar button right on every page that takes them directly to your own personal App Store page. No list of competitors to scan. Straight to the BUY button they go.

And no one has to approve your web site, either. You can tweak it every day, and you can carefully analyze every aspect of it.

You can do so much more here than you can on the App Store, is my point. Take a look at the picture of the App Store search results and then the one of my home page again. Which one do you think I’d rather my customers see?

No, customers can’t buy the app on your web site without hitting that App Store link[4], but they are one tap away from that BUY button. And they will get there armed with the exact marketing message you intend.

The web site is your showroom. If you can get customers to enter here, you’re well on your way to making a sale. Do this page right, and you will make the sale more often than you think.

Not to mention, you’ll be simultaneously raising awareness of your existence on the Web in general, a place where lots of people spend a considerable amount of time. Raising awareness of your existence is the ultimate goal of all your marketing efforts. It’s also your biggest challenge as an indie developer with limited time and resources.

Why not concentrate some effort on making the best showroom that ever existed, rather than spending 100% of your time trying to slightly improve your place in Apple’s gerrymandered search results? Why spend all of your time on something over which you have little control when you have complete control over this space?

Look, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do your due diligence with ASO, and that you shouldn’t care at all about getting people to rate your app. If you take a few hours doing some basic research, you can certainly make some improvements to your keywords that could boost your ranking considerably. But how many developers are throwing together what amounts to barely more than a skeleton web page, and then spending little to no time at all trying to drive people to it? I think there’s a lot to be gained by spending some time on this.

Driving traffic to your web site is not easy, but it can be done. Over the years, through several combined efforts, we’ve managed to get a steady flow of visitors to our Bombing Brain site. Hundreds of potential customers, seeking out our application, or at least interested in what it does. Daily.[5] And our sales have always done well, despite having a smallish number of ratings and never having been featured in any way by Apple on the App Store.

You know what happens when enough people come looking for your product web site? They read your brilliantly written marketing copy, they look at your dazzling images, and they watch your videos. They spend zero time looking at the apps of your competitors. And sometimes, they even tap on the link to go straight to the App Store to buy your app.

Oh, and while that’s happening, your search rankings on the App Store go up. Way up.

Because as important as ratings are to good search results, purchases are even more important. Get enough people to buy your app, and how many ratings you have for your current version becomes far less important. No one believes me when I tell them this, but we seldom have more than two or three ratings for the current version of Teleprompt+ 3, and often one or two of those ratings will be a 1-star from a disgruntled customer. That bothers us tremendously as people who take pride in our products, but it doesn’t seem to have an effect on sales much, as far as we can tell. And we’re consistently ranked in the first few search results for “teleprompter.”[6]

If you give your potential customers nothing to go on but a few screenshots and your ratings, of course your ratings are going to have a major impact on sales. If you spend some time actually pitching your app effectively to people, a portion of your customers won’t even look at your ratings.

There’s nothing stopping you from opening the digital equivalent of your own retail store that complements your presence on the App Store. Think of the App Store as a flea market, and your web site as a posh destination store.

You don’t have to leave your app rotting in the dark corners, hoping one day Apple might put it in a prime location. You can build your own showroom where your app is featured permanently, and then invite people to come take a look. Every sale you get here contributes to your bottom line as well as your search rankings.

How do you get people to show up? That’s a topic for another day.


  1. We have been promised analytics on the App Store, eventually. But surprisingly, we haven’t heard a peep about a delivery date on that feature since WWDC in June. There are lots of companies out there scraping iTunes and making educated guesses, but this data can only go so far.  ↩

  2. Don’t believe me? You’re reading this, aren’t you?  ↩

  3. Unless you’ve been featured. But you know better than to hope for that, right? Getting featured is something that happens or doesn’t. You can’t rely on it to be your sole strategy, because it’s out of your hands. And it’s temporary, as well.  ↩

  4. Actually, that’s only true if you are selling the app for an up-front price. Your customers can pay you right on your web site, cutting out Apple’s 30% commission, if you aren’t selling the app directly, but rather charging a subscription price for a service. You have to offer that subscription in the app as well, but there’s nothing stopping you from signing up customers right here. I think if your app is subscription-based, you’d be crazy to drive people who are on the Web already over to the App Store just to pay you.  ↩

  5. When your app sells for $24.99, converting just a percentage of a couple hundred people a day is more than enough to do better than average, even before you factor in the additional people who find you directly on the App Store. Obviously, if you’re selling 99-cent apps, this is going to be a bit harder. But every sale counts. Every customer who finds you in a new way is a win.  ↩

  6. And keep in mind, we relaunched a brand new version of our app this past April, Tweetie 2 style, sacrificing our historical sales and ratings. So it’s not our almost five years on the Store helping us get that high rank in search results. It’s the fact that we sell more teleprompter apps than anyone else, very consistently.  ↩

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.)