Tag Archives: App Store

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.  ↩

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.

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.  ↩

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.

My Adventures in Audiobooks

One of the things I always admired about Steve Jobs was his willingness to call out things that just plain sucked.

And so here I am, saying that syncing content with iTunes just plain sucks.

Today’s example:

There’s a good review of the Jony Ive biography over on Asymco. Since I tend to think Horace is a smart guy, I figured his recommendation was reason enough to go get this book for myself. So I followed his link, on my Mac, to the iBookstore.

But just before clicking “buy” I thought to myself, “Well, I have about ten iBooks I haven’t yet read sitting on my iPad. I probably won’t get around to this for a while.” And so I decided to check and see if there were an audiobook version instead. After all, I spend lots of time walking around the city, trying to get some exercise, and it’s been ages since I listened to an audiobook, so why not?

Why not, indeed.

There on the iTunes page for the iBook, I clicked on the “related” tab and saw that there is indeed an unabridged audio version of the same book for sale, on iTunes, no less. Narrated by Simon Vance, even. Perfect. So I bought it.

And at that very moment, I screwed my chances of listening to this book on my iPhone.

You see, unlike most forms of content on iTunes, audiobooks don’t sync over iTunes Match. They also can’t be downloaded more than once. I learned this the hard way, when I turned on my iPhone and fired up the Music app, expecting to see my new audiobook downloading automatically. It wasn’t. I also couldn’t find an audiobooks tab anywhere, even in the “more” section of the Music app. Hmmm. Did they move Audiobooks to another separate app?

I search the App Store. Hundreds of audiobooks apps; none of them from Apple, none that can read files bought on iTunes. I search the Internets. Confirmed. Audiobooks are still in the Music app, though some people are having issues since the iOS 7 update. Not a good sign.

So how to get the book over there?

I know, I’ll put it into a playlist, and that playlist will sync over iTunes Match, right? Nope. Playlists with audiobook files don’t show up in iTunes Match.

Okay, I’ll open up iTunes on my iPhone, search for the audiobook, and just download it again directly on the device, right? Nope. If I want to download it again, I need to purchase it again.

Okay, fine, I’ll bite the bullet and do something I never wanted to to again—I’ll plug my iPhone into my Mac and sync the audiobook using iTunes like a barbarian. First I try to simply drag the book over to the right side of the window to manually sync it. No dice. It gives me a blue highlight, as if to say, “go ahead and drop the file here.” But then nothing happens.

Then I go to the books tab and set it to sync just audiobooks, and I get a warning telling me that since I’m using iTunes in the Cloud on this phone, syncing this one audiobook file manually will force me to erase the entire contents of my music library on the phone first. Am I sure I want to do that?

No, iTunes. I’m not sure I want to erase 50GB of music off my phone to get one audiobook.

Not one to give up so easily, I drop the audiobook file into my Dropbox, hoping I can open the Dropbox app on my iPhone, and use “open in…” to send it over to Music. Nope. (Sidenote: Downcast gallantly attempted to open the file, but couldn’t get past Apple’s DRM. “A” for effort on that one.)

And so here I am, with a 9-hour audiobook on the least-likely device I’ll ever want to use to listen to it: My 27-inch iMac.

Thanks, Eddy Cue. Bang up job you did there.

As an absolute hail Mary play, I decide to plug my iPhone back in one more time and try the manual drag and drop of the file in iTunes. This time, it starts a sync without any warnings, and I get a progress bar at the top. So far so good. My cursor beach balls for about two minutes, but it doesn’t crash. The progress bar switches over to “Finishing Update” and I’m filled with hope. And then it keeps saying “Finishing Update” for another fifteen minutes. Convinced it must still be working on it, I wait. And Wait. If I turn on the iPhone, I can see the Audiobooks tab now in music, and the Jony Ive book appears to be there. But I can’t play it. And iTunes is still “finishing.” So I wait some more.

Forever Finishing

Finally, I get impatient and try to cancel the sync. Won’t cancel. I tap the eject button in iTunes, and I get a warning telling me that the sync is still in progress. Do I want to eject anyway? No. Another five minutes.

Okay, this time, I just want to eject it. So I say yes, I do want to eject anyway. Still “finishing” but I get an additional window, no close boxes or cancel buttons, called “Syncing iPhone.” with its own independent progress bar that never shows any progress. I guess this is iTunes’ way of scaring me into not unplugging.

The Second No Progress Bar

Another ten minutes. Remember, this is all for one audiobook. I realize the file is 250MB, but over a USB cable, what should that take? Maybe two, three minutes, tops?

Finally, I get bored and yank the Lightning cable. We’re already way past the point where any sane human being would have given up, aren’t we?

Look, if it’s all or nothing with iTunes in the Cloud, then everything you sell on iTunes has to work over the cloud. Everything. Not most things. Otherwise, if audiobooks are special and can’t be synced over iTunes in the Cloud, give me some other way to sync them without wiping out my whole library. Is that too much to ask?

And if manual sync is supposed to be the way to do that, then make sure manual sync actually works. Because it sure doesn’t seem to work as far as I can tell.

Also, let’s keep in mind that I’m more than a little savvy with this technology stuff. And so are a lot of my Twitter followers. And none of us could figure this out. If this is possible, and I’m missing it somehow, you get an F minus for usability, Eddy. There’s no way a “normal” person would have tried this many different things.

Seems pretty obvious to me, since you still sell audiobooks on the iTunes Store, that there should be an easy way to listen to books bought on your Mac on any of your iOS devices. I’m not talking about some obscure old content I bought ten years ago. I’m talking about a file I bought today, for crying out loud.

Still, third time’s a charm, right? And I want to be thorough for the sake of this post. So I give it another go. I plug in my iPhone and try the manual drag and drop in iTunes for the third time. I’m about to eat dinner, anyway, so how can it hurt? First three times I drag, it gets stuck in “preparing” to update and I have to cancel. So I quit iTunes and relaunch, drag it a fourth time, and just walk away.

Thirty minutes later when I return from dinner, the progress bar is gone. iTunes is sitting idle. I fire up the Music app on my iPhone, and sure enough, the file is sitting there. Tap it, and it starts playing. More than three hours after I purchased the thing, I can now finally listen to the Jony Ive audiobook on my device of choice.

Isn’t this the sort of thing for which we usually make fun of other companies?

My advice: Don’t ever buy an audiobook from iTunes. Or, if you do, buy it on the device where you want to listen to it, because you won’t be able to move it after the fact without wanting to punch someone.

And this is but one small example of how crappy it is trying to sync content to an iPhone from iTunes. This is no isolated incident. I don’t have the heart to tell you the one where I tried to turn off iTunes in the Cloud and go back to manual syncing all my music last year. That’s a whole day I’ll never get back.

Fix this stuff, Apple. Seriously. iTunes is a multi-billion dollar business. You should be embarrassed of how piss poor this experience is.

Some Pictures are Worth More Words Than Others

We all know that old expression: “A Picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, that’s an average, I think.

While submitting my 1.2 version of Fin last week, I made a last-minute decision to make a major change to my screenshot strategy.

For those who may not know, Apple allows up to five screenshots for each app on the App Store. Officially, these are supposed to be actual screenshots from the app. Just pictures of what is on the screen itself. No extra text, no pictures of the device running the app, no other fancy Photoshop tricks.

Up until now, I’ve honored Apple’s rules, despite the fact that thousands of apps blatantly disregard them. Apple often features apps that completely ignore the policy, even, so clearly this is one of those instances where the rule is not taken seriously. Still, on principle, it didn’t seem right to violate the rule myself.

You know what doesn’t sell apps? Standing on principle when it makes no sense to stand on principle. I was hampering my own app’s ability to impress potential customers, all for the sake of obeying a rule Apple clearly doesn’t enforce. That’s fairly stupid, actually.

We have so few ways to stand out when it comes to how our apps are represented on the App Store. Why not take advantage of one of the easiest ways to get the customer’s attention?

So I doctored up my screenshots with a blurred background of some people in a crowd and pictures of various iOS devices running Fin. It took a bit of time to get it looking the way I wanted, but not much. Meanwhile, the difference it makes in showing off the app is immediately evident.

The screenshots went from being a random collection of app views to telling a story about what the app can do for people. The new presentation gives the potential customer a much better feel for what it’s actually like to use the app for its intended purpose.

How this change will effect sales, it’s too early to tell. But even if sales don’t improve by a wide margin, I’m still glad I went ahead and took the time to present my app in a better light.

A Counter-Counterpoint

Marco.org: “But searching for ‘teleprompter’ in the App Store today brings up about 40 other iPad teleprompter apps. About a third of them are free, and almost none are anywhere near Teleprompt+’s $14.99 price, with most paid alternatives around $3–5. And that’s just for iPad — the iPhone app market is much larger and even more competitive in most app categories.”

(via. marco.org)

Marco had some interesting comments regarding my post from earlier today. I think this quote above is where we’re not seeing eye to eye. He’s assuming that I’m competing with $3-$5 Teleprompter apps. I’m not. The people who want a low-priced, casual teleprompter app for iPad are far fewer than the professionals who need them as part of their studio setup. We’re not only outselling all of those competitors every day in revenue, but also in number of downloads, by a pretty wide margin. What most of those low-cost competitors have learned is that they can’t keep up with us on so little money per sale. We can barely do it at $15, trying to feed three people. 

If you look at our page on iTunes, and check out the “Customers Also Bought” section, you’ll see that there are few other teleprompters listed. Most people aren’t even bothering to check out the cheap alternatives before buying our app.

If you look closely at the bulk of those 40ish other competitors, you’ll note that the majority of them haven’t been updated in several months or years. Trying to compete on low price, in this one niche market, is proving to be a poor strategy.  

Yes, I understand we’re in a niche. But it’s a profitable niche. And it’s a niche where free with IAP makes little sense at the moment. And there are dozens of other niches just like it.

None of the $3-$5 apps offer the features our users need, because those features take serious time and investment to create. You can’t create that functionality when you’re making $3 per sale. 

Of course, there’s no reason someone couldn’t come along and create a free-to-download, $15 IAP teleprompter. But my point is that as long as that app is listed as “free” the pros who tend to buy our app will likely ignore it, or at least be severely turned off by it. And any casual users it does attract will immediately balk at the high $15 IAP, and write us a one-star review while they’re at it. So in our case, I don’t see free with IAP working out, at least not until the stigma of IAP being a scam is eradicated in the minds of small business owners.

Now, at the end of his post, where he says this: 

“There are a lot of developers making a lot of iOS apps, and competition is fierce. It’s unwise to assume that any profitable niche is safe from being undercut by free alternatives.”

I completely agree. I certainly don’t expect this one app to continue to grow indefinitely forever. We’re looking into many different strategies for future products. All I’m suggesting is that there are still a lot of ways to make money on the Store. Offering one of them as the “only” way, or saying one pricing strategy is completely “dead” is overstating it a bit. 

One Size Fits Some

“Paid-up-front iOS apps had a great run, but it’s over. Time to make other plans.”

(via Marco.org)

This article from Marco Arment on his pricing strategy for the upcoming Overcast app has created quite a stir. I encourage you as an app developer to read it. There are a lot of valid points in it.

I don’t disagree with most of what he wrote. But when I get to a line like the one I just quoted above, I’m reminded of exactly what bothers me about most blog articles from app developers: “This is true for me, so it must be true for everyone and every other app in the universe.” The one-size-fits-all mentality that caused the race to the bottom in the first place continues.

If I were Marco, making a podcast app for iOS, I’d be considering seriously something other than a pay-once-up-front business model. Of course, I’m not going to be making a podcast app anytime soon, because I have no intention of getting into what’s already a crowded and I think pretty well-served market. Nor would I want to compete with his new app by any means. I’m sure it’ll be good, and deservingly successful.

There are many other kinds of apps where moving to this sort of model might make a lot of sense, too. It’s certainly worth careful consideration. But the problem arrives when you assume that all iOS users think and behave alike, and therefore all apps must be monetized similarly.

If we were to convert Teleprompt+ to the free with in-app purchase model, for instance, the three of us at Bombing Brain would be out of business in a couple of weeks.

Our customers are primarily prosumers and pros—people who wouldn’t trust their business to a “free” app. Our high price is a large part of what has made us successful in this market. (Along with years of cultivating a reputation for being better than our competition.) Converting this particular app to free with in-app purchase now would likely be an unmitigated disaster. We know, because there have been free alternatives that have crashed and burned. Hard.

Our target customers, the few who don’t blink at $15-$20 for an iPad app, are completely oblivious to the entire “free” app market. Free = invisible to them when it comes to finding solutions for their businesses.

To be fair, I don’t think Marco is actually suggesting that companies like ours change business models. But I do fear that too many developers read posts like this and walk away with that impression.

The fact is, there is a whole world of untapped potential on the App Store for developers who can solve real problems for people who are happy to pay. I’ve said it a million times, but it bears repeating: it’s not about price; it’s about trust. People are willing to spend money if they are sure what they are getting will solve their problem.

Is it easy to convince people that your app is worth a fair price? Of course not. Does that mean that you should make your app free in hopes of enticing a small percentage of people to convert to “paying” users? Not necessarily. Not for every kind of app, at least.

Giving a limited app away for free and charging to make it feature-complete is, in theory, one way to build trust. But given the reputation in-app purchase has acquired over the past few years, it’s going to take serious convincing before professionals, prosumers, and small business owners view IAP as anything but a scam in the short term. This is unfortunate, but you will be judged by the unscrupulous developers who have abused IAP before you, whether you like it or not. So you’re going to have to work even harder to gain that trust than you might think when associating yourself with this pricing model.

While it is true that the vast majority of iOS users scour the App Store looking for free alternatives, there is a not-insignificant number of users who wouldn’t go near a “free” app with a ten-foot pole. In their minds, free-with-in-app-purchase apps are all essentially Candy Crush.

So the risk is gaining a large number of users who are unlikely to pay you and who will write tons of bad reviews, while completely turning off the most valuable demographic in the Store.

Users looking to pay a premium price may be few and far between, but each one is ten times more valuable than the “average” iOS user to a developer like me.

Then there’s also the bulk of the education market to consider, which can’t, as a matter of policy, use any app with in-app purchase.

The point is, there are lots of different kinds of users in the App Store. And you need to know which ones are the most likely customers for your app. Don’t go treating them all equally.

Marco’s argument is essentially one of market share. He views total number of users as the primary goal. He wants to target as large a percentage of the total iOS user base as possible. That’s a perfectly valid business model that has worked for many. And for a podcast app, I think it’s a smart way to go. But it’s not the only way to skin this cat.

There are millions of iOS users in the world. I only need a tiny fraction of the right users to be successful.

I guess what I’m saying is, take everything you read from other developers (including myself) with a grain of salt. There’s no one way to be successful at this thing. Different apps in different markets, with different audiences, command different business models. You need to think about how you want to monetize your app long before you start building it. Consider all the options carefully. But don’t dismiss any of them out of hand because of what one or two others have experienced.

I’m happy that more devs are experimenting with in-app purchase as a legitimate way to encourage people to “try before they buy.” Look no further than MoneyWell for iPad as a primary example of IAP being used with positive results. Of course, this is an established company with a paid companion Mac app that already has a reputation for quality. Your mileage may vary. And, as Kevin Hoctor himself admits, his preliminary numbers are likely to be skewed for at least a few more months. But maybe in the long run, in-app purchase will gain the trust of users that currently avoid free apps like the plague. I think it’s going to be a long, uphill battle.

I look forward to seeing how other such experiments from other developers go. In the meantime, be cautious with anyone who tells you there’s only one way to go about doing things on the App Store.