Tag Archives: App Store

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.

Buying Market Share

Android’s Market Share Is Literally A Joke | Tech.pinions – Perspective, Insight, Analysis: “The company that buys market share must inevitably go out of business or reverse its course and fight its way back up to profitability. The company with the value and the profits, on the other hand, has the advantage of holding the high ground and can choose to take market share at will.”

(Via John Kirk for Tech Opinions.)

This, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with developers on the App Store trying to get to the top of the charts at any cost. They’re buying market share by maximizing downloads instead of profits. And most end up making little money as a result.

Kirk’s piece here is examining iOS Phones vs. Android, but the same concept applies to the software sold on these devices as well. Having more users is actually a bad thing when the cost per user is higher than the profit per user. 

People like to cite Microsoft when talking about the value of market share, but they always seem to forget that Microsoft never sacrificed profit margin to get that market share. It was the hardware manufacturers—Dell, Sony, HP, Gateway, etc.—who were caught up in the pricing wars. Microsoft pitted them against each other and sat back on a pile of gold as they tore each other to pieces. 

Google? Not so much with Android.

A Little Knowledge…

My first corporate gig was doctoring PowerPoint slides for Investor Relations executives. They’d send me their .ppt files full of bolded, underlined, and horrifically colored monstrosities, and it was my job to turn it all into something presentable. The first part of that process involved stripping out all the terrible formatting they couldn’t resist putting in[1].

I understood their desire to play around with the controls, but the bottom line was that they were making both of our jobs harder. They were spending hours playing with font colors that should have been spent calculating figures. And I was spending hours removing those font colors. I would explain to them, “Just give me text on blank white slides, and I’ll do the rest,” but they never listened. At times it was faster to retype all their text and charts from scratch.

My theory: Business school was teaching just enough PowerPoint to be dangerous. Understandably, advanced PowerPoint techniques and graphic design skills were not part of the curriculum, as there are more vital topics on which to focus in Business school. But just introducing students to the kinds of things you could do in PowerPoint without showing them how to do it well was problematic. They’d be better off teaching students to write out presentations on legal pads and let the graphics department handle all the computer stuff. Or else, if you only have a few hours to show them PowerPoint, teach them how to use Master Slides and Styles, and how to hide the manual formatting tools lest you be tempted to use them.

Fast forward to several years later, and I’m talking to indie devs about how they go about pricing their apps. Time and time again, I hear “supply and demand” and “what the market will bear,” and I can’t help but think that maybe Computer Science schools are teaching just enough business to be dangerous.

It’s so tempting to think that software prices are sinking to oblivion because people aren’t willing to pay for software anymore, but that’s simply not true. Sometimes I feel like I’m talking to the wall trying to convince nice people that making our apps 99 cents or free isn’t going to make us rich. That’s it’s basically throwing money away.

And then along comes Michael Jurewitz with his economics degree and considerable clout in the Apple developer community. I can’t tell you how happy I was just knowing this 5-part series had been written, let alone the joy I felt while reading it. Here was someone with real experience, and most importantly, empirical data[2] to back up what I’ve been trying to tell my fellow indie devs for a while now.

My theory going into this analysis is that the phenomenon of falling prices, as much as we would like to attribute this to the market around us, has largely been a self-inflicted wound.

(via jury.me)

If you’re interested in the economics of app development at all (and if you’re an indie dev, you are required to be interested) you should take the time and read all five parts of his piece. It’s very enlightening.

Of course there are some apps that should be only 99-cents. Of course In App purchase and freemium aren’t always bad things. But the most important lesson to take away from Jurewitz is that apps are not all created equal. That there’s a sweet spot price where revenue is maximized for any app, and that number is different for every app. And the decisions we make about which apps to build should be at least in part influenced by a careful analysis of future earnings potential.

I can’t claim to be a business genius. My degrees are in Secondary Education and English. But I know enough to know I should get my advice on business matters from business experts, not other developers who know as little as I do. You need to break out of the echo chamber of other devs commiserating with each other and listen to people who have actually made a decent living at this thing.

I find that indie developers tend to be 1) generally very nice people, 2) extremely smart 3) hard working problem solvers. Laziness is not a trait you often find in this group. And so I would encourage developers, the next time they’re tempted to spend a free few hours toying around with that new API, or learning another language (both good pursuits, by the way), to try to find themselves a good econ 101 book or enroll in a business class or two. I know I will.

As Jurewitz points out in his piece, we’re in this thing to make money, whether we want to believe that or not. The top goal may be to just keep making great products, but you can’t do that without sufficient revenue.


  1. I suppose when your job is to play with numbers all day, you’re really starved to show some artistic creativity occasionally. If the company had paid for these guys to take a figure drawing class on company time, just to let them scratch that itch, I think it would have been a good investment.  ↩

  2. The charts Jury presents in his series are, by his own admission, only based on a small sample of data. But it’s real data, and it’s the kind of data any one of us can collect and analyze for ourselves. The more we start doing this and sharing our findings with the community, the better off we’ll all be.  ↩

x2y Updated to Version 1.3

I made a few small tweaks to x2y this week. Haven’t had time to work on any major new features lately, but there is always room for small improvements.

I realized that somehow one of the ratio separators (the colons between the numbers) was out of alignment on the iPad. Actually, the separator was in the right place, but the two number fields it separated weren’t. One of those tiny little details that was extremely embarrassing to me. You stare at a screen for weeks, trying to make every detail perfect, and then you go ahead and ship the thing and it’s flawed anyway.

I also limited the digits in each of the ratio fields to 7. Previously, you could just keep adding digits forever, and the numbers would just run off the screen. Only about 7 were ever showing, so I figured I should just set a maximum number. (Sorry to those of you who wanted to deal with images of 10 million pixels wide or more.)

Finally, I added common ratios to the list, including the old photographic 5 x 7, the latest MacBook Airs (13 and 11 inch, which have different aspect ratios), and the iMac. (Both the 21 and 27 inch iMacs sport 16:10 ratios, so I only needed one.) If you have suggestions for more common aspects that I’ve overlooked, let me know.

If you already have x2y, you can update via the App Store app on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. Otherwise, you can purchase x2y on the App Store here

You’re not Michael Simmons, Either

In September 2011, I attended 360iDev for the first time. At the time, Fantastical for Mac was a very new app, and I was happy to see that one of its creators, Michael Simmons, would be giving a talk. After his talk, I told him how much I liked Fantastical and that I was hoping he’d make an iPhone version. He gave me a coy “We’re looking into it” response, and I went home thinking it was likely coming in the next six months or so.

Fast forward to September 2012, and I’m giving a talk at 360iDev. This time, Michael Simmons would be watching me speak, and Fantastical for iPhone was still a few months from release. The day before my talk, I bumped into Michael at the elevator, re-introduced myself, and told him again how much I liked Fantastical. He immediately invited me to hang out with him and his friends for dinner and introduced me to many of the other speakers.

My point here is that Michael is an extremely approachable guy. We had a great conversation over dinner about App Store pricing, and he gave me some valuable advice. He also attended my talk the next day and gave me lots of encouraging feedback.

Fast forward to yesterday, and Fantastical is finally released for iPhone. Somewhere in the middle of the day, I see this tweet from Michael:

For at least a few hours on launch day, Fantastical for iPhone was the number 1 iPhone app. It was beating out Angry Birds Star Wars, a game that combines two amazingly powerful brands held by two multi-million (billion in the case of Star Wars) dollar companies. Flexibits is a small, independent operation. This shouldn’t be possible.

But the image he attached actually tells an even more important story. Angry Birds Star Wars sells for $0.99. Fantastical was selling at an “introductory rate” of $1.99. So that means Fantastical, for at least a few hours yesterday, was making more than double the amount of money that Angry Birds Star Wars was. With a non-game app made by an indie shop that was more than $0.99.

That’s mind-numbing.

Imagine my shock when exactly no one in the tech press wrote that story yesterday.

(Correction: Matthew Panzarino did in fact write this exact story for thenextweb.com. I apologize for the error. And kudos to him for bringing this story some bona fide media attention.)

What’s my point in all this? Well, on Wednesday, I said that you should forget the top charts on the App Store, that you’re never going to get on them. And I still stand by that advice. Because you’re not Loren Brichter, and you’re not Michael Simmons, either. But seeing Loren and Michael break that barrier, get themselves up on these lists as small independent shops, should be encouraging to you, as long as you don’t take away the wrong lessons from their successes.

You see, neither Michael Simmons nor Loren Brichter were trying to get on the top charts. The goal was to create a great app first and then get it into as many hands as possible. The fact that they reached the top of the chart is evidence that they succeeded in their goal, not the goal itself.

Loren made it to the top of the chart with a freemium game. Michael made it there with a $2 productivity app. The price had less to do with either success than most people think.

Another thing I said two days ago was that most iOS developers are great at code, terrible at business. Guess what Michael Simmons is amazingly good at?

You need both a great app and a good head for business to succeed at this thing. If you’re confident that you’re making the best apps you can possibly make, and you’re still not really breaking through in the App Store, it’s probably time to start studying sales and marketing.

Time will tell how long Fantastical will stay high up on the charts. I suspect that it will fade slowly down to a comfortable spot in the top fifty or so, like most popular apps do. But that amazing launch day alone netted Flexibits more money than most apps make in a lifetime. And the giant user base of mostly happy customers who bought Fantastical yesterday is going to evangelize the crap out of Fantastical, bringing a nice steady stream of sales for years.

In short, Fantastical is a role model for how to succeed on the App Store as an independent developer.

So if you want a tip from your old pal, Joe, here it is: Keep an eye on Flexibits. When you come across interviews with Michael Simmons, particularly ones where he reveals some secrets about how to have a successful launch, read or listen to them. When you see he’s speaking at some event somewhere, go watch him talk. And introduce yourself afterwards.

And as you begin to succeed on the App Store yourself, and you bump into someone you don’t know who tells you he or she likes your work, take a few moments to be gracious and encouraging, and share some of your wisdom. Having a reputation for being a genuinely nice, generous person never seems to hurt.

You’re Not Loren Brichter

Realmac Blog – App Pricing and the Freemium Trend: “So what does this mean for us and the future of apps? Given the right product, a freemium model is something that we may have to consider. To throw in some business speak, the right product matched to the right target market is critically important here, and when done properly going freemium could be a massively successful strategy. That said, how it affects the perceived value of our craft remains to be seen.”

(Via. Realmac Blog)

While I agree with Rob that there’s a place for freemium, this disturbing trend of assuming that price is the major factor in a particular app’s success always gives me pause.

I think Letterpress would have done fine if it weren’t freemium. Why? Because it was made by Loren Brichter, and it’s an awesome game. You can’t just look at the pricing model and assume that’s the reason why something hit or didn’t. We have no way of knowing for sure how well Letterpress would have done at $2 or $5, but we can’t assume that it would have done worse. It could have made more money.

A couple of things to keep in mind if you’re getting into the App Store software business, especially if you want to make a productivity, or some other sort of “non-game” app:

  • The vast majority of iPhone and iPad owners only buy games. Actually, to be more accurate, most of them don’t buy games; they download free games. And then a very small percentage of those folks actually pay the $1 or whatever for the “advanced” features. Those hundreds of millions of devices that Apple talks about at every keynote? Most of them are never going to run your app at any price. Not because these users are cheap. They paid for an iPhone or iPad. They have a few bucks to spare. Not because they hate you. They don’t know you. It’s just that paying for apps is not on the radar. They just like playing casual games once in a while, and that’s all they need from their phone. So forget them. They’re not your customers. There are hundreds of thousands of other iOS users who are interested in your product and do pay for software regularly. Don’t confuse those users with everyone else. They are two very different groups of people. You don’t need to get them all.
  • The Top Grossing Apps list is a complete waste of your time. Repeat after me: You will never be on this list. Furthermore, the apps on this list have almost nothing to do with your success or failure. Everyone there has all sorts of advantages (connections, press, luck, VC backing, etc.) that you don’t have. Trying to emulate anything about any of these apps is an exercise in futility. You can make money just fine without ever paying attention to this list at all. In fact, you’re more likely to make money if you forget the list exists.
  • You’re not Loren Brichter. You’re just not. Maybe you’re a genius, and you’ve made an app that’s even better than anything Loren has ever done. That’s nice, but you’re still not Loren Brichter. You didn’t work at Apple on the original iPhone. You didn’t have one of the early App Store successes with Tweetie. You haven’t guest lectured at Stanford. You didn’t earn the reputation he has for building the highest quality stuff, and you aren’t universally adored in the Apple community as an all-around nice guy. You may be all those things some day if you keep working at it like he did, but you’re not there yet, and you’re not getting there this week. If you want to emulate anything about Loren, emulate his commitment to quality, his ability to take advantage of the luck that comes his way, and his focus on the product rather than the profit motive. Don’t emulate his freemium game pricing model. That’s like donning a white suit and thinking you can dance like Travolta. Not going to happen.
  • There are ten times more failed freemium apps than successful ones. The bottom grossing apps are mostly free or freemium, too. You know why? Because far too many devs embrace freemium as the “only way to make money.” Most devs are smart engineers but terrible business people. Don’t be that.
  • The goal isn’t to get rich quick and retire young. That could happen on the App Store, but there are much easier ways to reach that goal. You haven’t heard many stories about the dev who makes an app in his spare time and hits it big a la Steve Detemer lately because we’re past that stage. Far richer and more connected people have descended on the App Store with well-known brands and armies of resources, and they get the bulk of the attention and the money. But that’s fine. There’s still plenty of room for you. Find a measure of success that’s both realistic and noble, and work towards it. Make something you’re proud of and figure out a way to make a living with it so you can make it better. Be ready for that to take years.
  • Buy apps. And start encouraging everyone you know to pay for quality. If you balk at paying $1.99 for any app that genuinely interests you, get out of the business immediately. You’re part of the problem.
  • If you’re in the apps business to get rich quick or to get into the Top Grossing list, you have to be prepared to play an entirely different game, with venture capital, millions in investment, teams of engineers, and an exit strategy. Just making your app free to play isn’t going to do you any good. That’s one piece of a much larger and very different business strategy.

Getting Lucky and Still Failing

Apple’s Favorite Strategy Game Is a Financial Disaster | Game|Life | Wired.com: “What Stewart doesn’t understand, he says, is why the game was only downloaded half a million times. Half a million people playing your game would be great news for any app developer. In the free-to-play world, it’s death. Stewart says he needs 3 million players to break even.”

(Via. wired)

Fascinating story about a freemium game that has been featured by Apple several times and is still a financial flop.

As I said in my 360iDev talk last month, I don’t understand why people think the freemium model is “the only way to make money” on the App Store. To me, it’s the most high-risk option available. If prominent Apple features won’t get you enough users to make some money, you’re going to have to do massive amounts of marketing on your own, anyway. So you’re paying tons of money to get the word out, but then giving the product away to 97% of the audience you paid for. Why not pay for that marketing and charge a price to 100% of your newly acquired users? 

The number one thing stopping users from buying your app is not money. It has never been money. It’s awareness. People simply don’t know who you are or what your product is. Giving an app away for free doesn’t change that. You’re still just one of hundreds of thousands of other free apps hoping to get a little attention. The only difference is that with freemium, when those few people do pick you out of that sea of other options, you have a 97% chance of not getting compensated.

If One Man Left had charged even $1 for Outwitters, there’s no doubt in my mind it would have made way more money than it did as a freemium app. Apple’s endorsement alone would have pushed the user level up to a sustainable number. Instead, what they got was 500,000 freeloaders who now expect to be supported indefinitely. 

Why so many app developers want to work their asses off to produce great content for freeloaders is beyond my comprehension.