Tag Archives: apple

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.

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.  ↩

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.

The Wrist Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll make your current customers happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can charge more for an app that has watch functionality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I’ll be in Indianapolis Next October

We indie developers can be a pessimistic bunch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.  ↩