Tag Archives: developers

Another Kid Spends $1000 on an iPad Game

In-app purchase in spotlight again as boy racks up £1,000 iPad bill: “Eight-year-old Theo Rowland-Fry’s parents thought nothing of letting him play a ‘Simpsons’ game on the family iPad — until a recent bank statement showed charges of almost £1,000, that is.”

(Via Apple Insider.)

Here’s my question: Why do kids games with in-app-purchase even exist? Why are parents downloading these games at all? “Freemium” games for kids should have zero downloads. As should kids games with ads.

Blame Apple if you want, but personally I think parents should reconsider how they fund their kids’ entertainment. $5 up front for a game sure seems like a bargain next to $1,000 in-app-purchase bill. It never pays to be cheap. 

Oh, and learn to use Parental Controls, for crying out loud.

And, yes, shame on these big corporate jerks trying to take advantage of the young. You’re not innocent in this, either.

The NSNorth Podcast

It was a privlige and a pleasure to chat with Dan and Philipe, organizers of the NSNorth conference last night on their podcast. We talked about the App Store business, how to take the long approach to success, including the need to work on your sales skills, and much more. All of my favorite topics, which will be the basis of my upcoming talk at NSNorth this April.

If you’ve never been to the lovely city of Ottawa in the Spring, I urge you to consider heading up there to hear not only me, but the many other amazing speakers Dan and Philipe have lined up for the two-day single track conference April 19–21st. It’ll be an intimate affair, just 100 slots for attendees, and lots of activities planned in addition to the talks. There are even 5-minute Blitz talks for which you can submit your own topic of choice.

I’m a huge believer in community when it comes to the App development business. Events like NSNorth help bring us together to talk about our individual experiences. If you’re sitting in your home office typing code or pushing pixels 300 days out of the year, you should really consider getting out and meeting some other people who are doing the same. You’d be amazed how much you learn from a simple conversation over lunch, let alone from the featured speakers.

You can hear my episode of the NSNorth Podcast here. Or just subscribe to the entire series and hear what many of the other speakers are plannning to say. It’s going to be a great event.

Learn more about NSNorth and get your ticket here.

Buy More Apps | Outside Xcode

Buy More Apps | Outside Xcode: “And just like the friend who explains how good, proper coffee tastes, and that it’s worth the effort… From time to time tell your friends and family that developers put a lot of effort into building well designed apps – and that quality is worth paying for.”

(Via. Outside Xcode)

Exactly. It seems like a small thing, but just talking amongst your friends and family about what goes into developing a great app, just reminding yourself that this is craftsmanship and that it should be valued, goes a long way to bolstering public opinion about software and its inherent worth to the greater community. Educating the public, selling your skills to the uninitiated, is part of your job as a software engineer or designer. If you’re not willing to be an evangelist for yourself and your craft, why are you in the software business? 

You have to believe in the value of what you do enough to not be uncomfortable telling others about it. Every small businessperson is in Sales, whether he or she wants to be or not.

Many great points here by Gavin Hope, reacting to my Loren Brichter article from last week. I love that my little piece is echoing around the web a little, getting even more people to talk about this topic, keeping the conversation going. And I get to discover some new voices I hadn’t discovered yet.

I’d recommend checking out the rest of Gavin’s blog. Some really good stuff there. 

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.

It Bothered Me Enough

I was really happy that I was able to learn enough Objective-C to make my own app, put it on the App Store, and see other people getting use out of it. The response has been great so far, and I’m planning lots of new improvements already.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there was one thing, visually, about the app that was bugging me. And that was the default Apple keypad.

Not that I don’t think Apple’s keypad is a great design. It looks good and it functions perfectly. But because I had chosen to use Futura throughout the app, the default keypad’s use of Helvetica just didn’t quite blend with the rest of the app’s look. It’s the kind of thing maybe most people wouldn’t notice, but my audience here is graphic designers. So this was important, no matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise.

I also didn’t like the color of the keypad for my app, nor the use of letters under the keys. The letters make sense for phone dialing, but they were adding visual clutter that is completely unnecessary for my purposes.

Because I was a noobie to programming, I assumed that changing the default keyboard would be a huge pain in the butt. So when releasing 1.0 I decided to live with it.

After all, you have to make compromises to ship apps, right?

Then I started playing around with making the app iPad compatible, and I quickly realized that the iPad doesn’t have a default keypad. You literally have to roll your own keypad if you don’t want to use a full keyboard.

So I figured I have to build my own keypad soon, anyway. Why not put it in the iPhone version first?

As with many other aspects of iOS app creation, coming late to the party made my life a lot easier. Switching out input views in iOS is a lot easier now than it was when iOS was much younger. That’s not to say it wasn’t still more work than it should be, however.

While dropping in my new, pretty, Futura keypad, I got to see firsthand what so many of my developer friends have told me over the years. Every time you solve a problem in your app, two or three new problems seem to crop up. I pop in new code, and something breaks somewhere else. You think you’ve got one new thing to learn how to do, but you actually end up having to learn how to do four or five other things before you’re done.

It was a huge reminder of just how little I really know, having just built one simple app. But it was also encouraging, because ultimately I was able to figure it out on my own. One more thing I’m confident I can do the next time it comes up. And several other things I understand about how classes and nibs work that I didn’t know.

A look at the before and after, I think, speaks for itself. This is a huge improvement to the app.

X2y newkeypad


Version 1.1 was submitted last night, and will be available as soon as Apple approves. I also added in a few extra ratios to the list of Common Aspects whlie I was at it.

Now to tackle the rest of that iPad layout.

Why Would a Designer Want to Learn Objective-C?

I work with an amazing team at Bombing Brain Interactive. While my role there has always been visual and user experience design, along with web site development, one of my goals this year was to branch out a little into real, honest-to-goodness app coding. Not that we don’t already have an abundance of coding talent going on with Gene and Tim, but because I wanted to improve my skill set and make myself more valuable to the group in any way I could.

I believe firmly that in order to work with other people in various disciplines, it always helps to learn a bit about what your collaborators do all day. Not only does that help inform decisions you make in your own role, it also helps with empathy for your teammates. You need to appreciate everyone else’s contributions, and that’s so much easier when you can see clearly just how hard their jobs are.

Does that mean I plan on being a super-pro coder someday? Not necessarily. But I did want to bring something more to the group than I was able to a year ago.

So I embarked on a quest to learn Objective-C and to get more comfortable inside Xcode.

I didn’t come into this with no coding experience at all. I do have several years of Javascript, HTML, CSS, and a touch of PHP under my belt. But I don’t kid myself into thinking any of that makes me a programmer. That’s baby stuff, essentially. And I’ve never had any formal training in C or any other computer language. I’ve always sort of hunted and pecked my way into figuring out whatever the current project needed, much the same way I did with Photoshop and Illustrator so many years ago.

So I picked up some books, downloaded some course materials from Harvard’s excellent CS50 on iTunes U, and started reading and learning in my spare time.

Then I came across Mysterious Trousers’ TinkerLearn series. And for whatever reason, that style of teaching really worked well for me. How TinkerLearn works is you download full Xcode projects, and all the lessons are embedded in the files of a real working app. This way, you get to experiment and learn about real code in a very practical way, in context.

After a few lessons, I decided to give myself a project. I’d take an idea and turn it into a full-fledged working app that I could develop all the way to the App Store. I needed something small and easy enough to do without getting overwhelmed, but at the same time, I wanted it to be a challenge, and I wanted the app to be something I’d actually use.

So after some thinking I settled on an Aspect Ratio Calculator. Three main reasons why this was the perfect project for me to work on as my first App:

  1. It wasn’t your typical tip calculator, or other sort of “my first app” project. It was different enough to not be an also-ran, without being something that was completely useless to anyone, either.
  2. I’m a web designer, and I really need to do these sorts of calculations often. So it was a personal project. Usually the best apps are ones made by people who want to use those apps every day.
  3. The aspect calculator apps that were already on the Store weren’t lighting my world on fire. No offense to the other fine apps in this category, but most of them haven’t been updated in quite a while, don’t offer much in terms of visual design, and don’t tackle the problem the way I feel I would want it done. In other words, I needed this app, but nothing on the Store was fulfilling that need to my personal satisfaction.

And thus x2y was born. Simple. Elegant. Solves a real world problem. Whenever I wanted to add a feature that I didn’t know how to add, I would consult YouTube, Apple’s Documentation, web articles, whatever I could get my hands on. It’s amazing how much knowledge is out there, free or very cheap, that could get anyone up to speed on making apps. Developers are extremely generous with their knowledge.

At one point, I even enlisted Tim to help me out with a big problem I was having. As expected, he suffered my noobie questions with grace and got me back on track.

When I started this project, I thought maybe I’d get it done by sometime next year. But once I got past the first few big bumps, I became more driven to finish it. And then I remembered all the other stuff that goes into launching an app. The web site, the screenshots, the description, the keywords, the user guide—there was plenty to keep me busy, but the closer I got, the faster I worked.

I’ll be happy to sell ten copies of x2y; my goal here isn’t to have a big hit. After all, this is a niche app, and a very simple one at that. But I am proud to see that I was able to get all this done in a few short months and that I sweated the details as much as I did. Forcing myself to put the app out there on the Store, with my name attached to it, ensured that I would take every aspect of development seriously. This may be the first app of someone new to Objective-C, but it was built with all the design and user experience expertise that I’ve built up over several years making iOS apps with others.

I’m looking forward to my next project, which will challenge me even further.

But mostly, I’m just glad I’ll finally have a good aspect ratio calculator on my iPhone whenever I need it.

x2y is available now on the App Store for a special introductory price of just 99 cents USD. More infomation can be found on the official x2y web site.

I Wish More Developers Were This Frank and Responsive

Red Sweater Blog – MarsEdit 3.5.3: Mea Culpa:

“So the focus on MarsEdit 3.6 was instantly sidelined, and MarsEdit 3.5.3 was brought to existence in the space of about an hour today, taking this critical bug fix and a couple other less urgent fixes that didn’t make it in time for 3.5.2.”

(Via The Red Sweater Blog.)

I love when developers are this communicative and up-front about their mistakes. Amazing how the little one-person shops tend to do this way better than the big corporate powerhouses.

I didn’t run into this bug, but if I had, I would still feel good about the way it was handled. Everyone makes mistakes; it’s all about what you do to fix them.

10 Years of Touts

10 Years of Touts:

A collection of little rotating “tout” graphics we had at the top of the old site.

The oldest modification date? 2002 — 10 years ago.

Through these touts, you can basically see everything we’ve done over the last 10 years. The passage of time generally freaks me out, so it’s a little overwhelming for me to see these all in one place, but it’s also kind of nice and comforting to see that, man, we’ve done a lot of stuff.

(Via Panic Blog)

Not a bad-looking graphic in the whole bunch. It says a lot when you can go 10 years and nothing you do looks dated.