Tag Archives: Mac

Good Old-Fashioned Marketing

You can’t swing a dead cat today without hitting any number of (at least a dozen so far) reviews of Flexibits new version of their popular calendaring app…

That’s what the Loop’s Shawn King had to say about the release of Fantastical 2 from Flexibits today. He’s not wrong. My Twitter stream is also full of Flexibits today.

And that’s exactly why I always watch Michael Simmons very closely when he’s launching a new product. The guy never fails to get great press coverage. And it’s not by chance.

Having spent some time chatting with Michael on different occasions over the years, one thing is clear: He knows how to make you feel like he values your opinion. Even if he were faking that (and I don’t suspect he is), it’s a remarkable skill. Most of us suck at even pretending to care what other people think. But Michael has a natural enthusiasm for his work, and he wants you to feel it, too. And he really does want to know what you think.

Now, multiply his chats with me by the dozens of other people he must have similar chats with, and you start to see that he’s investing an incredible amount of time—pre-launch—to getting other people invested in his products. To gather feedback, listen to suggestions, and, of course, fix bugs. By the time the launch happens, you can’t help but be rooting for him. And, as a result, you end up tweeting, blogging, pitching in with the promotion yourself.

It’s brilliant. And it obviously works. But only because it’s genuine. And only because he’s willing to put in that time. That incredible amount of time. Not coding. Not designing. (That’s all getting done, too.) But good old-fashioned marketing.

Notice I haven’t even mentioned anything about the quality of Fantastical 2? It’s, of course, an amazingly good app. Took away my final few reasons to ever want to launch the built-in Calendar app. But you know that already, if you’ve read any one of those dozens of reviews out there.

But at the same time, I could easily see an app this great sitting on the store shelves, getting ignored, if it weren’t being marketed properly by an experienced expert. As Shawn King might say, You can’t swing a dead cat on any day without hitting an app that is incredibly well crafted, yet a complete financial failure.

If you’re out there building great products, don’t short-change their chances of success. Start caring about promotion. The best products deserve it.

Investing in Your Apps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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.  ↩

OmniPresence

I didn’t appreciate this when I was beta testing OmniPresence (because the beta was Mac-only and didn’t involve the iPad) but The Omni Group has really done something amazing with this new synching software. In essence, they’ve married the best of Dropbox and iCloud, and they’ve given it away for any developer to use.

The Problem with Dropbox

Dropbox is no question a rock-solid solution for synching files. And it’s about as simple as a synching solution can get on the Mac. Create a folder. Put anything you want in that folder. Everything in that folder is available everywhere. Perfect, right?

Well, it’s perfect on the Mac, but when you then move over to accessing your files with your iPad, things get a little clunky. And not just because of Apple’s restrictions about sharing data between apps. I actually believe in what Apple is trying to do with removing the file system on the iPad. No matter how much we nerds scream about it, the file system is probably the biggest barrier average users have to learning to use a Mac. There is an elegant simplicity to opening an app on an iPad and seeing only the files that app understands and nothing else. Using a solution like Dropbox on the iPad always feels like a step backwards, no matter how you slice it. Navigating folder structures just feels wrong. It’s simply not native to the platform.

The Problem with iCloud

iCloud, at the same time, is much better on the iPad than it is on OS X. It was created with the removal of the Finder in mind. That’s fine on the iPad, but we expect and want to use the Finder on our Macs. We get frustrated when we can’t simply see a folder with all our files in it on the Mac. Where did my shared files go? How to I share them with anyone else? iCloud is downright confusing and extremely limiting on the Mac.

The Solution

What OmniPresence manages to do is behave like Dropbox on the Mac and iCloud on the iPad. And that’s just brilliant. On your Mac, set up a folder, just like you would for Dropbox, drop anything you want in there, and it syncs. Move it around, make subfolders, whatever. But then open any OmniPresence-enabled app on your iPad, and you see just the files pertaining to that app in your document list. Make changes on either device, and the file gets auto-updated, just like with iCloud, even while open. Even if you create subfolders on the Mac, the documents all show up in your list natively on the iPad without having to drill down anywhere. And you’re not copying the file from your Dropbox app into the iPad app, making changes, and then manually syncing back; all changes are synched back in seconds automatically.

As if this weren’t cool enough, Omni then takes it another two steps by 1) allowing you to sync to your own server instead of Omni’s and 2) releasing the synch software as open source, so anyone can do whatever they want with it. This removes any ambiguity about security or monetization motivations. Don’t trust Dropbox or Omni with your files? Fine, just set it up and run it on your own server.

This may all sound like a commercial for The Omni Group, but I’m just stunned they’ve managed to pull this off so cleanly. I hope a lot of other app developers realize what an opportunity this is and start embedding this functionality into their apps.

Release Notes

A little while back my friend Charles Perry and I decided to try our hand at putting together a podcast. While we’re fully aware there are lots of great tech podcasts out there vying for your precious listening time, we thought together we could offer our own spin on things and add a bit more to the conversations going on in the independent iOS and Mac development communities.

I’m a big believer in giving back to the community in any way I can. While my occasional rants on this blog are one of my favorite ways to do that, I also thought maybe it was time to start using my physical voice as well as my internal one. Plus, having a discussion with another developer who might actually disagree with me on occasion could certainly be interesting and beneficial to shaping my views. Charles is a really smart, opinionated guy, so hashing out these topics with him made perfect sense to me.

Release Notes, then, will be a weekly half-hour-ish show geared towards fellow independent developers. Those who are new to the game looking for tips and tricks, and those who are just curious to hear from two other people in the same boat. It’s not a technical show at all; our tagline is “everything but the code.” Rather, it’s about the business of app development.

Episode one covers tech conferences. Why one should or shouldn’t attend them. How to get the most out of them. Even some specific conferences we recommend.

Next week, episode 2 will cover the scary prospect of quitting the day job and going full-time independent.

After that, given the timing, we’re going to talk WWDC. (And I’ll give away some of my secret tips on where to find the best coffee, bourbon, and Scotch whiskey in San Francisco.)

Hope you enjoy. We’d love to have your feedback. We’re just getting started with this thing, and already I can feel the conversations are just going to get better and better over time.

Find out more about Release Notes at releasenotes.tv.

Subscribe via iTunes, or search for us in your favorite podcatcher software. Our feed is http://releasenotes.tv/feed/podcast/.