On walkabout in life and technology

The App Store Playing Field

Excellent article by Emeric Thoa in The Game Bakers called Money And The App Store: A Few Figures That Might Help An Indie Developer where he covers some myths about the app store and provides advice to indies trying to make it there.

I’m going to borrow his myths and reference my own experiences with my own apps.

Myth #1: There are so many iPhones and iPads out there that any decent app can make you rich.

I had a free app and a paid app. When I made the free app 0.99c for a few weeks, I had no sales. When I made it free again, I had the best day ever in terms of downloads (but no money). My paid app grossed less than $500 over 2 years!

The point here is that the user base might be huge, but a lot of people never pay anything on the App Store, so don’t get blinded by the potential and stay rational.

Myth #2: Making an iPhone app is fast and cheap

I have covered this before in How Much Does It Cost to Develop an iPhone Application? and agree with Emeric here.

If it costs less than $100,000, you’ll never be competitive.

The sad thing is, there is a large number of cheaply made, rip-off and copycat apps out there that are made on the cheap and sold on the cheap, that the diamonds get lost in the glass shards.

Myth #3: Updating your app will make your sales increase over time

2 years ago, app updates made the news. Today, they do not. You may get a small spike in downloads on an update from your active users, or a small spike in response to your tweets, but that is all.

What is worse, the App Store is creating a group of users who believe they ‘deserve’ free updates, no matter how much the upgrade costs the developer.

Myth #4: Being visible on the App Store just takes a good post on reddit or a good viral video

And a whole lot of luck. In order to get reddit or viral traffic, you need to hit the jackpot and post your news as and when the most influential people on these services happen to be there and looking for your kind of thing. In reality, reddit and the like posts last about 1 hour on the new page before getting pushed down the list.

Getting exposure so people learn about your app is what you do the rest of the time after shipping. It’s a long hard slog. And few hit the winning numbers.

Myth 5: Getting featured by Apple is completely random

Not true, Apple has editorial guidelines, choosing apps that are unique, well designed, target the largest audience of the store, showcase their products well and you are a publisher with a track record. Now you know what to do to get on the list.

It seems to me that getting featured by Apple is one of the biggest wins, but rarely happens.

The reality

2 years ago, when launching my paid app, I issued a press release via the reputable PR firm prMac. They did a fantastic job, with over 18,000 hits on it on release day, which led to a few conversions.

After half a year on the store, I dropped the price in half, to see if it was the pricing that kept users away. I had a few more conversions, but the number was not significant. I left the price at half, and sales trickled, one here, one there.

The reality was that the app got lost in the app store dog-pile. When I spoke to people about it, they all were surprised that they never saw it, did not know about it, and that I was not making money out of it. The feature set was what they wanted. They just could not find it.

The Next App

The next app that I will release on the app store will cost me at least $250,000, before marketing. It will be professionally designed, the art will be by the best graphics artist I can find, and it built to showcase the latest iOS technologies, all that is needed to get noticed by Apple. Even that is not enough.

There’s more. I will get the most influential bloggers in iOS-land to be my beta testers. My experience has been that people buy apps based on recommendations from friends and key influencers, because searching the App Store does not work.

The best way to get an app noticed on the App store is to get the right people in the industry to become fans during the beta and then recommend it in their blogs when it gets released. People buy on these recommendations. Bloggers blog on other bloggers recommendations. Then the tweets come, and the Facebook messages. And this buzz drives people to hear about your product, and buy it.

If the buzz is big enough, you’ll make enough to cover your costs.