Now that the Thanksgiving table has been cleared in the US, thoughts turn to holiday shopping and wishlists. We have a short wishlist of our own that we, as iPhone app developers with a global view, would like to present to Apple.
We strongly believe that consumers want well-designed, easy to use, feature-rich tools that entertain, organise, inform and improve their quality of life… and that they will pay for quality. In order to create quality apps, it takes time and, of course, financial resources.
We have understood the importance of marketing and promotion from day one. We knew that this responsibility was squarely on our shoulders and were happy with this fact. The App Store is merely a distribution channel and that’s okay.
HOWEVER, there are small things that Apple could do that would make our efforts just a little easier or more effective:
1. Allow a peek into the black box of App Store
It’s very difficult to take a leap of faith when there is only anecdotal information regarding the impact of marketing efforts on sales. Many developers have created offline systems to get around this, but none provide clear tracking data that shows the unbroken path between marketing effort, click-through and sale of a specific app.
App Cubby hits it on the head: Developers need at least a little peek into the black box that is the App Store. Pinch Media is a great source of summary data (thanks, Fred Wilson), but developers need app-specific data regarding activity in the App Store. Allowing click tracking all the way through to purchase is a minimum, but additional data would be helpful (such as where shoppers are coming from: direct links, search, top lists, featured pages, etc.).
We’ve seen the trend of Apple opening the doors ever so slightly. As of this month, developers can now see more detail in the approval process – whether the app is Waiting for Review or In Review or Ready for Sale.
Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend.
2. Allow demo videos in the store
This will get rid of 90% of the crap because people won’t waste the time to download crap even if it’s free! Most serious developers make demo videos for their websites anyhow, so it wouldn’t be an additional burden for most developers.
3. Allow gift cards for specific apps or at least the App Store itself as opposed to iTunes in general.
People love gifting songs and creating playlists for their friends and family. It’s a time-honored tradition, harking back to mixtapes… It’s a thoughtful and personal gift. So many people don’t have the time to dig into the App Store as deeply as they would like. There are so many apps – it’s always nice to get recommendations from friends and it would be even better if they were able to send apps to you directly.
Dan Grigsby from Mobile Orchard points out that ‘providing a “Gift This App” mechanism would open up a universe of novel marketing, bundling and promotional opportunities — all of which would drive App Store revenues, none of which would threaten Apple’s commission. Taking a page from Amazon and providing a simple API would further support this.’ So true. We aren’t asking Apple to do the marketing for us. We’re just asking for them to give us a chance to do thoughtful marketing.
Apple needs to take this issue seriously for both consumers’ and developers’ sake.
4. Give promo codes outside of US
For goodness’ sake, let us give promotion codes OUTSIDE the US. We are a global company (hey – just like you) and expect to have customers in many of the stores, if not all. We’d like to build up our customer base in Italy, Russia and Japan for example. For this, we know we need to do our legwork and talk to local journalists, niche media and bloggers. We’ve got the language skills, but it’s slightly less effective when we can’t give them a promo code.
So a short wishlist – please Apple, we’ve been awfully good this year:
1. More info on tracking click-throughs
2. Demo videos in the App Store
3. Gift This App
4. Promo codes valid outside the US
Of course, the ultimate gift would be the Holy Grail of marketing info – a list of our customers! A girl can dream, can’t she?
What other items could we put on this wishlist?
Evernote, of course, has a devoted following and this app is used by such a wide variety of people for all sorts of productivity improvements. I personally love this video about a dairy farmer using Evernote in his business. This is no ordinary dairy farm!
I’ve been a fan of Evernote forever (not just because they come from the land of the White Nights or because they’ve got Esther Dyson on their Board, but because their product is so truly innovative), but I can’t claim such exciting use. I’m sure this video has given many people new ideas on how they can use Evernote in their own businesses.
We want our users to use our apps in ways we might not have expected or for purposes that aren’t as obvious. We’ve already had one user tell us that he (yes, he) is going to add his scarf collection to the myShoebox database by giving them all the Style of ‘Other’. Clever!
Come and get it! Dinner is served!! Tonight’s main course: myPause and for the pudding: myShoebox!!!! We submitted on Halloween and are now launching on Friday the 13th. Boy, are we pushing the fates.
As corny as it sounds, it’s quite thrilling to open up the App Store and see an app that your own team created right up there… with the other 90,000!
Thanks again to the entire team that made this all happen – appSolution: Jen, Jacqueline, Steve, Bert, George and our part-time Corporate Banker and Corporate Baker Gina; at Night & Day Studios: an enormous thanks to Nat, who persevered during difficult times, Nicki with her boundless energy and detailed skills, Erin with her wonderful input, Chris with a precise crunchtime juggling act and numerous others adding their skills and energy to this project including Justin Hawkwood, Scott Bates, Jason Blackheart, Abby Palmer and Carolyn Merriman.
Additional thanks to Dr. Elizabeth Poynor, a friend for decades and a colleague for months! Her insight, expertise and network were invaluable to us so that we could bring myPause to a strong level of credibility and neutrality in the maelstrom that is the discussion of menopause treatments today.
We are very proud of our two apps and are excited to start imbedding them into everyone’s lives. Both of them are addictive in different ways, hopefully because they are easy, fun and valuable!!
While waiting, we are discussing as a family what the definition of ‘success’ for this venture is – financial reward, workstyle, time spent together, our name in lights, whatever…
David from App Cubby does a fine job of discussing the softer definition of success in his blog post. He opens with a favorite Thomas Edison quote of mine – “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
So true. It’s never the ideas that are in short supply – it’s the perseverance and skills to execute on those ideas that make an entrepreneur. David’s post is a great story of hard work, realistic reward and thoughtful decisions.
For our family, this venture is a mixture of acting on a dream (developing an Apple product), working together, helping each other through difficult times and maybe making some extra money. Financial success is important – we want to recover our costs and fund updates, new versions and, of course, new apps. However, none of us are in this to become iPhone millionaires.
We recently came across Newsweek’s article , which shoots down the dream of ‘becoming an App Store millionaire’. We’ve been fairly realistic all along, but this article is definitely a bucket of cold water! In a strange way, though, it made us more determined.
It’s important, though, that any developer keep their rose-colored glasses on the side table for the duration of their time in the App Store. You must have other goals than simple income generation to participate in this casino! Like all good casinos, the odds are with the house. Guess who makes a buck no matter if you recoup your costs or not….? That’s okay. That’s how it should be. We all know that the steady income comes from selling the shovel, not prospecting for the gold.
We have been Apple fanatics for decades and if nothing else, this has been our chance to participate in the creation of Apple products that are helping people to be a bit more efficient, have a bit more fun and generally take control of their lives. Not bad, not bad at all.
We are on the edge of our seats now… We have submitted the apps and are awaiting Apple’s approval from on high. This is nerve-wracking stuff.
Now we need to focus on the marketing and get all our ducks in a row. Average approval time currently is four weeks, so it looks like they may be out just in time for Christmas! We hesitated over whether we should set a release date or just let the apps go on sale as soon as they are approved. I suppose this is one of those things you learn through experience, but we’re so excited to get our apps out there that we decided to just let the dice fall where they may.
Wouldn’t that be funny if they were approved in under a week! We did submit myPause on Halloween, so anything could happen… not that I’m superstitious.
Has anyone else submitted two apps at once? Isn’t it crazy?
We are in our last few days before we submit and we have now made our final pricing decisions. This is a crucial decision that allows your app to gain traction, reflect value and, of course, potentially earn a bit of revenue that can feed the next set of updates.
As many app developers point out, price is often relative to its context not necessarily perceived absolutely from its value to the user. This is especially difficult in the App Store where the context is thousands of apps at $0.99 or free. As David at App Cubby demonstrates, some of his users seem to be excessively demanding at the $10 price point because they are judging the app among a sea of much cheaper apps.
However, when you dig a little further, you discover that there are plenty of apps that are priced above $20. As Appsfire mentioned recently, ‘If your app brings something real to the table, …then price it accordingly. Don’t succumb to the temptation of the 99 cent app, it’s a lure and only serves to feed the get-rich-quick fairy tales that even kids would find hard to believe.’ This will separate the wheat from the chaff.
As developers, we all agree with the premise that out of the 100,000 or so apps in the App Store, probably 90% of them are of little value. If you then assume that there are approximately 10,000 apps of real value and more than 6,000 are priced above $5, this is uplifting. However, the trick is to get the consumer to understand this! (For all you detail-oriented people out there, I am assuming that, for argument’s sake, only a small percentage of the higher-priced apps are useless.) We are pushing water uphill, though, in the midst of mainstream media describing the App Store as a ‘digital dollar store’ (Jon Fortt of Fortune)
This chart gives you the price distribution for September for non-game apps:
We thought long and hard about the price point for our apps and feel strongly that we want to shift the user’s context so that our price is reasonable not only because of the enormous value it offers the user, but also because relative to similar items providing similar value, the app is actually very inexpensive.
For example, our myPause app, which empowers women by giving them a tool to track their menopause symptoms and treatments, we felt the appropriate context was taking a girlfriend out for a cup of coffee to compare experiences and knowledge. This cost would be around $10, which is our target price, though we have discounted it for the initial launch period as an extra incentive.
For myShoebox, which manages your shoe closet, we felt the appropriate context was time saved in duplicate purchases and misplacing shoes. This is a softer comparison point, but still well beyond the $2.99 we’ve set as our introductory price.
The key is to embed these comparison points into all marketing material so that it is the first comparison our user makes. All developers should take the time to create these relevant price comparisons so that we can educate the consumer and get out of the rut of competing with all the other apps at the lowest price possible.
Understandably, game apps will have a hard time shifting the context for the user’s price sensitivity. Many other apps, including App Cubby which is extremely value-add, should fight aggressively to shift their user’s context. Put this information in your App Store description in the first few lines. It will take time, but users will start to appreciate the difference between quality, feature-rich apps and impulse purchase apps.
Does anyone else feel that we will be able to shift the customers away from the $0.99 comparable and focus them on the more relevant comparatives?
We are now ready for beta testing and have difficult choices ahead. I’m sure we won’t get to include or finish every feature we want and it will be interesting to see how the beta users interpret the choices we have made so far. I wish that I could explain to each one why we chose one feature over another when they mention that they’d prefer the one we gave up, but of course, that’s not how it works. Each app has to stand on its own and we have to be sure that we feel good about the trade-offs we have made.
This reminds me of our first set of difficult choices we made – the initial filtering down to the two apps for the first development project. Indulge me in a flashback:
About six months ago, when we decided to get serious about developing some iPhone apps, our family had already looked at a list of 25 potential ideas. We knew we couldn’t do more than a few at a time, especially in the beginning (little did we know that even ‘a few’ was incredibly ambitious! Thank goodness we chose an experienced partner, Night & Day Studios, the creators of beautiful apps, including Peekaboo Barn and Cocktail Compass, so we set out to filter the list down to three.
Our initial list had, in fact, been the product of a tongue-in-cheek gift, so we felt that we should step back and make sure that the long list was, in fact, long enough. We brainstormed a bit more, thinking of every problem we faced in our daily lives and what type of app could address these problems. We have such a wide variety of ages, professions, geographic locations and general attitudes towards life within the family that we felt pretty confident that we were tapping into many veins of gold.
We weren’t looking to develop a technical breakthrough like AirSharing or WorkSnug. We just wanted to use the iPhone platform to make life simpler and to reduce the time people spend on those little problems in order to create more time for them to spend with family and friends. It didn’t hurt that the iPhone platform allowed you to do this so elegantly!
Our focus is on niche markets to resolve a specific challenge. The final choices, myPause and myShoebox , were premised on the writer’s missive – ‘write what you know’. Our target audience includes members of our own family and this gives us a great insight. This first in a series of difficult choices still feels right and we know that our apps will be in a unique space offering a unique service.
Slogging through our functional specs and making those crucial user experience decisions, often cutting out features or functions that seemed crucial but now seem to clutter the interface, is made just a bit easier by keeping one word in mind – Sprezzatura.
Although our family has Italian roots, I must admit that I learned about ‘Sprezzatura’ from an Indian friend! Sprezzatura is what grace and elegance are all about – it defines the Apple approach to everything.
According to Wikipedia, Sprezzatura is an Italian word originating from Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, where it is defined by the author as “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.”
According to a class at Williams (complete coincidence that this happens to be where our father went to university!), the most important aspect of sprezzatura is its two-layered nature: it involves a conscious effort which is disguised by a concealing act. Things which require effort are to be performed casually. Obvious effort is the antithesis of grace.
It seems that this word was created to describe Steve Jobs in all his dimensions. From the very beginning, he understood (and has often quoted) Leonardo da Vinci’s phrase “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” In fact, he used this in one of his earliest brochures in 1977:
“Jobs: If you read the Apple’s first brochure, the headline was ‘Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.’ What we meant by that was that when you first attack a problem it seems really simple because you don’t understand it. Then when you start to really understand it, you come up with these very complicated solutions because it’s really hairy. Most people stop there. But a few people keep burning the midnight oil and finally understand the underlying principles of the problem and come up with an elegantly simple solution for it. But very few people go the distance to get there.”
That quote can be found in many places, but a blog post at The Rat Race not only begins with this quote, but is also very interesting in and of itself. . If you’re interested in further history of Apple ads, see Web Designer Depot’s great review (thanks to TUAW for pointing me there).
It takes an enormous amount of work (or ‘thought’) to make something look easy. You will find this phrase in every book of quotes, in several different forms and coming out of the mouths of industrialists, designers, scientists and authors/poets alike.
The best compliment someone can give our apps is ‘It looks so simple, but does so much’!!
Anybody else have some favorite phrases you use to describe your goals or work style?
PS – Sprezzatura is also an Italian History Chick in DC!
For any of you mothers out there, you’ll get the ‘bean in the belly’ reference. Our apps have passed conception and are slowly developing limbs and organs. This is an exciting process for our group, especially since this is a family venture. I’ll touch upon the ‘working with family members’ in another post, but suffice it to say that the positives so far, far outweigh the negatives.
Here is the first ultrasound of one of our conceptual babies:
We are determined to provide our users (our community) with apps that are elegant and stylish, but are also fundamentally very useful.
Like any proud new parent, we assume that all it takes is our intelligence and love to create a fabulous product. Thank goodness we have three generations of the family offering their two cents on these apps so that our reality checks are often and deep! Most likely, our resulting apps will rebel from our preconceptions. In fact, we want and will encourage other dynamics, namely our customers, to shape the ultimate destiny of our apps.
I’m sure in 5 years they will look nothing like our initial plans, but as long as they are most useful to our users, that it doesn’t really matter. I completely agree with the makers of Photokast, who wrote in their report ‘that sometimes they use your applications in ways you never intended.’ We encourage this and are intrigued by the possibilities (mostly for myShoebox, of course, but who knows – maybe someone will use myPause in a unique way…).