Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Why Apple's Review Process is a Joke

This post is going to be a short and sweet rant. Just thought I'd warn you ahead of time. 

I've had plenty of apps rejected for various reasons. It happens, sometimes it even makes sense. Today's rejection though was one of the most frustrating I've ever had. I have a suite of apps for tracking GPS. It's basically the same app with different skin, description, and keywords tailored to different sports. This could be done with a single app, but people aren't looking for a multi-purpose tracking app. They are searching for a run tracking app, or a bike tracking app, etc. It makes sense to build what people are searching for.

I recently made the decision to add a free version to give people a chance to test out the apps. They don't include all of the features of the paid version as you might expect. When you click on a feature that isn't included it tells you that is only available in the paid version with a link to the app store. This has worked well for me on Android, and it has worked well on the first iPhone app I did this for. 

I submitted 1 of the free apps a few weeks ago. I wanted to make sure it didn't cannibalize sales of the paid version so I didn't submit them all at the same time. I expected an improvement, but you never know.  It was approved about a week later, and it started doing ok. Paid app sales went up as expected, so I went ahead and submitted 2 of the others. 

Rejected. 

This time the apps were rejected because they were too much like a trial app, with the rejection stemming from the fact that some of my settings (that activate the premium features) give an up-sell popup instead of activating the features.

Not only is this how almost all of my competing apps work, this app is identical except for artwork to my other app approved last week. LAST WEEK. Usually their standard line is that apps in the store don't matter to your case as their rules change over time. Changing rules isn't the problem. The problem is that the reviews are very subjective. Given a different reviewer on a different day the same app can get approved or rejected. This leads to huge amounts of frustration.

I'm ok with Apple wanting to make the quality of their app store better. Frankly speaking, the review process has made the quality of apps for iPhone better than for Android. Unfortunately, they still let in tons of apps that are junk, and they reject things for incredibly stupid reasons. Not allowing trials is stupid. Allowing trials, but rejecting them for telling the person a paid feature exists along with a link to said paid app, that's really dumb. Having the same app get approved and rejected depending on the reviewer, that's a system failure.

People will still develop for Apple as long as they keep making money. I'll still develop for Apple. That being said, they continue to push me farther and farther away. My next app will at the very least have Android on an equal footing, and some of my latest feature updates have been Android first. This is a problem for Apple. Not because I'm special and they'll miss me. They won't. But if all of the indies like me get fed up, then it will be a problem for Apple.

If you've read this far and are interested in the mobile app market you may want to check out my book on how I make money on the mobile app stores called Building an App Business.




Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Android App Sales Between 1% and 200% of iPhone Counterparts

I promised to do a comparison of my Android apps vs iPhone after they had been on the store for awhile so here goes. They've been on the store for a bit more than a month so I thought I'd give my initial impressions. It's too early to draw too many conclusions, but I'll be sure to keep everyone up to date as time goes by.

I'll start with the overall comparison. I ported 4 of my top apps and released them at the beginning of December. Since then, the 4 apps on Android have had 61.5% of the sales of their iPhone counterparts. I said I'd be happy if they did 50%, so that's not too bad. It doesn't come close to telling the whole story though. Pretty graph time!

First, here are the 4 apps sales on iPhone over the time period. Sales have been up and down for all of them, but fairly similar for the most part.


Here are the sales from Android. As you can see, almost 100% of the sales are from just 1 of the apps (98% to be exact).


The 1 Android app that did well actually outsold each of my similar iPhone apps over this period and I have been really happy with it. Unfortunately, everything else has been pretty much non-existent. The only difference is simply that this particular niche isn't as crowded as the others are so it was much easier to break in to.

Clearly the 61% of my iPhone sales don't do this story justice. 1 app is selling 200% of it's counterpart, and the others are selling about 1% of theirs. Now, this obviously isn't a completely fair comparison as these apps just got on the store while their iPhone counterparts have been there for a year and a half, but it makes an important point. The niche you pick matters. Competition matters. I still think over time I'm going to be able to grow these other apps, maybe even pass their iPhone counterparts, but it is clearly going to be much harder.

While I was working on my upcoming book this week I've been thinking a lot about picking app ideas. This really reinforces how important your niche selection is. These apps are very similar apps that simply target different areas. One area that was underserved was pretty easy to do well in. I spent $10 on a few admob ads (with questionable success as to total downloads) and within a few days of being on the market I was #2 for my top search term. I did the same for the other apps, but haven't seen anywhere close to the same traction.

The free version of the (somewhat) successful app has over 16k downloads while the other 3 combined are less than 1k. Do some research when you are picking your app idea. Competition is good. It means that people are willing to pay for this thing. Lots of competition on the other hand, not as good. You can still compete, but it's going to be much much harder.

If you've read this far and are interested in the mobile app market you may want to check out my newsletter. It's periodic emails (no more than 1-2 a month) on mobile app sales and the different markets. It will also let you be the first to know when my upcoming book launches.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I Switched to Windows Phone 8 (HTC 8x) from iPhone 5 for a Week

I recently received a developer version of the HTC 8x running Windows Phone 8. I have the phone because I decided to port some of my more popular iPhone and Android apps to Windows Phone 8. (I talked a bit about my plans to diversify in my 2012 year in review). 

Since I had it, I decided to give it a real test. 1 week as my only phone. I got a nano-sim to micro-sim adapter and I put my iPhone 5 on a shelf. Here are my thoughts.

Hardware

The first thing I noticed is the slightly larger screen. It's 4.3 inches, and I think it's my personal limit. Some people like the really big phones, but I am not one of them. I really like the thinner width on the iPhone. That being said, I like the 4.3 size. It's not so big that I can't hold it comfortably, but it does provide a nice big screen for watching videos etc.

The second thing I notice is the plastic case and hardware buttons. I like the iPhone 5's aluminum case better, but this phone feels really good in my hand. It's shaped nicely and it works well without any sharp corners. I do not however like the hardware buttons. The sleep/power button is basically flush with the top and it takes more effort than I'd like to find and push it sometimes. The camera button on the side (which I generally think is a pretty good idea) tends to be much easier to find and push when I don't actually want to.

OS


Overall, I think the hardware is really nice, though not quite to the quality of an iPhone. The software is where the real differences are. I really like Windows Phone 8. I said a few years ago when it came out that I liked WP7 better than Android. This is still true with Windows Phone 8, more so now though. The live tile paradigm is better and more pleasant than the iOS icons and the Android widget + icon paradigms IMO. It's pretty slick and easy to use. The live tiles give it the advantage over iOS since it lacks widget functionality, and the simplicity gives it the advantage over Android for me.

Built in Apps


An very important part of a smartphone is the built in apps. These are generally some of the most important and most used apps that rarely have 3rd party alternatives at the same level. 

1. Phone App - This is something I wouldn't have noticed without actually switching to it as a phone for a week. The built in phone app isn't very good. There is no speed dial / favorites option, and that is something I use all the time. It has a recent calls section, and a button to get to contacts. Clicking on the contact there still doesn't call them. It brings up another contact specific screen, and from there you finally get to make a call. 3 clicks to make a call. On my iPhone it's 1. Not a complete deal breaker, but it was annoying for me. I spent an hour and built my own phone app that I like much better. 

2. Email - The email app is really nice, though it is missing a few features. Nothing huge, but for instance, it doesn't have an archive option for my gmail. I like to keep my inbox pretty clean, but I don't delete things. Again, not a deal breaker, just a minor annoyance that won't effect everyone. Overall it's a pretty slick app.

3. Maps - In my short tests, the maps had better data than my iPhone in searching, but the interface isn't as nice. Now that Google released their maps for iOS, the iPhone wins here. That being said, they aren't bad at all.

4. Camera - Seems to be pretty decent. Not as good as the iPhone 5, but not really a big deal for me. I hear the new Lumia 920 has a great camera though.

Third Party Apps


The app store is a bit barren compared to iPhone and Android. As a dev that is what attracted me. Even if there are a lot less phones out there, it's much easier to get seen. If Windows Phone 8 does happen to take off, the early devs that are already here will be in great shape. That being said, the store is by no means empty. It has most apps that you are likely to want, it just doesn't have 500 of them like the other stores. It has 10-50 of them. I decided to go through my iPhone and look at the apps I really use on a regular basis. It's a much smaller number than the total number of apps on my phone.

Email - see above

Hacker News Reader - my own app, so nobody to blame but me if it's not there, but there are good alternatives.

Safari - IE seems to be mostly fine. I had no issues.

Bike Ride Tracker - A few that I recognize from iOS, though far less options. This is another of my apps that I use, and I just submitted my Windows 8 port yesterday.

Maps - see above

CNBC - No app. This is very sad. I did find a pretty decent portfolio app, but i really like CNBC'siOS app for the breaking news push alerts. 

Camera - see above 

To Do List - I use my app on iOS, but there are decent alternatives here. Again, just not a lot of them.

ESPN - They have an app, and it seems to be pretty good 

Pandora - No official app, but there is a third party app that works well. Brings up an interesting point, the speakers are really nice. 

Amazon - They have a good app

Weather - weather channel app is good

Flashlight - built in, works fine. It's amazing how often I end up using the flashlight apps on my phone. Really useful.

Glassboard - Sadly no app and no plans to build one.

Find My Friends - I actually end up using this app a decent amount. My family and closest friends all have iPhones so this is sadly missed. I didn't actually check to see if there is a Windows equivalent, but it doesn't matter if everyone else is using an iPhone.

That is pretty much the extent of my app usage on a regular basis. The Windows 8 store has great replacements for all but 3. 

Conclusion


I really like Windows Phone 8 and the HTC 8x. I think I like it better than Android, though I don't have a comparably new Android phone to test with. I'm just going off my short time spent playing with friends phones and the old Droid I use to test with. If anyone from Google wants to send me a Nexus 4 I'd be happy to try that for a week and report back (clarky07[AT]gmail[DOT]com - I could always use a new test device). 

In the end, I've switched back to my iPhone 5. I like a few things about it just a bit better. I like the hardware and the form factor slightly better, a few of the built in apps are just a bit better, and Windows was missing a couple of apps. That being said, I didn't really miss the iPhone 5 much while I was testing this device. It is really good, and for most people it should be given serious consideration when looking at new phones. It wasn't "better" than the iPhone 5 for me, but it could be for some people, and it's definitely not too far behind.

If you've read this far and are interested in the mobile app market you may want to check out my newsletter. It's periodic emails (no more than 1-2 a month) on mobile app sales and the different markets.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Impact of iPhone 4S on App Sales

Last Friday Apple released their newest phone, the iPhone 4S. It seems to be a huge initial success, selling over 4 million devices the first weekend. As a developer, this is very welcome news.  The following chart  shows my daily profits since the beginning of May. That was when I quit my job to start my app business full time.



Starting from a very low base, things have been growing steadily over time as I've released a few new apps and continued to improve and update my initial apps. That is encouraging to me, but not really the point of this post. The spike at the beginning of July was from the release of Ez Budget for iPad and a review from TiPb on it.

The things to note in that graph are the general overall decline of sales in September and subsequent peak over the last week. In their conference call, Apple noted that sales of the iPhone at the end of the quarter were much slower due to rumors of the new phone. This seems to fit very well with the above data, as well as anecdotal evidence from quite a few other devs I've talked to.

The recent peak is just slightly higher than the peak in July, and it isn't based on having a new app in the new release list. That is very encouraging to me as a dev. While I expect the last few days to continue to be a "peak" at least in the short term, I think the new normal will be well above the old levels. I hope/expect to continue the upward trend that was broken at the beginning of September as I continue to improve my apps, and now thankfully as Apple has gotten back to selling a lot of iPhones.

Another thing this chart tells me is that I need to get some apps out for Android as well. The trough from lower iPhone sales probably would have been filled by sales of Android phones during that time period. I am currently working on an Android version of my budgeting app, so once that comes out I'll be sure to do a comparison post.

If you've read this far and are interested in the mobile app market you may want to check out my newsletter. It's periodic emails (no more than 1-2 a month) on mobile app sales and the different markets.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My First Year On My Own In Review (2012)

I quit my previous job in the middle of 2011 so 2012 was my first full year on my own. Overall it was a great year both personally and professionally, but that doesn't mean that nothing went wrong. Changes are coming for 2013.

Income Report

iOS - $54,042.95
Mac - $4,917.91
iAd - $577.66
Android (Google Play) - $505.81
Android (Amazon) -  $39.20
Revmob - $690.28
Admob - $91.89
Windows 8 - $8.40 

Note: Android and Windows 8 apps were just released in December, Windows only 1 app for 2 days.

Total App Sales - $60874.10

Consulting / Freelance - $6,000

Total Revenue - $66874.10

App Sales Overview

My goal for the year was to exceed my previous salary which I was able to do. Early in the year I had hopes of getting a bit higher than I ended up, but Apple's App Store search changes in the middle of the year set that back a bit. The changes forced me to rethink my monetization strategy for a few apps. They also reminded me that diversification is a very good idea.

I still think iOS is a huge opportunity, but it is a much more difficult environment than it was just a few years ago. I'll be writing a lot more on it in the next few months as well as some things for my newsletter if you are interested. 

The changing environment was part of what finally pushed me over the edge to start developing for Android and Windows 8. It's not that I think they are a better place to make money right now, it simply reminded me how important diversification is. I'd never put all of my money in a single investment. It's silly to put all of your eggs in one basket. The same holds true for developers. When you are relying on a third party platform you never know what can happen. It just makes sense to spread the risk.

So the last part of this year I started working towards diversifying my income streams. I released ports of a few of my apps on Android at the beginning of December. I released 1 app for Windows 8 just a few days ago. I also diversified a bit on iOS by releasing a free app focused on ads and IAP due to some of the recent changes.

Consulting / Freelance Overview

This number was a bit lower than I initially expected this year, but that was entirely of my choosing. I simply got sick of bad clients, and stopped taking any work at all. 1 small job at the beginning of the year just annoyed me so badly I decided to take a break. I was making enough off of app sales that I decided to focus completely on that side of the business and lower the number of headaches I had to deal with.

This year, I've decided to dip my toe back in the consulting waters, but I'm going to be much more picky than I have been in the past about picking clients. I suspect I will make more money consulting this year than I did last, and I'll have fewer headaches. 

What Went Right

As noted above, my goal was to hit my previous salary. I did that, so I can't complain too much. I had an app (Debt Snowball+) get to #2 in it's category (Finance) and all the way to #125 in the whole App Store. That was much higher than I expected was possible for this particular app, so that was a great experience. 

I'm also pretty happy with my start on Android. It's my first real test of the waters and to have 1 app make > $500 in 3 weeks I'm pretty happy with it. I've released a few others that haven't done as well yet, but they are out of season so I'm holding judgement for a bit.

What Went Wrong

I realized how important diversification is firsthand. I really should have moved my apps to Android much sooner. Apple's search changes along with the new iOS 6 App Store caught me a bit off guard. I'm still feeling pretty good about where things are now, but if was making as much on Android as I am on iOS these sudden changes wouldn't be so stressful. 

Figuring out what changed and dealing with those changes is not an easy task. I know a lot of devs who have just given up. Thankfully I have been able to adjust better than some, but it can still be frustrating. If my income hadn't been so dependent on iOS the last few months would have been less stressful. That is something I hope to change in 2013

Going Forward in 2013

I've got a lot of things planned for 2013 to help with the problems I faced this year. I'm going to diversify quite a bit more. I have plans for different types of iOS apps, different platforms such as Android, Windows Phone 8, and probably at least one desktop Windows 8 app. If I have the time, I do plan on doing a bit more consulting this year, and I've been toying with the idea of a SaaS app. Finally, I've started working on my first book and I hope to release that in the next month or two. It's going to be a really busy year, but I'm looking forward to it. 

If you've read this far and are interested in the mobile app market you may want to check out my book on how I make money on the mobile app stores called Building an App Business.

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