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Posts tagged with "app store"

Lessons Learned from the Demise of the Next Keyboard

The Next Keyboard by Tiny Hearts made a big splash when it launched. Funded by a successful $65,000 Kickstarter campaign, it grabbed a lot of press, including from mainstream news outlets like CNBC. At it’s peak, the Next Keyboard made almost $20,000 in a single day, but like most apps, it rode a steep slope down after the initial spike.

Tiny Hearts recently announced that it is discontinuing work on the Next Keyboard and pulling it from the App Store at the end of next week. Robleh Jama, the founder of Tiny Hearts, explores what went wrong:

When we built Next Keyboard, we were amongst the first to experiment with Apple’s custom keyboard functionality. Unfortunately all third-party iOS keyboards — including Next Keyboard — were never truly stable because of Apple’s API. There’s a surprisingly poor user experience around using third-party keyboards (such as setting up a new keyboard). Even Google’s Keyboard, Gboard, has issues today, a full two years after third-party keyboards were announced.

It’s hard to turn any app into a sustainable business, but the Next Keyboard faced greater challenges than most. Third-party keyboards are hard to build, limitations in the Apple APIs mean they cannot match the system keyboard feature-for-feature, and big companies like Google and Microsoft entered the market shortly after the Next Keyboard was launched.

The experience was a costly and disappointing one for Tiny Hearts, but not without value. As Jama explains:

Even though it was an expensive lesson, things worked out. There are things we wished would’ve turned out differently. We let our users down, and we don’t feel good about that. But we came out stronger and smarter for it, we’ve learned an unbelievable amount, and we will still bet on iOS, messaging and conversational interfaces. If you don’t play, you’ll never win. It’s been tough for us to swallow, but we paid for one of the most important lessons: making money with an app is risky.


Lessons From Phoneys’ Brief Life in the iMessage App Store

Shortly after we spotlighted Phoneys as a fun sticker pack in Club MacStories Weekly #50, the developer revealed that Apple had contacted him and said that if he wanted Phoneys to remain in the iMessage App Store, changes would have to be made. Adam Howell, Phoneys' creator, says that he was told by Apple that:

The stickers couldn’t be blue or green, they couldn’t use San Francisco as the typeface, and the app could no longer be marketed as a “prank” app, because Apple doesn’t approve prank apps...

Howell was given until this Thursday to change his stickers. Howell decided not to change them and the stickers were pulled from sale.

Today, Howell published a follow-up that provides interesting insights into the early iMessage App Store from the perspective of an app that sat in the #1 paid spot for eight days in a row. Phoneys, which cost $0.99, netted $23,206 in the eleven days it was available and drew nearly two million impressions. The high number of impressions were driven by Phoneys' spot in the Top Paid chart, but conversion rates were highest from customers who tapped a link to Phoneys from Howell's and other websites, highlighting importance of marketing outside the App Store.

Howell makes a number of other interesting observations about selling stickers in the iMessage App Store including that:

  • Right now, depending on the day of the week, 1,000–1,500 sales a day will make your app #1 Top Paid in the iMessage App Store.
  • Around $2,500-$3,000 dollars in sales a day will make your app #1 Top Grossing in the iMessage App Store.
  • Being featured on the iMessage App Store home screen will get your app around 150,000-200,000 impressions a day, but unless you’re on the top paid or top free chart, it won’t drive very many conversions (I’ve talked to several folks whose stickers are currently being featured that back this up).

Howell's data reflects the performance of just one sticker pack that was available for less than two weeks, but given its success during that brief period, Phoneys is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the early iMessage App Store. I highly recommend reading Howell's full post.


2Do Is Going Free (with In-App Purchases)

Fahad Gilani, developer of 2Do (one of my favorite task managers on iOS), has decided to adopt a 'free with In-App Purchases' model after years of a traditional 'paid upfront with free updates' app. He writes:

It’s about choices, or the lack thereof. I’m disappointed to say this, but after having to continually support and develop 2Do on various platforms for over 8 years, the free updates model has begun to lose its lustre. Folks that know me (and there aren’t too many of those in the wild), know how I really feel about subscriptions, in-app purchases and anything that nags the user for more money than they’ve originally paid.

Past several years what I’ve truly been waiting for is a solution that’s in-between in-app purchases, subscriptions and paid upgrades. Instead, what we got out from this year’s WWDC was “Subscriptions for all!”. I don’t know about you, and your opinion on this may differ, but I’d personally hate to see the 10+ apps I use frequently to turn into a $2.99+ monthly subscription. I appreciate that there’s a difference between a Service and an App, but nowadays everyone’s begun to portray their app as a service. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not comfortable with that thought; even as a developer.

And here's how it's going to work, starting with Android and moving to other platforms:

In short, even after the trial expires, the app will continue to offer all of its features, except for Sync, Backups and Alert Notifications (i.e. turn into a dumb, but useful to do list). In order to enable those, the user could upgrade to the full version by paying once.

Nothing changes for folks that have already purchased the app. You won’t have to pay again (on Android there isn’t currently a way to determine if you’ve already paid for the app, however I’ll figure something out so it remains free). The app will still be priced the same, only the model changes a bit to allow it to be previewed for free.

This comes a week after The Omni Group has announced that all their apps will become free downloads with trials and unlocks handled by one-time In-App Purchases. I sense a trend consolidating for developers of productivity software on iOS; I hope Apple is okay with this use of In-App Purchases and that it'll scale in practice. If this allows developers of pro iOS apps to build better sustainable businesses for years to come, I'm all for it.


The Omni Group Is Moving to Free Downloads with In-App Purchases

Ken Case, writing on The Omni Group's blog, has announced a notable change for the company's download model on the App Store:

The underlying problem, as noted above, is that downloading the app has a fixed cost. We’ve always set that cost to be the standard price of our app, leaving us no way to charge less. But what if we take a fresh look at this problem, and make our downloads free? You know, like every iPhone app in the Top Grossing List has already done? It’s not that they don’t sell anything—or they wouldn’t be on that list. They just don’t sell the original download. (Which we’ve never done on our own store either.)

With the original download free, we can implement any pricing options we want to offer customers through In-App Purchases. We can offer our standard unlocks of Standard and Pro, of course. But we can also offer a free 2-week trial which unlocks all of the features of Pro and Standard, letting you freely choose between them. We can offer a discounted upgrade to the new Standard. And we can offer free upgrades to the new versions to any customers who recently purchased the old app.

Well, I’m pleased to share that that’s exactly what we’re going to do—starting next month, with the App Store edition of OmniGraffle 7.

You don't get a better sign of the times than this. The Omni Group was the poster child of finding success on the iOS App Store with paid upfront pro software priced like desktop apps. But as Case argues, most apps in the Top Grossing charts have switched to a "free with In-App Purchases" model. That seems to be the clear path forward for developers who want to build sustainable software while also ensuring users can properly test their apps and take advantage of discounted upgrades.

It doesn't surprise me that The Omni Group – unlike other developers who keep hoping Apple retrofits the App Store for purchase mechanisms of a decade ago – went ahead and took a fresh approach to figure this out. The new policy isn't limited to the upcoming OmniGraffle 7: every Omni app for Mac and iOS will move to a free download with one-time In-App Purchases to buy the full feature set.

Omni's solution seems elegant and straightforward. The apps are free to download and they can be used as viewers when unlicensed; the free trial is an In-App Purchase set at Tier 0 that counts down 14 days; the full apps are unlocked with Standard and Pro levels of In-App Purchases. The only negative aspect I can think of is that In-App Purchases aren't available to Family Sharing, but that's on Apple to fix.

If Omni's approach works well in practice (and I can't imagine why it wouldn't), I can see a lot of developers following their model.


Apple Starts Selling App Store Search Ads, Launching October 5th

First announced at WWDC in June and beta-tested over the Summer, Apple launched Search Ads for iOS apps today. The ads will appear at the top of App Store customers’ search results based on a combination of search relevancy and bidding. According to Apple, the program is designed to be a simple way for developers to get their apps in front of potential customers. Developers can sign up today and schedule campaigns, but ads won’t go live until October 5, 2016.

In an email to developers Apple says:

Search Ads was designed to be effortless for small and independent developers. Invest as much or as little time as you have and still get results. We create your ads and match them to relevant searches. You can refine who sees your ad with optional keyword, audience and location features, and you only pay when a customer taps on your ad.

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David Smith on Changing App Business Models

David Smith is an independent developer who launched his first iOS app in 2008. He's seen a lot of change in the App Store since then, which he chronicles in an insightful post on his blog. Smith examines the revenue his apps have generated since 2012 and the pattern is unmistakable. Around 2013, the majority of his revenue flipped from being primarily from paid sales to advertising.

Looking back, Smith concludes that:

...the change is mostly been in the App Store market, rather than in my own attitudes. In many cases adding advertising to my apps has been something I’ve fought and resisted as long as possible. But in the end the pragmatic answer has been to not swim upstream and instead follow where my customers have moved to.

The market has been pulling me along towards advertising based apps, and I’ve found that the less I fight back with anachronistic ideas about how software “should” be sold, the more sustainable a business I have.

Smith readily acknowledges his experience is just one data point in a large App Store. If you've followed the fortunes of independent app developers over this period though, his conclusion rings true.

Be sure to visit Smith's website to see the charts breaking down the components of his apps' revenue. The short-term impact of app launches on overall revenue is an interesting footnote to the post's main focus.


Review Guidelines Added for Subscriptions, Stickers, and SiriKit

On the heels of Apple’s announcement of an impending App Store cleanup, it has updated its App Review Guidelines to cover app subscriptions, stickers, and SiriKit apps. Among other guidelines, Section 3.1.2(a) states that:

While the following list is not exhaustive, examples of appropriate subscriptions include: new game levels; episodic content; multi-player support; apps that offer consistent, substantive updates; access to large collections of, or continually updated, media content; software as a service (“SAAS”); and cloud support.

The availability of subscriptions for apps that are ‘continually updated’ provides additional clarity to an issue that was hotly debated and discussed among developers since subscriptions were announced shortly before WWDC.

The App Review Guidelines also include an entire section on stickers.

Whether your app contains a sticker extension or you’re creating free-standing sticker packs, its content shouldn’t offend users, create a negative experience, or violate the law.

Section 4.4.3 includes a link for making infringement claims and states that if you cannot back up your rights to content contained in stickers with documentation, your sticker packs and extensions will be removed from the App Store. Repeat violators risk having their developer accounts revoked.

With respect to SiriKit, section 2.5.11 of the Guidelines provides:

Apps integrating SiriKit should only sign up for intents they can handle without the support of an additional app and that users would expect from the stated functionality. For example, if your app is a meal planning app, you should not incorporate an intent to start a workout, even if the app shares integration with a fitness app.

This guideline seems to be designed to avoid confusion that could be created by an app without clear SiriKit functionality accessing SiriKit.

Apple Announces App Store Cleanup

Apple has announced a plan to clean up the App Store. Apple’s developer site states it plainly:

To make it easier for customers to find great apps that fit their needs, we want to ensure that apps available on the App Store are functional and up-to-date. We are implementing an ongoing process of evaluating apps, removing apps that no longer function as intended, don’t follow current review guidelines, or are outdated.

Beginning September 7, 2016, the same day as the event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium where Apple is expected to unveil the iPhone 7, App Review will begin evaluating all existing apps on the App Store to determine if they are functional and meet App Store guidelines. Some of the highlights:

  • If App Review determines that changes need to be made to an app, the developer will be contacted and given 30 days to update it, after which it will be removed from the App Store;
  • If an app crashes on launch, it will be removed from sale immediately; and
  • Existing customers will still have access to apps removed from the App Store.

In addition, Apple announced in an email to developers that going forward, app names will be limited to 50 characters. Apple explained that long app names, which developers use to try to influence search results, provide no value for customers, particularly because they are too long to display in full on the App Store.

Eight years and over two million apps later, the App Store is long overdue for a cleanup. Abandoned and broken apps create a real discovery problem for customers. We are well past the time when the number of apps served as meaningful bragging rights for Apple keynotes. The directness in tone and relatively short time frame given to developers to make changes to apps sends a clear message – Apple is serious about cleaning up the App Store. Developers with neglected apps had better pay attention if they want to remain on the App Store.

Exploring the App Store’s Top Grossing Chart

A word cloud of the names of the apps in the Top 200 Grossing charts

A word cloud of the names of the apps in the Top 200 Grossing charts

You have probably noticed that there are a lot of free apps, apps with In-App Purchases, and games in the Top Grossing charts. I did too, so today I decided to survey the US App Store's Top 200 Grossing iPhone apps and create some charts to visualize various data points and trends. Included in this article is an analysis which examines the upfront price, In-App Purchases, category, and other details of the apps in the Top 200 Grossing charts.

The rankings will change from day to day, and country by country, but I think the results in this article provide interesting observations from a general perspective, even if some of the exact details may differ depending on the day.

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