It’s been a busy couple of months since Apple released iOS 8, the new iPhone 6 and 6+, Yosemite and … hold on, this post is supposed to be short. If I list everything that Apple announced, I’ll be here all day!
On with it. Since Apple’s big event, I, like most other active app developers, have been very, very busy. I’ve been working away at a new app for special needs education, and a complete rework of my first special needs app, Dollar Up. I’ve also had to update all of my apps to be sure that they work on iOS 8.
As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve also written another new app called 9 Letters which is due to launch this Thursday, the 20th of November. 9 Letters is all about letting the inner word searcher go mad. If you like Scrabble™ or Boggle™, or just about any other word game, I think you’ll like 9 Letters.
One of the really neat features of iOS 8 and Yosemite is Continuity. I love it; it brings to the Apple devices a wonderful synergy where they work together to become a single powerful tool that anyone can use. No more do we have to close a document, save it somewhere special and then reopen it on another device in order to continue our work. We can now just Handoff the document, in it’s current state, from one device to another.
When I was nearing completion of 9 Letters I realised that the game would benefit from this neat feature in iOS 8, so with a remarkably small effort (Apple really made the process very easy) I added Handoff to 9 Letters, and I love it.
Now, when I am on the train home from my day job I can play a game of 9 Letters on my iPhone, and then handoff the game to my iPad when I get home. It really is great.
Below is a short video I recorded tonight that tries to demonstrate just how great this is. I hope you enjoy it. I also hope that other developers get behind Apple with Continuity and all it offers; working with computers and mobile just got even easier.
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There seem to have been a number of blog posts of late talking about how difficult it is for indie developers to make a sustainable income from their apps. The app store has evolved over the past few years, and not all of us developers have managed to find that pot of gold.
For example, I consider myself an indie developer, though I don’t try, and never have tried to make a living from my apps. Yes, it would be nice to be able to, but I’ve not managed to create any of those app store hits, and I didn’t enter this game early enough to establish my ‘brand’ before the app store became crowded.
With a few exceptions, I’ve focused my attentions on kids educational apps. It’s what I enjoy writing. I know that, even though my apps might not be runaway successes that are loved by all, they are loved by some, and that’s good enough for me. I know that my apps are used regularly by some people; maybe not a lot of people, but by some. I want my kids educational apps to be fun, and helpful; it’s what got me started when I wrote Tap Times Tables.
Early on in this adventure I discovered the Moms With Apps forums where I found other developers. I was looking for help because whilst I knew how to write an app and make it work, I had no idea on how to market it or sell it. I know a lot more now, and that is largely because I found Moms With Apps. The people there, especially the team, headed at the time by Lorraine were so helpful, and through them I discovered “AppFriday”.
“AppFriday” has been, for several years now, an opportunity for developers of kids and family friendly apps to promote their apps at a discount, or for free in attempt to gain more visibility, connect with customers, and hopefully increase sales.
What many of us have found is that AppFriday has been very successful overall, however there has always been an undercurrent of wishing we, as developers didn’t have to mark our apps down so much so that we could not make enough income from them to keep developing. For some time now I’ve tried to avoid setting my apps to free, only doing so when combining it with other promotions, or when I was basically desperate enough for a sale that going free wasn’t going to lose me anything.
Most of the times I set my apps to free, I would see a little kick, but that would only last a day or so. So whilst AppFriday was helpful, it didn’t produce any big sales numbers.
Something that a number of developers have been noticing for a while now is that the number of people turning up for AppFriday has dropped off, and that when an app is set to free, there have been some unusually large educational volume purchases. I can speak for everyone here, but in my case, I set Tap Times Tables to free on the 25th of April. Leading up to that date I was making roughly 1 or 2 educational sales each week. Since that date, I’ve had one single educational sale of Tap Times Tables in the US.
As the images show, educational sales in the US prior to setting the app to free on the 25th of April were a significant proportion of my sales. Since then however that has changed dramatically.
This observation (and I am not the only developer to make it) plus the oft mentioned race to the bottom for prices has led the AppFriday team to try something new. When AppFriday went on hiatus for the Northern Hemisphere summer break, the team sought some feedback from developers on what we wanted to do when the hiatus was over. Did we want to continue with AppFriday in it’s present format (i.e. discount or free promotion only) or did we want to try to try something new?
Well, as I just mentioned, the decision was to try something new. As of the 1st of August 2014, AppFriday has changed to a new format where the only apps that are promoted are apps that meet the guidelines shown at: http://www.appfriday.com/About
Now, instead of promoting discounted apps, we are promoting quality apps that have been Handcrafted for use by kids, that are family friendly, and safe to use. This new emphasis is an attempt to shift the focus of customers so that they will hopefully place some value on the apps that they purchase. We want people to buy our apps because they meet a need; that they are fun, friendly and helpful. Getting people to download something just because it is free or discounted heavily doesn’t encourage buyers to value the apps or what they can do for their kids.
It is also an attempt to return to the days in the app store when you had a new app and actually had a way to let people know it. When many of the developers in the Moms With Apps group began this journey, Apple provided a space in the “New and noteworthy” area of the app store. This gave customers a way to see the new apps, regardless of who published them.
The “Best New …” area in the app store these days is not actually a list of “new” at all; it’s a curated list of what is selling well. Sometimes there are new apps in there; but most of the time the apps there are not actually new. People like to see new, shiny things on the shelf; even if it’s just to take a look and consider whether they want it. This new AppFriday is our effort to give you a new way to find the new apps, and the freshly updated apps for your family and your kids.
So this Friday, when you see developers and other people on Twitter using the #appfriday hashtag, take a real look at the apps. See if there is something you need. Are your kids struggling with their Times Tables? Do they need help with spelling? Do they need a fun distraction like colouring in, or playing with concepts such as recycling, body parts, reading, etc?
And, if you do purchase an app, and you like it, don’t be afraid to pop into the App Store and post a review to let the developer know. Reviews make a big difference. Even if you don’t like something about an app, the developers would love to hear from you via email (most of us provide links to support sites).
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Dollar Up is now just over 2 months old. As a developer I’m especially proud of this app, not so much for what I’ve done within it technically, but for what the app can do for people.
The main reason I wrote Dollar Up was to help out. A teachers aid/assistant wrote to me and asked if I was in a position to write some apps for Special Needs students. Whilst I wasn’t able to do everything she asked, I was quite excited at the prospect of writing an app that had the potential to really make a difference.
So I came to an agreement with the teachers aid who provided a lot of input into the initial design and layout of the app that I would build it at no cost to her or her school, and provide her with as many copies as she needed. I got to own the app itself, and consequently any proceeds from sales.
Over the next 3 months I spent most of my development time (which means spare time as this is not my main job) putting Dollar Up together. My understanding was that there was a genuine need for an app that helps to teach basic money skills to people with learning difficulties such as Down Syndrome or Autism.
This was to be my first foray into Special Needs education. Over that first month I learnt a lot about what makes an app easier to use for people with special needs. Make buttons bigger, allow students an option to retry a question, etc.
One huge lesson was that my perception of what people can grasp and understand was centred around my own experiences. That is to say, I had no comprehension of just how much I take for granted in this world. The simple fact that some students couldn’t be expected to grasp or learn concepts like numbers over 10 rocked my world. More than one night I’d get an email explaining this sort of thing to me, and I’d turn to my wife, shaken and unable to get on with the programming. It takes time to absorb this sort of thing for me. Whilst I’m by no means the smartest guy out here developing apps, I’m so used to being able to do these simple things, that comprehending just how ignorant I am of those around me left me more than a little upset.
This learning experience did one thing; it galvanised my desire to do this app, and do it well. I wanted to make a difference, to help fill a gap in the app store, and provide Special Needs teachers around the world with a tool they could use.
In the past, with one notable exception, I’ve done all of the work on my apps; the code, the artwork, the sounds, everything. I work to a shoestring budget. Some say that my apps suffer from this; that if I spent the thousands they do on artwork I’d do better. They may be right. With Dollar Up, I decided to use my little income from the other apps in my portfolio to pay for voice work, and some artwork.
Initially Dollar Up was just for Australia, but it became clear that there was a demand for it in other countries as well, so I started researching where to get permission to use images of coins and banknotes from other countries. In some cases, like the UK and Canada, this proved to be a long process involving a number of emails and in one case phone calls to sort things out. Eventually I had the permission I needed. I never set out to make much money from Dollar Up so it was important that the various institutions understood that.
At release, on the 7th of February, Dollar Up supported 7 lessons with 5 currencies (Australian, US and Canadian Dollar, UK Pound, and Euro). A week later, I added a 6th currency (New Zealand Dollar) because I’d heard via @TheAppyLadies that there is a strong Special Needs community there. Since then, there have been 2 more updates, adding at least 9 new features the most recent of which is the ability to extend the app using the iPad’s built-in camera.
During the last few weeks prior to the first release, I distributed Dollar Up to over 30 beta testers around the world. This was invaluable, not just for fixing things and improving the app; it showed me that people really were looking for an app to help them teach their students or children money skills. It heartened me and confirmed to me that I had done the right thing taking the time to write Dollar Up.
On the day the app was released I remember having a coffee with my wife. During that coffee my phone was buzzing away with messages and tweets showing support for the app. It was an affirming moment for me.
In all of this my expectation was that by supporting all of these currencies I would see some interest from the key markets of Australia, US and UK. Whilst I included the Euro as a currency, I didn’t expect a lot of interest from Europe because the verbal/audio feature of the app is English only.
One thing to note; if you work with currencies other than “Dollars”, don’t let the name of the app put you off . If you select Pounds or Euros as your currency, then the app will intelligently use the correct terms through all of the lessons, both on screen and via the audio prompts.
What has surprised me the most is that the UK has proven to be the quietest. As the graph to the left shows, the US is by far the strongest market, but the UK falls into the bucket at the bottom.
Sales haven’t been huge, but I never expected them to be, and it’s not why I wrote the app in the first place.
I had however thought that the spread of sales would be more uniform. My hope with this post is that by telling the story of the apps development, I can try to give it a human side. I’d very much like to reach more people and schools with Dollar Up; I want it to help. If people don’t know it’s there, they can’t use it and it can’t help.
If you represent an English speaking school that uses, or wants to try the “Next Dollar Up” method to teach money skills then perhaps “Dollar Up” can help. If you’d like a promotional copy of Dollar Up to try, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Explain which school you represent, what your needs are and if I can I’ll help out with a free copy or two. Of course, I only have limited numbers of these so I’d really prefer to provide them to schools where the potential to reach more students is higher.
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With the recent update to iOS 6.0 and the beautiful iPhone 5, it became necessary to update several of my apps to work with the new screen size. Whilst Apple
did us developers a huge favour by ensuring existing apps worked on the new phone, the “letterbox” effect detracted from the experience of owning an iPhone 5 in the first place.
When I updated uAlertMe, I took the opportunity to not only increase the screen size, but to revamp the look altogether. It now sports nice new retina artwork for both the iPhone 4/4s and the iPhone 5. In addition to this, I also thought it would be great to add some new features that have been long coming.
The most important new feature was social integration. I’ve always wanted users to have the ability to post or tweet the images received from the Mac running iAlertU, and iOS 6.0, with it’s deeply embedded support for both Twitter and Facebook, made this a natural addition.
So now, wherever you can see an image or screenshot, you will also have a handy tweet & post buttons allowing you to do just that. Just remember to tell your iOS 6.0 iPhone that you have a twitter or facebook account.