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Thoughts on mobile app development.

Photo Academy – One Week Later

This is my first post to iDevBlogADay, a group of independent iOS developers sharing tips, tricks and thoughts. As this is my first post, here’s the one line intro: I’m a Sydney based iOS developer who works from home, pays my rent with contract work, and keeps my sanity with internal app development.

This time last week I was gearing up to the release of Photo Academy, an app I’ve slowly been working on for around 18 months. The app is targeted at amateur/intermediate photographers, and contains information on how to take better photos of a wide range of subjects. This is mainly composed of tips and suggestions, illustrative photos, and guidance on what camera settings to use.

Tip screen
It was released last Thursday (August 18th), so I’d like to spend a little bit of time discussing what went right, and what went wrong. I’ve learned a lot from these sort of posts in the past, so hopefully you can too.

What Went Right

1. Polish
There’s been a lot of discussion in the iOS dev community lately about polish – the general idea being that once you think your app is complete, you should take some extra time to really make the app shine. This is mostly discussed in terms of games, but I’m a strong believer that this applies equally to apps. With so many apps in the store, you need every advantage you can get, and I spent a number of weeks applying the polishing rag to Photo Academy. As an example, each of the polaroids in this screenshot is a button, but you can also drag and flick them around with your finger – a totally useless feature from a functional perspective, but a nice little feature to have. Perhaps only 10% of users will discover it, but for that 10%, it hopefully brings a smile to their face (followed by a 5 star review…).

Home screen

2. Focusing on what you do best
Rather than try to take on everything myself, I outsourced a lot of the work:

  • Content was written by a professional photographer
  • Sample photographs were sourced by a freelancer
  • Licenses were checked by a freelancer
  • Graphics were created by a designer I trust
  • Promo video was created by a freelancer
  • Website was created by a freelancer

Sure it costs money to get someone to do some work for you, but if they end up doing a better job than you could, the savings are doubled – you save time (which you can spend doing something you’re better at), and you save yourself from putting out lower quality content. Long story short – if you can afford to, know your weaknesses and outsource them.

3. Marketing
Everyone knows that in a crowded App Store, marketing is key. I’ve read a lot on this subject (The Business of iPhone and iPad Development is a great place to start), and you really need to keep on top of this in an industry that’s as young as this one. Some of my marketing efforts included:

  • Releasing teaser information. In my case, this was primarily a series of blog posts that began several months before release.
  • Cross-promotion in other apps – the ability to display news within an app is a powerful feature for getting the word out
  • Conversing with users – I made sure to reply to every inquiry in a timely manner
  • Provide updates on Twitter – people may not often reply or even follow you, but in my experience, they’re listening.
  • A newsletter signup form – a fantastic way to get great launch day sales
  • A short promo video – a powerful tool for quickly demonstrating why your app is great

What Went Wrong

1. Marketing
Yup, marketing is on this list too. Being a developer, marketing does not come naturally to me. Writing press releases is hard, writing good copy is hard, and knowing what to do with these items is hard. Whilst I don’t feel like my marketing was a failure, I do feel like I’m sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I’ve contacted as many review sites as I can, sent out most of my promo codes, got in touch with old contacts…but I still feel like I should be doing more. The problem is, I’m not sure exactly sure how. Most of my marketing was in the lead-up and surrounding the release. Now that the app has been out for almost a week, I’m not sure what my next move should be.

2. In-App Purchase
Photo Academy contains a lot of content – it could easily fill a book. All of this content is divided into categories (eg. Animals), and sub-categories (eg. Cats & Dogs), and each of these categories takes around 6 weeks to create. My original plan was to include a few categories as part of the purchase price, and future categories would be purchased through a small in-app purchase. In my mind, this would allow me to fund creating new categories, without needing to drive the price of the app up – and users could buy only what they need, rather than paying a higher price for content they might not use. While that’s a nice idea in theory, App Store users are highly conditioned to getting free updates, and feel hard done by when they are expected to pay more to unlock features. While I can explain my reasons until I’m blue in the face, there will still be users who don’t like it, and they tend to have very loud voices. So, I’m thinking of going back to the traditional pay-once-own-everything model. Hopefully the goodwill and karma keeps the word of mouth sales strong.

In Summary

Overall, I’m extremely happy with how the release has gone. Almost every review so far as been 5 stars, and sales have been good. Every release is a learning process, and I can absolutely say that this release was better than any previous launches I’ve done. Now, if only Apple would be kind enough for a feature…

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