Under the Radar

Under the Radar 50: Checking the Weather for the Last Time


  welcome to under the radar a show but

  independent iOS app development I'm

  Marco Arment and I'm David Smith under

  the radar is never longer than 30

  minutes so let's get started so this

  week I had a sad thing happened to me

  that I wanted to unpack on the show so I

  had to retire one of my apps and one of

  the apps that obviously I have a lot of

  apps and I've quietly retired many of

  them in the past the ones that never had

  any downloads the ones that just didn't

  work out and you kind of just removed

  them from the store and that's that but

  I had one of them had removing out from

  the store that wasn't one of those apps

  that the had some success that was

  something I was proud of being out there

  I think this is actually the first app

  of yours that I've ever both heard of

  and downloaded that you're also now

  killing the hakko it comes full circle

  and the app was it's called check the

  weather and it is a weather app that at

  the time I launched it and I know

  exactly when I was it was for week four

  years ago as of last Monday the reason I

  and I and sort of publicly announced its

  end of life last Monday for that reason

  when I was planning this and scheduling

  it out and I looked at the schedule and

  I was like wait I think I launched it a

  wrestler or somewhere in middle of

  October and it turned out it was for you

  exactly four years ago so the app had a

  four year life oh and it's just a you

  know it's a weather app it's a strange

  thing in some ways to try and describe

  what it is or what it does what made it

  special because the weather I have is

  like they're all strange in the sense

  that they all have the same basic data

  and then the differences between all the

  apps are just you know questions of

  style of nuance but check the weather

  always has kind of a special place for

  me because it was the first app that I

  ever felt that I kind of did it right no

  you know it's it I started from the

  beginning and said you know what what

  happens if I take a run at a very

  well-established category doing

  everything right you know so doing

  having a proper actual marketing plan

  that was an actual thing that I did

  before either than just kind of throwing

  it over the wall or sending some blind


  and it was localized from day one it had

  great voiceover supported all the things

  that I kind of was about in my mind were

  always the things that you had to do to

  launch an app that was you know if

  you're gonna do it right if you're going

  to give it an honest chance and if

  you're curious if your listener to this

  show but you weren't a listener to the

  podcast I used to do called developing

  perspective I'll have links in the show

  notes to I did a whole series of

  episodes on developing perspective which

  rather than being 30 minutes long is

  only 15 minutes long so even though this

  is a lot of episodes it wouldn't take

  that long to catch up we're actually

  walked through at the in real time as I

  was building back in 2002

  back in 2012 I walked through the

  process of what went into this but

  anyway the long and the short of it is I

  had this app I launched it it did great

  it had a very big spiky launch I think

  it peaked at number three overall in the

  App Store which at the time for me was

  just you know mind-bending I actually

  have very warm and specific memories of

  that day when it launched just

  celebrating having my wife found someone

  to watch the kids and came into the

  office with I think even Chuck's like

  Chinese for dinner and a bottle of

  champagne and we you know actually

  celebrated exceda it all kind of worked

  and it kind of all worked out but that

  was four years ago

  that's a long time ago in App Store

  terms and so this week I now it will no

  longer be supported and for something

  like a weather app that means I'm

  turning off the API at the backend and

  that's kind of a sad thing but it was

  kind of inevitable because the tricky

  thing with someone Apple I checked the

  weather is that at least the way that I

  launched it is at the time we didn't

  really have a lot of this kind of

  subscription options you have we have

  now and so I was really more sort of

  like freer page where my options four

  years ago I could have sort of done

  subscriptions with some kind of you buy

  an in-app purchase and then you buy

  another one and then you buy another one

  but there was certainly wouldn't have

  been able to be Auto renewing so I made

  it a free app and or so I made it a paid

  app and I put that out in the air so I

  had a whole lot of people who gave me


  four years ago I think about a third of

  the users bought it the first day you

  know had a nice big

  like he launched but most of you they've

  never subsequently got it given me any

  revenue and ongoing costs are really

  rough especially when they aren't just

  you know two or three Linode boxes

  things like weather data and even fonts

  actually like I had some custom fonts in

  this application that had annual

  subscriptions that I have to pay that's

  the worst tell you one thing I mean like

  you know server costs like you kind of

  can't get around that but as somebody

  who has licensed a lot of fonts for apps

  over the years anything you can do to

  avoid ongoing recurring costs in your

  app you should do that and if you have a

  fancy font you know try it try to get

  one that you can license that for a flat

  fee especially you know these days you

  can often get decent fonts for either

  free or for maybe a few hundred dollars

  up front flat forever and that's if you

  can do that that's great

  sure because it's any of these things

  like it was always a strange thing

  because it forced me to every year I had

  to sit down and decide do I still want

  to pay for this font to this point the

  opposite kind of a I followed the usual

  trajectory like it had that big spike at

  the beginning and then all you know kind

  of felt almost nothing and it became

  kind of like a charity project because

  you know like I still used the app and I

  mean through this week I was still using

  the app but at some point I had to

  decide you know did every year when I

  get my email from font foundry and says

  hey you know would like to charge you

  another three or four hundred dollars

  it's like great and every month when I

  get my bills from the radar provider and

  the weather data provider it's like mm

  hmm you know this is fine I mean the

  costs involved weren't killer at least

  up until recently and that's part of why

  I have to shut it down now because the

  there's a change at pricing changed with

  my radar provider that means that it

  would just have gone from like oh it's

  kind of fun it's a little charity

  project to something that would have

  just been kind of absurd to keep going

  well I think I think ultimately the you

  need to think about like you know what

  and I think we'll get to this later like

  what do you owe your users because in my

  opinion the second you are losing money

  like there is no acceptable amount of

  money to be losing on and on

  gong basis four and a half like to me

  once you're losing money that's it it's

  it's gone sure and I definitely don't

  see you can see where you're coming from

  like it is such a hard thing though from

  the emotional perspective like what

  you're saying makes total sense that you

  know like if I'm running a business and

  I have a division of my business that is

  continue is making a loss with no

  prospect of turning that around the

  logical like good business move is to

  just shut it down and move on but it's

  hard when you kind of have something

  that you feel more emotionally invested

  in where it feels like oh no you know

  this is like with my losses for this app

  was my first big break like I want to

  you know I feel sad for it to go and so

  I think I definitely in this case I

  probably did let it go longer than in

  retrospect I should have and not

  necessarily even just for the money

  reasons so I think what you're saying

  makes sense but even just in retrospect

  as I think of the like the the burden it

  places on you cognitively when you have

  something that you're sort of you have

  this affinity for and you're kind of

  proud of but it isn't really going well

  and you know every time an iOS update

  comes out it's like mm should I do this

  to check the weather

  you know like Apple like the Apple watch

  came out and I was like oh there's some

  really cool things you could do for you

  know weather app on the Apple watch

  I was like man the app just doesn't make

  money like it just really isn't getting

  traction and I don't know if just

  putting more effort into it

  is we really going to get the outcome

  but then everyone every every time

  there's a big thing and have that that

  sense of doubt I feel like that's the

  kind of thing that honestly more than

  the money is a bit better an incentive

  to make sure that you know if when

  something is clearly not going anywhere

  that you just kind of say yep it's done

  and move on anyway so that is why I have

  gotten to the point that I had to pull

  check the weather from the store and

  it's probably worth mentioning a little

  bit about kind of what that process

  looks like

  mechanically before we get into some of

  the kind of the implications and things

  that come out of that so when you decide

  that you want to pull an app from the

  App Store it's surprisingly easy to do

  you just go into iTunes Connect you

  click on the app there's no think it's

  availability and pricing is the area in

  the App Store that you can go into

  all right in iTunes Connect that you go

  to and say you know remove says you

  removed from sale you used to have to go

  in there and specifically select every

  country that you didn't want it in until

  use pet so let me select at the mall now

  you can just push a button I think that

  says remove some move from sale and that

  worked pretty well it was gone from the

  App Store and then you have the a more

  interesting question perhaps of how you

  communicate to your users so as most

  people who download your app don't know

  who you are they don't follow you on

  twitter they don't read your blog and I

  kind of struggled with this in this case

  like I've certainly done the I have a

  blog post mentioned on Twitter to kind

  of put it out as best I could for most

  of your users either you need to do a an

  app update and just mention this in the

  release notes that the app is going away

  or you would probably need to have some

  mechanism built into the application to

  reach out to them some kind of messaging

  scheme at this point the app has so few

  users that I didn't decide that

  something like that was worth doing of

  like building a special build of the app

  and putting it out there that popped up

  a window that said hey your app your

  data is gonna go away that's something

  that you'd kind of would have to do if

  you were you know if we're ever ayat e

  of reasons there a variety of reasons

  that you would have to turn something

  off and in this case it's turning it off

  because the user ship is fallen off

  dramatically but I've certainly have

  known have friends who ended having to

  end a product in some ways because it

  was too successful that it kind of had

  gotten ahead of itself in terms of


  but didn't have a revenue model to back

  it up and so a certain point they're

  just like well I just have to turn it

  off because the money is just kind of

  running away from me so in that case you

  probably have to build something into

  the app to turn it off and then you need

  some kind of mechanism to actually like

  physically turn it off in this case

  because I'm not hosting much myself

  there's not like I have servers an

  infrastructure that I have to physically

  unwind I'm mostly I'm just stopping

  paying for things and then the ultimate

  providers will turn it off but it is

  definitely something that I would say

  that I never really thought of when I'm

  you never cease e to not think about

  when you're making something but that

  what I would I would

  she'd do if I needed to turn this off

  you know like at some point if some of

  my other projects that have Web Services

  that I run were to go away it's kind of

  a tricky question to be like well what

  do I do with the data for example like

  how do I safely and securely turn

  everything off it's the kind of thing

  where it can so easily get away from you

  when you're developing like you can just

  add things like oh this will be fine

  this will be fine I just not even think

  about like all the different services

  you're starting up you know API

  memberships you're sorting all the

  different providers and everything and

  it can get away from you pretty fast oh

  sure I mean it's probably also worth

  saying that a lot of these same

  considerations come into play if you

  ever transfer an app oh yeah so if you

  ever sell an app it's something that's

  probably worth it's just sort of as a as

  a pro tip is keeping track in a document

  or somewhere it just at a high level all

  of the various things that you've ever

  paid for or bought associated with the

  development of an app in terms of yeah

  like keeping track of like there's a

  domain associated with this app you know

  if you go to check the weather dock oh I

  think it was like there's a domain and I

  would need to remember to go and turn

  off auto renew on that domain there's

  all you know that were I think there's

  three or four different weather data

  providers that I have a created accounts

  with at some point for this app and

  while as you know if in some ways the

  last some of them would just kind of

  turn off on their own if they're

  usership went to zero the reality is I

  also should probably go and actually you

  know terminate my account there so I'm

  not don't have all of these open these

  little open things in the future that

  could come back and bite me in some

  weird way and on the flip side on the

  positives say hey the Apple had been

  acquired and been shipped over to

  somebody you're gonna have to be able to

  give the new owner at the list of like

  here's all the things that I actually

  have to give you which is way more than

  just the source code to the app where's

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  during our show so the other kind of

  consideration or thing that i Eve this

  is all this this process it made me

  think of because it's probably only sort

  of helpful to talk about the actual like

  this the instances of this app but if I

  take a step back and think about just in

  general as I'm developing an app are

  there lessons that I can learn from this

  that I think would be useful going

  forward and the first one that I was

  trying to think of and came up with was

  the importance of being careful about

  what I'm communicating or promising to

  my customers as I start out as I feel

  like it's easy when you're starting out

  and everything's kind of rosy and nice

  to get a little carried away and kind of

  make commitments that are down the road

  going to be more difficult for you to

  follow through on and you know it's a

  tricky thing maybe on this case

  the pricing where it's really not a

  sustainable business model for an app

  that has an ongoing cost to have a

  one-time purchase upfront but in the

  early days of the app I kind of gave the

  impression whether implied or actual

  enough to actually go back and look at

  my communication to see what I actually

  said but I kevin lee implied that you

  know you buy this app and you have

  weather data and there was no end date

  put on that and that creates some really

  awkward things that kind of kind of feel

  like they tie my hands whether

  necessarily or just because of the way

  that i feel going forward that kind of

  you know reduce my options because in

  this case you know i said about a third

  of the users bought it in one day so

  whatever i communicated to those people

  that first day when everything was

  cheerful and rosy and i was so

  optimistic about its future I kind of

  have to live with going forward and it

  definitely kind of makes me think of as

  I launch things now or as I move forward

  well there's also good for me to be

  thinking about you know this is

  sustainable and so on but it's even the

  importance of being careful about what I

  say that I'm not making pointers or

  promises into the future it's kind of

  like any time I see an accompanying that

  now says something's unlimited or even

  lifetime subscription or those types of

  words I am immediately skeptical I

  immediately think no that's you that

  can't be right

  you know you can't use those words with

  actual honesty because you can't give

  someone an unlimited something or a

  lifetime of something because you're

  making promises into the future that you

  really can't stand behind and that's

  probably a dangerous thing for me you

  know for especially a small developer to

  ever do well especially goes like when

  you're when you have a paid upfront app

  or you know any kind of and Wow however

  people are paying for it if somebody

  pays for your app there many people

  maybe I don't even meet maybe even most

  people have this expectation at the

  moment of payment that I am paying for

  this app for it to work forever and of

  course in reality that's you know that's

  not how anything in this industry works

  but that is kind of like the mindset and

  that's why people get so upset when an

  app that they paid for two years ago all

  of a sudden gets discontinued or

  requires a paid upgrade to keep working


  the newest whatever's you know people

  they when they pay upfront as something

  that's presented as a one-time fee they

  really do assume even if it's


  they see that purchase as a lifetime

  purchase when in fact that is impossible

  to sustain I mean you know people

  basically software needs ongoing revenue

  streams because people expect ongoing

  updates ongoing service ongoing

  compatibility fixes and even ongoing

  improvements and yet they pay once

  upfront and and they and they expect all

  those things to come for free forever so

  like some kind of recurring subscription

  or recurring revenue model but you know

  whether its description or ads or other

  other things the reason why this is so

  helpful is because like that matches up

  more to people's expectations of what

  the product will do for them and how the

  product will keep moving but you have

  something like you had to check the

  weather because it was about like three

  or four bucks up front I think it was

  yeah yeah so it was like you know

  whatever it is three or four bucks up

  front then you know people who pay three

  or four bucks two three years ago you

  know they're gonna expect that app to

  still be working now if they're still

  using it and you're going to get some

  people who are very upset about this

  discontinuation but I don't really see

  how you could have kept it going

  otherwise I mean if you had I mean we

  could talk about different business

  models and stuff but you know if it was

  subscription funded from the very

  beginning that would be another thing if

  it were ad funded then you know it would

  it would just kind of keep making money

  through usage hopefully enough to cover

  it but that's not even a guarantee and

  you know so if there was ongoing revenue

  you could you could possibly sustain it

  more but people really do you know when

  it comes to you know you know geeks like

  us know to to doubt claims of unlimited

  or a lifetime but when you have paid

  upfront that is literally what people

  expect they expect it to be a lifetime

  purchase even though they might not care

  in a year or two but the ones who still

  use it they will care sure and I think

  beyond even just the consideration of

  like what's the best business model and

  obviously like in retrospect I think of

  myself four years ago being very naive

  that this kind of would have worked

  and I think the important thing there is

  - it's a to think it through but like I

  got so caught up in the actual process

  of building it and thinking that it was

  cool I don't think I thought four years

  into the future about what would happen

  and then me even if you don't have a

  good alternative for the business model

  like even if I'd still launched the app

  you know paid up front app I likely

  should have given some thought to how I

  talked about it and how kind of the

  expectations that I said yeah maybe I

  should have said you know the app

  includes weather data for two years and

  maybe I don't have a good answer for

  what happens in two years but they're

  sort of the expectation that maybe down

  the road there will be some more money

  that you'll have to pay pay for me to

  keep doing it and communicating that

  rather than kind of if you don't say

  anything like you're saying the

  customers expectation is that it's like

  well I make one payment and then it's

  the rest of my life for as long as I

  want to use it you know I will be

  sitting there ready for them to help

  them as however that goes well and for a

  while that actually works for a lot of

  apps like especially in the earlier days

  of the apps were like four years ago and

  you long says that was a totally

  reasonable thing to do like when I

  launched instapaper and you know day one

  be Happ store in 2008 well it was more

  like day 3 whatever doesn't hate it was

  just an upfront paid app it was first 10

  bucks then about a year later lowered it

  to 5 bucks and stay that way for a long

  time and the idea you know I was running

  this big expensive web service behind it

  but every month I just kept selling more

  copies of the app and so the growth was

  just funding it like just the additional

  new copies that were selling every month

  wasn't you know that was enough to fund

  the app and overcast first year I did

  the same thing with you know with with

  the five dollar one-time on and I

  purchased to unlock the the you know the

  good features the same thing and it

  worked fine for a little while but as

  the App Store has gone on that that

  incredible growth that we had in the

  earlier years is harder and harder to

  come by and the money you're getting

  from each person is like is often going

  down as we've had to you know lower

  prices to be more competitive in the

  market and so now you you really have to

  think from the beginning how am I going

  to get ongoing revenue from this whereas


  as recent as four years ago when you

  launched this we really didn't have to

  think about that it wasn't you being

  naive it was actually the conditions of

  the market at the time you could just

  fund an app entirely by its own growth

  sure and you know it's how the good old

  days but I mean never nevertheless like

  the reality is it's something that I

  mentioned here as a cautionary tale both

  for myself and others that if you don't

  think about this upfront eventually

  you're going to have to deal with it I

  mean it reminds me in a weird way of

  like contract negotiation where I

  remember getting the best advice I've

  sung to a guy who was well he was my

  lawyer but in this case he wasn't acting

  as my lawyer because he's you know a

  lawyer he was telling me like the reason

  he likes doing contracts for developers

  is his job he felt was to think through

  all of the worst-case scenarios for them

  that they don't want to think about that

  they're sitting down with the client and

  they're super excited like it's the

  first big client they've ever gotten or

  whatever and they're really excited

  about it and they can talk about all the

  fun things they're gonna do and the

  awesome work they're gonna you know be

  able to do and collaborate together and

  you just don't think about these things

  that what do we do do you know in in the

  sense of a contract like what happens to

  the code at the end of this project what

  happens if you're sick and unable to

  continue working what happens if you

  just have massive disagreements and

  don't get along like those kinds of

  contingencies those kinds of things that

  are you hope you never really hope for

  you just hope it is always going to be

  the best case you know in this case with

  check the mother if the sales had just

  kept going forever it would the Apple

  just keep going forever but if you force

  yourself to think about the weird

  not-so-great things up front you can

  just plan for them or at least have some

  sense of what you might do and it

  probably would have helped in this case

  would have helped me avoid kind of it

  feels a bit awkward and it feels a bit

  more like I'm letting people down and

  generally people have been really

  gracious about it I think the nice thing

  about a third of the users buying it in

  the first day and probably about half of

  the users buying it in the first month

  is that that was all four years ago and

  so I think they've stopped using the app

  or if they have used it they've been

  using it for four years and paying you

  know less than a dollar a year is

  some reasonable to them but if anything

  it's just the cautionary tale of think

  about these things think about what's

  what this would look like down the road

  and have if not a plan in specifics at

  least a plan in general for how you're

  gonna deal with it the other thing that

  I've kind of been running into as I've

  been unraveling it that it's kind of a

  lesson that that would be worth talking

  about is as much as I feel like I think

  of the AppStore and the way people use

  my app as only ever using the latest app

  on the latest version of the OS which is

  in general like surprisingly true as

  I've been kind of unwinding this app and

  working out what I need to turn off I

  always went back and looked at old users

  of the application and this is where

  things get funny and why like I've

  changed data providers for example and

  I'm not sure and I need to make sure

  that I go and turn off those first

  accounts that I used to get weather data

  from because people are still using the

  app that hasn't you know really really

  really old versions like I went and

  looked in my analytics and I have people

  who are using the app that was published

  in 2013 still like as of a couple of

  days ago I was you know still having

  people who are using like hitting my

  server hitting my web services with that

  you know with that version string is

  this like from people who using really

  old iOS versions yes

  it's usually it's if that's that is

  usually the situation that it's like

  somebody has an old iPod Touch or a an

  old iPhone that can't be upgraded beyond

  a certain point and I think like the

  version they were using there was like

  it's the last version that worked with

  iOS 6 or with iOS 5 even like I mean

  it's getting really far back in time and

  so they're just stuck using that version

  and if they're still using it

  like in some ways you know good for them

  that's that's fine but in yeah I usually

  don't worry about those people in terms

  of new development but when you turn

  things off it is definitely something

  that I felt like I have to think through

  now is are there any things that old old

  versions of the app do that I need to

  think about now and in a weird way it

  gives me thought to being careful

  being thoughtful as I develop about what

  I wear I put things in the app and

  reminds me there's like physical feature

  there's a mechanism in check the weather

  to dynamically change some of the API

  keys inside of the application so that

  if I you know had a problem with where

  the weather provider I could some in

  some ways kind of switch things around

  dynamically and it does that you know

  through a web service and I'm glad it

  I've definitely used that a few times

  and especially for this is a good

  reminder for me of building mechanisms

  like that into our apps is probably a

  good idea to at least to some degree

  because you can't always rely on the App

  Store updates being the way you change

  that you know if something breaks I have

  to go and submit it and even though app

  review is amazing like recently I had an

  up I had an update yesterday where I

  submitted it in the morning in about

  three hours later it was approved which

  is crazy and awesome but that's only

  ever gonna capture like 90 percent of

  users and so at least give some thought

  to what happens that ten percent of

  users yeah it's also really nice to have

  from day one a mechanism server-side to

  to show a a message like show an alert

  box to everybody with with server-side

  provide a text I'm and you could have it

  be like you know every time or just a

  one time showing but somehow have

  something in the in there in your apps

  so that you could you know you know at

  this point rather than have it you know

  once everything shuts down rather than

  the app just launching and erroring out

  with some kind of server error that it

  like you know and no internet connection

  anything that's like that's not really

  right you know then to have to have a

  different method where you couldn't you

  can like put a file and s3 somewhere

  that basically that the app checks and

  says are and then you can show a box

  that says like sorry we've had to shut

  down this app because of what blah blah

  blah you know it's something that I have

  occasionally built into my apps and I've

  been very thankful every time I have I

  think the last thing is the thought I

  have is the as I finish up this app it's

  a weird thing because I still have ideas

  for what a cool weather app could be and

  do and I had to go navigate a little bit

  the thought of if I made another one

  would it make people mad or feel like

  they've I've cheated them out of

  something or I should have just put that

  into the app that they've already paid


  but obviously the reality is and this is

  the sort of the end of the

  that I came to is you know if I decide

  to make a weather app again it'll just

  be a new thing and hopefully I may if

  the reality is I just need to take the

  lessons I learned from this put it into

  it you know and that will be okay and

  it's being careful of not making choices

  just to avoid people being mad at you

  because people are always gonna be mad

  at you for something yeah and so in this

  case I was having thought like you know

  I don't know why I was part of why I

  didn't pull check the weather is that at

  some point I've always thought maybe a

  you know I have these cool ideas for

  weather app maybe I'll put them in to

  check the weather and then I sort of

  keep it around just to avoid people

  being mad the reality is if I have those

  ideas and I did some point down the road

  I want to do it I should just do it and

  if people are mad they're mad but I

  won't be I'll be happy and I'll be glad

  and I'll be making something that I'm

  excited about and so that's just still

  an encouraging thought that I get gave

  myself this thing of this week is I went

  in and had to hit the button to say you

  know it's it's it's finally time to put

  this to bed next time use a free font

  there you go alright thanks for

  listening everybody and we'll talk to

  you next week