Under the Radar

Under the Radar 23: Launching Activity++


  welcome to under the radar a show about

  independent iOS app development I'm

  Marco Arment and I'm David Smith under

  the radar is never longer than 30

  minutes so it's get started so today

  what I want I think we wanted to talk

  through is a a little bit of follow up

  on the pricing discussion we had a few

  episodes ago and be talk about the

  actual app that we were talking in vague

  terms about then and that I recently

  launched and given that even for even

  for someone like me launching an app is

  a fairly rare thing in the scheme of

  what we do and so yeah having just done

  it I wanted to kind of talk through that

  what that process is like both sort of

  functionally as well as emotionally and

  kind of just go from there so first the

  app that I launched is by worth saying

  is called activity plus plus if you have

  any familiar with any of my work you're

  probably familiar with an app called

  pedometer plus plus or sleep plus plus

  or emoji plus plus I've kind of got into

  this thing where plus plus is sort of

  like the name you know it's actually

  really helpful from a naming perspective

  because I just take whatever like proper

  noun or a verb that's up you know

  describes the thing that I'm doing at a

  plus plus and that kind of works as a

  trait you know sort of like a trademark

  thing that people recognize okay because

  it helps you avoid actual trademark

  conflicts because like like activity is

  not a trademark of a word in that area

  like you like so you're not gonna have a

  conflict with that although it doesn't

  do you any favors with App Store search

  no it does not but that is aid well it

  as best I can tell like half helps

  because the plus plus as far as I can

  tell is ignored for the purposes of

  search at least as best I can tell and

  so when people search I could do very

  well for generic searches but I do not

  do well for exact searches which you

  know it's good and bad but you know it's

  my the plus plus naming kind of came by

  accident more than intentionally and so

  it just sort of forced one of these

  things of like well no now that I'd know

  that it exists and whether or not it's

  great or not in the App Store search it

  just sort of is its own thing and would

  be you know would caught it would be

  worse to change than to stick with so

  that's just sort of where I am I like it

  yeah but

  and it seems and I think it works well

  it's rolls off the tongue everyone kind

  of knows how it works and yeah and it's

  I like it and I like that it's geeky too

  but anyway so activity plus plus is a

  something that takes advantage of the

  new some new API is that are added in

  9.3 and watch OS 2.2 where we can

  finally get access to all the data in

  the activity app so so if you have an

  Apple watch you'd be familiar with it's

  like the three rings there's like the

  red ring which is your active calories

  the green ring which is your amount of

  exercise and the blue ring which is the

  amount you've stood or hours you've

  stood in a day and we finally have

  access to that as a third party and so

  what I did is I just said I have a lot I

  use the activity app a lot I like that

  sort of concept of measure and measuring

  how I'm doing in terms of activity and

  fitness but I don't really like apples

  activity app especially on the phone I

  find it really awkward like there's all

  it's trying to do so much and because of

  that it does the basics kind of

  awkwardly so I know as soon as I saw

  that I could do this whenever they

  announced nine point three which I think

  was a couple months ago I like I dived

  into it's like this is something that I

  wanted to do and so I did you know I

  made an app that as an alternative to

  that it's this is an area that I think

  if you're a developer looking to find

  like a new market to get into this is

  always something that I found some

  success with of looking through the EPI

  tips every time Apple releases something

  and saying you know what this is

  something new something like there is

  this type of app is entirely not

  possible before and then suddenly is

  possible so there's you're necessarily

  going to be competing in a smaller

  market which I'll mention a bit later

  but it's always a helpful thing to kind

  of dive into that because the reality is

  like you they're sort of like there's

  three types of apps that are probably

  sort of worth making if there's these

  something like this where it's sort of

  new and novel because it couldn't have

  been done before if you know first sort

  of policy reasons or technical reasons

  like this data just wasn't available to

  third-party apps before you can go ahead

  and do that or you could there's like

  the apps that are just like sort of

  truly not

  like someone just sort of invents

  something totally new which are

  typically very hard to do or think up or

  the third is the as the type of app that

  are just it's like it's the same thing

  just done slightly better or different

  and the last two like if you can do that

  for the second one where you have a true

  innovation like you just invent

  something amazing that could have been

  done before but now you're doing it in a

  better way more power to you that's

  awesome that's pretty rare and you know

  kind of hard to just do what do on on a

  regular basis so most people end up

  doing the apps that are just like the

  same thing that's but you know existed

  before but done better but those are

  really competitive because by nature of

  being something you could have done

  before people already have and so

  whenever you have an opportunity to do

  the first thing to be able to just do

  something that wasn't possible before

  just because of technical reasons or

  policy reasons disagreed it's a great

  opportunity and so you know sort of

  that's what I did and it's I've now

  launched it I think I launched it last

  Thursday and yeah launch has been going

  well it's been doing been very well

  received which is always really you know

  affirming but something like this

  because you put it out into this into

  the world and you never really know

  what's gonna happen but in a bit of a

  twist it is a paid up front app and in

  fact it is a three dollar paid up front

  app which if you lure listening to our

  discussion two or three episodes ago

  where I've talked about pricing paid

  upfront was the form of business model

  that I had at the a used to sort of in

  our final conclusions had kind of thrown

  out as not possible and so that's a bit

  of a surprise and but I wanted to kind

  of talk through why I did that because I

  think it's helpful as a prize a thought

  process to sort of show that what we're

  doing as divided as independent

  developers and developers in general but

  especially as independent developers is

  we have to be making these decisions

  that ultimately like there's no right

  answer for you can never know like which

  business model is going to be best

  there's a lot you can ever know which

  design decision is gonna be best like

  when you're designing your icon or

  designing your layouts like there's all

  these things that you just have to make

  a decision and you have to just sort of

  live with it but Jukka and you have to

  work out what process makes the most

  sense for you so in this case I looked

  at yeah I looked at for pricing

  and as we finished in our last

  discussion I was probably meaning

  towards something like free with ads or

  something like that and the more that I

  thought about that like the next week I

  listened to the episode a couple times

  and I was just kind of mulling it over

  and I kept being like you know what like

  I don't like how this feels I don't like

  that more and more of my businesses

  becoming reliant on ads especially in

  the time of kind of a little bit of

  turmoil is the wrong word but it's

  there's a little bit of upheaval in

  terms of exactly what the right

  advertising platform is what that's

  going to look like come when I ad ends

  this June and it seems like a really

  poor time to be doubling down on that

  model and so I said you know what I'd

  rather have diversity in terms of I'd

  rather have a paid app even if it didn't

  perform theoretically as well as a free

  app just to have some diversity to have

  some bit some backup in terms of if one

  of my f-free with added apps starts to

  really plummet in terms of revenue

  I have something to back up and the

  biggest thing that was holding me back

  was the thought that hah man this is a

  watch app though and so if you don't

  have a watch people are going to be

  annoyed but I saw in the app store there

  was an app called heart watch which is

  by a gentleman named David Walsh who is

  a similar kind of thing but it's focused

  all on the heart rate data that the

  Apple watch collects it's a great app

  and recommend you taking a look at it if

  that's something you're interested in

  but I was kind of curious if he was

  having for this trouble cuz he said he

  had a hit paid app and it didn't seem

  like in his app store reviews and in

  general that he was having trouble with

  people complaining that oh I doubt I

  bought your app and I don't have a watch

  you know boohoo and so I was like okay

  maybe it's not a problem and then I did

  what I always do when I'm trying to deal

  with these types of problems is I went

  to a spreadsheet because for me I can't

  make decisions like this without a

  spreadsheet usually because I need to

  have something that I can kind of point

  to rationally and say you know is this

  viable is this going to work

  am I being foolish and I in just looking

  at myself it's often easy to kind of

  confused you know confuse or betray

  myself by kind of what I want or what I

  think would be nice but number is 10%

  you know if you're doing it right

  typically can't do that and so I took a

  look at the know how much money I make

  per user right now in pedometer plus


  just mic you know my single biggest app

  which is like in my mind the best-case

  scenario for a new app would be it would

  match that and right now and I do it on

  the surf on the basis of new users not

  of active users or existing users

  because that gets really complicated so

  I tend to look at it it's like based on

  the number of downloads I get how much

  revenue do I get each day and for

  pedometer right now it's like 20 cents a

  user or something like that which I

  think for free app is actually not too


  and so then the nice thing you think

  about that though is like if you sell an

  app for three to four three dollars you

  end up with two dollars and ten cents

  back from Apple for each user and so as

  long as you can maintain a tenth of the

  downloads that you get otherwise you'll

  kind of break even and I looked at that

  and I was like you know 10x that that

  seems doable that seems possible like

  the number of downloads per day that

  activity plus plus would have to have to

  maintain that isn't completely

  inconceivable and so I went for it and

  the nice thing about free Arbus or

  starting paid rather than free is that

  it I can always switch and go free later

  if I want yeah I can use the app store

  receipt system to know if someone paid

  for it upfront or not and if they did

  then great you know I'll just sort of

  put it hide the ads or idea net

  purchases or whatever it is but I can

  always make that change down the road

  and so that's what I did and you know it

  seems to be working I feel good about it

  which is probably the best thing because

  that in the end I like that you know

  it's a more proof eels a bit more

  premium it feels a bit nicer of an app

  to not have any ads in it do not have to

  think about that kind of stuff

  and to just put it out as you know

  something that's good it's also I mean

  just you know as we discussed in the

  pricing episode I paid upfront model is

  just so much simpler on you on the

  developer you know for both designing

  the app around and also just having to

  code all the in-app purchase stuff or

  embed other people's crazy kind of

  creepy ad frameworks free up or paid

  upfront it's just so much easier and and

  simpler and it really does just simplify

  the model you know what's the

  relationship between you and your

  customers what's being done but their

  data if anything you know how do you how

  do you survive how do you make one like

  it's all right up front there and there

  are downsides to it of course but I

  think if you can make the numbers work

  out paid upfront is is of course the

  easiest way to do it and and overall the

  I mean by easy I mean simple

  it's the simplest way to do it and

  there's a lot of benefits to that

  exactly and you know like I said I'm

  happy with it admit right now and I

  think the reality is with pricing is

  there is no like there there's no good

  answer there's no like right answers

  like it because the reality is as soon

  as if as developers we determined like

  oh this is the perfect thing to do you

  know if you do this this and this you'll

  maximize revenue fully like servos

  almost like the stock market if as soon

  as that becomes known and everyone does

  it it'll almost inevitably become the

  wrong thing everybody like by the nature

  of everybody doing it it saturates that

  type of thing and then becomes

  problematic and so ultimately like you

  just have to go with your gut and decide

  what you're gonna feel comfortable with

  and in this situation I was like you

  know what I like this app like I really

  felt proud of it and I was like I don't

  want to put ads in it like I don't want

  to I like the way it looks I wanted to

  look that way

  and you know so this is a twist of the

  road I went down and I think you know

  the market was better than I was fearing

  it might be it's definitely still in

  these like the very steep dropoff phase

  where your first couple days are like

  yeah this is awesome and then it starts

  to go down and every day you know the

  long in tight interconnects and I'm like

  is this the bottom is this the bottom

  what about this is that is this the new

  bottom and I don't think we've quite

  reached there yet which is you know is a

  bit scary like who is it gonna go all

  the way to zero like where no but you

  know so far so good

  and I think there's still something to

  be said for you know paid upfront apps

  like and the funny thing is I didn't

  ahead of anyone that I was aware of

  complaining about the price at $3 it you

  know at $3 which I'm also surprised me

  slightly that it wasn't like Oh $3 I

  guess but I guess that once you're paid

  you know you're paid and the difference

  between $1 and $3 is much more like

  intellectually minor compared to free

  and a dollar so yeah that worked at

  quite a while I think maybe one of the

  reasons you're able to do it for this

  app is you know as you said at the

  beginning of the show like they've

  different apps that you have different

  types of apps that are possible to make

  in this case this is a very non crowded

  category so it is in many ways it

  behaves a lot more like the early app

  store back when the entire app store

  wasn't very crowded well which was

  actually very short-lived but you know

  that was like maybe a couple of weeks

  but at that time you know you could you

  could sell something for five ten

  dollars and it didn't even have to be

  that good and people would buy it

  because they wanted that kind of thing

  and they were just were no all other

  alternatives or there are very few other

  alternatives and in this case you know

  when when you do what you what you gave

  is like the first type of app you could

  make which is the kind of app that just

  recently became possible by some kind of

  API or technical change you you

  effectively create or you enter a market

  where there is almost no competition

  upfront and it is kind of like those

  first few weeks of the app store where

  you can charge a price upfront and if

  people want that kind of app they'll be

  more willing to pay for it because there

  aren't 50 free alternatives to do the

  exact same thing where I blow in the App

  Store search exactly and you know it's a

  nice thing to take advantage of so idea

  so the launch has been going well

  something else I wanted to talk through

  a little bit about the launch because I

  get this question a lot from people who

  are launching their first to happen it's

  like how do you get attention for you

  for any new product and some of it is

  just like well you just kind of have to

  keep trying which is another very

  satisfying answer but I was very you

  know very grateful for I had a few news

  and press sites write up the app which

  is always really kind of exciting and

  awesome to see like you know something

  you made on a site that you that you

  respect deeply and so the way the witch

  that I would recognize really

  recommendation I can make with that is

  to make sure what you're doing when

  you're reaching out to them and like you

  should be reaching out to the press

  ahead of time like especially the sites

  that you read yourself like it sounds a

  lot better if it doesn't come if it's

  not like a cold call in so far is like

  you've read the site you know the kind

  of things they do you know what what

  excites them you know like some sites

  are really interested in the visual

  design or the typography or those types

  of things other sites tend to be more

  feature focused and so when you're

  writing your emails like write a

  different email to each of those people

  letting them know take advantage of the

  test flight system which is something

  that I did you know this time around

  where it's nice to be able to send out

  copies of your application to you know

  to the press I personally take the

  approach of always asking

  they want access to it like I'll send

  him an email first whenever I've had

  people do this to me we're like you've

  you just sort of like blindly get a test

  flight in flight invite for an app that

  I've never heard of yeah it's no good

  it's that's not really what you want

  like you want to have the personal reach

  out first and say hey this is something

  I'm working on maybe include a few

  screenshots or a video or something like


  I send then out to somebody and at the

  end just say hey if you know if you want

  to check this out I'd be happy to send

  you a test flight and you know if you're

  doing it right and if you're targeting

  your message to them appropriately that

  you know you look at what other articles

  they've read and you've said hey you

  know I saw that you wrote you know this

  article about another another you know a

  fitness tracker or something or that

  seems to be something that you're you

  know that's relevant to you and like

  actually you know if you are correct in

  that like go to a website see who's the

  one who writes about the products that

  are typically you know that would be

  appropriate and you send that over more

  often than not they'll say sure send me

  a test flight because obviously but it's

  much better coming from that respect

  than just like a blind thing so it was

  just something I wanted to mention but

  yeah then otherwise you just kind of

  keep at it it's it certainly is easier I

  will say having done this for so long

  and having some amount of reputation and

  and platform you know it is doubtless

  easier than that you know in that regard

  and you know and the way it's like oh

  it's you know like that's that's nice

  for underscore to be able to reach out

  to people and and know it but you know

  the realities everyone starts off this

  way like no I did not know the first

  time I wrote you know it was an app

  written up by a publication it was a big

  deal for me because I'd tried many times

  before and got nothing so you just kind

  of have to keep trying and hope that

  invent in the end it will happen and you

  know be respectful of people and if you

  know you write an email to somebody and

  they don't write back it's not the kind

  of thing that's like oh I wonder if they

  didn't get it let me bring this to the

  top of their inbox let me respond to

  three times like just be respectful and

  understand that they may have responded

  not responded because they just don't

  have time or they're not interested in

  they're trying to you know it's kind of

  because it's easier to be kind by just

  not saying anything sometimes than it is

  to you know try and respond back and in

  in the negative and you know just sort

  of hope for the best

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  the last thing I wanted to kind of talk

  through about a launch it's kind of the

  actual dynamics of it like the actual

  timing and sort of logistics of doing it

  because it's kind of a tricky process

  because when you are trying to launch an

  app you don't really know when that's

  gonna be

  sometimes you know I think I submit I

  submitted this application as soon as it

  was physically possible to submit 9.3

  binaries and from that point on like my

  goal is to be ready to launch it

  whenever Apple is you know is available

  because like we've been saying this

  episode so many times there's a certain

  element of like first mover advantage

  with something like this like you want

  if it's you're building something that's

  newly possible being one of the you know

  being the first or a second application

  that takes advantage of that API is

  going to be much more useful to you than

  if you're just like one of 10 and so I

  wanted to be a you know like I sat there

  in iTunes Connect trying to hit submit

  and having it come back and say like

  we're not ready for this binary version

  yet we're not ready for this binary

  version like essentially every 10

  minutes until he was about 10 p.m. that

  night when it finally went through and

  it's like you know that's I wanted to be

  that confidence that I was like the

  first of the 9.3 apps in line that's

  dedication well this is this is the

  thing though like I've spent months

  working on this and so I you know

  they've you know spending an afternoon

  sitting there hitting next you know it's

  like try try try gives me any advantage

  I'd feel foolish if in the end that you

  know like not doing that

  would have you know what would have come

  back to come back to bite me in this

  case it ended up taking a bit longer

  than usual for app review which can be a

  bit you know it was a bit worrisome and

  we talked about that a little bit you

  know in our life

  are saying the last episode I think

  about a preview but it's just a reality

  sometimes you never really know and so

  what I did though and this is like the

  thing that I always try and make sure

  that I've done is have anything that

  you're going to be doing about the

  launch like I tend to have like a blog

  post that you know the launch is long

  along with the app and you know

  certainly keeping people in the press so

  we're of the situation but have

  everything ready to go so that like

  whenever Apple said hey you're approved

  I could go ahead and launch it you know

  so I had my blog post written I had the

  screenshots all done for that like

  everything was ready and waiting which

  is good bit much better than you know a

  view finally you get your approval email

  which is you know yeah that's exciting

  and then you're like oh goodness now at

  right now I need to do all this work but

  like you had weeks or days when you had

  nothing else to do for this application

  that you could have been doing it so

  definitely something that I recommend

  doing kind of comically this time

  emphasizing how much you have how little

  control you have over the timing I ended

  up launching this app while I was on

  vacation with my family and actually hit

  release this version while I was sitting

  in the in a Children's Museum in Phoenix

  which was kind of just like a strange

  place to be sitting on a bench and like

  you know what I need it's like I need a

  to get this out but it worked you know

  the iTunes Connect app that you Apple

  puts out is very useful and can do all

  these types of things and you know you

  the nice the one thing I will say and

  this is a recommendation if URL

  certainly new to this is launching an

  app that doesn't have any back back-end

  services related to it is incredibly

  relieving because there's no servers for

  me to monitor you know see our sponsor

  like I didn't have any notifications or

  things that I need to worry about

  because the app is entirely local and so

  that's always a kind of recommendation

  if you if you're kind of timid about

  what this is gonna be like maybe start

  off with something that doesn't have a

  back-end or as as simple a back-end as

  possible because it is really reassuring

  that like there's nothing in this app

  that can there's no data that the user

  can lose there's no back-end

  infrastructure I need to maintain like

  it is just an app that you launch you if

  you have a permission to access your

  health kit data it pulls it in and shows

  it to you and

  that's all it does and that was really a

  nice thing especially when I'm on

  vacation like I've launched it and kind

  of participated slightly in it

  and but then you went back to my

  vacation and you know went to the Grand

  Canyon the next day and hiked around

  there with my family and didn't really

  pay much attention to it which was odd

  but nice but you just gonna have to keep

  that in mind when you're launching these

  things that you have no control over it

  that often and being you just kind of

  like can't even it's like a Zen thing

  which is like except that except that

  you have no control about the situation

  and just kind of roll with it as it goes

  because there were certainly times that

  I would get a bit frustrated but

  ultimately like it worked out it worked

  out fine

  you know the apps in the store it's live

  and you know I just decided you know

  it's this is the right time to launch it

  because if this is when the first

  approvals of 9-3 apps are gonna go out

  like I want to be in that wave if there

  was a wave as far as I know there hasn't

  been much of a wave and so my kind of my

  fears weren't we're a bit on unfounded

  but you never know because a lot of

  these things you just end up kind of

  fearing the unknown when you're

  launching an app like I got it like I've

  been doing this for seven and a half

  years I think and I still have like

  tremendous anxiety about launching

  something new and I say that because

  hopefully that's helpful to you know

  listeners of the show who are launching

  things of themselves when you look at

  it's like if you're launching your first

  app you're probably just as nervous as I

  still am about it and that's okay that's

  part of the process like I and you have

  these figures of like what if this is

  actually not very good what if I'm

  putting this out in the world and

  everyone's you know kind of gonna laugh

  at me like it becomes very like I'm like

  in high school or middle school or

  something like this kind of that feeling

  of being nervous about other people

  think of you oh I'm the same way yeah

  and I think that's healthy to say though

  like it is difficult and you're good no

  matter what you're gonna feel that way

  so just like embrace it and understand

  that it gets better because if you've

  been do building it right if you've been

  making you know a thoughtful design that

  works well and is functional and you've

  tested it and you've beta tested it and

  you've beta tested it with the right

  people who are hopefully you know would

  be honest with you if it

  wasn't very good and they say it's good

  then just trust them and go for it and

  you know maybe it will be awesome maybe

  it'll be mediocre but you know it

  doesn't do any good to fret too much

  about it as much as you can and then

  yeah and then it's out in the world and

  now it's like the funny thing I always

  try and celebrate launches seems like we

  know we were on vacation but we did our

  best to kind of celebrate that it was

  out in the world especially I try and

  bring my kids into that Jimmy because

  they have kind of a vague sense of what

  daddy does and so it's kind of fun when

  I can show them like hey here's this

  thing I just launched in the App Store I

  can like show it to them in the App

  Store um and then the funny thing about

  launching is it feels like this big deal

  and then it's done and then you just

  move on and now you get a big long list

  of bugs the things you have to fix and

  you just keep going on that and so it's

  like you want to celebrate it now it's

  like alright now it's on to you know 1.1

  or 1.0 one or you you identify all the

  issues that you just never even thought

  could be issues which is always the most

  striking thing to launch an app for

  myself or you you have somebody who

  gives you feedback you're like huh you

  were absolutely right but I had never

  ever thought about that and like that's

  always the best and most fun feedback to

  get that's why my work has beta it was

  six months long there you go and it was

  a much I was on the I was on it from the

  first one to the last one yes a it got a

  lot better it's it it really did

  everything I hadn't thought of everyone

  everyone brought up all right I think

  that does it for this week so

  congratulations on the launch any

  closing thoughts no I think had one

  thing I'd say is you know launch

  something it's exciting like I always

  hate I get a lot of people questions

  from people like how do I get started

  and it's like you know the best way to

  get started is to write something and

  ship it like there's not am like magic

  rocket science to this and you just have

  to do that and the more you do that the

  better you get at doing it and the

  better your apps will be as a result and

  you know I've launched a lot of products

  as I have a bit of a penchant for doing

  and you know imagine in June we'll get a

  bunch of new api's and new opportunities

  and so I'd encourage everyone to look at

  them you know just don't look at the

  same ones that I'm looking at a problem

  we have a problem

  alright thanks David and everybody

  please go out

  by activity plus plus because David

  won't say it but I will and we will talk

  to you next week

  Thanks bye