Developing Perspective

#68: Being a Student of the App Store


00:00:00   Hello and welcome to Developing Perspective. Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing

00:00:04   news of note in iOS development, Apple and the like. I'm your host, David Smith. I'm

00:00:08   an independent iOS developer based in Herndon, Virginia. This is show number 68 and today

00:00:13   is Thursday, July 26th. Developing Perspective is never longer than 15 minutes. So let's

00:00:18   get going. All right. So first, a little minor note, as you all probably know, yesterday

00:00:22   was Mountain Lion Day, which I'm sure we all celebrated in our own ways. For me, the thing

00:00:26   that I honestly look most look forward to is reading all the reviews. Not

00:00:30   necessarily because they have new information. Sometimes I do, sometimes I

00:00:33   learn things, sometimes I don't. But they're just delightfully geeky and I'm

00:00:38   a geek, I'm a nerd, I love look for this stuff, this is what I enjoy, and so it's

00:00:42   kind of like, it's almost like reading fiction or a pleasure book for me. It's

00:00:46   like it's a great thing to enjoy. Of course John Siracusa, you know, world

00:00:50   famous reviews and that's certainly, so far it's the one that I've enjoyed the

00:00:55   most, though I must say I haven't gotten through all the ones that I have queued up to read,

00:01:00   so I'm looking forward to read the rest of them. But anyway, so Mountain Lion launched

00:01:03   yesterday and I didn't upgrade. And I feel like it's an interesting thing to talk about

00:01:09   why I didn't, and so I will. So basically today, or sort of right now, what I'm working

00:01:16   on is I have three major updates that I'm trying to ship out before I go on vacation

00:01:21   to the beach, not next week but the week after.

00:01:24   And these are some big updates to all my apps, my main bread

00:01:27   and butter income generating apps

00:01:29   that I'm working on these updates for.

00:01:31   And my goal is to get these updates out

00:01:34   before I go on vacation.

00:01:35   Great, so Apple can do the review while I'm away,

00:01:37   and so on.

00:01:38   So that's sort of my high level goals right now.

00:01:41   And the last thing I want to do as I'm sort of heading down

00:01:46   that path is to make a change that has the potential

00:01:50   to mess up my toolset.

00:01:52   Because while being frustrated, fixing a problem,

00:01:55   or having issues in development can be annoying,

00:01:58   what's really, really, really annoying

00:02:00   is when you're fighting your tools, when

00:02:02   you're doing things that aren't productive that you just never

00:02:05   know.

00:02:06   Well, I don't think the main tools that I use, like Xcode

00:02:08   or Photoshop, those types of things,

00:02:11   I don't think will have problems on Mountain Lion.

00:02:13   But the area that I'm most nervous about

00:02:15   is always things that I do on the command line,

00:02:18   and things that just get weird and messed up

00:02:20   whenever you would upgrade your OS.

00:02:22   So there's a project I have for my web service stuff that's

00:02:25   all Rails-based, and it has a MySQL.

00:02:28   And if it's anything like when I installed Lion,

00:02:30   all of a sudden my MySQL server may stop working.

00:02:32   Maybe it won't.

00:02:33   Maybe all my homebrew installations

00:02:35   will get messed up, or my path gets changed,

00:02:38   or all these weird things that can drive you crazy

00:02:41   and just totally make you lose a day, or two days,

00:02:43   of just what's going on.

00:02:46   And there's no reason for me to have Mountain Lion.

00:02:48   It's cool.

00:02:49   It's great.

00:02:49   I look forward to getting it and I have it right now.

00:02:53   Like it's sitting on one of my old laptops

00:02:55   that I can use and play with.

00:02:56   I just submitted an update for Five Live

00:03:00   which is approved with the full notification center support.

00:03:02   So I know Mountain Lion.

00:03:05   But this is more just a cautionary tale.

00:03:08   And if you've already installed Mountain Lion

00:03:09   and you're in a similar situation, I hope for the best.

00:03:12   I hope you didn't get sort of caught out

00:03:13   by any weird gotchas.

00:03:15   But moreover, it's just one of these things

00:03:17   of being very, very protective of your tool chain,

00:03:21   of how you build your apps.

00:03:24   And I talked about this a little bit before an earlier episode.

00:03:27   I'll have a link in the show notes.

00:03:29   But I was talking about how I do SDK betas and things.

00:03:33   And this falls right into that in the same way.

00:03:36   Fair enough, Mountain Lion is a GM now.

00:03:39   And typically my policies, my main machine is only GMs.

00:03:44   But that's the only thing I ever run on them.

00:03:46   I have betas and things.

00:03:47   I'll typically run those on a secondary laptop.

00:03:49   Sometimes with Xcode, the way they do it now,

00:03:51   I may, as we get close to iOS 6, I

00:03:54   may have two versions of Xcode installed

00:03:56   because they're fairly well separated.

00:03:58   But even that, I feel really nervous about.

00:04:00   And what I'll likely end up doing instead

00:04:02   is doing something like cloning my hard drive

00:04:06   and running off an external one when I'm working on it.

00:04:08   I just always want to have a known working toolset just up

00:04:12   and ready to go.

00:04:14   And so even now that Mountain Lion's out,

00:04:16   it's no longer beta, the Xcode 4.4.

00:04:19   I mean, all these things, I just don't want to change anything

00:04:22   when I'm in one of these crunch zones.

00:04:24   Once I get back from vacation, when I'm on vacation,

00:04:27   it's like, whatever.

00:04:28   If I'm fiddling around at the terminal for a while,

00:04:31   working out why my SQL won't start, it's like, OK,

00:04:33   that's fine.

00:04:34   I don't really have a deadline.

00:04:35   I don't really have a goal.

00:04:36   I don't really have anything that I'm pressed on.

00:04:39   So anyway, that's the way I do--

00:04:43   so it's sort of how I'm handling Mountain Lion,

00:04:45   how I'm handling this upgrade process.

00:04:48   But Mountain Lion looks awesome, and I can't wait to get it.

00:04:52   All right, and so the main topic for today's show

00:04:55   is I'm going to talk about studying the App Store.

00:04:58   And specifically, this got started from a tweet

00:05:02   that I tweeted out.

00:05:02   There was a lot of discussion this week, a lot,

00:05:05   a lot of discussion about Sparrow and David Barnard's

00:05:09   article about if, in some ways, it's like,

00:05:12   is it the end of the indie, or the gold rush is over,

00:05:15   and those types of questions.

00:05:17   And so my response to that was to say,

00:05:20   the way that you-- the path to success in the App Store

00:05:22   hasn't changed.

00:05:23   Like, the way in which you actually

00:05:25   make your money in the App Store to be successful

00:05:29   hasn't changed.

00:05:30   It's hard, detail-oriented work, which

00:05:33   is simple and straightforward.

00:05:36   I keep at it and work on it.

00:05:39   Studying the App Store, which is what

00:05:40   I'm going to talk about for the rest of the show,

00:05:43   and then two other attributes-- being flexible and being

00:05:46   patient.

00:05:46   Being flexible is just understanding

00:05:49   that when you try things, they may fail,

00:05:51   and just being flexible about that.

00:05:53   I mean, like, all right, that didn't work.

00:05:54   Try something else.

00:05:54   Let's try something else.

00:05:55   I mean, I have shipped literally dozens of apps.

00:05:59   And part of that is that flexibility of, like,

00:06:01   I try something, it doesn't work, whatever, I'll move on.

00:06:04   And not getting too stuck on things.

00:06:06   And then patience is understanding and looking

00:06:08   for the fact, knowing that being successful will just take time.

00:06:13   And there are no overnight hits.

00:06:14   You know, it's very rare.

00:06:15   It's typically, it's like, oh, you know, whatever, Rovio,

00:06:18   the classic example, like, oh, man, they hit it big with Angry Birds.

00:06:21   They're an overnight success.

00:06:22   Well, Angry Birds may have been an overnight success,

00:06:24   but the studio, you know, whatever, it's their 12th app.

00:06:27   But anyway, the thing that I want to focus on now--

00:06:29   And I've got a lot of people asking me about this when I say,

00:06:33   it's really important that you're a student of the App

00:06:35   Store.

00:06:36   And what do I mean when I say you have to study the App Store?

00:06:39   What is there to study?

00:06:41   It's a store with lots-- it's like going into Target

00:06:43   and saying, I'm going to study Target.

00:06:46   That's a little weird.

00:06:47   And Target is a big department store

00:06:49   if you're outside the US.

00:06:51   Anyway, so what I mean by that is

00:06:53   it is very important for you as a developer

00:06:56   to really have a good grasp of what's going on in the store.

00:07:00   That you are not blindly building things and creating things.

00:07:03   Just sort of often a vacuum with the hopes

00:07:05   that they'll hit and resonate with your audience.

00:07:08   So you need to know what other developers are doing.

00:07:11   You need to know what customers are liking, what they're not liking,

00:07:14   what are opportunities, what are things that have already

00:07:16   been filled and saturated.

00:07:18   And the way that I kind of study that-- and I spend a lot of time on this.

00:07:22   It's probably not insubstantial, like probably maybe a half a day

00:07:25   a week.

00:07:26   I spend just sort of studying the App Store

00:07:29   to try and make sure that I'm not missing a trend.

00:07:31   I'm not losing it.

00:07:35   There's a cusp of something that's coming,

00:07:36   and I'm going to get sort of fall behind and then end up

00:07:40   sort of lost behind that.

00:07:42   And so what I do is there's three main ways that I do this,

00:07:46   and I'll walk through them sort of each.

00:07:47   The first and most important is just

00:07:49   to spend a lot of time browsing the App Store,

00:07:52   whether it's on your phone, whether it's on your iPad,

00:07:54   whether it's in iTunes, especially iTunes.

00:07:57   I really like browsing the App Store on iTunes on my Mac

00:08:00   just because you can get so much information so much more quickly.

00:08:02   You can look at a list of 50 apps, 100 apps very easily,

00:08:05   whereas on your phone you're kind of always adding next page, next page,

00:08:09   next page.

00:08:11   And so what I'm doing there is I'm looking primarily

00:08:14   at whatever the top lists are.

00:08:16   So top free, top paid, and especially top grossing.

00:08:20   And I'm trying to understand what's working right now.

00:08:22   What's resonating with customers?

00:08:24   What are people interested in?

00:08:25   And often what I'll do is-- it's funny.

00:08:28   I don't typically read a lot of my own reviews for my own apps

00:08:30   because that's just depressing and kind of sad.

00:08:32   But I like reading other people's reviews.

00:08:34   I like understanding what the customers don't like and do

00:08:37   like about the apps that are being successful

00:08:40   and to try and pull little nuggets from that that'll

00:08:42   help me make my apps better.

00:08:45   And so I work on just sort of reading through a lot of that.

00:08:48   And you're especially spending a lot of time

00:08:49   in top grossing, which is really what I want to--

00:08:52   top grossing is great, because that's where I make the most--

00:08:55   those are the people who make the most money,

00:08:57   and that's a variable I'm trying to optimize

00:09:00   to make the most money.

00:09:01   So one thing to keep in mind, though, with grossing

00:09:04   is that it does not include things like I-Ad or advertising.

00:09:07   So you also need to make sure you're taking a look at a lot

00:09:09   Ad-free, the top free charts, because often those apps

00:09:12   potentially are actually making more money than some

00:09:14   of the things engrossing just from their advertising revenue.

00:09:17   So just a little side note.

00:09:19   Once you kind of have a good sense of that,

00:09:21   the second tool that I find very, very valuable

00:09:24   is to look at something like App Annie or App Figures, which

00:09:27   are tools that let you look at the historic trends of rankings

00:09:31   of individual apps.

00:09:33   And this is something that is just incredibly valuable.

00:09:37   When you see an app that is successful,

00:09:41   rather than just having a snapshot and say, OK, well,

00:09:44   that's number five in its category right now.

00:09:47   Then you can say, well, how did it get here?

00:09:50   Is this-- is it some update they've done?

00:09:54   Did it just launch and go straight there?

00:09:56   And you can go and look at the history of those.

00:09:58   And what is often really helpful as you develop

00:10:00   more of a portfolio of applications

00:10:02   and have some data yourself about what sort of a rank

00:10:05   correlates to in revenue, is you can sort of see

00:10:08   how their revenue is moved up and down,

00:10:10   see kind of how that's gone.

00:10:11   And this is often really helpful when I'm deciding

00:10:13   I want to make a new app.

00:10:15   What I'm looking at evaluating a market is,

00:10:17   I will look at what is a typical pattern for an application

00:10:21   as it goes through its lifespan from launch to stable state.

00:10:27   And so say I'm making a calendar app, say I'm making a weather app,

00:10:30   say I'm making whatever.

00:10:32   I'd go and look at whatever the most successful five other of those,

00:10:36   because almost certainly there are.

00:10:37   I mean, there's very few new ideas in the App Store.

00:10:39   It's more just new implementations and new takes on things.

00:10:43   And you just kind of follow that and see, OK,

00:10:45   these apps seem to have a big spike and then fall down.

00:10:49   Or they tend to never spike up big,

00:10:51   but they're nice and stable.

00:10:52   And that's really helpful for you to know in terms of,

00:10:54   is this a worthwhile business decision to make?

00:10:57   Are you pursuing something that is going to make lots of money

00:11:02   down in the long run?

00:11:03   Or is it more likely that this is going to be a quick flash?

00:11:06   Sort of a quick flash, you make a bunch of money

00:11:08   in a couple weeks, and then it really falls off.

00:11:10   And if that's the case, you just may tailor your development

00:11:13   accordingly. You're not necessarily going to want to invest heavily, for example, in

00:11:17   infrastructure costs or things that are going to have long-range expenses, like a big web

00:11:22   service or those types of things, if an app is only going to typically make you money

00:11:26   right up front and then fall off dramatically. It's going to be hard to support that down

00:11:31   the road. Whereas if apps in that category and of that type have a tendency to be fairly

00:11:36   stable in the long run, great. Maybe that will support that kind of thing.

00:11:40   And the last way that I kind of study the App Store is I make sure that I follow and

00:11:46   interact with people on Twitter who are, I guess you could mean like, the like, I don't

00:11:51   know, the cheesy PR version would be like the the thought leaders in the App Store,

00:11:56   people who are doing a lot of this. And I have a list in the show notes, you know, sort

00:12:00   of just off the top of my head, here are some of the people that I follow who I find really

00:12:04   helpful from like a studying the App Store perspective. It's people like Ian Marsh, David

00:12:09   Barnhard, Eli Haddad, Phil Ryu, Blake Patterson, Marco Arment,

00:12:13   Paul Haddad, Steve Stressa, and Federico Viticci

00:12:19   are some of the people who I just follow.

00:12:23   And what they do is you get these little nuggets.

00:12:26   You get all these little bits and pieces

00:12:28   that allows you to piece together

00:12:33   what's going on on the developer side of the App Store.

00:12:36   And this is where you'll get complaining a lot.

00:12:38   And they'll be like, oh, man, app review time is terrible

00:12:41   right now.

00:12:43   That's good to know.

00:12:43   Or, wow, have you seen this app?

00:12:45   It's terrible, but it's doing really well.

00:12:47   I wonder how they did that.

00:12:48   And you'll get a good conversation about it.

00:12:50   And you'll get ideas.

00:12:50   And you'll get opportunities to interact with these people who

00:12:55   are successful in the store or spend a lot of time talking

00:13:00   about the store.

00:13:01   And that really just helps kind of couch and develop your

00:13:04   perspective on it, which is, I guess, the topic of this show,

00:13:07   developing perspective.

00:13:09   The goal, and what I say even when you're studying--

00:13:11   so those are the three methods.

00:13:12   But the goal of what you're trying to do

00:13:15   is that you have an understanding of how money

00:13:18   is made in the App Store, which is vital for you

00:13:23   to be able to do what you-- to make apps

00:13:25   and to be successful at doing this.

00:13:27   You're trying to look for trends.

00:13:29   You're trying to say, OK, it seems like apps

00:13:31   are heading in this direction, whether that's

00:13:33   from the UI side, whether that's from the marketing side,

00:13:36   whether that's from the revenue side.

00:13:38   It's like, wow, of the top 100 apps engrossing,

00:13:42   the majority of them use in-app purchase.

00:13:44   Maybe that's something I need to work on a way

00:13:46   to integrate into my application.

00:13:48   Whatever it is, you're trying to find those trends that you

00:13:51   can use to maximize your own revenue

00:13:53   and optimize your applications.

00:13:55   Users are saying in a lot of reviews

00:13:58   that, man, I really don't like this, that, or the other.

00:14:01   Don't do this, that, or the other.

00:14:03   or they're saying, wow, I love the way they did this.

00:14:06   Great.

00:14:07   Consider using that in your application,

00:14:09   or consider learning from that lesson.

00:14:12   Because ideally what you're going to do

00:14:14   is you're either going to learn from other people's successes

00:14:17   and learn from other people's mistakes.

00:14:19   And that means you'll hopefully have more successes yourself.

00:14:22   And if you are mistakes that you make yourself,

00:14:25   that you then have to learn from.

00:14:27   So anyway, that's how I study the App Store.

00:14:29   It's something that takes a focused effort that you

00:14:32   You need to spend the time doing something I spend a lot of time when I have a spare

00:14:36   moment.

00:14:37   I'll just go into the app store, top charts, and just be thumbing through, looking at things,

00:14:41   seeing what's going on.

00:14:42   All right, that's it for today's show.

00:14:44   As always, if you have questions, comments, concerns, complaints, hit me up on Twitter.

00:14:48   I'm @_davidsmith on Twitter, the Twitter feed for this show.

00:14:52   If you'd like to get updates whenever new episodes are posted, which is typically Tuesdays

00:14:55   and Thursdays now, just as a reminder, is @devperspective.

00:14:58   And otherwise, I hope you have a good week.

00:15:00   Happy coding, and I will talk to you next Tuesday. Bye!