Journey of an AIR Developer

I started developing my first mobile App in Summer, 2010. It was a work project, the target was Android and the technology was AIR 2.5. I was a longtime Flash/Web Developer, but had been late to the AS3 / Flex game, I had only about 2 years of AS3 experience under my belt, and I didn’t even own a touch device. Actually, I was proudly rocking the original Moto Razr feature phone!

I had never used a Touch device before, I had never even purchased an iPod, this was an exotic new world of touch interfaces and powerful handheld devices. The fact I could use my Flash skills on these devices blew me away! At this point in my life, I was a Web Developer with 10 years experience, work payed ok, but it wasn’t enough to raise a family. I was sick of doing contract after contract to simply pay the bills. I realized that I needed a way out, I couldn’t work like a dog my whole life. This felt like it might be that chance…

While still holding down my day job, I began to spend endless nights and weekends learning about mobile development. In Nov 2010 I slapped down nearly $700 for my very own Nexus One, and that decision changed my life forever.

For the rest of this post, I’ll go through my journey step by step, where I started to where I am today, and finish with my current sales figures across all markets.

The early days…

So, back to June 2010. As I started development on these apps at work, it was super exciting to be publishing Flash Apps to Android, but in truth, AIR 2.5 was not very performant. Quickly my attention quickly turned to Java…

I downloaded the Android SDK, and began programming a few “Hello World” apps. I liked what I saw, Java was quite similar to AS3, and I didn’t have much trouble getting up and running. At some point in mid-2010, I became convinced that I would get rich building “Live Wallpapers” for Android. I would build a suite of cool interactive wall papers, sell them for $1 each, and then sell the whole pack for like $3! Brilliant right!?

I present to you my very first (and last) app in the suite: Flakey (notice the one review ;D )

Well…. that bombed. I would show you sales numbers for Flakey, except that there never were any…  apparently Android Market has a bit of a discoverability problem (who knew!?), the apps downloaded the most are stuck at the top, the new ones stand very little chance.

But the bigger issue was that Flakey was not really very interesting or innovative in any way.

I put on hold plans for “Rainy”, “Shiny” and …”Fally”!? And soldiered on…


Probably my first true love… SkyTunes. In late 2010, I found a blog post which showed how to  create an AIR-based HTTP server for your PC. I could use this AIR Server to stream music to a AIR Client on my Phone! SkyTunes was born. Around this time AIR 3.0 was also released, which showed massive performance and reliability increases so that put AIR back on the table for development.

The idea for the app was pretty simple, install the Server on your desktop and point it at your music collection. Download the Client to your phone and now you could stream your music/playlist’s from your computer. Cool right!? It even parsed ID3 data from the MP3, and scraped Amazon for Album Art.

I poured everything I had into SkyTunes and it actually launched to some initial success! In the first few days I had over 10,000 downloads! This was miles beyond anything I’d seen before and I began to get excited… downloads quickly faded though, and the sales never came. Ultimately it failed.

Looking back, I’d pin this on a few reasons:

  • I chose to sell the server, not the client. Forcing people to pay through Adobe InMarket rather than the Android Market on their Phone. This was a horrible mistake. Always always go for the fastest purchase route you can.
  • It was not simple enough for novice user’s. To use it outside of your home required port forwarding on your router, many people could not configure this.
  • Competition. Strong competition from heavy hitters like Google Music and VC funded apps doing similar things left me seemingly out gunned (in retrospect, I think I may have given them too much credit here)

Eventually I folded down SkyTunes for Android. I decided that the competition was just too harsh in the Music category, I knew I needed something else… just wasn’t sure what.

At this point I was pretty depressed about the whole thing, and I was drifting.  I had poured at least 250hours into SkyTunes, and it was a big mental let down when I had to admit it wasn’t going to work. To top it off, my wife and I just found out we were pregnant! Exciting, but scary… this meant we needed a new home, new mortgage and less income, the pressure was now officially on.

Luckily we qualified 12 months worth of paid maternity leave from the Government, at 60% of my Wife’s salary, but after ran that we were going to be in serious trouble. I needed to figure out how to make about $1600 a month, every month. And that’s just break even.

 Enter the Playbook

It’s now January, early 2011, and due to some opportunities at work (again) I’d gotten some early access to some pre-launch Playbook devices. Immediately, the wheels start turning, and my first thought is to port SkyTunes. I could revive my baby, and bring it to a much smaller pond with almost no competition, also because the Playbook was a WiFi only device, setup would not require port forwarding. In just about every way it seemed more well suited as a Tablet Application.

I set about porting SkyTunes, but this time I did it right. Gone was the dependence on Adobe InMarket, instead the server was a free download from my website, and the client was sold through the Blackberry AppWorld. I also added an auto-connect features using UDP which would make it even easier for user’s to connect server to client.

In April 2011 the Playbook launched. Unfortunately, the reception was lukewarm and sales of the device were sluggish. Sales forecasts of 6 million quickly turned to 1.

Here’s a look at the weekly income of SkyTunes when the Playbook first launched. The large Spike you see is when SkyTunes was featured on AppWorld.

Although no big sales numbers came, SkyTunes was a moderate success, making $25 – $50 a week, and up to $200 or so when it was featured. It felt really good to actually make some real money from one of my apps! Even if it wasn’t much, it was a start… and to this day I still get emails from people telling me how amazing SkyTunes is and how much they love it. That shit keeps you going man.

TouchUp Pro

Right around the launch of the Playbook in late April, I flew to Ontario for my Grandmother’s Funeral. Unable to sleep the night before, I remember sitting in my dad’s living room, checking my SkyTunes Sales figures at 2 in the morning. I could see sales were not enough to support the new family, and I was out of ideas. It suddenly struck me from nowhere, the Playbook had no Photo Editor. Once again I had a direction! (Looking back this seems eerily like divine intervention, thanks Grandma!)

As soon as I returned home from Ontario, work began on TouchUp Pro. This was a welcome repreive from SkyTunes, rather than a massive application with huge investment up front, TouchUp was going to be a small simple editor, that would evolve with time.

My only real roadbload was UI… Flex for Mobile was a horrible bloated mess of crap, and there was no native component set for Flash. I didn’t mind building the components, that doesn’t take too long, but what to do for design?

I’m no designer, and had no funds to pay someone, so I had to figure out what my app would look like. I decided to be prudent, and imitate something. Ideally something universal that would look good on any OS, but easy to implement. Windows Phone 7 stood out at the time as an attractive component set, so I used that as my inspiration:

These simple, minimalist designs would become a hallmark for all of my future apps. Not only are they beautiful and portable across devices, they are easy to build!

In terms of development, it was fairly easy. Flash has a huge existing library of image manipulation code, and due to the simplistic nature of the UI, the components did not take long. The entire project was done in around 100 hours of dev time.

On May 9, 2011 Touch Up Pro launched. We were off!

Now we were talking! Immediately TouchUp began making a few hundred dollars a week, which was pretty close to what we needed to break even. Things were beginning to look up…

The next couple of months I built up TouchUp, adding feature after feature as the user’s requested it. I pushed probably 20-30 updates over that time, reacting to user feedback and refining things. Eventually my tiny little editor became pretty full featured… I will always look back fondly on the Playbook community during that time, always supportive and helpful with suggestions, they truly were a great userbase for an up and coming developer.

iOS(aka The Golden Goose)

I had resisted the idea of an iOS port for a long time. Surely the market was saturated by now? Everyone said so… and how could I possibly compete with the amazing high quality apps in the store? Could I? I felt out-manned and out-gunned, but what the hell, TouchUp had turned into a pretty high quality app, so lets give this a shot I thought.

It took me about 6 hours to port TouchUp to iOS. Done deal. It turned out to be the most lucrative 6 hours I’ve spent in my entire life…

Weekly revenue for TouchUp Pro on IOS:

My pants were shitted when I saw these numbers. I could not believe this was real! Immediately, out of the gates, TouchUp Pro began pulling upwards of $1000-2000 a week. I was lucky enough to be featured under “New and Upcoming” for a week, and then moved right into “What’s Hot”. That seemed to be enough to give me a tail that lasted for months.

Never again would I neglect iOS, this market was truly the golden goose.

I quickly followed up with an Android Port, not nearly as impressive, but it was still very solid revenues.

Again, Android’s discoverability problem rears it’s head. Despite deserving a spot in the top 20 or 30, TouchUp languished very low in the results for a very long time.

A diversion…

Following work on TouchUp I took a few months or two of much needed rest, and upon returning decided I wanted to make a game.

My Wife and I hatched an idea, I hired an artist, and invested about $5000 for budget. The result was SnowBomber!

SnowBomber was released simultaneously on iOS, Android, Playbook, Amazon Fire and Nook Color.

It flopped :(

Well except on the Playbook. On the Playbook it has over 2000 reviews and averages 4 stars, I’ve received countless emails about how fun and addictive the game is. But on both Android and iOS, it went completely without notice.

Here you can see the weekly income of SnowBomber across all market’s:

I had reached out to hundreds of media contacts, published press releases, generated a blog following, nothig had helped I simply could not gain any traction on the bigger markets. It sucked, but it was a healthy reality check. Making games is no joke!

In App Purchases

Burned from games, I returned to App development, and in late 2011 I found an extension for AIR which would allow my to add InApp Purchases to TouchUp.

The result was fantastic, here’s a look at Weekly Revenues on iOS after implementing InApp’s:

You can see that revenues were basically doubled! Another lucrative few days of development :D


At this point I was exhausted, it had been a really long year. But I decided to make one more push, one more app, a magnum opus that would be the culmination of everything I had learned… TouchUp had been a great success, but it didn’t make sense to keep pouring energy into free udpates, plus I felt limited by the UI in TouchUp, it didn’t allow me to add everything I wanted, it wasn’t scalable enough…

I decided I would make another Photo Editor, but it would be bigger, better and more full featured, it would take a run at the top Editors on the platforms, it would be called “PicShop”.

For the UI, this time I decided to choose Android 4.0 as my inspiration:

PicShop ( launched across all Platforms in March 2012, and immediately began exceeding TouchUp Pro in sales.

Today PicShop is a Top 10 application on iPad, and top 50 on iPhone. It has over 1.75million downloads, and has an average rating of 5 stars! It sits up there next to industry titans like PhotoShop, Snapseed and iPhoto! Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Adobe AIR can’t make beautiful applications!

Building Momentum

Soon after launching PicShop, I noticed that while the IAP’s were performing well, the paid version’s sales were faltering.

Confident that PicShop was a AAA app that just needed exposure, I participated in a FAAD program to the tune of $3000 USD. This was a bit of a gamble, as FAAD is mainly known for games, there are not many apps that have ever been featured on the site. But I had confidence in it so I gave it a shot.

The result was a massive increase in sales and rankings for PicShop HD. It garnered nearly 300,000 downloads in 2 days, and upwards of 700 user’s reviews. (For in depth analysis of my FAAD experience, you can see my previous post.)

An interesting side effect of doing FAAD, has been that I’ve been contacted by other “Free App a Day” programs such as Amazon, AndroidPit, AppGratis and AppTurbo. These programs give your app great legs and continually boost it’s sales, a great strategy if you can make it happen!

Today’s Numbers

As promised, here’s a snapshot of the current revenue numbers across all apps, across all markets. I don’t know how long this will last but it’s already changed the lives of my baby girls and entire family. I hope that this post inspires someone out there to go for it, to grab your future with both hands and don’t let go.

And total weekly revenues from Day 1:

And before someone asks, these are take-home revenues, after the markets have taken their 30% cuts.


In Conclusion

Through this I learned some really valuable lessons, hopefully I will follow up on these in standalone posts, but here they are in bullet form:

  • Quality is everything. Keep your bar high and never lower it.
  • If you want to make money, make utility apps. You do not need a new idea, just a well executed one.
  • Never be scared of the big guys. There’s always room for more.
  • The app that made me all my money was the one that took the least amount of work. Simplicity wins. 
  • You do not need to match them feature for feature but do what you do perfectly.
  • Be unique,  if you’re both different and of high quality, you’ll sell. User’s crave choice, give it to them.
  • Choose a UI that is modern and fresh to increase portability. Users don’t care if the UI looks native, as long as it looks sexy.
  • It was a long journey (seemed long anyways) with many missteps, keep trying and never quit!
Also, I would like to extend a huge thanks to the Adobe AIR Team. Without AIR, I would not have been able to do what I’ve done, it simply wouldn’t have been impossible in any other tech stack. Keep up the great work guys!


What’s Next?

The truth is, I don’t like Photography! Never have, probably never will. I mean, I love a beautiful photo as much as anyone, I just suck at taking them! I fell into the arena of Photo Editors, but it’s always been games that holds my passion. From now on I will hopefully be able to focus on just making really awesome games, I’ve hooked up with uber-talented artist Mike Gaboury, and I foresee us making many kick-ass things together!

As for my apps, I await anxiously for an opportunity to port them all to Windows Metro, and to the new BB10. I’m really hopeful that these two new markets will provide even more revenues, but beyond porting my existing applications to new platforms, I will probably focus solely on games going forward.

It’ll be cut throat, but fun! If you made it this far, thanks for reading, happing devving :D

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48 Comments to “Journey of an AIR Developer”

  1. Wilson Silva says:

    This is truly inspiring! I’m going to invest in the mobile app market too.

  2. Sean says:

    Very good work, Adobe AIR is amazing and I hope Adobe keep pushing it hard as it is an incredible cross OS solution….

  3. Frédéric says:

    Thank you for this great write up! And congratulations for a job well done! :)

  4. Leng says:

    Truly inspiring! Thanks, it gave me more confident developing apps in air.

  5. Mark Johnson says:

    Congrats, and thanks for the article. I encourage you to get a better app icon for touch up pro.

  6. A big big thank you Shawn. I’ve been a flex dev for 4 years and the recents events at Adobe (html5, flex donated etc..) were kind of scaring me about the future of Flex and even Adobe Air but your story and those incredible numbers shows there is nothing to be affraid of if the work is well done!
    Congrats for your apps and for your baby!

  7. Fernando says:

    That’s a great post! It was really inspiring and shows very clearly how one should pursue a dream.

    Congratulations for all your achievements! Also thank your for sharing all that and allowing us to see all your financial stats. That’s really helpful.

  8. Mark says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s always great to read about devs making a success fom their efforts.

  9. Georges says:

    Adobe AIR has been awesome for our development company. Not only does it give our workshop an advantage for cross compile development, but clients love the fact that once they want to develop for different mobiles, the speed and cost benefits over other languages & frameworks.

    Not mention Games. We are playing around with Starling for Mobiles, and looks promising.

    We tried to move to different languages & frameworks but we went straight back for Flash Builder & AIR.

    Another example that developers need to be aware about :)

  10. chall3ng3r says:

    Great inspiration!!!

    Thank you for sharing. Now I’m super excited to get something done with my Flash and AIR skills real soon :)

    // chall3ng3r //

  11. Your Wife says:

    You must have an amazing, supportive, super awesome wife…. ;)

  12. Rushme says:

    really inspiring! started my journey with Adobe Air.

  13. Savvas says:

    Great post man. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Oliver says:

    Really mind opening, thank you for sharing this with the rest of the world

  15. baneDealer says:

    Your journey is so impressive. May I ask you a question? I also made some apps through AIR and put them on my android phone, but when I open them without AIR installed, it will show a popup that “This application requires Adobe AIR. Install Adobe AIR now”. I also downloaded you Touchup, but it didn’t show that popup even I don’t have AIR on my machine. So how did you do for that?

    • shawn says:

      This is a feature called “Captive Runtime” you can check it off when publishing your app. It will increase your file size by about 8mb, but user’s don’t really seem to mind.

  16. A wonderfully inspiring story.

    I had a similar dream, but didn’t have the balls to follow it. I’ve got 4 kids, so I have to bring home a reasonable amount of bacon each month.
    Thanks for sharing your journey. I’ll make sure my wife reads it. Who knows, maybe when the next hole appears in my freelance calender, I’ll take the plunge, and blame you!

  17. er453r says:

    Wow! Inspiring! What do you use for these wonderful revenue graphs? :)

    • shawn says:

      Thanks! I use Distimo Monitor, it’s totally free and the support team is amazing. It aggregates all major app markets, definately check it out:

      • er453r says:

        Maybe you can say a few words about things that concern me in app development…

        1. Ad placement. Have you experimented with this and can share some insights?
        2. Payment methods. Have you tried selling 2 app versions free/pro? Free with in app purchases? Payed without in app purchases? Have experimented with all these approaches?

        Best regards! You are my inspiration :D

        • shawn says:


          1. Waste of time. Both purchasing and displaying ads, I’ve never had a worthwhile experience with either.

          2. Both! This is a huge revelation I had, you should always sell both a Paid version, and a free version with InApp Purchase support, it boosted my revenues big time.

          • nick says:

            Hey shawn,
            Have you experimented with, or do you think it’s best to release the Paid version and Free with IAP at the same time or not?

            I was thinking by waiting for the paid app to drop from the new apps category (free exposure) then releasing the Free version with IAP. (more free exposure via new apps category) Perhaps this will increase the total number of people who see the app transitioning threw the new apps area…or maybe its a wash i don’t know

          • shawn says:

            Yep those are my exact thoughts as well, and is what I did with PicShop. It seems like it would be a waste to have both apps featured at the same time, so I’d probably go Paid first, then 2 weeks later bring out the Free with IAP, 2 weeks after that, do FAAD on your Paid version. That would be a decent little launch strategy…

  18. Jalil Asghar says:

    Just awesome! Well done and thank you for the post and giving us some very helpful tips!

  19. Digipom says:

    Hi Shawn,

    I recently read your story, and I found it super inspiring! I sent you over an email but not sure it went through. Let me know!



  20. alex says:

    ok. no lie. you have the most useful air mobile site around and this just confirms it. when i started putting ios games together in flash, your site was the only one that was consistently and insightfully helpful (adobe’s help is a joke). when my flash friends got into the game, i told them to ignore adobe’s help and sent them here.

    thank you soooooo much for posting your findings along the way. it has been crazy helpful. i would have never worked out cacheasbitmapmatrix properly without your help. and this article was especially helpful as well.

    put some ads on this blog! i’m going to be sending people here and you deserve to get paid for this.

    • shawn says:

      If I can help fellow Flash/AIR dev’s keep working and puttin food on the table, that’s enough for me :) You’ll never see an AD on this site.

  21. adrian says:

    Have you tried using multiple languages ? I read about it and seems to improve your sales.
    If you had, what was your approach using AIR ?
    I am not sure if you need to write your own ANE library to make it work…

  22. adrian says:

    Have you used any other forms of marketing than FAAD ?

  23. Kaustav says:

    Your journey was so inspiring that I started learning AIR . I am a flash developer but never tried AIR.

    Developed an app with an investment of 75hours of programming. Uploaded it to google play expecting some miracles to happen. But I am very disappointed as no one is downloading it. It is lost in the crowd of apps.

    Thinking about advertising it. But its a free app. It wont help me much I think.

    • shawn says:

      Keep trying! It wasn’t until my 4th or 5th app that I finally struck something that worked.

      Just make sure to target mass market categories not niche, and keep the quality up. Also, you’re wasting your biggest advantage by not porting it to iOS, Playbook and Amazon. The beauty of AIR is the cross platform deployment, so you can pull in many small revenues streams that combine into large.

  24. nicholas says:


    Can yu write down please a list of what IDE, tools, etc, yu are using for development?
    That should be the “bible” for the rest of us, as developers:)

  25. patrik says:

    Thanks for sharing!!! Really inspiring!
    I wish you and your family all the best in the future.

  26. omri says:

    very inspiring….
    i have question and suggestion…

    what physics + rendering engine you recommend ? i saw you use NAPE + starling ? for 2D game…

    I don’t know yet. i saw many blogs that post about there is a lot of money in advertising
    (question how you do the ads)…some making 1000$-7000$ per month. so its possible i think to make money there. their app purchases are few dollars. people less and less buy, they want more free apps.
    what you think?

    about your snow game, i think once you have one success and you HAVE!. you can leverage it to other successes…like your game. if i were you, i would update my succesful app with some page when app opens (or something else)…kind of
    “Check out my other apps…”
    put some pictures, small animation maybe, links. do great marketing to your unsussecful app. i’m sure there will be some effect or even a big change to your snow game.

    about Flash fast rendering…since i developed drawing app in flash. i experienced many problems.
    i the beginning i went with the Blitting was really bad performance. drawing was lagging after the finger, not “live” drawing. i didn’t do your suggestions…CPU MODE, with copypixels style. i discovered your blog only now.
    later i discovered BITMAPS are really bad influence generally on the app comparing with vector pictures.
    meaning, once i put a bitmap/png (and bitmap style data)…the app became considerably slow. big bitmaps..WOW..really bad (drawing app…). then, if you do trace bitmap – convert it into vectors (not complicated vectors), speed increase dramatically. putting animations of png comparing with animation of vectors..its insane speed difference.
    another thing, strange, is Flash buttons..the option of button. the moment you put a “Button” (not sprite or movieclip) it also affected the whole app. i removed the button and create movieclip with event for mouse down/up…it had big difference.

    i was wondering if you know about some physics engine that can work with vectors? no bitmaps ?

  27. Justin Buser says:

    I’m curious how you were able to create a Live Wallpaper built in Air, any chance you could reply or email me how you went about getting that to work? (Very advanced user, basic direction would suffice)

  28. nykk says:

    Great story with happyending. Well our story in short:
    - We have bought Unity3D with iOS output module [invested ~4000$]
    - We’ve spent over 3 months developing good looking and playable game for iOS [programmer costed minimum 800 eur per month + designer the same]
    - We have several cool looking video trailers on Youtube [some of them have 300.000 views, and one viral video has currently 450.000 viewers]
    - We had excellent reviews, on last review we had 16.000 Youtube viewers with 30 likes and 4-5 dislikes
    - Currently game is still $0.99 and has no iAds / inapp purchase with one free version [without iAds] and 1/3 of free levels.
    - And one year after… we are earning only 20-30$ per month!? :(

    What do you think – will releasing it for free and adding iAds + inAppPurchase make situation better?

    • shawn says:

      Ya games are tough, really tough. Best advice now for you is to diversify, get it on WIndows 8, BB10, Kindle Fire, go where the pond is smaller.

  29. Bayo says:

    I’m making my first foray into iOS using AIR and my question is, how easy is it to integrate payment such that users pay to download your app? I’ve heard that Android and iOS do not have native support for integrating payments into AIR apps. With the BlackBerry Playbook, I know it’s a lot straight forward since a PayPal account’s what is required.

  30. Phil says:

    Nice article. You said that “The app that made me all my money was the one that took the least amount of work. Simplicity wins. ”

    But reading your article it would seem it wasn’t so much that the app that made the most money was simple (although I agree in terms of simple UI) it was more that the port to iOS was simple/quick that resulted in making high revenues. So that to me is more about the choice of platform than anything else.

    I had the same experience with one of my web games years back. I created a nice, addictive, playable game which has always done well for me since then, but the main reason it did really well was because of where it was, it was the combination of the product and location that made the money not so much one or the other.

    • shawn says:

      Ya it’s a bit of a mix of things for sure, but what I meant from that was, my previous App attemps were overly complex, SkyTunes and the Mobile Media Centre I was working on both took loads of up front work, and made almost no money. They first product I had that made money was version 1.0 or PhotoTouchup, and believe me it was extremely simple in it’s first incarnation.

      Eventually, over 20+ upgrades, it become not so simple. But the lesson I learnt was to not always throw in the Kitchen Sink from the get go, but instead get something out there and evolve it.

  31. Parag Shah says:

    It feels so good when someone shares such experiences, which includes all shades and gives immense learnings to balance during failures and success! I, too, strongly believe (sometimes at an insane level) that Adobe AIR is THE only platform at this moment offering such a wide range of platforms with so much less effort.. It is improving and growing rapidly. It is here to stay for ages :)

  32. JG says:

    Why can’t i see the graphics before of the week 25? I don’t understand the graphics in the parts of the weeks.

    Do you use anything of advertising in the game?. I launched a game in Appworld, Any advice about it?

    That is the game The Last Runner :

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