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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
You can see that revenues were basically doubled! Another lucrative few days of development
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 (http://www.picshop.ca) 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!
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!
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.
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!
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