Tag Archives: development

Yummy: Ready for Sale

Ready for Sale

I nearly posted a rude one-liner on Twitter about it. I was sat here in front of my laptop, browsing iTunes and slightly miffed that I’d submitted my iPhone application a week ago and that there had been no sign of movement since then.

Then I received an email from Apple with the good news. So yes, as I type this I don’t see it, but apparently Yummy is now “ready for sale” and will be making its way to the App Store very shortly. (I assume it’s a gradual process and that some people may be able to see it now.)

How exciting is that?!

Update: Yummy is now on the AppStore (opens in iTunes).

Competitive Threat

As many readers know by now I am in the late stages of developing and releasing an iPhone application. This is the first time I’ve ever really been involved in the launch of a consumer product and while there’s nothing here that is likely to surprise any marketing guru’s, I’m finding it an interesting process.

I talked about pricing previously, but today I want to talk about the competition.

I downloaded the SDK1 shortly after the original announcement. The first version was fairly primitive, with little to no support for the drag-and-drop style of development used for parts of Mac OS X programs. I played around a bit, compiled a few demo applications but didn’t really get very far. Too hard, I though.

The beta’s came and I started having ideas for programs that I might want. Initially I thought they were too easy for a professional developer and certainly something that other people would be working on.

Turns out that I was wrong. Not only were most of the applications available on launch day very simple — tip calculators, currency converters — but no-one had thought to implement my idea.

Partly as an “itch to scratch” and partly because I had no competition, I set to work. This time rather than doodling around I had a goal. Well, a vague goal. My first attempts were too ambitious for my limited experience of the SDK and didn’t go very far.

I really gained some traction when I switched to my current scheme. All was going well until a couple of weeks ago when I saw a headline announcing my first competitor.

My first reaction was panic.

My second reaction was also panic.

It was a big deal. I’d got used to having no competition, to dictating myself exactly what features it needed to have and to thinking entirely in abstract terms about pricing. Reality intruding was hard.

I eventually calmed down enough to download a copy. Fortunately reality wasn’t nearly as bad as the simple idea of a competitor. Although unfinished, my application was already more sophisticated. It worked in a slightly different way but mine had more features, more closely conformed to Apple’s user interface guidelines and provided better feedback to users.

It did mean that I had to refine my thinking about pricing. But most importantly I had to start considering when to release it. Should I trim a few features so I could release it early? Or keep going, be a bit later but have something unique? In the end I just decided to keep going. Another “me too” product wouldn’t have managed to overcome their first-mover advantage, but extra features might.

If there’s a lesson here it’s that making the best product you can is a better use of your time than examining the competition. Happy users is the key to success and improving your software is the best way to achieve that.

  1. Software Development Kit, the program you use to write other software. []

Yummy: Prepare for Launch

Yummy in iTunes Connect

Today is a big day for me. A few minutes ago I uploaded my iPhone application up to Apple’s servers, the first step in making it available to users in iTunes and its App Store.

You possibly have two questions. First: what does it do? Secondly: when will it be available?

I know, I have been deliberately vague when talking about it online. This is partly because I didn’t want my thunder stealing by pre-announcing, but mainly because it’s only been in the last week or so that I’ve been sure that I was going to publish.

You’ll note that I’ve still not described what it does. All I’ll say is take a look at the icon1 and think of the name. And, more importantly, keep an eye on Yummy’s website. I’ll be publishing a series of blogs to tell you what it does and some of the decisions I took to make it.

The second question — when — is pretty much out of my hands. Apple will now, as the screen-shot above tells you, review it and, unless I’ve made any mistakes in the rather complex process, make it available for download. The length of queue is not public so it could be tomorrow or the end of September or, more likely, somewhere in between. Fingers crossed that it’s soon!

It’s taken a lot of effort to get to this point and I’m keen to get it in the hands of users. Many thanks to B for putting up with me during this process and for making the great Yummy icon; my gratitude to A for trying to get beta versions installed (damn that 0xE800001 error); and to everyone else who has offered advice and feedback.

  1. Not sure what wrong with the colours. It looks great on the phone itself which, presumably, is not colour managed. []

What Price?

This originally started as a question on Apple’s support boards:

With the current AppStore model (which seems to be a money machine for developers) I do not understand why anyone would give away their applications. At least charge $0.99 and get something back for your hard work.

So, why do you give away your apps?

With the caveat that I have not actually submitted anything yet…

My motivation in writing an application was entirely for the pleasure of doing it. If I never do anything with it once it’s “finished” my goals have been achieved. So my only objective in pushing it to the AppStore is for other people to get some benefit from using it too. There is little incremental cost in doing so and zero cost means that it gets the widest possible distribution.

There are also disadvantages to charging for it. Firstly, by paying something for software users expect more. They want support and bug fixes and enhancements. Maybe they want those same things with free software but there’s less obligation. Also as a non-US citizen there are complications in getting paid the full amount due.

That’s not to say that I won’t charge for it. At the very least I would like to be able to cover my costs. By which I mean the iPhone Developer Program fee, the $99 they charge you for the privilege of deploying your own software on your own phone.

But there are complications in pricing any iPhone program.

The first obstacle is that pricing has not stabilised yet. Disregarding the loss-leaders such as the NYT reader and the Facebook program, there is still a wide variation in cost. Consider something as trivial as a tip calculator. I only had a quick look, but I found half a dozen and they ranged from free to £1.19 with most at the 59p level. I found significant variations in costs for pretty much every category I looked in.

Now the app that I’m writing is a good deal more sophisticated than a tip calculator. My initial assumption was that people would be loathe to pay for it but if others can sell a tip calculator — something you can do using the built-in calculator program — for £1.19 and still garner good reviews then surely I am undercutting myself?

But it’s also easy to price too high. As Daniel Jalkut said, “We hope to hit ‘pretty much on target’ from the start, to avoid embarrassment and second-guessing. If you price too low, you?ll have a hard time imposing a major increase.”

Another popular option is to have a paid-for version and a more limited, free version. The problem I have with that is you have to decide which features would be worth paying for without making the free version so limited that people just bin straight away. I’m not sure that there is an obvious dividing line with my application. Plus I like the simplicity of having a single version. I think it makes the “message” easier to explain — think the single version Mac OS X versus the half-dozen versions of Windows Vista — and, as an added bonus, is much easier for me to administer. I don’t have an economics background, but Joel Spolsky tells me that this is called segmentation.

There also seem to be a few cases where people are offering advert supported free versions. This is not a solution that I am entertaining. As a user I object to precious screen real-estate being taken up by an advert. As a developer I object to the extra work, uncertain income stream and the likelihood of introducing new bugs in a non-critical area of code.

In summary: the more I think about this, the more I get confused.

Just for Fun

I’ve not done much programming in the last few years. When I first started working my job was mainly to “cut code” but I’ve done less and less as time has gone by. I now tend to concentrate on high level modelling and writing small utility scripts. I have not been doing much at home either, just minor tweaks to pre-existing software to “scratch an itch” or programs to automate tedious tasks.

For something that I claim to enjoy, why have I been doing so little of it? In short, it’s hard. Writing something useful that does not already exist is an increasingly challenging task. Even if the act is fun, what’s the point of making an inferior version of a pre-existing product?1

It hasn’t always been like that.

In the olden days it was possible for one person to write a whole, useful application alone. Steve Wozniak wrote the original Apple Basic before they licenced Microsoft’s version. Matthew Smith single-handedly wrote the classic game Jet Set Willy. Even I managed to write a database application for my GCSE in Computer Studies and a graphical adventure game on my Sinclair Spectrum that at least one friend was quite impressed with.

But by the end of the eighties, software was getting more sophisticated and typically required a team. Programmers, designers and “architects” were required to make commercial quality programs. The lone, enthusiast programmer was effectively squeezed out of the market.

Fast-forward ten years and a new generation of developers were given their opportunity. Early web applications could be quickly slung together using a few lines of Perl, a rudimentary understanding of HTML and a commodity PC running Linux. I guess if I’d attended Stanford I would have been a dotcom millionaire by now2 but here in the UK I missed the boat. Just like programs on home computers had done before, useful applications quickly got far too complex for one person to build alone.

And now here we are in 2008. A few months ago Apple released the SDK for the iPhone and the possibilities are there again. If you go to the App Store you’ll see that many of the available programs play Sudoku or are thin front-ends to web-apps like Twitter or Facebook. The more sophisticated games — such as Super Monkey Ball — have tended to be ports from other platforms and so while originally written by many people were ported by a much smaller number. Sure, many applications are tiny and frivolous or just plain poor, but the barrier to entry is much lower than it has been for quite some time.

Undoubtedly the complexity level will rise over time — probably fairly quickly — but until then programming is actually fun again. I am, indeed, writing an application for my iPhone and, who knows, I might actually have something to announce in a few weeks. Watch this space.

  1. I know that for many developers the challenge is enough. I’m awkward in that I also want to be useful. []
  2. I do have a t-shirt that says, “I got £80 million for my dot com idea but now all I have left is this lousy t-shirt.” []

My del.icio.us bookmarks for July 15th through July 16th

  • Ars Book Review: "Patent Failure" – Interesting book review about the effect of patents on an industry. Apparently cost more money than they make in anything but chemical and pharmaceuticals.
  • Lucky to be a Programmer – I don't program as much as I used to but this explains why I love to when I get the chance.
  • WordPress 2.6 – Usual drill. I've upgraded to the latest version of WordPress, the underlying software of ZX81.org.uk. If you see anything wrong please let me know!
  • 20 Amazing Facts About  Voting in the USA – Still in any doubt that computerised voting machines are a bad idea for free and fair elections?