Jan 31

Ouriel Ohayon of AppsFire watches the App Store for trends like a hawk. Recently he noticed that a single indie developer had the #1, #2 and #6 top positions on Top Free iPhone Apps.

The #1 app is called Flappy Bird and is a not so subtle variation on Tiny Wings. Or as Georgia at iMore puts it: “the game which is what remains when you suck the fun and joy out of Tiny Wings”. Ouch. But since when does the App Store reward fantastic games that hard core games love? For proof, look no further than Candy Crush and the many successful IAP games.

How does an indie developer beat out Candy Crush and other publishers who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per day to maintain their top positions in the App Store?

Elaine Heney of Chocolate Lab Apps appears to be the only one who has managed to get an interview with the developer Dong Nguyen. In the interview Dong Nguyen claims that he did not “use any promotional methods”.

Carter Thomas has analyzed the historic rankings of Flappy Bird and the other two apps, and his conclusion is that something fishy is going on.

Paying for downloads is nothing new in the App Store economy. The top free to play games do this all the time. A crucial component to make such a campaign profitable is that your app is finely tuned to extract the most money from the players. The big guys have this down to a science. But even with all that in-house knowledge, a common strategy is to launch the app in a smaller market (e.g. Australia or Canada) to tweak and tune the IAPs before launching on a larger scale.

Flappy Bird has none of these characteristics. The only monetization is AdMob banners. This is hardly an optimized monetization strategy.

The darker side of paying for downloads is using bots to inflate your numbers. Since Flappy Bird is ranked high in 50 stores around the world at the same time, it would require an immense botnet to achieve this. The larger your efforts to cheat are, the larger your risk of being exposed becomes. It seems unlikely to me that an indie developer would get his hands on such a weapon.

Many people have pointed out that the reviews in the App Store for Flappy Bird look fake. But when did people suddenly start writing quality reviews in the App Store? Another explanation could be that there’s a meme on Twitter where people try to one-up each other with writing and finding wacky reviews for Flappy Bird.

I’m not going to pass any judgement because we don’t know all the facts.

In my mind the most suspicious part is how did the other two apps climb to the top of the App Store when there is no cross promotion of these apps in Flappy Bird. Do that many people really make an effort to go to the App Store and search for other apps by the same developer and download them?

If there was anything shady going on in the sudden rise to the top, then it’s a sad day. Yet another way to game the App Store. Or as some people would say: business as usual in the app economy. If there is one, I hope Apple finds and closes that loophole quickly.

If this is genuinely a viral super nova for Dong Nguyen, along the lines of Temple Run’s rise to fame a couple of years ago, then that makes me very happy. Congratulations to Dong Nguyen for hitting that perfect combination to make his apps go viral! This means that there is still hope for indie developers to hit it big time in the App Store without a mega budget.

written by Nick

Jan 17

In 2013 the App Store top charts where dominated by free apps with in-app purchases. This was especially true in the games category. Recently I’ve seen indie developers experimenting with freemium and paymium models in non-game apps. This is good.

Sunlit

Sunlit by Manton Reece is a traditional free with in-app purchases style app. The idea of the app is to collect your best photos into stories along with geo check-ins. (Seems like several similar services just launched around the same time. Must be an idea who’s time has come.)

The App Store listing shows that there is a $4.99 in-app purchase available for “unlimited stories”. Thankfully the app doesn’t beat you over the head with messages to pay. An upgrade message is shown when you try to create your third story. This is unobtrusive and elegant. There is also a small link to upgrade when you create a new story. This is great for fans who may not run into the limits of the free app, but still want to give you money. Well done.

Photos+

Justin Williams released his Photos+ app in December and he explained his business model in a blog post where he likened it to the auto industry. The idea is to sell a base model of the app. In the case of Photos+ it’s priced at $2.99. Then you can purhcase add-ons, i.e. new features, with in-app purchases. I think this is a really interesting model to get around the fact that you can’t charge for app upgrades.

In the current version of the Photos+ app there is supposedly one in-app purchase to add more sharing capabilities. But I can’t actually find it… Maybe it was something that didn’t make the 1.0 cut but was still mentioned in the help screens. Anyway, I still like the idea of this business model.

Side note: The app name “Photos+” is impossible to search for in the App Store. Totally unrelated apps like “Yahoo Weather” and “Match the Dots” are listed way before Photos+. It’s just another reminder of how really bad search is in the App Store. But given that this is the reality, don’t name your apps after a generic category, and avoid giving it a name that is similar to hundreds of other apps.

Summary

I’m bullish on the idea of freemium and paymium for non-game apps. The two apps above are just two examples that recently came to my attention. What interesting app business models have you come across recently?

written by Nick

Jan 10

This is a great idea. Start with the apps on your first home screen page. That should keep you busy for a few Fridays. Then go down your list of apps that you use every week. Also reward developers with a new or updated review when they update an app.

If you prefer to read other peoples’ reviews instead of writing your own, you can still help by clicking on the “Was his review helpful? Yes” link for the reviews that are truly helpful. (You can do this in the iTunes desktop app. Remember that one?) So few people seem do this up-voting, that just a few votes will have an impact.

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Jan 01

I have a small one-on-one coaching program for app entrepreneurs. I rarely publicize this program because I only have few slots available and most of the time the program is full, and has a waiting list.

In celebration of the new year, I’m making this program available to a few more applicants. This is the time to plan for your app business success in 2014, and I want to help you reach your goals.

Click here for more information on the coaching program and how to apply.

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Dec 27

If you’re tired of watching holiday themed movie reruns, you can now watch the iOS 7 Tech Talk Videos. These Tech Talks are like a very concentrated version of WWDC. Coming several months after WWDC Apple can assume that most developers by now have some experience developing for iOS 7, so they don’t have to start at the beginner level.

You should watch the “App Store Distribution and Marketing for Apps” video. It provides general advice on app marketing, from Apple’s perspective. (Keep in mind that when it comes to the App Store, Apple always has the best interest of Apple in mind. Which may not necessarily be in the best interest of indie developers and small app businesses.) The video also shows email addresses for the App Store marketing team. If you don’t already have a personal contact on the team, you should make a note of these addresses. When you release a new app that you think is worthy of being featured in the App Store, you should let them know. Of course they can only promote a very small number of apps, so the odds are not in your favor. But the odds are even worse if you don’t tell them about your app in the first place. Showing Apple that you have a marketing plan outside of the App Store helps to get their attention. In addition to the usual “only on iOS” and using the latest iOS technologies.

The marketing video also mentions the “App Store Code Program”. This was the first time I heard about this program. It’s a way to give away your paid app to a large number of people. It’s not designed for when you run out of promo codes and you need a dozen more. Instead think 100,000+ redemption codes. Think big!

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Dec 16

Per their annual tradition, Apple will shut down iTunes Connect over the Christmas holiday. This year the dates are December 21-27.

During this time period you cannot and should not

  • Login to iTunes Connect.
  • Update your app descriptions. Make sure you add any special holiday or sales messages ahead of time.
  • Change app prices. Furthermore, do not schedule any price changes to occur during this week as that will remove your app from sale until the 28th.
  • Don’t submit any last minute app changes. If you make a mistake the expedited review option will not be available to you, and you’ll sit on the sidelines during the lucrative holiday sales season.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to make meta data changes. iTunes Connect is a vary large system spanning many time zones. Don’t rely on it working with perfect timing for you.

What still works

  • The App Store ranking lists are still updated during this period.

How to get your daily sales reports during the shutdown

  1. Log into iadworkbench.apple.com to establish your session.
  2. Then go to reportingitc.apple.com to get your sales data.

Update: This year I saw several app updates published during this time. Not sure if this means that the app review team is working as normal during this time, or if these were just a few apps that were left in the review queue and they wanted to clear it out.

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Dec 13

App Store Ranking Algorithm Change

Today MobileDevHQ reported that they are seeing unusually large changes in app rankings in the App Store for keywords that they are tracking. Usually this indicates the rollout of a new or tweaked algorithm in the App Store.

This change is not affecting the way apps are ranked in the top lists, which are based primarily on the number of downloads for each app. The change is related to the order apps are shown when you search the App Store using keywords.

MobileDevHQ and many others are still researching and analyzing the effects of this change in order to reverse-engineer Apple’s intent behind this. It’s still early, but it looks like matches against the app title is given lower weight. This limits the effectiveness of keyword stuffing your app title. This should hopefully reduce the amount of clutter you have to endure when browsing the App Store; something that is probably in Apple’s interest.

More dramatic changes are related to generic keywords like “travel”, “banking” and “music”. MobileDevHQ lists a few examples of banking apps from big banks that have seen their ranking change by over 50%.

What should you do as an App Business owner?

Check the rankings of your own apps and of your close competitors. (I recommend that you subscribe to a tracking service like MobileDevHQ or SensorTower to get this data automatically.) Check both results for your app titles and main keywords. Have you gone up or down in the rankings? Start doing some keyword research to see what changes you can make to improve your rankings. Since we can only change an app’s keywords in conjunction with submitting a new binary, I wouldn’t do that just yet. Since this change is very new, there is yet very little data to go on. Also we only have another week to submit apps before the holiday shutdown of iTunes Connect. Don’t rush out a new build and risk messing something up before the all important holiday sales season.

The AppsFire App To Be Removed From The App Store

AppsFire is one of the most popular app discovery apps directed towards consumers, and in my opinion one of the better designed apps in this category. Today Ouriel Ohayon announced that the company is pulling the app from the App Store to focus on their new service for developers.

One one hand I don’t like the focus on temporary sales that apps like AppsFire have, but they do drive a lot of downloads. AppsFire claims to have 12 million unique users and have driven 2 billion downloads/recommendations from their app since 2009.

If any of you readers have used the new AppsFire SDK, I would love to hear about your experience.

written by Nick

Nov 25

Apple has discouraged developers from annotating their screenshots in the App Store beyond just a plain screenshot. However many developers have found that it’s helpful (and profitable) to tell a story with their screenshots, explaining the main benefits of the app. And I have yet to hear of any app rejections due to annotated screenshots.
 
With the introduction of the Apple Store for iPad app, Apple decided to go with annotated screenshots for on of their own apps for the first time. They did it in an interesting, and unusual way, by showing an image of an iPad running the app below a headline that explains the benefit or feature shown in each screenshot.
 
You could argue that the UI of an app should be so self explanatory that a quick look at a screenshot conveys all the information you need to know about the app. But I think it can be very beneficial to use annotated screenshots in the App Store, when they’re done in a tasteful way. However, I wouldn’t use Apple’s approach of displaying the outline of the iPhone or iPad device as this takes up way too much real estate in the screenshot. And it also opens up a big minefield that you have to navigate when you use images of Apple’s products in your marketing. See the first link above for more details.
 
 

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Nov 22

Clumsy Ninja is the featured app in the App Store this week. What’s noteworthy about this is that the App Store listing includes a video. Yes, a video inside the App Store!

It’s well known that most people don’t take the time to read your carefully crafted app description in the App Store. Since the screenshots are more prominently placed (no need to tap a tiny more link, for example) that is probably the primary way most customers make up their minds to download your app or not.

Having a video here would be awesome. With a video you can really tell a story and show off the great features of your app.

But it will also open up a whole new level of competition, as Marco points out.

Right now Clumsy Ninja is the only app on the App Store that has its own video. Hopefully Apple will roll out this feature to all apps in the future. To begin with I’m guessing that they will use videos just for the featured apps. This will allow them to gauge the popularity of videos and work out the initial kinks. (For example: Did you notice that the Clumsy Ninja video only plays in portrait mode on the iPhone, but it looks like the design of the video was deliberately made so that all the vital information actually fits in portrait mode when you tap on the full screen vide button?)

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Nov 20

Ever since the iPad was launched Apple has heavily encouraged developers to create Universal apps that have two separate UI:s in one binary, instead of having two separate apps in the App Store.

This week Apple finally launched their Apple Store for iPad app, and interestingly it’s not a universal app. It’s an entirely new app just for iPad. The old Apple Store app (for iPhone) is still available. Note that the iPad app requires iOS 7 while the older iPhone app still works on iOS 6. So maybe this release was just an artifact of separate development timelines and the two apps will merge in the future.

Since Apple has opened the topic for discussion, I think it’s worthwhile to consider the pros and cons of each approach:

Benefits of one universal app

  • Customers only have to purchase and keep track of one app.
  • Higher likelihood of being featured by Apple in the App Store. (Anecdotally)
  • All your app downloads are aggregated for the purposes of ranking in the App Store, instead of being split across two separate apps.

Benefits of two separate apps

  • You can make two sales to your customers who use your app on both types of devices.
  • You can price the two apps differently.
  • Reduced size of the app binary when you remove all the image assets for the other device type.
  • One release will not tie up the other. Say that you are working on an iOS 7 UI update and you complete it for the iPhone version first, then you don’t have to wait to also finish the iPad UI update before you can release the app.

written by Nick