What a Difference a Few Years Makes

I’ve neglected this blog for a while, but was just reading back though it and thought one series of blog posts was particularly interesting. Back in early 2009, I met a husband/wife iPhone developer team:

April 2009, Blog Post:

I spent a fair amount of time hanging out [at GDC 2009] with Imangi Studios husband and wife team Keith Shepard and Natalia Luckyanova. Keith had quit from his day job almost a year ago, while his wife has just given notice so they could pursue their iPhone game company full time.

I think it’s a great move, even in this economy. They clearly have a growing business and have the opportunity to do what they love. There is some inherent risk involved, but the lost opportunity of not pursing it is simply too great.

July 2009, Blog Post:

Well, it’s only 3 months later, and they have a top 10 iPhone app (and climbing) with Harbor Master [$0.99]. The game is currently sitting in the #6 spot of all paid iPhone apps. Now, I haven’t seen top 10 sales numbers lately, but I’ve heard the numbers have been increasing, so I’d guess they may be up to 10,000 (~$7000) downloads a day.

I forgot to do more followup on the Keith and Natalia story. So, here it is.

In August 2011, they released a game called Temple Run. It became a massive hit and by January, 2012, it was the #1 Grossing App in the App Store. Then, just last week they announced that Temple Run 2 had become the fastest downloaded mobile game ever in its first two weeks with over 50 million downloads.

These were the two people that I first spoke with at GDC 2009 where Natalia was still on the fence about quitting her day job to go full time on Imangi. I guess they made the right choice.

Posted in The Web

The Web: Filters on Top of Filters

In January, John Gruber linked out to a Jason Kottke interview who characterizes the web as filters all the way down:

It’s much easier to find interesting things to read and look at online than it used to be…the web is now largely filters on top of filters on top of filters.

The quote struck home for me, as I’m sure it did for Gruber as well.

Because a lot of what we do is to curate and filter the web. MacRumors happens to filter against Apple news and rumors. If that’s the topic you are interested and you like the content we filter, then MacRumors is a great fit for you.

That’s not everyone’s goal, of course. Traditional journalists probably don’t see themselves as curators of the news. In fact, the term “aggregator” is now used as a derogatory comment amongst news blogs. The suggestion is that there is no actual value to the act of aggregation, and that it’s just the piggybacking on other people’s hard work.

Of course, that’s not entirely true. Aggregation or selective curation has perhaps always been the biggest problem on the web. Google made huge strides in curating search results. Google didn’t own any of the content they were presenting, but the simple act of organizing it was enough to launch a multi billion dollar company. But nothing’s ever black and white, so there are obviously plenty of examples of abuse.

Still, I like this view of the web as being filters on top of filters.

Posted in The Web

Getting Rich, Following that Dream, Being Happy

I found a question/response thread on Hacker News to be quite interesting. The question was “how did your life change after FU money”. FU money being a term for enough money that you have complete freedom to not work.

Paul Graham’s response I felt particularly rang true, and is something to think about. Paul Graham earned his FU money from cofounding Viaweb which later sold to Yahoo.

One thing you learn when you get rich, though, is how few of your problems were caused by not being rich. When you can do whatever you want, you get a variant of the terror induced by the proverbial blank page. There are a lot of people who think the thing stopping them from writing that great novel they plan to write is the fact that their job takes up all their time. In fact what’s stopping 99% of them is that writing novels is hard. When the job goes away, they see how hard.

It sort of goes with the whole cliche that money can’t buy happiness, but it also provides some good insight for people who might see their job as an excuse not to do whatever they really want to do.

Now, it also reminded me of TED talk by Dan Gilbert on Happiness which I thought was particularly revealing. I’ve linked to the relevant moment here (14minutes, 22seconds in).

Gilbert describes a study which proves that “choice” is actually detrimental to happiness. And what provides more choice or freedom than a huge windfall (“FU money” so to speak).

Gilbert describes a study at a university. Students take a photography class and at the end have 2 framed photos of their favorite work. They are split into two groups. 1) Pick a photo, and you’re stuck with it 2) Pick a photo, but if you change your mind you can swap it out for the other one within 4 days.

Turns out the people who have a choice about their photo are less satisfied with their photo even after the 4 days is up. By simply having that choice, they are ultimately less “happy”. So, people tend to be happier when they have no choice presented to them.

I feel like this applies to those who find themselves with complete freedom in their lives. Choice means you have to actively make a decision, and generates questions of doubt about decisions you make. In many ways, not having the decision is a simpler, albeit naive existence.

Now you may ask me if I’m happy. While I didn’t have a huge windfall, I do earn enough that I don’t have to work at a real job. So, I am doing what I choose to do, not what I have to. As a matter of fact, I am very happy, but I did think about these very issues alot when I first earned my freedom. Issues that I’d never really thought of before.

Posted in Business | 4 Comments

Google Trying to Become Microsoft, HP Trying to Become Apple, and Apple, well, is still Apple

It’s been a busy week for Google with the announcement of a number of new initiatives. If there was any doubt about the growing animosity between the two companies, there is none now. Google spent a lot of its on-stage time during the conference making direct swipes at Apple, even going so far as comparing the company to Big Brother from 1984. Google’s new product announcements pits it directly against Apple in many key areas:

Apple TV Google TV
iTunes Wireless Android Music Syncing
iAds Google Ads / Admob
h.264 WebM/VP8
iPhone OS Android OS

Apple CEO Steve Jobs seemed to know this was coming and made his own jabs against Google at Apple’s town hall meeting in January.

On Google: We did not enter the search business, Jobs said. They entered the phone business. Make no mistake they want to kill the iPhone. We won’t let them, he says. Someone else asks something on a different topic, but there’s no getting Jobs off this rant. I want to go back to that other question first and say one more thing, he says. This don’t be evil mantra: “It’s bullshit.” Audience roars.

Google’s mantra is now “openness” in a refrain that might have been lifted from Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer.

“I agree that no single company can create all the hardware and software. Openness is central because it’s the foundation of choice.” – Steve Ballmer

Microsoft has always been about creating the platform and distributing it to as many customers as possible through their hardware partners. Microsoft, of course, made money through the sale of each software license. Google is eyeing the same basic plan but their plan revolves around monetizing ads on the platform. Beyond internet search, Google hopes to infiltrate mobile phones and television as well.

In all this conflict, the other PC manufacturers seem to be bystanders, perhaps hoping that a Google win will trickle down to their hardware sales. One company, however, seems to be thinking differently and trying to branch out on their own. Apple’s ownership of hardware and software has been one of their greatest strengths.

Of all the companies out there, HP actually stepped up and purchased Palm and their WebOS. And all indications seem to suggest that HP is reworking their product line to incorporate WebOS into their handhelds but also their tablets. Palm’s Jon Rubinstein told Slashgear that the Pre’s OS would be suitable for tablets “and beyond”:

With the iPad fresh to the market, and talk of a Google-branded rival running Android, we also asked about Rubinstein’s opinion on the burgeoning tablet segment. While Palm are focusing on smartphones right now, he did tell us that webOS was designed to be a “mobile device OS” rather than solely a smartphone platform, suited to a broad scale of devices up to tablets and even larger.

HP is even working on their branding. In one instance, they are following in Apple’s footsteps. HP has managed to switch Sex In the City from Apple to HP.

You see, Carrie Bradshaw, who has spent so many hours penning so much angst to so many troubled souls, has decided she can no longer do that on a Mac. The new “Sex and the City” movie, tantalizingly named “Sex and the City 2,” will see the newly married Mrs. Big stroking her fingers along the keys of something made by HP and powered–oh, yes–by Windows.

The move may seem silly, but Apple has been a staple on the television series throughout and just goes to show where HP is trying to position itself in the market.

Apple’s role, however, remains the same as always — as a staunch proponent of vertical integration and a tightly controlled user experience. Apple, however, lost the previous round when it was against Microsoft, but Apple has also never had such a strong lead before.

Posted in Mac Web | 5 Comments

MacRumors Turns 10 Years Old

So, MacRumors.com turned 10 years old yesterday. Brian Chen at Wired did a great write up on it.

10 years is a long time — especially on the internet. I’ll post some more thoughts on it all later.

Posted in MacRumors.com | 10 Comments

Free In-App Purchases Will Change…. Little?

Apple’s announcement that they are going to start letting free applications sell in-app content seemed to be a big one. Even game changing.

But, the more I think about it, the more I think there will be great hesitation for many developers (and I’m thinking mostly of game developers) to make the plunge.

Now, some apps clearly benefit from this. Comics for example is a comic book reader that sells more downloadable comics. It was $0.99 before today because they had to be. But now, they are free and will make their money on selling individual comics. Same with book readers, or other similar models. Even a game like Tap Tap Revenge 3 would benefit…. though sitting at the #1 spot at $0.99 makes me think they aren’t going to change their price anytime soon.

So are game developers suddenly going to release free games with add-on purchases? I don’t think so, and here’s why.

Lite versions aren’t always in your best interest.

I know customers want there to be a lite version of every game that exists… but, depending on the game itself, a lite version is not in the best interest of the developer. Lite versions can hurt the sales of a full version. This can be for a number of reasons, primarily that people simply didn’t like the game as much as they thought they would. For this sub-section of games, Lite’s hurt.

Now, if you release a Lite game and find it’s hurting sales. The easy solution? Pull the Lite game. But if your Lite is your Full version too, well, there’s not as much you can do about it, nor will you even likely know it’s a problem.

Lite Versions are a Good Second Push

Most games don’t come with a Lite version on Day #1. This isn’t an accident. Your game is going to get the most press on the day it launches, and you want people to buy it sight unseen.

So, instead, you wait until the game has lost momentum, and release a Lite version then — hoping for a second push up the charts.

Here’s the slow decline in ranking of Gameloft’s Modern Combat: Sandstorm game:

modern

When did they release a Lite version? Yep. 7 days ago. Exactly when their game fell off the top 100 paid apps (dark blue line).

No Promo Codes for in-app purchases

Apple offers free promo codes for people to download full versions of apps. This is the primary tool developers have to promote their games with review sites and forums. Without these, it’s going to be harder to convince people to try your game.

Now, I don’t personally care. At TouchArcade, we pretty much buy every game we consider, but for a small time developer, looking to get the word out, this will be a major handicap.

Charts Matter

The next thing is that the Top 100 lists matter. They drive a ton of sales. Are you better off competing for a spot on the top 100 Free apps or the top 100 paid apps? I’m not sure what the answer is, but top 100 free requires some insane volume of downloads. Most people have focused on the marketing to the Top 100 paid. I’m not sure what drives sales into the Top 100 free, and most developers probably don’t either.

This also makes it strange to release both Full and Lite + DLC versions, in that you are splitting your sales across two apps. Maybe it’s not going to be a big deal, but this is uncharted waters.

Now, Apple has gotten Ngmoco to take the plunge and offer Rolando 2 as a free + DLC game. And a game like Eliminate is a natural fit for this plan.

But, unless there are some real success stories from smaller devs, I’m not sure how much this will affect most developer’s short term plans.

Posted in Business | 21 Comments

App Icons are Itty Bitty Banner Ads

An old blog post I wrote last year about a decades old humor article on icon design is actually remarkably relevant to today’s App Store market.

Years ago, Apple published a developer magazine. I don’t even remember the name of it, but it covered various topics on programming on the Mac or Apple II, but it would also occasionally have humor articles. One in particular stuck with me.

The author said that when you are getting ready to start developing your application, the single most important thing to do is you need to develop a killer icon. The desktop icon could make or break your application and it really should be your first priority.

As humorous a suggestion as it was, I think what I found most amusing was that there was a slight bit of truth to it… or at least it didn’t come from that ridiculous a place in the mind of the developer.

As much as this was a big joke for Mac applications, I think it’s a pretty accurate view of the importance of App Store icons. I’ve often been asked my opinion why certain games seem to just take off in the App Store. Some seemingly simple games just seem to rocket to the top. What could it be?

While the type of game is certainly important, it seems pretty clear that a good icon and a good screenshot are the main impact you have on casual App Store shoppers.

The same question can be asked of what causes an app to skyrocket to the top 10 when featured by Apple? Apple is basically giving you an itty bitty banner ad in the most trafficked area of iTunes and your icon is what represents your app. It seems obvious this is going to make a difference in attracting potential customers.

These suspicions were corroborated by one small focus group study of iPhone usage published late last year. Comments by this small group of individuals indicated that icon design was pretty important in deciding what app to get:

icon

I think that many developers have already realized the importance of their icon but are they really looking at it as scientifically as they could?

I’d think that a really serious iPhone developer would spend time working on a variety of icon designs and try to figure out which has the highest click through rate when lumped on a page with other icons.

These sort of A/B testing trials are done all the time with regular banner ads. Click through rates can vary substantially between different banner designs. And the most clickable designs aren’t always immediately obvious. For example, color choices alone can make a big difference in banner ads click through rates. And when dealing with featured App Store positioning, I’d think that a small percentage increase in click through rates could make a substantial difference in sales.

I’m not sure where such an experiment could take place, but it does raise some interesting possibilities.

Posted in Apple, Business | 15 Comments