My latest app, an iPhone metronome called Click, has been out for two months now, so I thought this would be a good time to do a little postmortem reflection on the development process, the launch, and some thoughts for the future. I’ve discussed some of the development and design of the app before on my blog, but I haven’t yet done much discussion of how it all turned out. So, here goes…if you’re mostly just interested in the numbers, then skip to the end (although I’ll give you a hint: they’re not too large).
What Went Well
1. The Design
There are still some things I want to tweak, but overall I’m very pleased with how the general look and feel of the app came out. It was incredibly satisfying to go through the whole process of brainstorming ideas, testing them out, and then finally settling on a design and control scheme and actually seeing it come to life. It was definitely a learning process, and even though it was slow going, I can look back on my time spent with this project and know that it wasn’t wasted time. I was focused on creating a certain “look” for this specific app, but everything I learned about Core Graphics, UIKit, and Photoshop is instantly transferable and applicable to future projects. There were certainly times that I wanted to give up on the customization, throw in a few stock UIButtons and ScrollViews and just ship this stupid thing, but in the end I’m glad I stuck it out! Being able to turn your vision of what something could be into a real, working product is, for me, one of the greatest joys of software development.
2. The Features/Scope
I spent quite a lot of time and effort thinking through exactly which options and features I wanted to include in this app. The only real required feature of a metronome is that it produce sound at a regular interval (and yes, probably also with some type of visual feedback), and the only required option is to be able to set the tempo to the desired speed. This is all that a traditional hardware metronome does. But modern metronomes – of the software and the hardware variety – have so much more audio flexibility: time signatures, variable accent patterns, subdivide the beat in various rhythms, multiple sounds, storing setups for creating set lists or practice routines, programming longer sequences for specific songs, and on and on. There’s also many varieties of visual feedback available, especially in the realm of software metronomes. I made the decision that one of the key distinguishing features of Click would be the ability to select from multiple different visual styles. There are lots of apps that use the traditional pendulum style. I’ve seen ones that show a large number that counts out the beats. Then there’s a variety of others with various alternate presentation styles, like flashing or some other sweeping or rotating visualization. But, I had not yet seen an app that included multiple different visual styles in one. So, I included all the basic, necessary general settings: tempo, time signature, subdivisions. But then for audio customization I narrowed things down to only the most common, most important ones: accent on the downbeat, accented beats with quieter subdivisions, and different sound types. That way, I could focus effort on the most distinguishing features of the app – the visual style, including the various types of visual feedback as well as the ability to quickly slide the controls on and off the screen for very clean, clear full-screen visibility once the desired settings are in place. Other apps have more customization when it comes to accent patterns or programmability, but I still have yet to see one with the same amount of flexibility in visualization.
I also did much more beta testing on this app than I had previously, and it paid off big time. I made sure to get some great feedback from key people early on about the look, feel, and usability, and I used the wonderful Test Flight service to get beta versions out to testers around the world. That, I had done before, but I also made sure this time to get the app into the hands of as many people as possible while in the beta stage. No matter how hard you might try to see things objectively, it simply is not enough to test your app yourself. After you’ve spent days, weeks, or even months designing a certain feature or interaction, it is just not possible to approach it from an objective perspective. There were so many parts of this app that seemed completely obvious to me, but then when I handed it to someone else – without saying anything – and just watched them try to figure it out, the results were often painful! Why would you try to do it like that?! The button is right there is front of your face, flashing, labeled with the exact thing you’re trying to do, why are you tapping everywhere else!?! Fortunately, I was able to keep these thoughts to myself, and after calming down and coming to grips with the reality of the situation, was able to take these things and bring valuable modifications to the interactions of the app. This is an area where I know I’ve still got some tweaking to do, but if I hadn’t done any testing of this kind before shipping, it could have been a complete user experience disaster!
What Could Have Gone Better
With my very first app, I was flying by the seat of my pants the whole time, all the way through development to release, and I didn’t really even try much marketing. I was just glad to get an app out on the store, and I didn’t even have a website up until several months after the app launched. This time, I made a point to have a marketing plan, to get a website up and running before launch, and I even made a promotional video/trailer for the app and did a press release on prMac. I reached out to several different blogs and websites, sending information and requests for reviews. I transitioned my twitter account from my first app into a company account, so that I could let my current followers know about the new app. I even ran a promotion on that account and my personal twitter account, giving away copies of the new app once it came out. Even with all of this, there was not much buzz created for the app at all. I never heard back from any of the review sites, I had only a handful of people participate in the Twitter promotion, and the press release got some exposure but mostly from repeater sites that just republish every press release that comes out. On the one hand, I realize that sometimes that’s just the way things work out, especially when you’re one person trying to do the marketing and you have no budget for it. On the other hand, I know I could have started earlier, spent more time, and especially kept pursuing more review opportunities when the ones I tried didn’t pan out. All in all, I’d say it was a great learning experience that showed me I have a lot to improve on in this area.
This metronome app was supposed to be a short side project to learn some Core Audio. I was planning on incorporating a metronome into some other music app ideas I had, so I thought why not release it as a standalone app too. But, as I started to get into it, and especially as I got a clear vision for what I wanted it to be, it turned into a much larger project. I know that even experienced software developers struggle with time estimation, but I never imagined that a 2-3 month project could have turned into an 18 month one! Part of this was simple time management and the other demands of jobs and life. But, part of it was my own optimism and continually telling myself, “OK, now that was definitely the most complicated part, and it should be smooth sailing from here,” over and over again, even when I should have known it was actually going to take a lot more time and effort. Once again, I learned a LOT of valuable skills and techniques which will be helpful on future projects, but I also feel I could have spent my time more wisely. Because of putting so much time and effort into this new app, my existing app – which actually has been successful and continues to get purchases daily – went somewhat neglected, and I wish it hadn’t turned out that way.
3. Soliciting Reviews/Ratings
I decided to include a button inside the app that would link directly to the review page on the App Store. The button is buried pretty deep inside the help menu, which is inside the settings menu. So far, I’ve received 9 reviews from around the world. It’s hard to know whether they clicked on the button or not, but I’m guessing I need to make that feature a little more prominent if I want people to find it. On a positive note, however, all 9 of the reviews have given it 5 stars, so that’s a good sign at least!!
4. Monetization Strategy (?)
As I mentioned earlier, this app was originally sort of a “why not” project that would be a learning experience and get me some practical knowledge to use in other metronome apps. As such, I wasn’t too worried about the fact that the iPhone app market is pretty well saturated, or that there were one or two metronomes that always appeared toward the top of the music app charts. This would be a quick project, and I wasn’t looking for a hit. But, the more time I put into the app, the more I was hoping for at least some success. Breaking into a market niche like this is tricky business though, and in hindsight, I think this was probably a mistake. At least, if I were to do it over, I would focus much more attention on marketing, because simply being there in the store is not nearly enough to break into a well-represented market. After evaluating the prices of my direct competition, I decided to price the app at $.99 USD for the launch. There are other metronomes with similar feature sets which sell for a little more, so I thought I might use that to my advantage at least at the beginning, and, if things went well, bump up the price a little later. What actually happened though, was that I received a handful of downloads while Click was still on the new release list, then, it dropped of to nothing within days. It’s no wonder either: if someone just searches for “metronome,” Click appears WAY down the list. I’m actually surprised now at the occasional day when I get 1 or 2 downloads. How did they even find it?! Seeing as how I wasn’t making any money to speak of anyway, I decided to do an experiment and make Click free for a week. Perhaps it would take off as a free app, and I could think of some IAPs to add down the road sometime. Even at free, it would be better for me at this point to get it into the hands of more people and hope for some word of mouth business then to just let it die. Click was downloaded nearly 300 times each of the first two days after becoming free, but then rapidly dropped, basically cutting in half each day. At that rate, by the end of the week, it was still seeing 15-20 downloads a day, but that wasn’t enough to convince me to leave it at free. Not yet at least. So, I’m back at $.99, getting an occasional download, and trying to come up with a plan.
The Big Picture
So, here’s what everyone’s been waiting for, right, the actual numbers! Well, as of today, Click has been downloaded a grand total of 990 times. The vast majority of these – over 900 – came during the week it was free, so that the total revenue from the app during the first two months amounts to about $40. Better than nothing I suppose, but certainly not quite what I was hoping for 🙂 It’s enough to cover the cost of the license for the music I used in the promo video and that’s about it. Like I said before, I learned a lot throughout the making of Click, and I’m very proud of the finished product. But it does leave me with a lot of doubts. It’s not that I regret the time I spent on the project, but I am certainly a little more apprehensive about the future. I’ve got more app ideas, but they are projects of even larger scope. If this relatively simple project could take me so long, is it even reasonable to think that I could complete these other ones on my own in anything like a reasonable amount of time? Unless you manage a 100% record of scoring hit apps, it’s not exactly possible to build a profitable business on just 1 new project every year or two. Please don’t read this in too negative of a tone; I’m not (usually!) depressed or anything about how this project has turned out. It’s just that it has caused me to pause a bit, take a step back, and look at my situation. iOS is a wonderful platform, and it’s a joy to develop for Apple’s devices, so I’m not planning on giving up on the App Store any time soon. However, I have a lot of thinking to do before embarking on my next new project. Plus, there’s always the task of updating my existing apps, including finding a way to gain some ground with Click: perhaps with a native iPad version and maybe going freemium in the future. Whatever happens, I’ll be sure to write about it here on the blog. Thanks for reading.