We wouldn’t normally link to podcasts we’re on, but for the first time in history all 3 of us are on the same one. Iterate 43 featuring the Shifty Jelly Team is well worth a listen, especially if you want to destroy any preconceptions about how awesome we are ;)
There exists a perception out there in the ‘real world’ that Independent Software Developers like ourselves are working on all our apps, all the time. If we ‘fail’ to release a new version of an app after a few months, some people seem to consider the app to be abandoned, and start asking us where the updates are. Today we’re going to share a shocking secret with you:
Developers, from little Shifty Jelly all the way up to legends like Panic, generally only work on one app, at once.
I want you to sit down and think about that. This means that when we say “We’re working on a massive update for Pocket Weather AU” that we’re not working on Pocket Casts, or Australian Weather. There are a few of you out there right now with a ‘well, obviously’ expression on your faces, you’re excused, the rest of you though, I know this comes as a shock. The other shock is that apps take a long time to build, but more importantly updates take a great deal of time as well. There’s also the fun of commercial realities. From time to time we take on interesting client work, because it’s interesting, but more importantly because it lets us do interesting things, like say feed our families, and our contractors. Thus, another shock comes about from this conclusion:
While we are working on projects for clients, we aren’t working on our apps.
Damn, where’s that gasp Emoji when you need it so badly? So what are we trying to say? Simple that we love all our apps, and we’re taking the time to make our updates great. If it’s months since an app has been updated, don’t give up hope, we’re in this for the long run.
It’s no surprise that most people don’t understand the sheer volume of effort that goes into creating and maintaining an application. Two years ago we didn’t really understand that either, and we launched so many new applications without thinking through the consequences.Who could forget our Pocket Weather AU app on Android, something which we’ll soon fix, but which has to go down as one of our biggest mistakes of all time. It turns out with just 2 developers and 1 designer, we can’t maintain 10 different apps…who knew? That’s why about 2 months ago we removed a lot of our apps from various stores, and have now honed it down to just 3: Pocket Casts (iOS and Android), Pocket Weather AU (iOS and Android) and Australian Weather (Mac).
Finally, allow us to make the rest of this year easy for you to understand. Right now, we’re working on Pocket Weather AU 3 for iOS and Android. It’s been many months of work so far, and we’re getting close to the end. We hope once the update is out, you’ll see just how much time and effort we’ve poured into it, and why these things take as long as they do. After that’s done we’ll be working on Pocket Casts, making the iOS version run on iPad, updating the Android version, and adding some very cool new features to the Pocket Casts Family (hint: no hints). Lastly we’ll update our Mac app Australian Weather with some fun new features and data. And that my friends, will take the entire rest of the year. Welcome to the fun world of Software Development :)
At Shifty Jelly we only build apps that we want to use, and for a long time now we’ve been missing one thing. Accurate, easy to get to Australian Weather, on our Macs. Well it is missing no more! Introducing Australian Weather for Mac:
So if you live in Australia, and have a mac, you know what to do: Buy it now!
Still not convinced, then allow us to help you. Lion has been the #1 paid app in Australia for as long as we can remember, so we’d like you to help us take the big cat down:
Do it for Australia! Send the big cat a message, your time has come!
And yes, before you ask, this is a hint of things to come if you own an iPod, iPad, iPhone or Android Device…more Pocket Weather goodness will be coming your way this year :)
It seems these days you don’t have to go far to find people that want to belittle Android, often for reasons they feel are perfectly objective and valid. I’d call out Marco Arment and John Gruber as two of the biggest offenders, but the problem runs far deeper than that. Gruber plays with Android phones and always seems curious, but he’s someone who loves iOS, and just doesn’t get why people choose Android. As for Marco, how many Android apps has he made? 0 as far as we’re aware. He thinks it’s pointless, and would be a waste of his time. Would it? As someone who develops for both platforms, we’d like to delve a bit deeper here. This is for all the Marcos & Grubers of the world. Before we continue though, can we just note that I haven’t called Gruber or Marco a ‘fanboi’. I would love it if we could just erase that word from our vocabulary in 2012. To be clear: calling someone a ‘fanboi’ is not a valid argument, it’s just plain idiotic.
First some background. We’ve been in the iOS app store since August of 2008, which for those that are counting is only a month or so after it first launched. We’ve been on Android now for about a year. We make serious apps like Pocket Casts and Pocket Weather AU, things that take a lot of development effort and involve serious server back-ends. We’ve made enough money since then to support 2 full time staff, and 2 part time designers. Yes we’re the guys who had the run in with Amazon, the email from Steve Jobs, and we’re not millionaires.
So first, let’s cover the Android/iOS myths that absolutely infuriate us:
Myth 1: Android users only buy Android because they are cheap, and they have no idea what OS it’s running
Fact: We talk regularly to all our Android users, and the #1 reason they buy Android is because they prefer it. It’s different for every phone and every person but there’s normally a hardware or software reason they choose Android over iOS. In every case they were aware of the iPhone, a lot even owned an iPhone in the past.
Myth 2: iPhone users only buy iPhones because they have an Apple logo on them
Fact: It should be as obvious as myth 1, but no matter how fanatical some Apple lovers might appear, they choose the device because they like it, because it suits the way they want to use the phone and integrates into their lives.
Myth 3: You can’t make money in the Google Market selling Paid Apps
Fact: As a developer who earnt more in the Android store this month than on the iOS store, with a paid app (no ads), we’re fairly certain we can call this one busted. Here’s a graph for you visual types:
Two points to make here: firstly yes, you can make real money on Android. Secondly Pocket Casts on iOS has been quite a success, yet the Android version has made it look like a dismal failure. 95% of all Pocket Casts revenue in November was made on Android, not iOS.
Myth 4: Android users don’t care about quality, smoothness or well designed apps
Fact: If you haven’t realised by now, it should be becoming clear, you can’t stereotype the users of a platform into a neat box. We’ve found the opposite though, Android users love quality and well designed apps as much as their iOS counterparts. There are people that prefer Android, just as there are people that prefer iOS. You get a free head slap if you were thinking that’s just because they hate Apple. You don’t have to hate something to love something else.
Myth 5: Apple/Google need to lose so that Google/Apple can win
Fact: It’s infuriating (have we over-used that word yet?) to see people debate who is winning in the mobile space, Apple or Google. They do it by market share, they do it by profit numbers. Here’s a radical thought: they are both winning! Every month sees their install base grow, at a very rapid rate. Why can’t they both win? The mobile space is huge, and there’s no logical reason you can’t have both Apple and Google win, without them annihilating one another…so can we just stop with this already?
So here’s what it comes down to as a developer: your customers are choosing both Android and iOS. If you have the resources, you should be developing for both. You can choose not to of course, but that’s your loss. It’s almost 2012 let’s stop pretending that Android users are all pirates with leprosy.
Finally, we’d like to publicly challenge Marco Arment to bring Instapaper to Android and drop the negative attitude. We’ll bet you one large cup of our finest Australian Coffee that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how great the Google Market is. In many ways it’s a better place to be than iOS, since so many developers are ignoring it, and yet there is a massive install base waiting to give you their money.
Update: Marco responds here
Feel like getting a taste of Pocket Casts without having to pay, now you can!
Just in case you’re still reading this:
- Limited to 5 podcast subscriptions
- Instant refresh (our server monitors your feeds, so your phone doesn’t have to. Save your data & your time!)
- Stream or download without file size limits, over 3G or WIFI.
- Background downloading on supported devices (so you can do other things while your podcasts download)
- Quick skip feature, one tap of the screen and you can jump forward or back through your podcasts
- Supports Air Play for both audio and video podcasts (so you can stream them to your speakers, or Apple TV)
- Supports headphone controls & multi-tasking toolbar
- Playlist for continuous playback
- Watch video podcasts as video or audio
- Variable playback speed
- Podcast chapter support
- Download two files at once, and feel like you’re from the future!
- Share your podcasts, episodes or even your position in an episode with anyone who cares
- Maintains where you are up to in each of your podcasts (streaming or downloaded) and restarts from there next time you play that episode
In the full version:
- Unlimited number of podcasts
- Automatic cleanup of old episodes, which you can choose per podcast or globally (or both!)
- Push notifications when new episodes are available
- Settings for all sorts of things, how far to skip forward and back, stop downloads on 3G, etc
- OPML import & export
- Ability to have custom cover art and titles
- Warm fuzzy feelings (think puppies, kittens and rainbow unicorns) knowing you’ve supported a small developer
People often ask, “What’s it like to be an independent developer?”, “You guys are millionaires right?”, “Your job sounds awesome, tell me more!”. So let’s talk about what it’s like to be an independent developer. First things first, no we’re not millionaires, few indie devs are. Philip drives a Magna (the Australian equivalent of a Yugo/Lada), I drive a lease car, Matt doesn’t have a car. None of us own houses, though 2 of us have mortgages. I’d like to address some common mis-conceptions and answer some questions. Like a true politician I’ve seeded the question list myself, and I’ll be answering. For once though we’ll leave the comments open, so feel free to ask any questions you may have.
So you guys are rolling in money right?
No. In fact we’ve been losing money for the last 6 months. By losing money, I mean literally every month the amount of money in our bank account has been going down. Before we got featured by Google on the Android market place, we were about a month away from having no money whatsoever. I’ve talked to many indie developers in Australia, and they are universally in the same boat. Some have taken on client work to try and fill the gap, others are working from home trying to minimise every expense they have. And I’m talking about the successful ones, the companies with great apps that have done well.
So it’s tough being independent?
Yes. You put an enormous amount of effort (and yourself) into every product you make. Sometimes you find people deriding it, or dismissing it after spending 13.2 seconds using it. People tell you not to take that personally. Good luck with that. When you invest 6 months of your life, day and night, creating a product there’s no way in hell you can’t take other people’s comments personally. Reading App Store reviews can be as much fun as slapping yourself in the face with an ice cold trout on days where you manage to ship a bug with your product.
Your decisions are often constrained by practical matters like ‘what do I need to do today, to feed my family in 2 months time?’ and silly things like keeping your company in business. You have to deal with IAS, BAS, Superannuation Insurance and tax up the wazoo. You invent words like wazoo just to stay sane.
Then you see an app like ’101 sex positions’ or ’301 Fart Noises’ reach the lofty heights of App Store Success. They spent a week on a gimmick and made bank, you spent 6 months building an app of utility and are struggling. Let’s not even get into the long debates you get into with people about whether they should buy your $1.99 app. People will spend hours researching a $2 purchase, browsing reviews, emailing the developer, checking online forums. Then they will go to a coffee shop they’ve never been before and buy a $4 coffee. From the developer they expect unlimited support, unlimited free updates. From the coffee shop they expect nothing except mediocre coffee.
Finally it’s not a level playing field either. There are companies with millions of dollars behind them making apps, whole teams of people. At the other end of the spectrum there are young, keen enthusiasts working out of their parents basements. The former might crush you with the sheer size of their teams, and the level of features and integration they provide. The latter may kill you because they don’t care much for, or need to make money and can undercut you at every turn.
But there’s good bits too right?
Yes, of course. You get to do what you love, and nobody is your boss. You get to create great products that people love using. You get emails from people telling you how your apps have changed their lives, touched them (in strictly non-sexual) and awesome ways. The good really does outweigh the bad, no question at all. I wouldn’t trade this job for any other in the world, except maybe the one Richard Branson has…the idea of your own private islands does have a certain appeal…
It’s a problem, always has been in the software industry. As a kid I pirated all my software, because I felt like these were giant, faceless corporations that didn’t need my money, and I had no money to give them anyway. I pirated operating systems, I pirated apps, I pirated games. Then one day I got a job, and learnt just how hard it is to make good software, and a switch went off in my head. Now I pay for every piece of software I have, sometimes I buy apps I don’t even need, just because I appreciate the level of crafts(wo)manship and care that went into them. If it’s too expensive and I can’t afford it, I just don’t use it.
The real problem is that when you’re a company of 2.5 people, piracy really hurts. Every lost sale makes it harder to stay around and keep making (what are hopefully) great apps. You can argue all day about how these people wouldn’t have bought your app anyway, and piracy is good because more people get to try your apps, but that doesn’t change the fact that piracy costs us money. We spend money on server infrastructure that is used by paying customers and pirates alike. We answer emails and support from pirates (we know who you are by the way). You can’t stop piracy, people that want to steal your app badly will find a way. You can minimise it, but our feeling is every minute you spend fighting piracy you’ve wasted. It’s better served devoted to your paying customers. Up until now all we’ve done to our software is put in server & client code so we know who the pirates are, and who the paying customers are. We don’t do anything with that information, it’s just food for thought.
Speaking of food, I’ll leave you with this thought: every time you pirate a piece of software from an independent developer, we get closer to that developer never making another app, or updating their app, because they’ve gone off and got another job. It’s like breaking into your favourite corner store, do it enough times, and they’ll close their doors forever.
Shouldn’t all software be free? How can you live with yourself for charging for it?
No. Very few bits of software ever written were not funded by someone. People have to eat, they have to sleep somewhere and feed their families. Take Android for example: it’s free, and open-source, yet every Google engineer working on it is paid, likely far higher than you are. They are able to not charge you, because they make all their money in search & advertising. Notice that they don’t open-source any of their search code, for good reason: that’s their core business, Android isn’t. To me truly free, open-source software is a religious myth, in much the same way that [pick a religion you don't agree with] is. It comes with it’s own proselytes, zealots and ideologies, but it’s ultimately a lie.
Further to the above, what’s so offensive about charging for software? When was the last time you walked into a shop, saw a great product you really needed, and just stole it? When was the last time you debated with a shop-keeper about how this product you wanted should really be free? Software costs money to make, real money. Charging for it is how that money is recovered. Don’t let all the VC funded startups that give out everything for free fool you, paid software is often how you get great software. Since great people are able to make great things, without having to worry about how they are going to feed and clothe themselves.
Developers seem greedy to me, especially the ones that charge for separate iPad apps or charge for upgrades!
Independent developers are rarely, very rarely driven by greed. We made Pocket Weather AU and Pocket Weather AU HD two separate apps because we wanted to start again, and because it was just far easier to do that with two apps. I respect developers who charge for major updates, even though we’ve yet to do that. Normally we’re talking about sums of money under $5. If it means they can fund themselves to keep giving me great features, then I’m all for it.
So would you recommend the life of an independent developer to others?
If you have the right personality, then sure, being an independent developer is a huge blast. Don’t come expecting millions of dollars to fall into your lap though, it’s damn hard work. Chances are you’ll make less than you would working for a giant, faceless corporation…but you’ll enjoy life so much more :)
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
It’s the quote that made us take a leap and start our full time career at Shifty Jelly, and it’s quote I won’t soon forget. If you’re living on the moon and haven’t watched the video it came from: it’s here.
Thanks for everything Steve.
Steve Jobs famously asked John Sculley:
Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?
Today we’re asking one lucky developer out there the same question. Is it you? We need a talented, passionate developer to join the Shifty Jelly Team. You’ll be working with Objective-C, Java, Ruby on Rails and everything else in between. We don’t care which of those you have a preference for, or even if you haven’t worked with that language, we just want a person who is passionate, and can quickly pick up new things.
This person will be making real products, that will be touching real people. Little known story: during the terrible flash flooding in Northern Queensland Pocket Weather AU literally saved a family’s life. Compare that to whatever client work you just did for some faceless corporation. We get it, we really do. The products we are working on now, and for the future will change lives. Granted in small ways, but you’ll go home feeling fulfilled, which I bet is more than you do now.
Interested? If you live in Adelaide Australia (or want to make the move), contact us:
If you’re into mobile development, then there are two conferences coming up in Melbourne that you have to get to. Russell from Shifty Jelly will be speaking at both, but more importantly how often do you get the best developers and designers in one place, to meet, greet and ask questions of? Philip will be there too, so here’s you chance to see him as well!
One More Thing (13th August 2011): http://onemorething.com.au/
This is the cheaper (and shorter) of the two conferences. For $249 you can spend a day hearing all about how successful Australian developers came to be where they are today. You’ll get some great insight into their philosophies, strategies and tips for running small companies as well as see the human side to Apps that grace most of our phones. The real key is the lunches & breaks, where you can meet all these developers & designers in person. You can’t really put a price on being able to meet these people face to face and firing your questions their way. We’re certainly just as excited about meeting the other speakers as you are!
Swipe Conference (5th, 6th September 2011): http://swipeconference.com.au/
Pricier and longer than the One More Thing Conference, with a different focus. This conference brings together a more international group of developers and designers, and is everything from the nitty gritty details about how to build apps and user experiences, to guidance about how to run successful companies. It’s our very own mini-WWDC! $795 gets you a conference ticket, and there are also in-depth sessions that you can book yourself into as well.
So what are you waiting for? Pick a conference (or go the double-header), book yourself in, and don’t forget the most important part: be sure to say hello to us!
For the last few weeks Philip has been madly working away on a major overhaul of the Pocket Casts server. The reason? We now have over 20,000 podcasts in our system, and trying to keep up with those has given our current server a headache. We’ve been testing a brand new ‘distributed’ parsing system since last week, and it’s insanely better than what we currently have. What does this mean for you, loyal Pocket Casts user? Simply that the time between when a podcast author presses publish, and the time when the podcast appears in Pocket Casts will be much, much shorter. In some cases this is currently in the hours, it will be in the minutes instead, and if we have our way, almost instant :)
On Wednesday the 8th of June, at 2pm Adelaide Time (1 AM in New York, 6am in London, 7am in Frankfurt) the server will go offline for about an hour. This means that you’ll be unable to add new podcasts, get updates to existing podcasts, or do things like browse for what’s popular. You’ll still be able to download and play any podcasts you currently have before then. When the server comes back up, you shouldn’t notice anything, except getting your new podcasts sooner than you ever have before!
We have some insanely cool ideas for the future of Podcasting, and Pocket Casts, and this server upgrade is an essential stepping stone on that path. We hope you like it!