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April 20, 2011


App Store Experiments Gone Wild

by shiftyjelly

In our previous post we lost our minds and decided to make Pocket Weather World and Pocket Weather World HD free for a day (normally USD$1.99) . How did it go? Well we’re glad you asked…

Sales PWW

Pocket Weather World Downloads

PWW HD Sales

Pocket Weather World HD Downloads

In terms of raw download numbers: 32,978 new Pocket Weather World users, and 23,104 HD, for a total of 56,082 new users!

I freely admit, we didn’t expect that many before the sale! I guessed 26,000, Philip 8000 (yeah, who da man!). We didn’t bother to try and optimise our server because our Australian one already supports 400,000+ users, so we figured we could add thousands of people without breaking a sweat. Boy were we wrong:

It turns out there’s one key difference in Pocket Weather World, in that searches for new locations used to take 600ms. No big deal you say, that’s reasonably snappy! True, until 50,000 new people download your app and all go to search at once! Needless to say we went into a mad scramble, and 2 hours later we got that search query down to 6ms (props to Philip on that one). Still the fact remains, thousands of new customers had just been exposed to an app that didn’t work.

By the time the sale was over, the server was under control, and we even added more memory to it just for good measure, but the damage had been done. A lot of 1 star reviews, and a lot of people that now associate ‘Shifty Jelly’ with ‘stuff that doesn’t work’.

So with that in mind, let’s get to the juicy bits, after all at least half of those new people got a working app, not a broken one. So when the sale ended did they tell all their friends? Did sales skyrocket? Pocket Weather World averages about $20 a day in sales, it shot up to $427 on the first day, and we got all giddy with excitement, but it rapidly dropped off in the following two days. Our hope is that people who heard about the sale, missed out, and then bought it anyway, but it could also have been people that thought it was free, ignored the button, and just clicked buy. We haven’t received any complaint emails, but you just never know.

Pocket Weather World Revenue

Pocket Weather World HD is similar, except it averages closer to $10 a day on the app store, and it’s post sale sales were much more measured.

Pocket Weather World HD Revenue

So what did we learn from all this?

  • If you make a paid app free, expect a lot of downloads!
  • If you’re app has a server component to it, be sure to test the hell out of it first, and not just assume it will be ok.
  • Free app sales will get you a lot of eyeballs, but who knows if they are the right ones, or if there’s any long term affect from doing it.
So there you go, interesting experiment. We’re not going to be making this a regular thing, and we don’t do discounts or promotions, so please feel free to continue buying our apps 😉
  1. Apr 20 2011

    Hi Russel,

    I had somewhat similar dynamics, but on a much smaller (x20) scale with my ‘OzSun UV Alert’ ( app experiment:

    on the 1st day of it being free (as opposed to $1), it jumped to 1000 downloads (up from 2-3 per day at the time) from within AU and…

    wait for this… another 1000 from the other countries (!!),
    where the app is largely irrelevant, because it’s very AU-specific and this fact is very clearly stated in app name, headline and description…

    apparently lots of people are subscribed to various “app deals” feeds/twitters etc and they grab whatever is free regardless whether it makes any sense for them and with no real intention of even using it…

    and then after a couple of days it all faded back to “normal” number of downloads anyways… and then I made it back to be an $1 app…

    at least in my case there was not too much damage caused by the “experiment”…

    maybe just got a couple of unexpectedly negative reviews in iTunes (“review” being just a phrase “doesn’t work” – still don’t know what they meant by that), but on another hand
    some people (who apparently did indeed get it for free) mentioned it favorably on some forum….

    PS: BTW, don’t worry – you brand is not damaged in eyes of people who are “right ones” – I got all your paid apps for my own hard-earned cash and they are great and worth it !! 🙂

  2. Simon
    Apr 21 2011

    This just reminded me to leave another positive review for you guys. Truly believe the work you do is great 🙂

  3. Apr 21 2011

    Great article guys – thanks for sharing this kind of info – really helps the rest of us. Fantastic apps and yes – I’m a paying user!

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