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Posts from the ‘Shifty Jelly’ Category

12
Sep

Pocket Weather Australia v3.1 – We’re Just Getting Started

We’re proud to announce the release of Pocket Weather Australia v3.1 for iPad and iPhone today. Here’s just a taste of what’s in the new version:

  • Night time icons! We swear some of you are vampires, afraid of the sun in the night sky, so we’ve fixed that.
  • Performance tweaks. Men are generally obsessed with performance of all sorts, and man oh man have we worked hard on tweaking ours. We also improved it in Pocket Weather.
  • Radar fixes, lots of them.
  • Rain predictions! We’re just beginning our journey into the prediction path but if you live in NSW, VIC, SA or TAS enjoy knowing when it’s going to rain, 7 days in advance!
  • iPad now shows sunrise and sunset as well as the recorded overnight low and actual high.
  • New setting on iPhone: open to top location.
  • 300 other bug fixes, yes, this is SPARTA!
  • 250 visual tweaks. For the Where’s Wally lovers in our audience, feel free to look for them

Sample night icons and rain indicator in the iPhone app

So what’s next? Well we’re already hard at work on version 3.2 which among other things might support a certain device Apple is rumoured to be releasing at about 3am tomorrow morning 🙂

We’re also eagerly waiting on the Bureau of Meteorology to release their new data into WA, QLD and the NT so we can show you all what you’ve been missing. We’ve heard rumours that this rollout starts in October. So as we say here in Shifty Jelly land “Enjoy the ride, there’s a lot more to come”.

17
Aug

Paid Upgrades on iOS – The Greedy Developer Guide

So you’re a full-time independent developer, and you’ve had an app in the store for four years, for which you’ve released regular free updates. Revenue for the app has dried up, because everyone who has ever bought a copy can’t buy it again. You have ongoing costs; servers to run, mouths to feed. You decide it’s time to be ‘greedy’ and ask your customers for more money. This is exactly where we at Shifty Jelly found ourselves with our flagship product ‘Pocket Weather AU’. First released in 2008, it’s been the lifeblood of our company, oustripping the earnings of all our other apps by a large amount. It’s basically keeping the lights on here at the 3 man Shifty Jelly Office.

At this point you have two choices: release new features via an in-app purchase, or create an entirely new app to sell. To us, an in-app purchase was not really feasible because we wanted to start again on the application, hooking it up to a brand new server, use brand new code, write brand new controls and frameworks for it. Offering this update as an in-app purchase would mean trying to ship the old code and old image assets along side the new code and new images. If you’re not a developer, you’ll have to trust us when we tell you this is nigh-on impossible.

So we were left with only one choice: release a paid update, as a brand new app. The problem is Apple don’t give you a way to do this, and if I’m being cynical I’d say they don’t want you to do this. Their goal is to sell iPhones, and I think that deep down they know that if people feel apps are free or cheap and updated forever, Apple will sell more iPhones.

So what do you do? Well here’s what we did, hopefully you can learn from it.

Initial Transition:

  • We created our new application and submitted that to Apple for approval, setting the release date to the future so it wouldn’t go live in the store until we were ready.
  • Once it was approved we removed our old app from sale and left things for a few hours. This is because the App Store takes a while for changes like that to propagate.
  • When we were ready to release the new one, we set the release date to now. Again we didn’t promote it straight away giving it a few hours to propagate through the store. Even when you see it in the store, you still might not be able to download it, we’d recommend 4 hours minimum here. Even after 4 hours a small amount of people still couldn’t download the app, but eventually that sorted itself out.

Now we had to figure out phase 2 of our master plan, how to tell people beyond those who read our blog and follow us on Twitter? In the past it appears like you may have been able to update apps that are not for sale in any country (see this blog post, which has since been updated after the author and I chatted on twitter). Unfortunately this is no longer the case. So let me explain how we found this out, and what other tests we did. In our case we had 2 existing free versions (one for iPad and iPhone) that we could play with (both removed from sale about a week before our new app went live), so here’s what we did:

  • Created an update for these apps, linking to the new paid version and also telling our customers there was an update.
  • Released the update to Apple which they approved.
  • We waited 2 days to see if it became available as an update to people’s phones. 2 days later it still hadn’t.
  • Then we tried putting the free Apps back in the store (by ticking the countries in iTunes Connect) and bam, an hour later they became available as updates.
  • To test another theory, we un-ticked the countries again the next day, and an hour later the update once again disappeared.

The simple conclusion: The ONLY way to update apps not for sale in the App Store, is to put them back into the App Store until everyone that wants to update to them has. The one minor exception to this is that when a customer tries to re-download an app from their ‘Purchased’ section, they will get the most up to date version, regardless of whether you’ve put it back in the store or not. It should be noted that the ‘Purchased’ section of the App Store is horribly broken. The search feature in it simply doesn’t work. If you’ve bought 500 apps like I have, scrolling through it while it lags, jitters, and keeps jumping back to the top will make you want to poke your eyes out.

Update: A helpful developer on Twitter pointed out that you can actually still link to apps in the purchased section, like this (this confused us at first, because it only works on the device, not on a desktop):

http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftwareRedownload?id=APP_ID_GOES_HERE&mt=8

So yes, paid updates are possible, but you’ll have to work hard to get it to happen, and there’s no such thing as a perfect transition. As a developer I can’t tell you how much I’d like Apple to support this, because if they did it would be better for us and users alike. Imagine having your favourite app release a massive update, offer you an upgrade price, and you having the option to accept or decline. Imagine if you decline still getting bug fixes for your current app, and one day rewarding the developer by buying the app.

So finally to show that I’m young and hip, here is my TL;DR:

  • There’s no way to release a paid update on the iOS App Store, you have to release a new app.
  • You can’t pull the old app from the store, and provide future updates for it. If you want to update it, the old version must also be in the store, and remain in the store.
  • Apple will probably never support this, and it’s time as developers we stopped this crazy ‘race to the bottom free updates for ever’ mentality, and start restoring the notion that developers also need to get paid, and there’s no inherent weirdness or shame in that.
2
Aug

Announcing the new Pocket Weather Australia

Pocket Weather Au, our very first serious app in the Apple App Store was released in September of 2008. Since then it’s been an amazing journey for us and we’re really glad that you came along for the ride. We went straight to the #1 spot in the store, and stayed there for well over 3 weeks. The thank you and suggestions have flooded our inbox ever since. Overall we couldn’t be more proud of what we built back then, and the many, many updates we’ve issued for it since (25 updates, over 4 years: view graphical history).

It’s an old image, sepia doesn’t lie.

The astute among you will note that in January of this year the updates stopped. That was when we decided, after 4 years and so much hard work that poor old Pocket Weather Au was starting to look a bit tired. We have learnt an amazing amount since 2008, about development, weather and had so many great suggestions from you, our fans and customers.

So today we present to you, Pocket Weather Australia, version 3.0!

Now we know some of you well, and instead of reading the rest you’re just looking for the buy link, HERE YOU GO!

Ok, now that 95% of you have disappeared, the rest of you can read all about the new version here, on our website. There’s also a handy review by the fine people of MacTalk here.

Finally, we’d like to answer a few common questions that our current customers will no doubt have:

Is this a free update?

No, it’s a brand new app that costs $1.99 and runs on your iPhone and iPad. We’ve released 4 years worth of free updates to the previous version, and when making such a drastic change we decided to build a brand new application. One of the main reasons for this was to not force an entirely new app onto people who might not want it.

I’ve been waiting for ages to give you guys more money, why only $1.99?

We get offers all the time from people wanting to donate to us, or get us to charge more for our applications. We feel that for now $1.99 is fair price for an app you use everyday, and we don’t take additional donations. If you really feel strongly about giving us more money, convince a friend or family member to buy our application instead 🙂

I like the current version, do I have to update?

No. We intend to keep the weather servers that these are connected to running for at least another year, probably much longer. We have no way to update the app itself though, so should it break in future versions of iOS then there’s not a lot we can do about that.

I bought your app just recently…

We removed our old app for sale before posting this one, so there should be very, very few of you that fall into this category. If however you did buy our app within the last few weeks, and feel like you’ve been wronged, please email us, we’ll look after you 🙂

I have an Android phone, don’t you guys love us?

Of course we do, Pocket Weather Australia 3 is also available from Google Play here.

We are very proud and excited here in the office today, and we hope you are too. Our goal (we always set one of these before releasing a new app) is to reach the #1 spot in the App Store. We’re not bothered by whether that’s for 2 seconds or 2 years…we just want to show Apple, Australia and everyone that apps still matter, and it’s not all about games! So come on Australia, get into the Olympic spirit, and let’s get Pocket Weather Australia to that #1 gold medal winning position!

24
Jul

EvoCrop – Farming for the 21st Century

People often ask us “Do you do client work? I have this great idea!”. We literally get that several times a week. The answer is yes, but we are not interested in your idea. We are looking for people who don’t just have an idea, they have a business plan, they have their budget sorted and they have the passion required to transform an idea (the first 1% of the work required) into a product (the other 99%). People we can form a partnership with to bring something truly innovative and useful to the market.

So we’re proud to announce our first such collaboration for this year, with just such a client: Rebecca from Rustic Evolutions (www.rusticevolutions.com.au). In September of 2011, we received this email in our inbox:

I am interested in having an iPad app developed for use by farmers as an in-paddock record keeping tool.  I would like to work with a South Australian based company to develop this and found your website from a google search. Can you please let me know what information you would require to provide a quote and timeframe for developing an app?

The best thing about this email? Rebecca didn’t ask us to sign an NDA before uttering a word about her idea, but instead gave us a really high level explanation about what she wanted. People who believe that ideas are incredibly valuable, and can be stolen in seconds are a topic for another day (hint: they are not and they can not). So long story short Rebecca came in, we talked about her idea, and then laid out a roadmap for how to bring her idea to the store. It was clear from the beginning that Rebecca had already put a lot of thought into her app, and the business around it. She had mockups of screens, notes about ideas, and questions all ready to go.

The result? A smashingly handsome, and functional app called EvoCrop. Now available in the App Store: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/evocrop/id540246364?ls=1&mt=8

The takeaway? If you want to bring an app to market, you have to be prepared to put in the hard work. To research, to think things through, to organise the finances required. Then you have to find yourself a team of developers that you’re comfortable working with, that want to see you succeed and that, most importantly, you trust. You also have to be a bit flexible, the more Non-Disclosure Agreements and restrictive contracts you sign, the worse the outcome is going to be.

The clients thoughts on the project?

I just want to say thank you so so much for all your enthusiasm, hard work and assistance in getting this app into the market.  Whenever I tell people I’m getting an app made they always ask how the hell do you do that.  My answer is always the same – I googled app developers and very wisely chose the coolest and most skilled boys in the business.  Finding you was a dream come true and the whole process has been stress free and an absolute pleasure, something that is very rare for a start-up independent business I’m sure you will agree.

So Rebecca: we really do wish you all the best with your app and hope that you get the success you most definitely deserve. Working with you was a pleasure, and we’re really proud of what we have built together. If anyone out there knows of any farmers that would be interested in what Rebecca and her company have to offer, be sure to point them to her Rustic Evolutions home page, and her brand spanking new EvoCrop app.

And finally, we can’t help but leave you with the picture Rebecca sent us of herself and her husband, trialling the app in the field:

27
Jun

iOS Podcasts App vs Pocket Casts

Today Apple released their own podcasting application for iOS. This was widely rumoured, though it still seems to have taken a lot of people by surprise. Naturally a lot of people have asked us about how we feel about being ‘sherlocked’ (a fun term dating back to an app called ‘Watson’ which Apple copied, and bundled into Max OS X as ‘Sherlock’). Our reaction to the rumours was of course trepidation and fear, since Apple can play ‘dirty’ and do all sorts of things with iOS apps that we as third-party developers are not allowed to do. The app that they released today though, made us very happy.

Apple’s app is quite pretty to look at, and it does a nice job of separating podcasts out of iTunes so in that sense they’ve done the podcasting community a great service. Once you play with their app for more than 5 minutes though, you realise it’s little more than that. It’s literally the features they once had inside the Music and iTunes applications bundled into iOS, moved into their own application. As the maker of a podcasting app, we realise this sounds dis-ingenious, so please, allow us to elaborate.

Let’s pretend that I’m a podcast fan (which I am, so that part is easy) and I’m out to find a podcasting application. Logically (for me at least) I’d try the free Apple one first. Here are some of the things that are immediately annoying about it:

  • There’s a 50MB limit on downloads over 3G. Case in point Macbreak Weekly came out today, it was 50.3MB. Can I download it?

No downloads for you

  • When I play a podcast, I like to be able to see where I’m up to. The now playing screen Apple has is pretty, but doesn’t tell me that. You can tap the artwork to get a progress bar but even that doesn’t have times on it, you actually have to start scrubbing to get them. Once you do the times stay, but they don’t update at all…which seems a bit silly.

Where am I up to? How long is this podcast?

  • I like to be able to skip adverts really quickly. Apple has a skip back 10 seconds, skip forward 30 seconds. That part would keep me reasonably happy, except the buttons are too close together, and I’d struggle to hit them accurately in my car, which is where I listen to podcasts for over an hour a day.

cramped

  • I also listen to podcasts that don’t come out on a regular basis, and I’d like the app to send me updates when a new episode comes out, the Apple app can’t do that, I have to open it to get it to refresh.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “You’re purposely focussing on all the things you’re app does well, because you want to point out how great it is. That’s not fair”. You’re right, and you’re wrong. We built our app because we’re avid podcasts fans. We spent a long time agonising over all the little details that we wanted in an application to make our podcast experience pleasurable, rather than painful. So yes, the Apple app is missing things our app has, and yes I’ve pointed out some of them, but for good reason: these are all features we wanted, nay, demanded.

So why would you buy our app over the Apple one? Do you even need to? If you’re a person who listens to only a few podcasts every now and again, you can probably get by with the Apple app just fine. It’s very capable, it’s nicely designed, it’s clean, it’s minimal. But if you want more, here’s the things you’d get with our app:

  • Push notifications when new episodes comes out, handy if like me you can’t keep track of when new shows are meant to come out:

  • Giant skip buttons (hidden by default, come up when you tap them) for easy skipping in the car. Also handy is the amount back and forward is configurable. Personally I prefer 45 seconds forward, 10 back. Two taps when Tech News Today starts gets me straight to the content every time 🙂

  • Server side podcast parsing. Now this is something as a user I wouldn’t think I’d need, but being able to update all 30 of my podcasts in 1 second, vs 1 minute for Apple’s app saves me bandwidth and time. We’re also the only app in iOS to do this.
  • Being able to play a video podcast, as audio. All to often I download a video podcast, but then want to play it while doing something else on my phone. The Apple app stops the video the second you back out of it or press your home button. Pocket Casts automatically switches to playing the audio from the video file, allowing you to keep listening.
  • Being able to play a podcast while it’s downloading is also very handy, it means you get the best of streaming and downloading. So this morning I was dropping my son off at school, and a new Macbreak Weekly came out. I was out on 3G, so I just tapped download before I hopped back in the car, about 20 seconds later it’s ready to play, and I get to keep the file afterwards so I don’t need a network connection next time I go to play it. Update: I’m told Apple’s app actually supports a slight hybrid of this mode. Where it will stream and download at the same time, then switch to the downloaded version when the download is done. I can’t confirm this, but you’d still be out of luck if it’s over 50MB and you’re on 3G, just like I was in the example below.

I could literally go on all day, but here’s a few more of my favourite features of our app:

  • Variable playback speeds (1x, 1.2x, 1.5x, 2x) – Apple has just slow, normal and fast.
  • Playlist, choose the order in which you want to play your episodes. Handy when you’re on a plane. Queue up some episodes in the order you want, put your headphones in and your phone never needs to leave your pocket.
  • Show notes, one of the most crucial parts of listening to any podcast, and yet as far as I can tell Apple has left them out completely.
  • Handy Settings: want to delete a podcast automatically when you’re done. No sweat. Want to configure how your headphones should work with the app, Pocket Casts can do that too. Apple’s app is locked into triple tap to jump back 10 seconds, double tap to skip to the next podcast. In Pocket Casts we have the more sane default of having double-tap skip forward, which is a lifesaver for skipping adverts when you’re phone is in your pocket and should you choose you can have the headphones skip whole episodes instead.
  • Manually add shows: every now and again you’ll come across a podcast that isn’t in iTunes. In Apple’s app your out of luck but in ours you can paste in the feed URL and be on your way.
When we started building Pocket Casts well over 2 years ago, we were very confident that Apple would make their own app one day. We were also very confident that they would keep it clean, minimal and give it a feature set that would only appeal to casual podcast listeners. In our eyes that’s exactly what they released today, it’s a great application but it’s really not what we as podcast fans wanted. We made many design and implementation decisions (like server-side podcasting parsing) in the early days for this very reason, to stand out head and shoulders above what Apple would release.
So to the question “Are you worried that Apple has killed off your app” we honestly answer: “Not really, if anything we hope this drives more people to using podcasts exclusively from their phone, and then once they get frustrated prompts them to look around for better applications”. Only time will tell, but today alone our sales are 2x higher than this time last week, so it could well be that a rising tide lifts all boats. If you’re serious about podcasting, I’d take our app over Apple’s any day of the week…but why take our word for it, grab the free version or the paid one and try it out for yourself.
3
Feb

2012 The Shifty Jelly Year Of The Shiny

Welcome to 2012, and goodbye to January…where on earth does the time go! This is the first year we’ve sat down and actually planned the year ahead. It’s been quite an exciting task and today we thought we’d share a little bit of that planning process with you. Nothing is guaranteed of course, we’re not exactly renowned for sticking to deadlines, or plans, so we’ll see how it goes.

First things first, we present to you Shiny Item #1:

Our New Website Click Me Click Me!

Off you go, visit it, marvel at it, behold it’s simple, shiny beauty.  The next thing you’ll probably notice is Shiny Item #2:

Ohhh...what could it be?!

That’s right, we’ve been working on a brand new Mac app. No details yet, we’ll just let you marvel mysteriously.

But of course it wouldn’t be the Official Year of Shiny Things (why yes, I did just make that up, thanks for asking) if there wasn’t more than just those two things, and there certainly is. We plan on making some very big changes to our existing iOS apps, as well as our Android apps. This is the first year we’re going to turn our Android development into a first class experience. What we’ll be striving for is an equal (or better!) app experience on our Android apps in comparison to our iOS ones.

Suffice it to say we’re very excited about 2012, and if you own an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android Phone, Android Tablet or a Mac you should be too! If on the other hand you own only Windows products, then perhaps it’s time to evaluate where you are in life, and what on earth you’re doing reading our blog…

18
Nov

Pocket Casts 3.2 for iOS

The 3.2 update for iOS is out, go grab it. Highlights include:

  • Added variable speed video playback, tap fast forward to speed up, rewind to slow down
  • Filter buttons on the episodes list page are now configurable, hold down your finger on one, and choose what you want displayed. You can even bring back the old Everything I Haven’t Downloaded view 🙂
  • Settings for stopping the app initiating downloads and streaming while on 3G -> Handy for those with small data caps
  • the app will now auto-switch to downloaded episode if you’re streaming or progressively playing when a podcast finishes downloading
  • configuration option for whether you want your headphone/bluetooth/lock screen controls to jump through a podcast, or control the playlist
  • Enhanced podcasts with many images per chapter are now supported
  • More information sent to stereos for your viewing pleasure
  • Many performance improvements, bug fixes, and other smallish enhancements (were’s the fun if we tell you what they all are!)
  • Bonus 1000 points if you read all the way to here. Points are redeemable for more points in future.
13
Oct

Pocket Casts 3.0 for iOS

We’re proud to announce the availability of Pocket Casts 3.0, for iOS: http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/pocket-casts/id414834813?mt=8

Over 3 months ago we took a long, hard look at Pocket Casts. It was by far our favourite app, yet it was selling really badly. So we had a decision to make: let it go and move on to something else, or double down and work on making it better. We loved it too much to let it go, I for one use it twice a day, if not more. So we made a decision that’s not easy as a small developer with very tight cash flow…we decided to spend whatever it took on getting the app right. ‘Whatever it took’ turned out to be 3 months. That’s a huge risk, but we think it was worth it.

New Look, New Layout, New Flow

The first thing you’ll notice when you open version 3.0 is that everything has changed. The look, the feel, the flow of the entire app. There are many reasons for this, but the main one for us was always about making the app more usable and more friendly. For long time users of our application, we realise this can be quite jarring at first but give it a few days we think you’ll love it. We can’t explain every single change we made, but we’d like to cover a few.

When we first created Pocket Casts, we came up with the concept of the updates tab. New episodes stayed there, until you either downloaded or deleted them. We loved this, but it confused people to no end. Some people don’t like deleting, others were confused when after a podcast was downloaded, it would disappear from the updates tab. Where did it go, what did I do…they didn’t know. So the concept of ‘Recent’ and the Episodes page was born:

The way it works now is that episodes that you’re phone has found out about recently, appear in the ‘recent’ page. Downloading them leaves them there, but also places them in the ‘downloaded’ page (which also flashes briefly when you download something. This makes it clearer where your podcasts are, and how to get to them. Another new feature is that the app will now download 2 podcasts at once, which is handy when one podcast authors site is screamingly fast, while the other is slow.

Cloud Power! (Notifications, Speed, Data Use)

Pocket Casts is the only podcast application for iOS (as far as we know) that does all its podcast processing on a server. What this means is that when your phone needs to see what’s new, instead of downloading individual podcast feeds (which can be very large), it just calls our server once “hey what’s new” it says. “Here are 3 episodes that are new since the last time you checked” says our server. That’s about 10kb’s worth of data, vs potentially many megabytes worth. Also worth noting is it’s a lot faster.

Talk is cheap though. Let’s compare Pocket Casts with the highest ranking of our competitors. I installed both apps cleanly, and imported my OPML file with the 27 podcasts that I subscribe to. I let both do their first refresh/setup without timing. Next I quit both apps, and performed a refresh in each one in turn, measuring the amount of data used, and the time taken. The results might surprise you:

Pocket Casts took 1 second to refresh all 27 of my podcasts. Our competitor took almost 2 minutes (105 seconds). That’s about 70x longer. It’s worth noting here that I could have been really mean and added 100 podcasts. Pocket Casts would still do those in 1 second, while the competing app (without a server) could take up to 10 minutes. It’s not rocket science, their app has to go off and look at every single RSS feed for every single podcast and see what’s new. That’s where our server comes in, it refreshes podcast feeds at a rate of about one million per day! All this so that your phone doesn’t have to.

Time aside, I decided to monitor the data use. To refresh 27 podcasts Pocket Casts sends 5kb to our server, and receives 3kb, for a total of 8kb. That’s tiny. The competing app sent 69kb and received 2252kb for a total of 2321kb (2.3 megabytes). In this case the competing app uses 290x more data than Pocket Casts. Note that we’re not deriding our competitor in any way, you can’t do any better than that, since you have to parse the feeds from the phone. That’s why we designed our app to have a server, because we wanted fast refreshes with minimal data use. And not just any old server, we currently run 11 high-end servers, that plow through many, many gigabytes worth of data each and every day. Yes, we do take this very, very seriously.

Speed, and bandwidth aside, having a server also adds one more benefit, the ability to do push notifications. Something we’ve expanded quite a lot in the new version:

You can now opt to receive text notifications, along with a sound when new podcasts are released. You can even turn this on or off per podcast, if you like some more than others. What it means is that you’re always notified about what’s new, even if you have the app closed.

Now Playing

The old now playing screen was ok, but there were a few things that bothered us. Firstly the progress bar was too close to the top of the screen, which didn’t work well with iOS 5 and its new notification pull down. Secondly the controls were a bit small, and felt cramped down the bottom. Lastly there didn’t seem to be any consistency as to how we placed  these controls on the page. In the new version we’ve fixed all that, while retaining the ability to see all the podcast artwork by tapping in the middle of the screen. The show notes are now much more accessible as well, just swipe to the right to see them. We also download the show notes when the podcast is downloaded, so no more having to have an internet connection to read them. On the list screens, you can now see exactly where you are up to in each podcast (and it updates if the podcast is playing) as well as being able to pause and play right from those screens. Lastly (and this is one of our favourite features) you can now start playing a podcast while it’s downloading.

Storage

If you listen to a lot of podcasts like we do, then you can quickly become overwhelmed with having to manage them. Deleting old ones can especially turn into a chore. With the new version of Pocket Casts, we now let you configure how many old episodes you’d like to keep. You can do this for all your podcasts, as well as each one individually. So in my case I tell it to keep the last 3 Tech News Todays (a daily show), but only the last This Week In Tech (a weekly show). You can also ‘star’ an episode if you want to make sure it never gets automatically deleted by the app.

Podcast Settings

New to Pocket Casts v3.0 is the Podcast Settings page. We realised fairly early on that some podcasts have really terrible album artwork. Others have long and cumbersome names. Well worry about those things no longer:

Now you can change the name of a podcast, or its artwork at any time. We may have accidentally also created a way to listen to more…how shall we say…’risque’ podcasts with this feature, but that wasn’t our intention. Honest.

Sharing

Another great new feature of Pocket Casts v3.0 is the ability to share your podcasts, episodes, or even the position in an episode with other people. This means if you’re really liking a podcast, or an episode, you can recommend it to a friend in a few simple taps. When you tap on an email, tweet or website with this sharing link in it, you can open that straight from your phone, and it will launch Pocket Casts, and let you choose if you’d like to listen/subscribe. When we release version 3.1 for Android, you’ll even be able to share with your friends on the other side of the fence.

The Small Things

We could go on for hours (quite literally) about all the things we’ve changed, but we’ll leave you with a few extra things:

  • You can stop an episode from playing (or streaming) by long pressing on the now playing tab icon.
  • We now have podcast chapter support, swipe to the left to see all the chapters, tap on one to play it
  • You can now export your subscriptions to an OPML file, for backup and to use in other podcasting apps
  • You can now turn our giant skip buttons off, handy for people that want to listen to advertising
  • You can now check out the podcast description, and visit the podcasts website from the podcast page
  • You can tap on the first podcasting tab to switch from the tile view to the episode view
  • You can now add videos into your playlist as well. By default they’ll play as audio, but one tap and you can be watching the video instead.
Don’t tell me you made it to the end, and are still reading? Go grab the app already. Tell a friend. Heck yell it out from the rooftops if you have to:
2
Aug

Amazon App Store: Rotten To The Core

About 3 months ago, we set off on a little experiment into the world of the Amazon App Store. Back then people were hailing it as the solution to the problems with the Google Market, industry pundits like Andy Ihnatko called it ‘An Excellent Work in Progress‘.

Amazon’s biggest feature by far, has been their Free App Of The Day promotion. Publicly their terms say that they pay developers 20% of the asking price of an app, even when they give it away free. To both consumers and naive developers alike, this seems like a big chance to make something rare in the Android world: real money. But here’s the dirty secret Amazon don’t want you to know, they don’t pay developers a single cent. Before being featured by Amazon, you get an email like this one:

As you may already know, the Free App of the Day offer placement is one of the most visible and valuable spaces on the Amazon Appstore. We would like to include your app “[name removed]” in our Free App of the Day calendar. We have seen tremendous results from this promotion spot and believe it will bring you a great deal of positive reviews and traffic. It is an opportunity to build your brand especially in association with a brand like Amazon’s. The current price of this placement is at 0% rev share for that one day you are placed.

The emphasis there was actually added by them in their email. So we asked them to confirm, what seemed a ridiculous proposition:

Thanks for emailing us. If I read this correctly you’d like to give away our application for free, and pay us nothing? That’s very generous of you, but we like being paid for our work. I appreciate that Amazon is trying to build up it’s store, and get more users, but the problem is at the moment you have the reputation of being ‘The place where I get my free apps’ and for a developer like us who doesn’t put advertising into our applications, that can only be a bad thing.

We’d be happy to reconsider if you decided to pay us the 20% that we agreed to in our original developer agreement, but this new one seems to favour only you, at the expense of us?

To which they responded:

Thanks for your response. The Free App of the Day promotion is the most valuable and visible spot in the store. It hosted the launch of the likes of Angry Birds Rio, Plants v. Zombies and more. Amazon will not receive any sales rev share from the Free App of the Day; and in fact, with as the Free of the Day for one day, you will receive a subsequent Appstore main page placement for the following 14 days.

All these highly valuable placements are at no cost to you. We want to promote your app and in exchange of the placements, at the 0% rev share for one day only.

All this seemed way too one sided to us, Amazon is being predatory here, and asking developers (who are often desperate for exposure) to give away their app, in order to promote Amazon. A heated debate broke out in our office about whether we should or not. I was firmly against, my business partner for. In the end we agreed that we had entered the world of Android development as an experiment, and it would seem silly not to add more data to the experiment we were conducting. The day of our promotion came:

That’s right, Amazon gave away 101,491 copies of our app! At this point, we had a few seconds of excitement as well, had we mis-read the email and really earned $54,800 in one day? We would have done if our public agreement was in place, but we can now confirm that thanks to Amazon’s secret back-door deals, we made $0 on that day. That’s right, over 100,000 apps given away, $0 made. Did the exposure count for much in the days afterwards? That’s also a big no, the day after saw a blip in sales, followed by things going back to exactly where we started, selling a few apps a day. In fact Amazon decided to rub salt in the wounds a little further by discounting our app to 99 cents for a few days after the free promotion. All we got was about 300 emails a day to answer over the space of a few weeks, that left us tired and burnt out. For all we know most of the people who wanted our application, now have it. To add insult to injury Pocket Casts relies on a server to parse podcast feeds (allowing instant updates on your phone), and all these new users forced us to buy more hardware just to meet demand. Hardware that we are going to have to support indefinitely at our own cost.

What makes us mad though is the public perception that Amazon pays developers to be featured. Every single person we asked on Twitter or via email thought they were helping developers out, and getting a free application. Amazon does nothing to dispel these rumours, in fact they put really restrictive clauses at the bottom of their emails, saying that no one is even allowed to discuss these back door deals they are doing. But that’s not our only beef with Amazon:

  • Lengthy review times of anywhere up to 2 weeks (I’ve lost count of the amount of emails from people asking why our Google Market app is newer)
  • Amazon gets to set the price of your app to whatever they want, without any input from you, or even the chance to reject their price
  • Amazon re-writes your description, and in ours they even made up things like ‘add up to 100 podcasts’. No idea where on earth they got that number from
  • Amazon don’t provide error reports like Google do making it hard to fix errors
  • They don’t yet support Google’s new multiple APK initiative
  • Amazon pays far later than Google does, and to date we haven’t received any cheques from them, even though we are listed as being ‘payed’
  • US Only
  • Much less real-time sales information than Google
  • Update: (and this one surprised us) you can’t remove apps from their store! You have to ask them for permission via an email. Every other store lets you remove apps from sale.
Add these things up, and we were starting to ask ourselves, why on earth are we in business with these guys?

We can see the counter argument here, that we agreed to Amazon’s terms, even if they were underhanded and secret, so we deserve everything we got. Perhaps. I guess it’s just lucky for us that this was an experiment, and that we don’t make our full time income from selling Android apps, but rather from developing for iOS. That said, we want to make a clear stand here, so that Amazon doesn’t take advantage of those less fortunate than us.

So today we’re making a stand. Effective immediately we are removing ourselves from the Amazon Store. We’re not the only ones doing this.

To anyone who paid for our app in the Amazon Store (yes all 200 or so of you!), we apologise for the inconvenience. If you choose to come and join us in the Google Market, and want a refund for that purchase, we will be more than happy to oblige. Contact us for more details. To those who got the app free from Amazon, we’re sorry to say there won’t be any more updates. We won’t cripple your app in any way, it will continue to work…but then if you like it that much, you could do worse than throw $2 our way 😉

Update 2

  • We’ve turned off comments because they were getting to hard to moderate, plus I think we’ve pretty much got all the point of views now. We enjoyed the feedback though, good and bad 🙂
  • Yes we got what we signed up for, that’s not our beef. This article sums up our contention better than we perhaps did: http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/02/amazons-appstore-youll-make-0-when-we-give-your-app-away-and-youll-like-it/
  • Our app status in Amazon now says ‘suppressed’ no idea what that means, but it does sound a bit comical/sinister 😉
  • My personal favourites are the conspiracy theorists “BUT YOU DIDN’T SHOW SALES AFTERWARDS, YOU GUYS MUST HAVE MADE MILLIONS”. I was almost tempted to post “Dang nab it, you caught us red handed” as a joke, but no doubt that would just get out of hand. Here you go July sales (we were featured on the 27th of June, -10 points if you ask for June 28-30th, now you’re just being silly ;-P):

20
Apr

App Store Experiments Gone Wild

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 😉