pyehouse
9Dec/110

Building Buzz for your iOS App

I recently received the following email:

Hi Lynn,

I hope you are doing well and that this holiday season isn't keeping you too busy.

The reason for my e-mail is because I have a friend from College who just finished an iOS game and is looking to get some press for it. I wanted to know if there are any tips that you could share with him to help his game out there. If you could help him get in contact with any iOS websites, I'm sure he would be very grateful too.

What I responded with is more or less what I wish I had done with Centripetal and would do if I had it all to do over again. To begin with, this is premised on the notion that you are a small time developer, have virtually no reputation beyond your circle of friends and are planning to release your app with the hopes of making some money on it.

What I found is that timing is very important. When an app is first released on the app store, it will show up on lists all over the web. Ask anyone who has released a small app with little exposure what their sales looked like and they will tell you sales were highest within the first 24-48 hours of app store availability. So if you do absolutely nothing else, you will see a bump in sales and therefore in eyes on your app during that period. You want to make the most of that.

My suggestion then is to try to focus on driving your marketing and buzz building on that moment when your app first arrives on the app store. Granted, I haven't tested this since as I said this is what I would like to have done, but work with me here. 🙂

Let's assume for now that your app is not now nor has it ever been available for sale on the app store. You can make it available for review when it is done, but put the release date out into the future. This won't affect the review cycle but will keep it from being up for sale immediately after approval. Once it is approved, you can push the release date back to a current date and have control over the actual release time within a 24-48 hour window.

Next, start building buzz NOW! Don't wait for the game to be complete. Got a blog? Blog about your game. Hint at what features you're going to have. Hold a poll about which feature to include or how to implement it. Get feedback. Drum up interest. Have people anticipating the game's release. The more people get your game and at this state, the idea of the game, put in front of them the more likely they are to mention it to friends or at least share the link.

Can you create a gameplay or app usage video? If your app can be simulated on your Mac without any loss of features, then use something like Screenflick to record on your Mac. If that isn't an option, you can use a separate recording device to view a physical handheld in action. Of course that's not going to look as good, but what can you do? The point is, you want folks to see what the game is like. During development you can release videos of beta builds if you think they will be enticing. As you approach release you can snazz it up with music and such. For actual release, you definitely want to have a high quality app video available for your users to see.

You also want to have a webpage or website devoted to your app. It should make people want your game. To do this, list things people will look for in an app like yours. If it's a game, tell them how fun it will be, how many levels it has, what groundbreaking new playstyle it involves. And link to the reviews for you app.

Ah yes, reviews. I used O.A.T.S. to get a list of sites that do reviews without accepting money to create or promote your review. It's less expensive and more honest. Of course it is possible to get an honest review that you've paid for, but there is always the likelihood of a bias. If that doesn't bother you, you can of course find many sites which are willing to take your money in exchange for a review and a little extra to move yours to the top of the pile. I leave that choice to you.

To get your app into a reviewer's hands you will either have to release your app and provide promo codes, which all review sites accept but which blows the whole "control your launch date" idea out of the water, or you will need to provide them beta access through something like TestFlightApp. TestFlightApp is free and while it requires some extra fiddling on the part of the reviewer and the developer, it's pretty easy to use. I imagine a number of review sites would be willing to meet you half way and make use of this. Regardless, no reviewer is going to want to have to pay for your app in order to review it, especially if you are requesting the review. At this point, you have to wait for the review. This could take awhile. Weeks. Perhaps even a month or so. Technically there's no guarantee (unless you bought it) that you will even get a review. It's up to you how long you wait.

Once you have a satisfactory number of positive reviews you can link to, set them up on your site and in your iTunes app store description. Make the app available. Once you see it on the app store, make additional announcements about its availability anywhere you can. Ask friends to spread the word. If you're willing to spend money, you could consider advertising on sites you would expect users of your app to frequent. Advertising options vary greatly across websites. If you wish to do this, contact the webmasters of those sites directly for details.

Now, why all this fuss over timing everything to hit all at once? As I said, you get a free bump when your app is first listed on the store, especially if it is free or $0.99 because there are a number of sites and services that exist solely to scrape the iTunes App Store and list all new apps in those price ranges. It is my belief that if you can build enough buzz such that a large number of people are discussing and playing your app at the same time, it increases the odds that your app will then be mentioned to others, i.e. that it will become a hot item. And that's what this is about, increasing your odds. As I said to begin with, the premise here is that you are an indie developer with no name, no buzz and nothing to build on. If you already have established credentials, you can build on that and you'll see more success on average with the same app than if you had nothing to start with.

Of course, that's not the end of it. You should never consider your app 'finished'. Always consider things you could do to expand on it, build on it. When you release updates that provide more features or more fun or more playtime to users, it increases the perceived value and provides an opportunity for more buzz. Keep making the announcements, keep interest up.

And if your app is already on the store or if you simply disagree with this notion of opening day timing, then you can of course bust the sequence up. Release sooner, don't hold back. But the rest of it still makes sense. You still want that app use or gameplay video. You want that website. You want to build interest before you ever release anything. You want the reviews. Of course if the app is already up, you can use promo codes.

Whichever way you go, however you choose to market your app, the important thing is to give the user something they want to use and something they want to share with their friends. There's no marketing with higher quality than simple word of mouth. Hopefully, you'll be able to build your own Angry Birds. If you do follow my advice here, particularly if it's not what you were originally planning to do, I'd appreciate it if you drop me a line and let me know how it goes.

4Oct/110

iPhone 4S – Did You Expect a 5?

Shiny glass like image of an appleThe Wall Street Journal, and others, seem to be bummed that Apple announced the iPhone 4S without the expected hoverboard and dishwashing upgrades. Apparently, having a faster processer, faster graphics chip, support for both GSM and CDMA on the same device, more capacity, sharper camera, incredible voice control capability, support for faster downloads via HSPA+ along with an extra letter 'S' wasn't enough.

The fact is that for any other device, the hardware bump from iPhone 4 to iPhone 4S would represent sufficient advances as to warrant a version bump, no sweat. But because of the expectations which Apple has built up around their devices, it is almost inevitable that they can't keep up with expectations. In the weeks leading up to today's announcement, blogs and news sites trotted out lede after lede baiting users with tantalizing might-be's and possible could-have's. Some were spot on, some missed the mark. Regardless, there was precisely one voice missing from the hype machine. Yep, Apple. Apple made no grand pronouncements other than that it would be about iPhones. There were bits and pieces which we could glean from their activities and from various leaks (perhaps some more astroturfy than others but still) but nothing that set expectations terribly high. Some even surmised that some of the news leaks just prior to today's Apple announcement were intentionally leaked by Apple in order to lower expectations that were running rampant leading up to the iPhone 4S unveiling. And given how many Debbie Downers are disappointed in the hardware bump, I can hardly blame Apple for wanting to set expectations lower.

Jazzed About the iPhone 4S

To be honest, while I'm appreciative of all of the enhancements, it's the GSM/CDMA on a single device on top of availability on Sprint that I'm most jazzed about. Because of the support for both cell protocols, the iPhone is being called a world phone, which is now a fair statement. It now means that I can take my phone to whichever carrier I desire to take it to, without having to worry about the hardware inside which tied it to one set of carriers or another. It adds the element of freedom that has been missing with the iPhone since it was first released. And while I haven't had an opportunity to check for myself, Sprint is known for having lower data and voice plan rates. I don't know if that will translate to lower rates for iPhone users, but if so, that might apply a little additional downward pressure on fees that have only gone up since the iPhone's debut. I wasn't considering myself to be in the market for a phone upgrade but I might take a look at what Sprint will offer and, if it makes sense to do so, make the switch.

Really, there is a lot to love with this upgrade. If you can't find something that at least piques your interest, you aren't trying very hard. It seems strange to hear people complaining that they didn't get the toy they weren't promised in the first place and instead have to settle for the toy that is still clearly better than what they already have. I suppose, though, that it speaks volumes about the popularity of Apple and what people expect from their design team.

20Sep/110

Metro and iOS – One Goal, Two Approaches

I want to touch on this subject once more, because I think it deserves some more attention. I imagine Metro is getting overplayed a bit, but as almost anyone will point out, Metro is essentially Windows Phone 7's interface writ large. Or put another way, where WP7 was a revolution for Microsoft, Metro is the next evolutionary step from WP7, putting it onto the desktop in addition to mobile devices. Yet this isn't so very different from what Apple has been moving toward with various UI elements bouncing back and forth between iOS and OS X and then, earlier this year, the 'Back to the Mac' themed WWDC conference. The fact is both Microsoft and Apple are pushing toward a unified UI strategy. They're just taking different tacks getting there.

The Red Queen - Metro's New Look

I've mentioned elsewhere that I don't dislike Metro. I can't say I like it all that much either. It's definitely different, definitely featureful. I'm not looking forward to some of the support sessions I am no doubt going to be involved with when some of my clients end up with a new computer with Windows 8 installed and no clue how to operate the new UI. Still, I think there are a number of things Microsoft is doing right with Windows 8. One thing I've already mentioned that I think they're doing wrong is making too big a change in the UI too quickly. The shift from Windows XP to Vista and on to Windows 7 didn't involve large paradigm shifts in UI usage and even so there were some complaints for users who were used to the "way things were". But by and large, things have gotten better, folks got used to the new look and layout and things were more or less okay. Windows 8 looks to upend all of that by introducing what is, for all intents and purposes, a completely new way of doing things. Technically anyone who has a Windows Phone 7 device now is already exposed to the core principles. But that's a very small number of people really. I'm not trying to rehash my previous article, but I do want to point out that this whole hog approach is very purposeful. It's not an accident that Microsoft is doing this. I think they realize just how much risk this gambit involves and I think they are going about it with eyes wide open. The question is, why? I'll get to that in a bit.

The White Queen - iOS's Slow Play

Apple on the other hand is taking a slow approach. They introduced iOS, with UI elements similar to those on OS X. The expanded on those elements. Then over time, things have slowly begun to merge. With Lion, we now have the Launchpad to mimic iOS home screen functionality, the scrolling and scroll bars are behaving like they do on iOS, swipes are beginning to work similarly, full screen mode is being rolled out, though not pushed out... slowly we are seeing the iOSification of OS X which itself was the basis for iOS. The emphasis here is slow. OS X is still fundamentally OS X. Take someone who's only familiar with OS X 10.0 and sit them down in front of Lion and they'll still be able to do anything. The reversed scrolling will confuse the hell out of them at first, granted, but once you get them past that hurdle, they'll be fine. Put someone on an iOS device and, as has been mentioned elsewhere, the gestures and usage seem relatively intuitive. People pick it up easily and things work as you would expect them to. Yet as dissimilar as the two environments are, they are being brought together. How much further we have yet to go, I can't say. What I can say is that on the current course, it's going to be a subtle shift and I if the scrolling "controversy" is any indication, it will involve little fuss.

King's Gambit

So why then would Microsoft jump so quickly to unify their UI with a fast play that may involve more pain and more screaming from consumers? Simple. The iPad. If it weren't for the fact that the iPad is trouncing all comers in the tablet space, Microsoft would not feel the need to renovate their very non-touch-oriented OS for tablet use. Yes, Windows Phone 7 is already out and seems to be a precursor to anything in the Metro interface, intimating it was in the development pipeline before Windows 8. I'd be willing to bet that Windows Phone 7 was, in fact, a product of the effort to get Windows 8 out and available for desktop and tablet use. Moreover, I think they bet on the phone strategy because at least in the phone space there has been some indication of room to grow, with Android devices challenging the iPhone's dominance and leaving hope that Microsoft might be able to push some of these devices out rapidly. Of course, I can't know for sure. But tell me... if Microsoft really wanted to, couldn't they have simply held off on finalizing Windows 8 and making it operate on smartphones and done a simultaneous release? Surely the WP7 team knew about Windows 8 development. It seems they clearly wanted WP7 out in the real world for users to play with and get used to the interface before Windows 8 was out and available. And they wanted that momentum to carry them forward into deploying Windows 8 on desktops (a lesser concern) as well as new tablet devices now based on Windows 8 and standing a chance in hell against the iPad.

Microsoft is rushing their UI unification in order to take on Apple in the tablet space, with Windows Phone 7 as the vanguard of the UI makeover. I don't know how successful their gambit will be, but as I look it over, I think it's the only move they could make.

9Sep/110

Flash on iOS, Adobe Throws in the Towel

Techcrunch reports that Adobe has changed their Flash Media Server to stream Flash based content to iOS devices by essentially removing the content from a Flash container and reformatting it on the fly to something palatable on iOS. Two quick comments.

First, the opening quote from Techcrunch:

Ardent iOS supporters have been clamoring for true Flash support for years

I would respectfully disagree with. Ardent iOS supporters probably haven't missed Flash support much, and even less so over time.

Second, this marks a potentially significant departure for Adobe from their stance of pushing their format across all platforms as the end-all be-all. This combined with their announcement of Adobe Edge, their tool to create content using HTML5, JavaScript and CSS instead of Flash, are indicators that Adobe seems to be pushing away from Flash and trying to stay on the lead of creating the tools developers will use going forward. I don't see this as a bad thing, frankly.

2Sep/110

Windows Phone 7 Will Not Steal (Much) From iOS

Techcrunch is reporting that Gardner and IDC predict a 20 percent market share for Windows Phone 7 by 2015. Said to be a conservative estimate, it appears to be based on several factors:

  • HP dropping webOS, leaving potential developers to jump ship to another mobile platform
  • Microsoft pushing new product in Europe
  • Microsoft marketing to women and youth

Let's take a look at these. HP dumped webOS because of a change in direction by their new CEO. I won't go into why he chose to do this, but yes webOS is dead, or at least its twitching body is soon to be laid to rest, barring a last minute rescue at any rate. But how popular was webOS really? Wonderful as it may be, webOS never gained much traction in terms of actual rubber-to-road users. And like it or not, no matter how good your platform is, developers go where the users are. Where are the users? Not on webOS. So how much of a bump would Microsoft get if every single webOS developer suddenly migrated to developing for the platform? Not much. And that bump would be made smaller by the fact that developers on marginal platforms tend to cross develop to multiple platforms. In other words, webOS developers are probably already developing for other platforms including Windows Phone 7. While market share is zero sum game, developer share is another thing entirely. So I wouldn't expect many more apps to be added to the WP7 platform by webOS developers because many of them may already be there.

What about Microsoft's sales efforts in Europe? Currently Windows Phone 7 barely registers a blip on the radar. They have their work cut out for them, and releasing "hundreds" of salesmen into the market to try to "better demonstrate the product" might not have the anticipated effect. Certainly it can't hurt to have more professionals out pushing your product, but in reality you are far more likely to buy into a platform because of one of two reasons: you are used to it already and are simply jumping to new hardware or someone you already know and trust shows you how the new platform is better. Which is to say, word of mouth. And right now, word of mouth is working against Microsoft, not for it.

What about targeting women and young/first-time buyers? I can't speak to how or why WP7 might appeal to women in particular, though the claim is made. Still, saying it is particularly appealing to women speaks to a relative appeal between genders. It doesn't mean women are necessarily desiring WP7 phones more than other platform's devices. Just that women are more likely to want a WP7 than men. Again, assuming Achim Berg's, head of  Windows Phone marketing, assertion is true. As for first-time buyers, well, you can't buy cool.

Am I saying iOS is unassailable? Absolutely not. Look at Android. It has its problems, certainly, but Android has grabbed its own slice of the pie by differentiating itself from iOS. App availability is there, although the app store experience is, in my opinion, of lower quality. But it is theoretically far more tweakable than any iOS device. What exactly will WP7 bring to the table that is going to truly mark itself as being different enough from iOS to warrant grabbing market share there? Because that is what they are going to have to do no matter who they want market share from. They need to be different enough and in a good way, if they want to be picked from a lineup that includes some of the most popular phones currently produced. Even carrier availability is disappearing as a viable means of differentiation as iOS devices are beginning to appear on more networks worldwide.

No, Windows Phone 7 is not going to steal much, if any, market share from iOS, certainly not based on the information available today from Mr. Berg and the analysts down the hall.