On December 13, I launched my app Panchromatic. How did that go?
The initial init and setup for Panchromatic was made on November 29, 2015. This means, I have been working on this app for over a year! Now that it is finally released, I wanted to write down some thoughts on the development process, how the launch went and what the future will bring.
The long development time is (sadly) not due to a long list of features, special effects and an overall world-class app. Instead, it was me struggling to find the time between handling two kids, managing the household and getting enough sleep as it is. Trying to fit in some programming usually meant less sleep, and I could not always get myself to stay up. I also ran into things like a new Swift version (3.0) that I wanted to support and new APIs (announced at WWDC in June), which took some time away from actually developing.
I am aware that programming is merely a hobby of mine, so I am not going to produce the next AppStore top seller. But it’s fun to see my own ideas come to life, bring something to the table that has not been done before (as far as I know, but I admit to not having done a thorough research). So my apps are little niche projects, that are only going to attract a niche audience.
Looking for testers, I turned to reddit’s TestFlight community, asking users to sign up through a Google Form embedded on my website. Additionally, I tweeted about it, which got picked up by Noel Chenier, another photography app developer. He further spread the word on his twitter and a community for mobile photographer, mobitog. From there, I got a lot of testers that provided great feedback and feature requests, as well as a ton of encouragement from the community, when I introduced myself.
Testing went really great, I released several iterations of test versions, as well as 3 release candidates. I only fixed bugs that were reported or appeared in my crash reports and made user experience changes based on feedback (like decreasing the time for film development from several days to a couple of hours), but did not add new suggested features. That’s because I, admittedly, wanted to get the app out the door before the holidays and finally have it released.
Release & Marketing
I settled on a release date based on several factors. First, I had read somewhere that apps should be released on a Tuesday, that way IF it makes a splash or seems to be a hit for people, the AppStore team has the time to decide to feature it in the AppStore refresh on Thursday. Obviously this is not going to happen for me, but it makes choosing a lot easier. Secondly, I wanted to be done before the holidays and the AppStore usually closes down for some time during Christmas (for developers that is – the store front is still up of course).
After the date was settled, I submitted the final build a week in advance (though the app review times are down to 1-2 days). On the evening before the planned release date, I hit the button to publish, just so the app could propagate through the content delivery network. That way I could send out links and the app was there, there was no possibility of a glitch due to it just having been released.
In regards to marketing, I have neither the money, nor the time to do widespread PR. So I settled for some forums. Initially I also wanted to email some journalists, but haven’t gotten around to that yet. As I’ve heard from many others before, it’s important to be a part of a community before you release an app. Coming into one just to promote an app will be frowned upon, I even had threads deleted without comment. Another thing that does not work: Reddit. I posted to two subreddits that I thought would fit, but in my opinion, reddit is not a positive place (and I say that despite the fact that I browse it quite frequently). In order to “succeed” on reddit, you need superlatives catered to a mainstream audience; my small personal niche project was talked down pretty harshly, sometimes without even really looking at the app itself.
A much more fruitful approach was sending out a newsletter to beta testers (that had opted in to receiving them), that the app had now released. Then again, these good results were to be expected, since we had a prior relationship.
The responses and download numbers of Panchromatic in the first few days were quite… underwhelming. I did not expect many downloads, but I actually got only 40 downloads for the first three days. Sure, I had not done a lot of marketing, but it turned out some threads yielded not even 5 downloads (meaning they did not even show up in the campaign tool in iTunes Connect). The upside is that I know better now where I should post and where I won’t post again (*cough*reddit*cough*).
Another aspect of the performance is how the app is actually used. I track the usage through my own analytics tool and can see how much the app is used in regards to photos taken and films inserted and completed. The initial numbers don’t look like much either, but time will tell if and how the app is used over time and if the users are coming back to it or if they aren’t using it.
As I mentioned before, I already have a ton of new feature ideas for the app. Some of the features include taking pictures with the volume buttons, adding a flash and UI improvements. But the decision to work on these features will rest on how much I feel like doing it and if I think there really is an audience for the app. I’m not ungrateful if the app is used regularly by only five people, I love each and every user. But I will not pour my time into a free app when I am more keen on other things.
Regarding the business model, I have decided to offer the app for free in the beginning, no strings attached. Based on the usage, I want to implement some sort of advertisement to get some money (and maybe finance the analytics server or even the app developer fee). But this requires a steady usage of the app, five users a month will not generate enough ad revenue. Of course there will be an option to remove in-App purchases with an in-App purchase. Looking at the initial performance of the app, I am actually quite happy I did not spend the time to implement the ads in the first release (and spoil the overall design with ads).
For the next week, i.e. over the holidays, I will use my voucher to display search ads in the AppStore. So there will be $100 worth of advertising right inside the AppStore during the last days of the year and over Christmas. I’m looking forward to finding out how many downloads and users (if any) that yields.
For now, I’ll just lean back and see how it goes. And it’s also quite a relief not being responsible for a widely used app. That way, I don’t have to feel any kind of obligation to provide regular bug fix and feature updates and am entirely free to try out other projects I have my eyes on, like games with SpriteKit or Unity, collaborations with real-life friends or just reading a nice book for a change.
Have a great holiday!