Taking your Apps to Market

I’ve written a lot of apps (and have used a lot of apps) so one thing I’m always on the lookout for is what is working when it comes to top apps – getting users, feedback, and ultimately monetizing your apps.  The market is always changing and the trends are different in different app categories, and the key seems to be able to adapt quickly. Pricing and Making Money Games are completely different than productivity apps, which are entirely different than entertainment apps, just to name a few broad categories.  In gaming, an upfront purchase is certainly the tried and true method, but as the market has saturated with $0.99 games, the most successful models have shifted to in-app purchases (IAPs) that extend the value of a free game.   These IAPs can be either for additional game content or levels, or for in-game items that enhance the value of playing the game. There are exceptions.  Dan Russell-Pinson, the developer of the hugely popular Stack the States game available on iOS (often in the top 100 of top grossing apps) and Windows Phone, has discussed the monetization of kids games extensively in the Charlotte Game Meetup group.   (If you’re reasonably to the Charlotte, NC area, you really should make it out to this meetup!  Some app devs are amateurs, some are seasoned professionals!)  The challenge with educational and children’s games, according to Dan, is that most institutions (and, in many cases, parental controls) prevent in-app purchases, so to be successful, the purchasing has to be simple/upfront.  Other games have more freedom.  John O’Neill, founder and chief wizard at Sparkplug Games, has discussed this at length at a number of the Raleigh-area meetups.  Effectively testing your app and gathering initial feedback by micro-launching an app can be a useful way to test a small market segment before going worldwide. When it comes to pricing, however, starting at a high price point (within reason, of course, which is dictated by the current market) is usually the best approach.  Many apps are put on sale at regular intervals, and if you stick with the lowest possible price point you lock yourself out of promotion opportunities.  Besides, you can always lower the price of an app.  Raising it – while technically possible – is seldom helpful. Advertising Placing ads in apps is a great way to bring in revenue, as Kevin Ashley discusses in this post.  The key to make advertising successful, though, is that you need lots of users using your app for long periods of time.  If users are in and out of your app, the amount of revenue your app will bring in will be disappointing. For Windows apps, check out the Microsoft pubCenter.  An SDK is available that makes it easy to plug into Windows 8 and Phone applications.  Publishing While it’s a good idea to consider how you can make money with your apps, it shouldn’t be the main focus.  The primary focus should be on creating a compelling application – and if that’s successful, the money will follow. At our events we often rush the publishing process -- but in reality, this is something we should spend some time focusing on.  When publishing an app, you’re presented with the following portal: By the time you get all the way down to description, all you want to do is hit publish and be done with it.  To further complicate the scenario, the Description section isn’t enabled until packages are uploaded (and, that’s not enabled until the previous steps are complete).  First suggestion: upload a package file that you are using for testing in order to enable the description section.  You won’t submit this for certification as you can simply upload the finished package when ready, but you want to start filling out the description section early: Now that you’ve got the description field enabled, start filling it out.  Revise it.  Think about it.  Create compelling screenshots.  Create the promotional images.  Think about the keywords.  Have this section done ahead of time so when you are ready to submit your app for certification, this isn’t an afterthought.  The reason why this is critical is because this is the first interaction – the curb appeal – of your app.  This is your one chance to convince them to install your app. Get the Word Out You got the email: Now it’s time to get the word out.  Include a link to the app in your email signature.  Include it in your blog.  Send an email to your developer friends, local user group, or app dev club and ask, politely, for some peer reviews.  Post in the developer forums that you just completed the app.  Be proud of your work.  Why is this important?   You want to hit the ground running.  A few days after launching Brew Finder, I was seeing pretty good traction: Looking at the downloads, I noticed a spike shortly after launch: When I opened the Food & Dining category on the store, I saw the reason for the nice uptick: This was great to see!  The app is on its way – but a big part in making this happen is to get the word out early.  Drive as much usage to your app in as short a period of time as you can.  The other thing we want to do is encourage ratings.  One way to do this is to add a ‘nag’ screen in the app.  For example: The above box shows up once every few launches and allows the user to permanently dismiss the box.  When I look at the number of ratings I’ve received (15 ratings, as you can see in the screenshot higher on the page), I’m getting a 1:30 rating to download ratio.   If I look at the apps where I did not ask for ratings: That’s 1:192, 1:131, and 1:180 ratings to downloads.  There is no question that asking users – politely – to rate your app will drive your ratings to download ratio.  You can also add whatever logic you’d like into your rating reminder dialog.  For example, only ask after so many minutes of usage or after a certain number of app launches. So what about making money on the app?  I ruled out charging for the app,  While visiting my dad and describing the app, he looked up a similar app on his phone that charged a measly $0.99, and he didn’t buy it.  I realized that this is a typical reaction – an up front purchase will turn away many users.  In-app advertising is also a possibility, but, because of the specific nature of the app (breweries, beer, etc.), using an ad platform is likely to be detrimental to the app – it will bring in a little revenue, but potentially discourage use.  The ultimately goal is to create a great app, encourage use, and find a way (perhaps through a partnership with breweries) to drive value and revenue.  Is this information useful?  If so, let us know (comments, contact me, etc.).  We’re getting a lot of feedback lately that marketing, monetization, and similar topics are really helpful.   Good luck on your app, and if you publish an app, post a link in the comments and I’ll check it out!

APIMASH Quakes & Astronomy

A bit overdue, but I just realized I never really announced the APIMASH project we’ve been working on.  It’s up on github.   The purpose of the project is to illustrate how to go about constructing a mashup application from a variety of data sources.  We’re adding to the project all the time, and have both Windows 8 and Windows Phone app starter kits to get you going.  What makes the APIMASH concept so fun, to me, is that we’re consuming real-world data.   Whether you use one of our APIs we consume in the kits, or find one through a site like Mashery, Programmable Web, the Azure Datamarket, or others, mashup applications are a LOT of fun to create.  Because many mashup applications use similar patterns, consume similar JSON data, etc., you’ll see it’s easy to adapt the code to just about any scenario. I’ve got a couple of examples in the APIMASH project, and more to come soon.  The first one is an earthquake sample that illustrates how to consume a data feed from the USGS that contains earthquake information for a given time frame.  That data is then plotted on a Bing map.   This starter kit is available as both a Windows 8 app and Windows Phone app.   The starter kits are very bare-bones (intentionally) – a more complete version based off these templates is available in the Windows Store as an app called Earthquake Explorer.   Conceptually, the apps are the same, but the finished app in the store illustrates what you can do by adding a bit of polish to the app.  You can read more about creating a great mashup using this app as an example here in these blog posts. Starter Kit: Completed app: The other project I created in the APIMASH project is called Messier Sky Objects, which is available in the Windows Store as Messier Object Explorer.   This is a mashup (of sorts) that combines Worldwide Telescope with the data of all Messier objects, a collection of objects like nebulae, galaxies, clusters, et. al.  By using the Worldwide Telescope JavaScript API, it’s simple to create great-looking astronomy apps (in fact, many of my apps, listed in my side-bar on my home page, use this as a template). So what’s next?  I just released Brew Finder for Windows 8.   This app uses the brewerydb.com API to show local breweries and is available in the Windows Store here.   I hope to have a nice sample in the APIMASH project soon based on this project. Have another sample you’d like to see?  Leave a comment and we’ll review it on the next team meeting!

Getting an App in the Windows Store: What, Why, and How

My colleague Andrew put together a great post on the Windows Store, developing for Windows 8, and what you need to know to get started – including some great ways to get hands on experience.  By now, most developers are aware that Windows 8 is available in a consumer preview, with a new release coming in early June.  Windows 8 not only presents developers with a new environment, it also presents a new distribution channel via the Windows Store.   Let’s dive into things: What The "What" portion of this post is pretty straightforward, namely the Windows Store. New to Windows 8, the Windows Store is the single place for consumers to find and acquire Metro style apps in Windows 8. If your app isn't there, users won't be able to find and install it, simple as that. You probably won't be surprised to find that we think the Windows Store is kind of a big deal. In fact, there's an entire official blog devoted to the store, which you just might want to bookmark. Why All developers, whether experienced Windows hands, HTML/CSS slingers, iOS/Android app developers, have a tremendous opportunity in Windows 8. The Windows Store will represent a huge market when Windows 8 launches, and if history is any measure it will grow rapidly. Windows 7 sold more than a half a billion licenses in its first 2 years after release. By some estimates there are more than 1.5 billion PCs running Windows today. Simply put, those who are first in the door to the Windows Store stand to profit handsomely by the visibility and prestige of being one of the first apps in the store when Windows 8 is released. What's more, Windows 8 Metro style applications allow developers to use familiar languages and UI paradigms, so it's easier than ever to leverage your existing skills. If you have experience with WPF or Silverlight, then building a Metro style application with XAML and C# (or VB) will be straightforward for you. If you're more of a web whiz, the support for building HTML5/CSS/JavaScript Metro style applications will help you to quickly leverage those skills to build awesome apps and games. And C++ developers are now also able to join the party, with C++ and XAML a fully-supported pairing for building Metro style apps. And if you're a website developer or iOS developer, we've even started providing resources to help you port your applications to the new platform: Website to Metro style app iPad to Metro style app How Hopefully, by this time you understand why you'd want to write a Metro style app and get it in the store. Next is the question of how. To start with, you'll need a copy of Windows 8 (the current release as of this writing is the Consumer Preview, which you can get here), and a copy of Visual Studio 11 (the current release as of this writing is the Visual Studio 11 beta, which you can get here). Next step is to head over to http://dev.windows.com/, where you'll find tutorials, downloads, and samples you can use to get started (not to mention performance best practices and store certification requirements). And if you're looking for information on making your app look great (and work well, from a UX standpoint), we've got you covered at http://design.windows.com/, including UX design patterns, downloadable design assets, and end-to-end guidance. If you learn better via webcasts or in-person events, you should check out our Windows 8 Developer Camps and see if there's one near you. If you're in the DC area, the local Public Sector folks are holding a series of Windows 8 events, including evening lectures, webcasts, and 1-day dev camps. Need some focused time to get started on your app? Join us for a local Metro Accelerator Lab, or Metro Friday Hackathon (currently running here in Mid-Atlantic and in Tampa, FL, but more are coming to other locations in the US east coast). There are Metro Accelerator Labs coming up in the following cities (for the east coast...if you're outside of the US east coast, check availability with your local Developer Evangelist): Tampa, FL (http://aka.ms/MetroLabTA) Atlanta, GA (http://aka.ms/MetroLabAT - I'll be there!) Boston, MA (http://aka.ms/MetroLabBos) Whichever you attend, lab or hackathon, you'll have focused time for coding, with access to Microsoft evangelists with hands-on experience building Metro style apps, who can help you with your ideas, questions, or roadblocks. Once you have your app idea prototyped and have a fairly clear idea of what's needed to finish it, you'll probably start thinking about submitting it to the Windows Store for review. As with the Windows Marketplace for Windows Phone 7, all apps in the Windows Store will have to undergo review to ensure that they meet the required performance and quality guidelines. At the time of this writing, access to the Windows Store is by invitation only, and you will need a token in order to be able to register for a developer account with the store. So the last part of how is "how do I get a token?" The best way is to attend an Application Excellence Lab, which is a 1:1 engagement with a trained Premier Field Engineer to review your application for performance, quality, and adherence to Metro design principles. If your application meets the review criteria, you will receive a token to register for the store. If your app still needs some work, you'll receive detailed feedback on what needs improvement, which means you'll have a better (and hopefully more profitable) app in the end. Finally, here are the suggested steps to get invited to an App Excellence lab: Create a really great Windows 8 Metro style app (or game) immediately. Get it as ready as if you were submitting to the store. If you know your local DPE evangelists (maybe because you attended a Windows camp training), get in touch with them and ask them to nominate your app for a lab.  If you don’t know your local evangelist, leave a comment here or email the following information to win8aefb@microsoft.com: Your name City & country where you are located Brief description for your app (no binary, screenshot is optional, but only send if the screenshot is public, non-confidential stuff ) Wait for our response letting you know where the closest app excellence lab will be and how to get in touch with the right evangelist to nominate you. Enjoy developing for Windows 8! 

My Apps

Dark Skies Astrophotography Journal Vol 1 Explore The Moon
Mars Explorer Moons of Jupiter Messier Object Explorer
Brew Finder Earthquake Explorer Venus Explorer  

My Worldmap

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