I published my first app to Apple's App Store back in March 2011. I can remember how exciting it was to see those first downloads rolling in. This particular app ended up being my most successful with around 3/4 million downloads of the iOS and Android versions combined, but even back then, I felt like I was late to the game and wondered how to get my app to stand out from the others.
At that time there were around 400,000 apps in the App Store. Now there are over 1.5 million.
Fast forward 3 years to the Spring of 2014. A friend and I came up with what we thought was a great idea for an app. We did a quick search on the App Store and found nothing. Nice! We were in business. After a few months of late nights and long weekends we shipped.
It turns out we had not searched the right keywords. There were over 100 competitors and huge established players in the space we were trying to penetrate. It was demoralizing.
Here is how my apps have fared since I started tracking downloads and usage in late 2012:
Downloads (via App Annie):
Sessions (via Flurry):
Feels hopeless, right? Maybe notâ€¦
The Verge interviewed Phil Schiller about upcoming changes to the App Store that might give Indie developers hope again. Here is a brief summary of the changes and my initial reaction:
Advertising in the App Store
Apple will start showing search ads for apps in the App Store.
I have mixed feelings about this. Itâ€™s hard to imagine the ad space not being filled by big companies with bigger budgets. Iâ€™ve advertised my own apps in the past using Admob and other ad networks. It is really easy to burn through a lot of money quickly.
Back in 2011, with even less competition, I believe I would have had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to see any significant impact. Needless to say I didn't have tens of thousands of dollars to spend :)
Auto-renewable subscription support for all apps
Previously Apple approved auto-renewable subscriptions only for certain types of apps. From the App Store Review Guidelines:
11.15 Apps may only use auto-renewing subscriptions for periodicals (newspapers, magazines), business Apps (enterprise, productivity, professional creative, cloud storage), and media Apps (video, audio, voice), or the App will be rejected
With the new changes all apps can take advantage of this model.
This is huge! I experienced the challenge of manual renewals first-hand with a kid-friendly private social networking app I spent almost 2 years building in my free time. Rather than require users to manually renew their subscription every 3 months, we settled on a higher, yearly price because we felt it would be less onerous. If we could have had a recurring, quarterly subscription for, letâ€™s say $1, it would have been perfect! In that alternate auto-renewal reality, I might even have made those tens of thousands of advertising dollars by now. Well, tens anyway. ;-)
85/15 revenue split after first year of subscription
After the first year of a subscription, Apple will reduce their cut of revenue from 30% to 15%.
I love the 85/15 split, and not just because developers will make more money. My hope is that this will incentivize developers to build amazing apps that people love and will continue to use for years.
A ray of hope for upcoming or burnt-out indie developers?
The minute I read the article on Verge I took a look at my own apps. They havenâ€™t been maintained in years, and I am no longer making any significant amount of money from ads in those apps. I went to all my ad networks and disabled all ads (except iAd – that requires an app submit!). I went to iTunes Connect, the Google Play Developer Console, and the Amazon Appstore Developer Portal and made all my paid apps free.
This interview got me genuinely excited – not just about these specific changes, but about the possibilities. I started dreaming again…
Hopefully you will too.