Under the Radar

Under the Radar 56: Surviving the Winter

 

  welcome to under the radar a show about

  independent iOS app development I'm

  Marco Arment and I'm David Smith under

  the radar is never longer than 30

  minutes so let's get started so today we

  wanted to talk a little bit about how

  the the goldrush days for the App Store

  and the the Apple ecosystem seem to be

  probably over and so kind of you know

  what's different now how we change the

  way we do things as a result of that and

  maybe you know how we can look towards

  the future what's likely to happen in

  the future what do you think sure yeah

  because it's it's a funny thing with

  this to call it an apps like a gold rush

  we're obviously you know like that's

  hearkening back to the days when you

  know people would someone find gold

  somewhere in a valley you know out west

  or wherever and everyone would rush in

  and try and grab all the gold as much as

  they could before it all went away and

  there's some parallels to that in the

  sense of like the nature of a gold rush

  is that it's this very sort of temporary

  thing but it's interesting to me with

  the app stores where and well first it's

  amusing that I remember Apple actually

  even referred to the app stores as gold

  rushes I have this great in this like

  flashbulb memory of Scott Forstall in

  the intro video for the iPad with his

  like the way he sort of can get really

  intense with big eyes saying and we're

  expecting a whole new gold rush it's

  also a little bit funny that it's also

  in San Francisco yeah that's true

  they've been there you know their sports

  team is the 49ers and it's all very

  relevant but it's even they're like

  Apple embraced it that this was this

  whole big thing it was part of the

  marketing of like trying to get people

  onto the platform and developing forward

  is that there's this feeling of like

  there's all this opportunity and it's

  all the fake this capability that is

  time limited so you need to get in there

  and you need to you know grab as much as

  you can and in many ways that was true

  they weren't lying about that I don't

  think but it's weird now because they've

  launched three app stores subsequently

  or I guess for if you can count the Mac

  App Store but I'm not sure that you

  should but for the purposes of this

  discussion like they've launched three

  that are relevant to iOS where they

  launched the

  t the TV OS App Store they launched the

  watch app store and they launched the

  iMessage app store and I can't think of

  the only example out of any of those

  that I can think of where someone had

  like this big public like you know the

  store you seen wired or you see on the

  verge or somewhere where it's like you

  know developer makes two hundred

  thousand dollars in two weeks with five

  minutes worth of work kind of stories

  and I other than the app phonies which

  was an iMessage app that lets you trick

  your friends into thinking that they had

  said things they didn't which eventually

  got pulled from the App Store shocked

  reasonably well yes but did reasonably

  well like that's the only one out of

  those three stores which is not to say

  that there's no money to be made on

  these stores but it's a very different

  mentality I think it's also just a very

  different type of thing that succeeds in

  these different stores so in the case of

  iMessage I think the the promise of

  iMessage apps that aren't sticker packs

  just apps in iMessage has mostly been

  shown to not really be a thing after all

  maybe that'll change over time but you

  know what when Apple was announcing all

  this stuff this past summer and

  launching it in the fall you know

  whenever Apple launches something new

  some kind of new ability for an app or a

  new type of app store or a whole new

  device that will have an app store we've

  said in past episodes we've talked about

  how like you know it's there's there's

  usually a good chance of success if you

  are there on day one

  doing something doing the new thing that

  wasn't possible before and I think

  that's still true but I think what we're

  seeing is that you know even Apple

  doesn't know before they launch these

  things which ones will be successful and

  which ones have launched and even Apple

  is just guessing about that they're you

  know they they made this entire app

  store ecosystem for the watch and it

  turns out that the Apple watch really is

  not a hot place for launching new apps

  you know it you can and some apps have

  done okay on the watch but it's not

  really like this like gold rush the way

  the way it was back for the iPhone and

  briefly for the iPad and you know the TV

  I think we can look at the TV and we can

  say pretty similarly you know the Apple

  TV we we all

  thought when it launched we know that

  now now that we can make apps for the TV

  easily for the first time now there will

  be all new kinds of apps new types of

  things that we can't even think of and I

  think it turns out that we haven't

  thought of them yet and you know a year

  a year and a half or whatever it's been

  in we still haven't thought of them and

  it's unfortunate that what succeeds on

  the Apple TV is basically stuff that

  makes sense would succeed on Apple TV

  which is like video apps for different

  providers and occasionally a game but

  even then the gaming market for it I

  think has largely not materialized and

  we can talk about why but it doesn't

  really matter that you know that the

  facts are basically the Apple TV app

  market is really not a place where

  Indies have much action to be had and

  most people with Apple TVs are not

  really browsing the App Store regularly

  and finding new stuff and downloading it

  and paying for and everything else

  that's not really happening any no same

  thing I think with the watch and I think

  the the iMessage store is just the most

  recent example of this you know it when

  when the app stores were launching back

  in 2008 and and then later in the iPad

  launch in 2010 when that was really

  beginning when things were really hot

  back then this whole market was like

  totally untapped it was like a the fresh

  you know green Osia whatever whatever

  business people call it and they're

  gonna get whatever time some oceans are

  green so so the fresh fresh blue field

  and it there was it was easier back then

  to succeed because there was less there

  there was less history there and people

  were actually really excited to get

  these new kinds of devices and then

  browse around and throw money around and

  see what what can they now do they

  couldn't do before or what could this

  new device that they just got for the

  first time do and then what we've seen

  since then basically is that every new

  every additional platform or store or

  capability that has launched since then

  and that has that has provided us

  opportunities that didn't exist before

  since then every one of those is

  seemingly smaller than than the last one

  or has less potential for Indies than

  the last one and it's not because Apple

  is some you know

  corporate sellout or anything it's not

  that at all it's that just the nature of

  these stores and devices and abilities

  like the low-hanging fruit was picked

  long ago and now we're going into these

  more and more specialized areas more and

  more specialized markets and adding

  these kind of like niche abilities and

  niche demands to the various product

  lines into the various app stores and

  SDKs so I think this was inevitable this

  like III think the this this kind of

  cooling down of the gold rush like I

  think this happens to most gold rushes

  that's usually why they're called a gold

  rush and not like a gold you know

  forever age of stability and no that's

  like when things cool down and the

  markets mature like this just happens so

  I think this was largely inevitable I

  think there's not a lot a polluter

  really change it and instead it's our

  job as the developers as people trying

  to make a business in this ecosystem

  it's our job not to just yell at Apple

  to change things that they can't really

  change but instead to adapt what we do

  to basically be more compatible with

  this new market and to be more likely to

  succeed and that's partly been what this

  entire series has been about this whole

  podcast that we do for the last year

  it's basically been all about this it's

  basically been how do you succeed in

  today's market not in the gold rush of

  2008 but how do you succeed today in the

  realities of today's market and that

  often requires changes in the way we do

  things changes in the would in our

  expectations and and just kind of a more

  realistic and pragmatic view of how we

  operated what we should make yeah

  because I think in a lot of ways these

  things come down to the balance of

  supply and demand

  that's like anything and even vaguely

  related to business always have an comes

  down to supply and demand and I think

  especially of how the reason that there

  was such a so so much value to be taken

  from the early days of the early of I

  phone and I've had app stores is that

  there was a strong demand for these

  things and the supply

  was almost non-existent and in a weird

  way it makes me think of how like when

  you take if you divide something by a

  very small number you into put this just

  massive number but as that as you divide

  by a slightly a bigger and bigger number

  of very quickly you start to shrink as a

  result like the result which I don't

  know why that comes to mind for me but

  it's that kind of that impact that

  because the number of apps in the App

  Store was you know a few thousand a tens

  of thousands the all of the demand was

  concentrated on those and so the ability

  for a developer to you know to stand out

  from that and or even if you didn't even

  stand out the ability to just exist and

  make money was substantial and in

  whereas now any of these things are

  coming into an environment where the

  demand is arguable whether it's gotten

  down or not I'm not sure because I think

  you know sending let's say something

  like the watch my guess is Apple has

  sold more Apple watches in the first

  year of its existence then they had sold

  iPhones in the you know in the year

  after the App Store launched like the

  install base for the Apple watch is

  bigger almost certainly than it was for

  the iPhone back in those days and yet

  you know there's just I think oh the

  reality is the supply of things is just

  so much bigger proportionate to what it

  was that the that kind of easy it's like

  what what any good draw draws people to

  a gold rush is the promise of easy money

  that you don't have to work that hard to

  you know just strike it rich it's sort

  of this in this kind that you know going

  all the way back to the mining right

  it's like it's not that you need to

  invest the hundreds of thousands of

  dollars in to build you know building

  this huge big mining operation and going

  deep into mountains to pull out gold

  it's like no nothing like you imagine a

  gold rush it's like there's just gold

  lying on the ground and you feel just

  like walking around picking it out and I

  feel like in this there's that same

  difference where it's the like there is

  still money to be made but it is

  increasingly difficult and in a weird

  way I feel like that's both good and bad

  I like the feeling that in order to

  succeed now you have to work in in a

  more concrete way and it's harder to do

  and there's fewer people who were able

  to do it and so if you're somebody who

  has the skills and the patience and the

  sort of like I don't even know like

  intuition to be able to navigate that

  like you can still do it well and it's

  harder to do so there's less competition

  for it but on the flip side like I also

  do remember quite lovingly the days back

  in the FS are in the early app store

  we're doing anything would you know it

  gets you a reasonable amount of income

  and you could very easily get attention

  in the press or and all these types of

  places me was never easy easy it wasn't

  like literally just walks you know like

  reaching down and picking up gold off

  the ground but it was so much easier

  than it was then and that was like nice

  but it was also probably was just really

  unsustainable because that attracts so

  much attention and in the many ways to

  probably creates a lot of bad habits and

  perspectives as a developer like if I

  had structured my business assuming that

  that was those days we're always going

  to continue I was going to be in for a

  you know a saw surprise when it turns

  out that's not the case and you know

  you're I've had periods of the AppStore

  since then where it's like my income

  year-to-year has you know dropped by a

  half or two thirds or things like that's

  a pretty substantial robust change to

  have to adapt to and especially if you

  had gone the other like I've always

  generally speaking been the sort of the

  one-man low overhead type of developer

  but imagine like it's got to be really

  crazy if you were a developer who had

  sort of staffed up as a result and had a

  big team and it kind of been assuming

  that those those salad days would going

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  our show so I thought maybe we'd talk

  about you know in the first you know the

  first half we basically covered things

  are worse here's me why basically things

  are worse at harder now now I think it's

  worth talking about strategies and

  specifics about how we exist in a

  sustainable healthy way in this new

  environment realistically and and you

  know you men should make before the

  break that you've always kind of kept

  things low overhead and just you for the

  most part and and III think it's worth

  going more into this you know you in

  particular I think are you know

  basically like the I think you are the

  most pragmatic and prolific developer I

  know because you try lots of things and

  I think this is this is a a key survival

  skill in this market in a tough market

  where there's lots of competition and

  lots of changes and it's generally kind

  of cooling this to me is this is the key

  is basically to try a lot of different

  things and also critically I think the

  way you do things is you tend to try

  things without putting a massive amount

  of budget and time into it before you

  know whether it will it will succeed you

  know it's I don't know if you subscribe

  you like the minimal Viable Product

  thing or not but I think what you do is

  close to that in the sense that not that

  you put out crap because you don't but

  that you put out one point o's that you

  didn't spend three years making be and

  like you know 300 thousand dollars worth

  every sort is like you know you're not

  pouring all that into a 1.0 because you

  don't know whether it'll succeed yet and

  by doing it that way you're able to

  launch a whole bunch of different stuff

  you know over over a few years you

  launch tons of apps and then you can see

  what succeeds and then build on that

  yeah

  I think the thing that's probably my

  best is to point out to is the reason I

  take the approach I take is because of

  what my goals are and for years now like

  what I got into this business you know I

  used to be a consultant and like there

  are lots of problems with with new

  consulting work but in general like the

  nice thing about consulting is it's very

  straightforward you do a certain amount

  of hours of work you get a certain

  amount of money for that work and the

  uncertainty comes in can you have an ex

  client but if you're you know if you're

  a consultant of a reasonable quality

  like finding work is usually had it

  become as this becomes a natural

  relatively straightforward process and

  that for me would didn't like I did what

  didn't appeal but didn't appeal to me

  about that is that it I felt like I I

  still always was sort of I never felt

  secure and where I was because if I

  didn't find an ex-client suddenly my

  income drops to zero and so for me when

  I got into products my goal was always

  it's like can I take the approach of

  being self-employed which is in both

  cases was what I was going to do because

  I just I fit fits better for my mindset

  to be self-employed and as I can I be

  self-employed in a way that provides

  consistent predictable income into the

  future not just predictable income in

  the present which is what consulting was

  and so I got into conducts in the hopes

  that like creating what they like the

  mythical passive income thing or you

  make something and then it creates

  income into the future rather than you

  know doing work in the present that

  creates money in the present and because

  that became my goal like I didn't go set

  out with the goal of striking it rich in

  the way that you know you kind of it's I

  get the impression this is a lot of what

  a lot of game development or things or

  movies or another example of an industry

  where this is kind of the expectation or

  venture capital even where it's your

  goal is to have this massive runaway

  success and that's what you're gearing

  and aiming everything towards it's sort

  of like more like you know when you're

  going for the lottery approach whereas

  with me and with the way I've structured

  my business and then why I've done so

  many apps over the year

  why keep doing this over and over again

  like I'm working on another app that

  I'll be putting out by the hopefully by

  the end of the year and it's because

  what you the reality of having lots and

  lots of things is that you end up with

  tremendous diversity that both you

  create opportunity for any of the

  various products do well which is these

  thank the simple version of that and

  then also just in aggregate you know

  five kind of not-so-great

  results from a revenue or business

  perspective add up to maybe one good

  result and if one goes up and if it goes

  down you out you end up in the same

  place and like that in a weird way is

  kind of boring like oh I want my

  business to be as boring as possible

  like in some ways I love when I look at

  my revenue graphs and they're just

  completely flat that's not what like

  classic business wants you to do they

  say oh it should be like where's it's

  like up into this up and to the side I

  want a hockey stick I want all these

  things the signal I want it flat I

  wasn't boring I want an approach that

  doesn't really grow over time

  I mean growth growth is great but it's

  like I be I'll take flat over up and

  down up and down up and down up and down

  and so like for the approach I take and

  this is why I think it works reasonably

  well in the modern app store is that it

  things are sure to the point that things

  are kind of predictable but things are

  you know if you are able to get a

  certain amount owed

  every day for the last six months it's

  very unlikely that tomorrow that number

  is going to go to zero like that's just

  not the way the app like this is you end

  up with all these structural advantages

  in this sort of this modern system and I

  think that is that it's Fred it's first

  if I was talking to somebody who's

  trying to get into this it's like making

  sure that you understand what is your

  goal like what would an ideal business

  be looking forward to like what would

  you like your business to look like and

  then are you making choices to structure

  it around that you know and for me I

  want dead even boring flat boat you know

  revenue so diversity is absolutely the

  only way you're ever going to get that

  kind of serve predictability in your

  results and that's that's especially

  important because you know and it leads

  into a larger theme for me which is even

  in the good times evenly

  back with instant paper especially like

  when the iPad launched that was a great

  time for me that was the most money I've

  ever made from anything in a year and

  and everything I've done in the app

  store since then has not reached that

  level all of overcast you know the whole

  time everything after that like

  Instapaper during the first couple years

  the iPad was really probably the peak of

  my app sales career that I would

  probably ever see and even then I knew I

  I had in the back of my head the whole

  time this will not last everything goes

  up and down in the tech business in most

  businesses but the technical seems to

  just happen faster everything goes up

  and down and when you have something

  good when some when things are

  succeeding it's very important to always

  keep in mind this will end and plan for

  that you know that's that's just an

  expected part of your process then so

  that way when it does start to decline

  or have take a sharp drop off then you

  you can be sad about that you can try to

  reverse that but at least you know you

  shouldn't be surprised that it happened

  at all

  you should know like everything goes up

  and down and so what that means is when

  you're in the up periods plan for the

  down periods so that goes to very basic

  things first of all obviously like save

  money you know like all the money that

  you get during the up periods bank as

  much that as you can and and that that

  will help you tremendously down the road

  when you're in a down period and and you

  you might need something to you know

  clear the gap or whatever or to start a

  new project also in the up periods when

  you have when things are going well

  leverage that success into things that

  might help you during the down periods

  so for instance you know you mentioned

  diversity that is number one you know so

  in the the up period is the time to

  start spreading your wings to start

  building a platform so when you have a

  popular app that's a great time to start

  a podcast or a blog or a YouTube channel

  or something else you know spread out

  when when people are looking at you

  build new build new audiences to build

  new places build new products you know

  start looking into new things and then

  when the thing that boosted you up in

  the first place starts going

  down you have these other this other

  network of other places or products or

  apps or audiences that can help you into

  the next thing or that can become the

  next thing themselves and and that I

  mean the best I mean you can do that

  anytime and you should do that I do that

  whenever you can but the best time to do

  it is when things are good because

  that's when you have a little bit extra

  money a little bit of extra time maybe

  but you should be spending on that

  because that's important that is really

  the best strategy I can possibly give

  for you know beyond just you know what

  we've already said which is like you

  know try lots of things and see what

  succeeds and and and have diverse income

  streams besides all that best thing I

  can say is assume every good thing will

  end and while it is good hoard as much

  save as much as you possibly can and

  then spread your wings into new things

  then so that as those things are

  building they're building with your

  success and then when the success and

  that first thing starts to dwindle you

  have something else to fall back on or

  to build up and I think the key thing do

  what you're pointing out is that

  diversity like for me diversity mostly

  means having lots and lots of apps but

  it doesn't have to mean that for

  everybody I mean the same with like you

  in general have been like an atmega

  monogamous like you generally just sort

  of had this one app after another that

  you sort of you you you've tuned but as

  you've been developing and you know over

  the last eight years you've always been

  diversifying out into different things

  you had your blog for a while that was

  very it's just sort of that was where

  your energy was going into and that's

  where you were sort of expanding out

  into and then you went into podcasting

  or it's like finding those whatever that

  is for for you it makes sense for you

  know that like if you're a good writer

  maybe blogging is great if you like

  video or audio podcasting is great a lot

  of I know a lot of people who diversify

  out into education you know you start

  doing training or book writing or

  whatever there's no money in book

  writing interesting yes that's not a

  great plan yeah but maybe bit of

  training I think is a reasonable thing

  or finding ways to take small successes

  and sort of it's like turning them into

  other other in broader extinct is a

  great way in

  where your you're not going to

  necessarily be able to just have a

  runaway hit in the App Store itself to

  find a way to make a bigger and broader

  living and like that's where you can

  grow in a lot of ways and and it is kind

  of a strange land delightful sort of

  like cyclical pattern to where the more

  you're able to do that the easier it is

  subsequently to launch successful apps

  and you know you it's the building a

  enough of a reputation for yourself that

  you can when you launch something new

  people are at least take a look at it

  there's no guarantee it doesn't like

  make you do the thing just like an

  automatic success but it gives you into

  the door in a way that it wouldn't

  otherwise if you just threw things out

  over the wall into the App Store and

  then like walked away exactly and and as

  you try more things you get better at

  doing them you know like it's you know

  now it's a lot easier for me to start a

  new podcast now than it was four years

  ago because I've done a lot of podcast

  since then I know how to do it now I

  know what works and what doesn't to some

  degree and so if I launch a new podcast

  now it's way less risky than it used to

  be you suppose I've done it a lot you

  know if you launch a new app today

  you're you can be pretty sure you know

  roughly what it will take to get it done

  roughly what it will take to get it in

  the store and an approximate you know

  estimate of how much you think it might

  make in the first X months or whatever

  you know if things go well you you've

  launched so many apps that now you've

  just gotten good at launching apps right

  so any skills you can build along the

  way you know in that kind of way it

  helps to to just build up your

  confidence over time you know just again

  the more you try the more you put out

  there the the better it will be and then

  as things kind of you know take seed or

  whatever and I don't know anything about

  growing things as the plants that you

  plant take root some of them will and

  and then you know then you can you're

  just building up this career over time

  it's the slow growth trying a whole

  bunch of stuff and eventually some of it

  will work and then as that works you

  keep building you keep spreading out

  even further you build up what you have

  them as much as much as you can you save

  when the times are good that this is how

  you survive in this climate yeah

  it's also probably a good place to point

  out that more likely than not your goal

  should it's like you want to have a

  strategy that is going to work for your

  career in a long term ma'am yes it's

  like taking the approach of like okay

  what I want to do is I want to start off

  by winning the lottery and then I live

  on my lottery winnings for the rest of

  my life like if that was your approach

  to life it's a good story it is it's

  it's interesting but like what does that

  look like five years into that plan even

  if your plan worked like even if somehow

  that meant your plan magically worked

  five years in you have like this pile of

  money that you're gradually chipping

  away at like it doesn't sound like

  healthy from a mental health perspective

  of like what are you doing like people

  like to have a sense of purpose and

  direction in their day and you're

  accomplishing things but it's also just

  I don't think not a good sort of

  approach to take that you're it's not

  you know the goal is something is to

  have something that is going to work

  years down the road and there are

  certainly things that I wish I had done

  you know eight years ago compared to now

  but I think increasingly then maybe this

  is like a wisdom as you get older kind

  of perspective but increasingly I look

  at these things that's like what am I

  going to be doing in five years and

  while I don't know the specifics like I

  don't know what that's gonna be what

  platforms I'm gonna be on if I'm gonna

  be still developing if I'm gonna be

  still an apple developer like who knows

  that's you know that kind of thing is

  unknowable but I look at what I'm doing

  now and I'm saying like am i doing

  things that are going to give me options

  in the future that are going to open

  doors and keep me capable like skills

  and abilities that are going to be you

  know we're valuable in general not

  valuable in specific because technology

  is going to change platforms gonna

  change

  economics are gonna change everything's

  always going to be changing but like I

  will I'll be the same here and then as I

  will be in the future and so am i doing

  things for myself now that are going to

  benefit like future future me is going

  to be thankful that I was making these

  choices now rather than sort of just

  yeah going crazy like hey things are you

  know like uh if you hit it big in the

  App Store awesome good for you like

  maybe don't go buy a Ferrari because

  like past year if your future self is

  problem likely to be super super

  thrilled about

  car payments for the years and years to

  come and the first time you need to

  replace the clutch and also I would I

  would I would end with one more thing to

  that as you as you spread around and as

  you start things and explore new options

  it's very important to explore and

  invest in things that are on their way

  up

  not that are kind of in the past and

  it's hard for me to say that because I

  like a lot of things from the past but

  you know like today is probably not a

  great time to start making a mac app you

  know as much as it kills me to say that

  it's probably not a great time for that

  market wise it's a decent time to to be

  working on things like you know YouTube

  and I don't know what else but other

  people can figure that out but the point

  is like invest in things that are

  growing and things that have that have a

  likely future bigger than their present

  because what growing means and and try

  to minimize how much you you're assuming

  that the past will continue to state the

  full state will continue to exist

  basically so anyway with that said thank

  you for listening everybody and we will

  talk to you next week bye