Under the Radar

Under the Radar 53: Seasonality


  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

  as we were sort of right now at the

  beginning of November it seemed a good

  time to talk a little bit about

  seasonality and the way seasonality can

  apply both to our work in terms of the

  things we're doing what we're promoting

  and the timing of when we launch new

  products or updates as well as a little

  bit just the seasonality of the work

  itself and the way that kind of works

  for us but especially I kind of it's

  something that comes to mind because in

  the early days of the App Store

  perhaps in the the first maybe three or

  four years there was a very strong

  seasonality to downloads and sales and

  especially in the sense that like the

  day Christmas Day the day after

  Christmas were massively huge sales days

  for Fermi back in those days and it was

  a reliable predictable thing that I

  would need as best I could to gear my

  entire business towards being available

  then because those few days would make

  up a non insignificant percentage of my

  revenue for the year like it wasn't like

  50% more it was maybe like 10 percent of

  my revenue but still getting ten percent

  of your revenue in one week of the year

  meant that it was very important to line

  everything up and I remember doing lots

  of work where especially back when app

  review could take a very long time you

  know you'd be looking at at least 10

  days ish for a review and so you'd have

  all these things that I needed to line

  up to get you know submitted at the very

  latest by the beginning of December so

  that I could make sure I if I had a

  rejection cycle I could get it approved

  in time and you can't be happy in this

  mindset towards that and then I would

  say increasingly that is less though the

  way I think I think both Britos the

  impact of that has perhaps diminished

  slightly but also I think I just think

  about seasonality a bit more generally

  now and I think it's probably helpful to

  not just view it as everything is on

  that one day but I think there is a

  something to be said for thinking about

  your product and thinking about are

  there events or things that you can

  latch onto that would make sense to time

  you're launched and in two also in terms

  of promotion with Apple like this is

  something that I start to think about a

  lot more recently is how it's like the

  Apple AppStore editorial team's job is

  to find things that they can promote and

  to promote in a relevant way for them

  and they're always looking they're

  putting together to constantly these

  different sort of lists and bundles of

  applications to try and promote and

  thinking of ways to time things so that

  I can be part of that has become

  something that it seems like

  increasingly makes sense but it is still

  something that I think about as we're

  coming in to the end of the year and I

  still have in the back of my mind like

  I'm is everything gonna be inlined up

  there's everything gonna be ready and I

  think in general there's a strange

  aspect to that of I probably should

  always be worried about making sure that

  everything is buttoned down and ready

  but at least maybe these little

  seasonality things are good reminders to

  me that I'm starting to think like what

  are the App Store ratings looking like

  in all my apps are there things that I

  should do to make sure that's the case

  if I had I'd update with a bad set of

  reviews for whatever reason like do I

  need to get an update out reset my

  reviews and then try and mark it around

  improving that rating like these all

  these little things that are probably

  good to do all year round but especially

  probably good to do around big events

  when sales for downloads are gonna be

  higher yeah but I mean as you mentioned

  like it is really hard to tell when

  those times are gonna be now I mean

  they're you know the few obvious

  predictable ones or you know things like

  the holiday season and and new iPhone or

  new iPad release as I would say those

  those are the big ones but even those I

  think the reason why that we've seen

  over time things like Christmas Day and

  Christmas week being lower than in

  previous years

  I think the main reason why is that

  we're seeing fewer people who were

  getting their very first iOS device on

  these big holidays

  I think the there's much more people who

  are just getting replacement or upgrade

  devices or you know new customers might

  be just being more spread out throughout

  the rest of the year now who are new to

  the platform like people who are

  converting from Android if they want to

  and stuff like that

  so you know when when you get your very

  first device you go on an app spree and

  you go get a bunch of apps that you

  might like and want to fill it up or

  whatever and

  when when you're just getting a new

  phone for the year or your your second

  or third iPad then there's less there's

  a lot less of that like you know new

  apps pre that you go on and so I think

  that plays a big part of why like make

  your gift-giving holidays are no longer

  but you know a big thing for most app

  developers but you know a new a new iOS

  device releases obviously can be

  especially if you're like you know like

  you often do if you're taking advantage

  of a new API that or a new a new type of

  app that just became available with new

  hardware then obviously you're starting

  basically from zero so like those days

  you'll have really big you know those

  long cuz you'll have a really big

  potential there but it's also hard to

  tell now because we're seeing our income

  be spread out more as we switch more to

  ad based and in-app purchase based

  revenue models you know like it you know

  if you had you know what but we used to

  have pretty much all of it which would

  paid upfront apps paid up for an app

  stay really great on Christmas Day

  because you paid to get the app right

  then you wanted to use it these days if

  you get you know you might get increased

  downloads that day but your revenue

  might not show that for a while so it's

  it's all kind of blending together now

  but I think ultimately what it comes

  down to is the the saturation of the App

  Store so you know it makes it make

  everything harder makes it all the

  competition tighter and everything and

  makes each individual app have kind of

  lower lower Peaks I think and also just

  the fact that so many people already

  have iOS devices and the the new sales

  are more to people who were existing

  customers than the new customers yeah

  there is still something that I see that

  in my in my own time my own sort of even

  experience at the App Store that I do

  think there is still an element of and

  maybe it's less seasonality and more

  event-driven downloads i deceived myself

  like I I mean maybe the one that always

  comes to mind for me is whenever there's

  a hurricane threatening the United

  States the top like in all of a sudden

  the top charts are full of radar apps

  right like which is something that is

  not a predictable reliable season but

  there's these periods of increased

  interest in an application category that

  I definitely still have huge impacts on

  downloads and I mean I do a lot of

  health and fitness stuff and so the

  beginning of January just in the same

  way that a lot of people go and get gym

  memberships and then you never use them

  again but a lot of people will go and

  download health and fitness apps at the

  beginning of January when they're saying

  like hey I'm gonna start a new thing I'm

  gonna whatever like for my case I'm

  gonna start counting my steps or being

  more active or whatever that may be

  like there's this certainly this uptick

  in it or there's just those event base

  things but I think in both cases there

  is certainly still this element where

  it's possible to have these big spikes

  and in your downloads and so like for me

  I know I need to think about it as if I

  have anything that said that sort of

  rail health and fitness related it

  should be as tight and buttoned down as

  it can possibly be by the middle to the

  end of December because January 1st is a

  big time for me and I imagine similarly

  maybe if you're working on a weather or

  radar app it's like making sure that

  you're nice and put into put into place

  before hurricane and the hurricane

  season starts or before big winter

  storms might be coming sort of like

  whenever there's this external thing

  it's just probably good to be aware of

  because I know and for a lot of my

  planning when I'm just kind of doing

  things it's so easy to just kind of I'm

  just kind of working on it until it's

  ready and one of the benefits of being

  self-employed is that I can just work on

  it until it's ready and then ship it out

  and lose sight of the fact that like the

  there these opportunities that are

  coming and even the other thing that

  comes to mind even is if one day I'd

  ever hope to win any and an Apple Design

  Award for example like I there's a

  certain timing that I should probably be

  have in the back of my mind as I'm

  building my products if that's something

  that I wanted to work towards because I

  imagine they're looking for apps that

  are probably majorly updated or released

  it's probably between the latest iOS

  launch and the spring like that's when

  they're going to be most looking for

  those those things that are going to

  fill the slot that they want to promote

  and you know hold up as examples of

  things but even if it's not necessarily

  something that I'm trying to do there's

  some value to having taken a step back

  from what you're

  and saying is there a timing element to

  this that I should be aware of and not

  you know necessarily kill myself to make

  happen like oh no I absolutely have to

  get the shipped in the next two weeks or

  it's all gonna fall apart like if that's

  your business plan that's probably

  flawed but at the very least it's

  looking at it and being like is there

  something that I should be aware of that

  I'm gonna kick myself for not being

  aware of if I don't get taken into

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  for sponsoring alright and the other

  aspect of seasonality that seemed like

  it might be worth unpacking a little bit

  is the way that I think i'ma even my own

  work I imagine your own your your work

  to marco like can be very seasonal

  especially when you're not employed in a

  typical profession where obviously like

  my work was not really seasonal when

  I've had a nine-to-five job I went here

  and I worked ostensibly anyway from 9:00

  to 5:00 in the day I'm pretty sure mine

  was seasonal you know just my bosses

  didn't necessarily know that or or they

  were doing their best to pretend like

  they didn't notice that yeah but there

  is an element in when you're

  self-employed but like that did that

  illusion doesn't work quite as well

  where you really like I know for myself

  Mike my productivity and the my

  motivation the way in which I seem to be

  able to actually get things done can

  tend to have a certain seasonality to it

  where there are periods of time during

  the year where I'm just like really

  killing it and like writing interesting

  you know write writing great great

  updates new code all these things like

  everything's working well and there'll

  be periods of time when it just doesn't

  happen and the difficulty I think is

  both in being aware of that as a thing

  and then you know and so that you're not

  surprised by it or you know sort of

  beating yourself up when like man I'm

  just really not getting a lot of work

  done and being like okay you know this

  is fine this is something that happens

  but then also probably good to have the

  element of planning around that and

  thinking about like if you have control

  over your schedule what would an ideal

  schedule be adapting it to yourself

  because I feel like it's so easy to fall

  into the pattern of and something I

  still struggle with of the feeling that

  like 40 hours of work is the thing that

  I'm trying to always get out of me every

  week irrespective of whether that makes

  sense both in terms of how I feel you

  know physically health-wise etc what's

  going on in my life personally what's

  going on in the world like there's lots

  of things that I think can either

  encourage or motivate good good and

  effective work or demotivate and kind of

  take that out of you and kind of

  planning around that it's something

  that's probably a wise and useful thing

  to do because it's it's a strange thing

  to think of it in some ways when you

  kind of know if I boil down the big like

  the most important important work I've

  probably done in my business has likely

  been done mmm it's probably in maybe

  about six weeks or so over the last

  eight years like in the sense that like

  the the first versions of most of my

  most successful apps so like the first

  app that I ever had that was successful

  was an app called audiobooks which isn't

  like an audiobook player and I wrote it

  in a week between I had it I was doing

  consulting at the time and I had a

  period just you know like in consulting

  is inevitably the case where I had like

  a contract and I had about a week before

  my next contract started and I was like

  you know I'm just gonna work on this app

  idea that I have for that week it was

  like in that one week I'd built the

  basic version of the app and I put it in

  the app store and that happened out to

  be yeah it's probably the how most

  downloaded app I've ever had and if not

  if it isn't it's definitely the second

  most and was the app that I've turned

  app development from a like a sideline

  or a small part of my business into my

  primary business I was like that was in

  one week's work and similarly with

  pedometer like it was I wrote that

  happened about a little over a week or

  about yeah I was about a week because it

  was announced at the keynote when they

  announced the 5s and then I had a week

  until the 5ns launched and that was all

  I had to build the app and there's a few

  other kind of periods like that where

  you can have these really focused

  intensive periods that at least for me

  have been really impactful and important

  and that's a strange thought when I try

  and unpack it and be like wow my career

  like what have I been doing for the

  other like whatever eight years - six

  weeks of my life

  I don't want to think about it too much

  but I think there is something that's

  good about thinking about and being

  aware of that your work is not

  necessarily this like we're the nature

  of being a software developer is not

  like we're building a wall or something

  where every all we need to do is like we

  go over here we pick up a brick we walk

  over to the wall we put a little plaster

  down with the next brick and we walk

  back and forth and we can keep doing

  that really no matter what like we can

  just keep adding bricks in the rate at

  which we add bricks is how much progress

  we made when was the last time you saw a

  construction project I don't know it'd

  be wonderful if they just kept going

  until they were complete with no random

  interruptions and long breaks of

  seemingly nothing happen no it is that's

  not software development at all like

  that's not the way that our work goes

  where it's this very creative like

  esoteric like sometimes you just kind of

  get the idea and you get to get in a

  flow and you can really do some cool

  work and then at other times you just

  really can't yeah I mean my issue with

  this some of it is seasonal for sure

  you know there's certain like times

  where where I have a lot more family

  obligations or family events to do

  things like you know around summer

  vacation or around winter holidays any

  kind of travel obviously is a huge deal

  in in terms of lordosis my productivity

  which is generally bring it to zero so

  that's that's that's a big deal but my

  problem more is it's not necessarily all

  the family stuff it's all the just

  unexpected stuff or everyday

  distractions or everyday errands or

  things like that where I find that I my

  schedule is basically perforated with

  like lots of scattered holes and it and

  sometimes I can really buckle down and

  just get it done anyway get everything

  done that I need to do anyway but just

  like the the the realities of everyday

  family life especially when you work at

  home and when you want to be you know

  heavily involved in your child care then

  it's it's there's a lot of holes in the

  schedule basically it's very hard to get

  long blocks and to really make that make

  that work and and a lot of it it's also

  just self-imposed I mean a lot of it I

  just thought I'm not a very focused

  person I'm very easily to stray

  did I don't have an incredibly strong

  work ethic so the idea of like just

  sitting down with a strong routine

  during the time I do have even that

  doesn't always work out for me

  and then you have the you have other

  problems you have things like I mean you

  know not to make this political with the

  current political events but like you

  have things like national events that

  happen you know that that can really

  change either your ability to work or

  your or your motivation or your mood or

  can it can be like you know for instance

  if you were marketing an app and if you

  wanted to launch an app right after this

  US presidential election that just


  the day after it happened if your app

  appeals ten if you're a potential to

  liberal people would be a terrible day

  to launch that because you know like

  that would be it's kind of a day of

  mourning for like the side that loses a

  presidential election and or if if

  there's like a big national tragedy of

  some kind like if there's like a

  shooting or something like that like you

  know you try to avoid or you know some

  kind of natural disaster or like trying

  to launch an app or or do anything like

  that day is probably a bad idea you know

  and and so there's all sorts of other

  factors that will that will come into

  your life in your schedule and will

  disrupt your plans and you you have to

  have enough padding and you and you have

  to have you know enough slack in the

  plans that you can accommodate for these

  things when they come and you know you

  won't always I mean sometimes these

  things just come at the worst possible

  times or they're completely unexpected

  or whatever else but you know you have

  to have slack in your plans for for

  unfitted events like that and and you

  know because regardless of what if

  regardless of whether you want them to

  happen they will happen and and you

  should be ready for that but you know

  ultimately the when it comes down to

  like everyday motivation I mean just a

  really inconsistent I will have some

  days or weeks that I'm just on fire and

  I just get tons done and it's just like

  I I will do like an entire major version

  of overcast like my 3.0 I can do a good

  chunk of the work for 3.0 in like two

  weeks but it'll take me six months to

  ship it because I have so much other

  stuff that I'm juggling and balancing


  it's doing in like fits and spurts and

  attempting and then out that doesn't

  that didn't work so I've got a rollback

  try different approach whatever else or

  I'll just have like a month where I have

  so much family stuff and slacking going

  on that I just don't get anything done

  it's it's all I'm well I'm all over the

  map on that and it's part of the reason

  why I

  I typically look back on the time that I

  have spent like I look back on like a

  year I'm like what did I do this entire

  year and I'm usually not happy with the

  amount that I got done in software

  development I'm very I'm very proud of

  things like podcasts and I'm kind of

  forced to do those on a schedule look I

  had because I do them with other

  people's oh and there's sponsors and

  everything's like that there's an

  enforced schedule on that but the stuff

  that's more flexible I'm usually less

  proud of because I just I don't have a

  strong work ethic that makes me sit down

  and have these large blocks of

  uninterrupted work time consistently

  like I'll have those sometimes but I

  don't have them consistently but I think

  that's mostly my personality and I think

  there is something to be said though to

  fur and they'd only be touched from the

  end we touched on this last week we were

  talking about learning but there is

  something that I noticed for myself two

  of my it's easy to get stuck where you

  can do the interesting part of a problem

  or the like the part that's interest

  that's exciting to you yep and then you

  hit a point where you are having to do

  something that you don't really want to

  do and you suddenly your motivation and

  somehow magically disappears and you

  just like oh I'm suddenly very like this

  little distractible puppy that's just

  like oh there's a butterfly let me run

  around after it this is every time I've

  ever touched watchkit very I possibly do

  besides watch it yeah but I think it's

  important to understand that about


  we're like I have done that enough times

  that air than the first the first couple

  of times that that would happen like I

  don't think I had any self awareness

  that like what I'm doing is avoiding

  work because I don't actually want to

  work and the times that I'm very

  productive it's usually because I'm

  really excited or interested and you

  kind of get into these modes where all I

  think about is the problem I'm trying to

  solve and it's the like it can almost be

  annoying where

  I'm trying to do something else and it's

  like heaps the thought keeps popping

  into my head like oh what if I did this

  over here what if I did that over there

  and then like I'm in the shower and I'm

  like what you know like writing notes on

  the on the glass in the shower door

  being like these are things that I'm

  thinking about like it's if you're

  excited and motivated about what you're

  working on you're gonna be so much more

  productive and effective at it and

  that's something that I think for myself

  I've started to be very just trying to I

  try to be more conscious about this and

  that's only it's somewhat helpful

  because they're still necessarily going

  to be times that you have to do things

  that you don't want to do but at the

  very least if I can tell myself like

  have the sort of them the metacognition

  to say like the reason I'm taking longer

  to do this is because I'm not motivated

  to do it and at the very least then it

  gives me an opportunity to look at it

  and say is this really something I want

  to do is this something that I should be

  doing and I can make a decision and a

  choice and I can actually make the

  choice about it rather than just kind of

  pretending that it's not there and

  pretending that they're actual reason

  I'm not working or with actual reason

  I'm not making progress is because of

  something else something out of my

  control or something in my family or

  whatever it is that like there's a

  simply sometimes those things are just

  gonna impose themself upon you and

  sometimes I feel like for myself I can

  go seeking out those distractions or

  those things to pull me away because I

  don't actually care and I think having

  some degree of intentionality is helpful

  like I know for myself it doesn't it's

  not like it's this cure-all because even

  if the answer is like I don't want to do

  this because I don't want to do this but

  I still have to do this then well I'm

  kind of stuck and I just have to kind of

  transition into more like like crisis

  management of like how can I trick

  myself into thinking this is exciting

  and get it done but at the very least I

  can be aware of it and try and make some

  conscious choices about it that when I

  get into these kind of these funks in

  these seasons where I'm just not getting

  anything done

  maybe it's helpful to just think about

  it at least from that perspective and I

  think you know kind of wrapping it up

  back to the beat the beginning part of

  the show I think one of the things that

  helps a lot is a pretty strong

  externally imposed deadline you know

  like that that's one of the very

  from motivators I have is like if if I

  if I'm trying to get a nap or an update

  out but and it has to make it or I

  really should for business reasons make

  it you know in time for the next iOS

  update or the next iPhone or the next

  holiday season or whatever the case may

  be as we mentioned earlier that is often

  one of the only ways I can really be

  motivated to do something like you know

  this is something that I'm just not that

  I'm not motivated to do like some

  feature I don't want to do or some like

  nitty gritty detail that I just don't

  find interesting to work on or that I

  know is going to be tedious to work on

  you know that's having an externally

  imposed deadline or some other external

  pressure to do it is often necessary

  it's certainly helpful and as Indies we

  often don't have that especially like if

  things are going generally okay like if

  we're making enough money to survive and

  to stay in business it's hard to be able

  to be motivated by many other external

  factors for things like feature updates

  cuz like what do you really motive like

  right now there's nobody pressuring me

  to get over cast 3.0 out the door nobody

  like sure I have no reason to do it

  except that I assume at some point I

  will have competition so strong that I

  need to you know answer to it with my

  own updates or whatever else but besides

  that the main motivation for getting

  over cast 3 at the door is myself it's I

  am doing I think better things in it and

  I want I want everyone to see these

  things and to use these things and - I

  want the app to be better and that's a

  great motivation and if you don't have

  that motivation I think you're in

  trouble for lots of other reasons but

  that is not a rush like that that

  doesn't impose any kind of timeline on

  you and it's very easy to fall into the

  trap of like well I I can just make it a

  little bit better just a little bit

  better and oh if I don't release it in

  December well how about February how

  about April and just you keep going back

  and back and back and before you know it

  it's been like three years

  before you released anything and and

  that's that's not good for for your app

  or your customers or your budgeting or

  anything like that and so if times you

  really needs some kind of external

  pressure to get these things out the

  door yeah and even one little trigger

  I've definitely did use myself is

  the making it like it's bad to make like

  external public commitments about things

  and features and timelines oh yes don't

  do that don't do that but I do find that

  if I can if I can find non non

  commitment ways of sharing what I'm

  working on and kind of creating a sense

  of interest or anticipation from other

  people whether that's friends and family

  whether that's customers or people who

  follow you on the internet like whatever

  that looks like for you but I know for

  myself like even on the show like

  talking about my next app is written in


  and put like making that commitment out

  just out in public it's like now when I

  hit the problems with this app that has

  been taking me much longer than I wish

  it would have and some of those are

  because I'm still learning Swift it's

  like I can't just say like okay I'm not

  just gonna do this or I'm gonna back out

  it's been instructive to have this

  external thing that it's like no no no I

  was like I'm I don't want to do the

  episode of like why I abandoned that

  commitment and so I'm being able to work

  towards it and similarly I've worked on

  other apps in the past where it's like I

  start talking about them at a high level

  or trying to which is good maybe good

  marketing to and kind of building a

  little bit of anticipation but even from

  a timing perspective to say that like

  here's something that I'm hoping to get

  out by and such and such and then what

  you as soon as it's outside of yourself

  and there's even this vague sense of

  someone else who might be expecting that

  I can find it can be a little bit

  motivating and a little bit of making a

  timeline for you to you know kind of

  move forward with things yeah that

  sounds good

  alright I think we're out of time this

  week thanks a lot to our sponsor Pingdom

  and thanks listeners for listening and

  we will talk to you next week bye