Under the Radar

Under the Radar 36: Should You Release Every App?


  welcome to under the radar a show but

  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 in in

  the absence of much iOS news the suite I

  wanted to talk a little bit about the

  Mac as I mentioned before I've been

  getting slowly into with a couple of

  small utility apps the first one being

  quitter which I launched I don't know a

  month ago something like that and now

  I'm working on a basic podcast

  post-production tool I want to talk a

  little bit about the considerations

  behind selling this mac app potentially

  in the near future

  you know both releasing it to the public

  polishing it up and then whether to

  charge money for it do I sell it in the

  Mac App Store versus non Mac App Store

  do I worry about piracy stuff like that

  the first concern I had is do I want to

  release this app to the public at all

  when you're in the middle of building an

  app and you're like oh this is kind of

  fun you might think you know oh it's

  right now i I've gotten to a point where

  I can use it and it's kind of done for a

  while then you might use it for a while

  you might share with a couple of couple

  of friends something like that and you

  might think okay you know I should

  release this this is useful the

  difference between like the point you're

  at at that at that moment where like you

  have the app working for you and maybe a

  couple hundred people versus something

  that is releasable that's a very very

  wide gap but I learned this when I did

  quitter where I had like this basic

  AppleScript first and then I had this

  basic menu bar app and I thought you

  know other people might find this useful

  I should release this and to get from

  that point to releasable in in a

  responsible and and pleasant and likely

  to succeed way was so much work because

  what you don't realize when when you

  when you have the initial app you don't

  realize that there are like all the edge

  cases that you're not considering that

  because like you don't use them yourself

  edge cases you know we had a whole show

  on edge cases it's there's all the

  education you're considering and the

  standards for what is good enough are

  way lower when it's just you or your

  friends using an app like what's good

  enough with the UI what's good enough

  with input handling with edge case

  handling in general you just need far

  less polish and

  and other stuff like that you that you

  don't even think of at first but that is

  actually that could be a lot of work or

  expense or just a hassle is you know a

  private app for yourself doesn't need a

  public name that doesn't eat a decent

  icon it doesn't need documentation you

  don't need to worry about distribution

  it doesn't need a website doesn't need

  like an auto updater feed stuff like

  that and once you have it working for

  yourself it basically doesn't need any

  maintenance because you know all the

  limitations you avoid them yourself

  and it just it works for you and you

  consider it done if you release to the

  public you have to go through this

  massive polishing stage it seems like oh

  you know this weekend I'll polish it up

  and get it out there in practice it

  usually takes a lot of time like you

  don't you typically underestimate that

  time it's it's not easy or fast and once

  the app goes public people will have

  expectations for it they will start

  emailing you feature requests they will

  expect improvements to all the bugs that

  you didn't find because you didn't hit

  an indie at any of the edge cases and

  what started out as a as a simple idea

  of all you know I've made this happen

  for myself maybe I'll release it that

  can quickly balloon into a much larger

  project like what happened with Twitter

  like there was a lot of temptation that

  like you know quitter as it is right now

  works fine for me but there was

  immediate temptation once I released it

  and started getting all these people

  saying you know oh man this is great

  it'd be even better if it did this or it

  man you could really make this into a

  bigger thing by adding this and it

  quickly became very tempting to take

  this what you--what was this very basic

  little utility app and to try to make it

  its own bigger product but then of

  course like do I have time for that

  bigger product do I want to even be in

  that business like you know I'd start

  competing with us with a whole other

  market or products that frankly I don't

  know anything about I don't know what

  it's like to compete in that market you

  know do I really want to be doing that

  like it's a whole different ballgame

  can I spare the time from my other

  projects that I want to be doing to turn

  this thing into a bigger thing like that

  all the people are asking for that might

  be tempting you know it's a very hard

  balance to find and it can

  so easily get totally out of control

  before you even step back and realize

  wait a minute

  do I even want to be doing this as a Big

  Apple do I want to just keep it as this

  little thing that I spend you know a few

  days on once and then never touch again

  and this is a lesson that I've had to

  learn many many times I have it I have

  the tendency to build anything I can

  think of and several times I've built

  something and put it out into the like I

  get it to that point where you're

  talking about where it's like it's sort

  of done it's useful enough it's kind of

  at that cross that functional threshold

  maybe you'd say done is in the biggest

  quotation marks' ever yeah it's it's

  like it's sort of functional maybe is a

  better word than yes and I'm like okay

  maybe I'll release this mail put this

  out in the store maybe I'll like it's

  maybe other people would find it useful

  the thing that I find well that I now

  have maybe it might be a bit strong to

  call it the wisdom but I've been caught

  up with it enough times to know that

  there's a difference in the way you

  approach building something if you're

  building it as a product versus if

  you're building it just as like on a

  lark just a little hobby project a

  little experimentation or a prototype

  something like that you have to be more

  thoughtful you have to think about how

  it's going to be used and what even even

  answering questions for you know what is

  a typical user going to be and

  optimizing it for them and sometimes

  it's great if you are the typical user I

  suppose but if you're not then you know

  it gets starts to get really squishy and

  tricky to make sure that you're actually

  building a product that other people

  would know how to use and you know I

  have many utilities and things that I've

  never released but I use myself or at

  least what off perhaps moreover what

  will happen is I'll build something use

  it for myself for a long time and then

  take like the lesson learned from using

  it and turn it into an act you know fold

  that into a product but the actual

  product part is going to be very

  different like necessarily and so it's

  definitely a tricky thing to look at

  something and say do I actually want

  this to exist

  outside of my own use or at least you

  know my close friends or family you know

  like there's a couple of apps or tools

  that I use that you know I like I put

  only exist on my wife and my phone and

  that's fine like they don't have to be

  products they can just be things

  honestly what is that number I'm here

  it's probably a lot

  it's only a handful I mean most people

  that number of zeros so like sure it's

  it's greater than zero and a lot of

  these things I guess I said are it's the

  it's fighting the temptation to anytime

  you have an idea to rush it out to

  market versus trying to use it yourself

  for a while and seeing if it actually is

  something so a lot of times when I these

  probably's things will ultimately end up

  being a product that or will be a part

  of bigger product but they start life is

  just things to keep closed because I

  used to rush things out I mean that's

  part of why I ended up with the problem

  of having dozens and dozens of apps in

  the App Store because any time I had an

  idea I'd build it I put it out and in to

  start with I had the mindset of well if

  I like you never know what's gonna be a

  hit maybe I should just always push

  things out and let the market tell me if

  it's useful or cool there we have the

  problem with that is like what if the

  market tells me that what I'm doing is

  like useful and cool but in a different

  very different way or look at a very

  different slant then I want to actually

  use or build a product for then I'm kind

  of like stuck into that and also I guess

  there's a really weird thing of like is

  it reasonable to put something out that

  I don't have expectations to support for

  example or like what level of support do

  I expect to provide for something you

  know is this just if it's just something

  I built on a lark and put it and put out

  into the world it's you know you

  there's always especial if you put it

  into like in you know into the App Store

  or something like that then there's a

  certain expectation I think that people

  naturally have for what they should get

  from that and so it definitely makes

  sense for as you're going through this

  process of you know do I want this thing

  that I find useful to actually exist in

  the world to make sure you have a good

  answer to that that do I want to support

  this do I want to chase down the various

  bugs and issues that people are having

  are people going to use this in a

  professional context for example where

  if there's

  problem there's potentially financial

  implications or more serious things that

  could go wrong you know in quitter

  if it doesn't quit Twitter for somebody

  that's probably not a big deal but if it

  if you're doing an app that could have a

  bigger implication if it goes wrong like

  there's some weird more like liability

  type of questions that you have to be

  comfortable with before you move forward

  into an act and to into you know broader

  distribution exactly and and all those

  you know all the problems of are you

  willing to support this and are you

  ready to support it all those things

  really do apply whether it's free or

  paid although I will say though whether

  you charge money at all makes a big

  difference in the type of expectations

  and entitlement that your customers will

  feel to things like you know quality

  like if somebody pays for an app they're

  certainly going to expect you know it

  better be good you know a better work

  and have good features it also better

  not crash or have bugs that they can

  notice you know they expect you to

  support it ongoing you know with updates

  with maintenance and also as you

  mentioned support you know if people

  paid for an app even if they only paid a

  dollar they expect a certain level of

  support I mean heck people expect

  support for free apps but they they

  expect a lot more for paid apps it's not

  proportional to the different like you

  know they don't if they pay the dollar

  versus paying nothing they don't expect

  like $1 more support they expect a lot

  more support psychologically they people

  are very protective of having spent

  money on something and they really get

  angry if it doesn't matter to their

  expectations if they paid even just $1

  for it and the good thing is you know on

  the Mac you can charge more but charging

  more brings on even higher expectations

  so you know if you if you are what I

  would consider like a cheap app so on

  iOS that probably like less than three

  dollars maybe on the Mac I'd say under

  $10 probably that is like one level of

  aspect of expectations of you know

  quality updates support if you charge

  you know what I would call real money

  and and that the the perception of what

  real money is will vary by your market

  but you know I'd say Iowa

  maybe $10 on the Mac maybe $50 if you're

  charging that you know that kind of like

  what people think of as real money you

  will be held to much higher expectations

  like you know if people just paid you

  $10 for your iOS app and it doesn't work

  on the phone they by next month they're

  gonna be mad like they're gonna be real

  and understandably so because they pay

  what they believe is a premium price and

  you better be supporting that if they

  spent $50 in your mac app and they email

  you with a question you don't answer

  that email that's that's gonna look

  really bad for you in their eyes and

  they're gonna get very angry about that

  and so you have to really consider all

  this and then and you know this goes

  back to trying to estimate your market

  if you talked about within the ideas

  episode trying to estimate your market

  of like it given all these all the

  overhead of making a paid app and

  selling a a paid app am I likely to

  actually get enough copies sold to make

  enough money from this that it will be

  worth all that overhead in in my

  business and in my life and is that

  really worth it or not and it might be

  easy to rationalize oh you know I made

  this app it's kind of useful I should

  charge you know ten bucks for it or

  whatever or on iOS I got sharks two

  bucks for it or whatever by the way that

  multiple makes me sad but that's the

  reality but anyways you know there

  there's a temptation now you know I

  could charge a few bucks for it make a

  little bit of money but the reality is

  making that money charging that's price

  will have costs to you and you need to

  make sure that you are being realistic

  about your expectations of like how many

  copies aren't really going to sell and

  is that going to be worth making that

  you know a few hundred dollars that I

  might make from this or whatever it

  might be and if you end up with saying

  that it's not like then you have the

  weird questions like well if I make it

  free then why am I even releasing it

  like fair enough there's a certain like

  altruism or like you know being or maybe

  like a exposure or marketing angles that

  you could say yeah like long-term

  reputation marketing kind of things yeah

  or like those types of or like bigger

  you know and broader sort of play I mean

  sort of in the way that overcast is a

  free app with in-app purchases in it to

  support its development but it's you

  know you've said many times that you

  made it free to try and you know

  establish it as

  a big player in the in the space because

  you had other motivations for that that

  you wanted the platform to you know stay

  competitive and open and so that can be

  worthwhile even though it's not

  financially the directly of the

  financial incentive is there but like

  there is a weird thing or you'll end up

  with people away like well then why

  don't you just open source it it's like

  well then you kind of have two problems

  like you have like you have the source

  code and developer problem as well as

  the the customer facing problem and you

  have to manage and deal with those types

  of things that it gets really

  complicated to a point that you have to

  decide like why am I doing this and you

  have a good answer like a good concise

  answer for like why would I want this to

  exist in the world and if you have a

  good answer awesome if you don't maybe

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  all right so assuming that you have

  decided that you want to release your

  app and that you want to charge money

  for it and and that it's a Mac app so

  you know iOS that's a whole third pocket

  we'll talk about that I know the shows

  supposed you want to charge money for a

  Mac app how do you do that and where do

  you do that

  the most obvious first choice is the Mac

  App Store the Mac App Store though you

  know as as we know by now the Mac App

  Store is a mixed bag you know like like

  the iOS App Store it builds a big wall

  between you and your customers and this

  has some benefits and some downsides the

  obvious benefits are that you don't need

  to deal with things like basic

  distribution of versions updates and the

  big thing you don't deal with payment

  and those are those are all substantial

  gains that you don't have to deal with

  because those are all complicated to

  different degrees I think payment being

  the perfect the most complicated not

  having to deal with that is is a huge

  win it also kind of acts as a support

  wall between you and your customers like

  your customers might not contact you

  directly they might like go to the Mac

  App Store for that contact thing or they

  might just blame Apple or blame the App

  Store or whatever else if people have

  problems and that's yeah probably it's

  probably a good thing in the immediate

  term if you don't think about too much

  but in the long term it's probably a bad

  thing buying from the store though a lot

  of people prefer it it reduces issues

  around things like trust you know if

  people don't really trust you or you

  don't seem legitimate or large they

  might have trouble giving you money

  whereas they tend to not have those

  problems in the app stores and of course

  it's easier for people to install stuff

  from the app store usually when it works

  if they don't have to fish out their

  license key or anything like that so

  like many customers do prefer

  buying from the AppStore and that is not

  to be underestimated but for those

  benefits with the Mac App Store you pay

  major costs

  it is incredibly inflexible on pricing

  models distribution update stuff like

  that no there's no trials no paid

  upgrades there's a lot of rules you also

  have to go through a preview and to

  enforce a lot of these rules and you

  have to be sandboxed and these are all

  pretty major restrictions for a lot of

  Mac app businesses a lot of apps just

  can't be sold to the App Store for some

  of those requirements and a lot of them

  maybe could be but it would be unwise

  for them to be sold to the store and it

  would be bad business for them the

  biggest thing to me is is well the two

  biggest things to me you you definitely

  have less access and knowledge about

  your customers and so you it's harder to

  do things like build an email list for

  you know new releases and stuff like

  that and it's harder to like offer

  certain people just can't things like

  that and mostly to me they take a 30%

  cut and 30% is a lot like it's it's easy

  if we're you know for those of us who

  were accustomed to iOS it's easy to

  forget or two or two not really ever

  think through like how much is 30%

  exactly so just to give you an example

  how much 30% is in practice suppose you

  make you suppose you have a really good

  app it makes $50,000 well you made

  $50,000 what did the app actually make

  so if you got $50,000 from Apple the app

  made about seventy one thousand dollars

  so you got fifty an Apple guy about 21

  thousand so Apple got almost half of

  what you got

  if you sell outside of an app store

  which you can't do in iOS really but if

  you do it on the Mac that 30% cut that

  is taken by your parent processor goes

  down to maybe you know three to six

  percent depending on how you're doing it

  depending on international support

  payment provider stuff like that but

  it's it goes down you know almost order

  of magnitude from from Apple's cut so in

  that example just to give you some

  numbers for your app that you made fifty

  thousand dollars from an app store you

  would have made about sixty six thousand

  dollars from fat spring or sixty nine

  thousand dollars from strike so these

  are not small differences thirty percent

  is a lot

  and if you know if Apple brings that 15%

  cut to a lot more places that will help

  a lot 15% is also a lot but it's way

  more competitive than 30 compared to

  selling it yourself

  so the App Store really is you you

  really you get a lot of benefits for it

  but you do pay dearly for those benefits

  in a lot of different ways and for a lot

  of people it's just not worth it sure

  and the App Store - is this like it's a

  weird thing to have the choice in some

  ways coming from an iOS background where

  like I just because I have no choice in

  the matter like if I want to make I owe

  a software and give it to someone else

  beyond unless I'm within a big company

  and I do an enterprise distribution

  thing like the only option is the iOS

  App Store so like whatever like I can

  lobby and encourage Apple to change

  policies or to make things happen but by

  and large it's their store their rules I

  do the best I can because you have the

  choice on the Mac App Store you really

  start to see that like the the hurdles

  and the challenges that that situation

  creates oh yeah I mean like you know the

  App Store it's always kind of been like

  this carrot and stick balance on iOS

  they don't really need to offer much

  carrot because the stick is so big like

  iOS you have to use the App Store period

  like there's no I mean yes I guess like


  exists or Cydia however it's pronounced

  but that's you know not really easy to

  build businesses they're you know you're

  basically stuck with the App Store or

  nothing on iOS on the Mac you know and

  even Apple like they use they used to

  tie major features to the App Store like

  like iCloud and they just announced WC

  this year these features are coming to

  other apps you don't have to be in the

  App Store anymore so it seems like on

  the Mac Apple has recently kind of

  shifted away from keeping much of a

  stick around there so now they're

  relying only on the carrot of like you

  know what are the benefits of being in

  the Mac App Store so now you kind of

  look at it purely on business terms and

  I don't think the Mac App Store is a

  very appealing place for for new

  businesses to go these days even the the

  promotional value I think has proven to

  be fairly minimal in actual installation

  numbers from featured apps so it's

  unfortunate because I would have been

  nice if it worked better but it does

  seem like a

  has both failed in a way that it's most

  likely to be elected forever and and

  that most developers shouldn't go there

  anymore because I think the thing that I

  think of we're like why why would I use

  the Mac App Store like if I since I now

  have this choice like I can decide if I

  want to go this is like a or B or both

  like which obviously you can also do you

  can sell in both places but say I'm

  going to be in the half store like in my

  mind the main reason on the Mac App

  Store that I would want to be there and

  this is speaking mostly just as a

  customer for like why do want when do I

  launch the App Store app on my Mac is

  usually it's like if I have a very

  specific utility or tool in mind yeah

  we'll go and search in the Mac App Store

  first and I do that mostly just because

  I have it anyway it has that sense of

  being curated that somebody else they

  like a impartial you know to some

  definition of impartial third party has

  looked at this application and said it

  meets a basic set of criteria don't

  worry it's not going you're not

  installing malware you're not installing

  sort of something that doesn't actually

  do what it says it's it has this basic

  level of criteria so if I can find a

  tool you know I'm just trying to do

  something that do some random operation

  that I need a utility for I'll go to the

  Mac App Store and if I find it great

  I'll get it from there if not you know

  then I just go to google search around

  in there and find it that way and so the

  main benefit from being in the Mac App

  Store from my perspective based on my

  own experience is just as a marketing

  tool just as being in the place that you

  know there's a non and significant

  number of people who may go there and

  look and so it's like being on that

  shelf is useful but if you're trying to

  build a business that you know you're

  making your living from something Mac

  App Store on its own is unlikely to be

  the right answer my guess is you're

  gonna want to be at least in both if not

  go here go your own and because once

  you've gone down the road of doing it

  your own you can start to realize a lot

  of benefits and both in terms of like

  you were saying in terms of the costs

  and the money you can make as well as

  just having

  so much more flexibility about how

  things work

  you're never you're never stuck in the

  situation of like oh I need to get this

  you know this update the spokes update

  through app review even though I purview

  is great and down to like you know a day

  or so now it's still a day is the longer

  than you know one minute from now it'll

  be available on my CDN and that's kind

  of nice oh yeah and and just the

  flexibility you gotta do yourself I mean

  you know the downside is you have to

  build it yourself and and there are

  different degrees of building yourself

  like if you use something like fast

  spring or digital River

  formally accelerate or Kagi like the

  these things they they charge you know a

  little bit more percentage like a few

  more percentage points than like direct

  credit card processing from stripe or

  somewhere like that but they take care

  of a lot of the just payment complexity

  for you and you basically just provide

  serial numbers and you will have some

  support costs from these things you'll

  have some issues but probably fewer you

  know from Dilbert I talk to there's

  probably fewer of those than from from

  most places and so it seemed like a very

  good balance to use the servers like

  this versus like Mac App Store or

  totally doing yourself because you only

  pay a little bit more and and you know

  that doing it yourself and you get a lot

  so that's probably going to try first

  you know something maybe I was looking

  at faster bring earlier probably them

  and then you know because you can always

  change later with these things like with

  it's it's very it's harder to move in or

  out of the Mac App Store if you change

  your mind later if you need to change

  later but these kind of services it's

  pretty easy to move between so the costs

  of trying went out are pretty low so I

  want to talk briefly about piracy

  concerns because this is something like

  you don't really have to think about an

  iOS much because an iOS like I mean

  there is iOS piracy certainly but it's

  limited almost completely jailbreak

  community and and you don't really it's

  kind of like a losing battle like you

  can't really fight the jailbreak

  community on piracy so you're usually

  better off not even trying and that is

  largely true of Mac piracy as well but

  not completely on the Mac you know it

  with people using the Mac like you don't

  have to be like a special class of user

  the way like you know you like you kind

  of have to like devote a lifestyle to be

  a jailbreaker click on the Mac you can

  pirate Mac apps if you really want to

  and a lot of people do

  and it's it's easier to do it and and so

  you do have to worry about that as a Mac

  software author of you have to worry

  about piracy and and how this will

  affect your app how will affect your

  customers and generally I've talked to a

  lot of developers about those recently

  trying to figure out what I need to do

  here and the number one is stay out of

  the Mac App Store because Mac App Store

  piracy is rampant because they all use

  the same wrapper that everyone it's

  cracked a million times and you kind of

  can't do much about it as a Mac App

  Store app also Mac App Store even

  without piracy the Mac App Store license

  allows for the same Apple ID to install

  your app on like hundreds of Mac's so

  that's a big problem if you have a

  business app where like a whole office

  full of computers might have your app

  installed off of one purchase which is

  not great so generally with piracy like

  a little goes a long way you need to do

  some piracy prevention you need to have

  some kind of like license or a serial

  number checking or something like that

  just to prevent casual piracy you need

  to put up some kind of barrier to make

  paying you easier for most people than

  pirating the app to a large extent your

  app will be pirated anyway and you know

  you can do things like you can scan the

  internet occasionally trying to like

  look for pirated serial numbers of your

  own app and then ban them in a future

  build of your app this is all examples

  of like low-hanging fruit like a little

  goes a long way here you should have

  some kind of piracy avoidance mechanism

  in your app and this is something you

  have to worry about with your X

  distribution but you know that's just a

  cost of doing business and that's that's

  part of you know that's part of you know

  just the reality of a software business

  on on a computer these days you know

  it's less so on mobile but on a computer

  that's that's still part of why you get

  paid the big bucks

  thank you yes and you know you have to

  always balance for his legitimate

  customers hurting them you know with

  ever any kind of piracy prevention

  system you pick but generally you know

  in summary I don't know much about this

  yet but it does seem like the common

  wisdom among people is although it goes

  a long way you need to do something but

  you don't need to you don't need to go

  crazy with it

  sure and I think that's probably the

  best path is it said you know build

  something yourself do something basic

  and then just don't worry about it


  all right well we're out of time this

  week thank you very much for listening

  everybody I know this is officially in

  iOS show but we will occasionally talk

  about the Mac because it's related

  thanks for listening and we'll see you

  next week bye