Developing Perspective

#144: Pod Wrangler and Getting Creative.


00:00:00   Hello and welcome to Developing Perspective.

00:00:02   Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing news of note in iOS development, Apple, and

00:00:06   the like.

00:00:07   I'm your host, David Smith.

00:00:08   I'm an independent iOS and Mac developer based in Herndon, Virginia.

00:00:10   This is show number 144.

00:00:14   Today is Thursday, September 26th.

00:00:16   Developing Perspective is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started.

00:00:19   All right, so I'm going to be talking about a couple of things, mostly coming out of PodRangler,

00:00:25   which is an application and service that I launched.

00:00:28   It was Tuesday of this week.

00:00:30   And so basically, PodWrangler, at a high level,

00:00:33   is a new podcast client that I wrote and developed and published.

00:00:38   And as the name perhaps implies, it's an extension, it's an add-on,

00:00:42   it's something that grew out of the platform that I built

00:00:45   when I deployed FeedWrangler.

00:00:47   Because at its core, what FeedWrangler does is it takes a collection of RSS feeds

00:00:52   and imports them, manages them, organizes them, lets you search them, and so on.

00:00:57   And so once I built that infrastructure,

00:00:59   I kind of had the realization that what I'd also built was

00:01:03   99% of the back end that I would need for a podcast client.

00:01:07   Because essentially all a podcast client does

00:01:09   is take an RSS feed.

00:01:11   In this case, these have MP3 attachments usually

00:01:15   grouped onto them.

00:01:16   And so you can then use those to download your various podcast

00:01:21   episodes and listen to them.

00:01:22   And so I built all this infrastructure.

00:01:24   So I figured, hey, let's turn it into a podcast client

00:01:27   as well.

00:01:27   And this gives me a couple of things,

00:01:29   these are the topics I'm going to walk through in the show,

00:01:33   for where this app came from, some of the advantages I can do

00:01:36   and the things I'm experimenting with,

00:01:38   and then some of the general thoughts that come out of this

00:01:40   as well.

00:01:41   So at its core, Pod Wrangler is something

00:01:44   that's taking advantage of some existing things

00:01:50   that I've already built.

00:01:51   In terms of a couple of years ago,

00:01:53   actually, I wrote an app called SimpleCasts,

00:01:55   which was a podcast client.

00:01:57   Never really did well.

00:01:58   I launched it, put it out there, tried a lot of things to get onto it.

00:02:02   And I just never had traction.

00:02:03   I'm not entirely sure why, but it just never really hit.

00:02:06   And so eventually I just pulled the app from the store

00:02:09   and moved on to other things.

00:02:12   But I already have all of the laundry.

00:02:15   Essentially, I'd already built a lot of the infrastructure

00:02:17   for what a podcast client would need and what a podcast client would do.

00:02:21   A lot of the really low level, nitty gritty stuff

00:02:23   that you have to work through for dealing

00:02:26   with the exact dynamics of how you handle a call when

00:02:29   it comes in, for example.

00:02:30   And you're picking up and resuming that.

00:02:32   Dealing with interruptions, dealing with background

00:02:34   downloads-- at least at that point,

00:02:35   it wasn't quite the full background downloads

00:02:37   that we have now.

00:02:37   But dealing with file management and download

00:02:40   and all these kinds of issues that had already been solved.

00:02:43   So when the time came for me to build Pod Wrangler,

00:02:46   I was able to take advantage of that and leverage it.

00:02:48   And Pod Wrangler is a very different app

00:02:51   than Simplecast ever was.

00:02:53   though conceptually and at a low level, they're very similar.

00:02:56   And a lot of that is just coming from the fact

00:02:58   that in both cases, they were the podcast app that I wanted.

00:03:02   They're built with my tastes, my preferences, my desires in mind.

00:03:06   And so the natural kind of opinionation that comes out of that

00:03:10   kind of is-- you can see in both apps, if you're

00:03:13   somebody who happened to use SimpleCasts years ago

00:03:16   and then uses powder language today, you'll

00:03:18   feel somewhat familiar.

00:03:20   But one thing, the lesson that I wanted to talk about a little bit

00:03:23   is trying to make sure that you're aware of the things

00:03:26   that you have built up, the resources that you are somewhat

00:03:29   uniquely positioned to have, and being

00:03:31   able to make sure that you think about those

00:03:33   as you go forward and build other things,

00:03:35   and making use of all these things.

00:03:36   So in this case, I had a basic infrastructure

00:03:38   of a podcast client from some previous project

00:03:40   that I've worked on.

00:03:42   I have some new-- all of the new background APIs

00:03:46   were stuff that I've worked on for other apps

00:03:48   that I could take and put into PodWrangler.

00:03:49   I have a syncing back end that was

00:03:51   built as a result of something else, first with feed wrangler.

00:03:54   And so I was able to take all those disparate components

00:03:58   and combine them together in a way that saved me

00:04:00   a lot of time and energy.

00:04:02   And this is just something that I think overall I'd

00:04:05   recommend people look at.

00:04:06   Is you want to look at all the code you've written,

00:04:09   all the things you have, and see if you take those

00:04:12   and combine them in an interesting way,

00:04:14   can you make something else?

00:04:16   Can you take advantage of the various experiences

00:04:18   you've had to make an application, to make software,

00:04:20   to do something that potentially you could do more quickly

00:04:24   or with much less effort than someone else would.

00:04:27   And if you can, that's often a big win

00:04:28   and a competitive thing.

00:04:30   Where I didn't start from scratch to build PodWrangler.

00:04:32   I didn't start from scratch for a lot of the things.

00:04:35   But at the end result is an app that I think--

00:04:37   and I would put it up there to compete

00:04:39   with any of the big guys.

00:04:40   It's different in terms of its philosophy and its user

00:04:43   experience.

00:04:44   I'm not going to win with them on all the different features

00:04:46   that you can do.

00:04:47   But in terms of the user experience,

00:04:49   quality, reliability, those types of things,

00:04:51   I would say I'd put it up there and say it's pretty solid.

00:04:53   A lot of that's coming from being

00:04:54   able to focus on just the new stuff and the user experience

00:04:57   and focusing and polishing and polishing that down,

00:05:01   which I think is kind of interesting and works well.

00:05:03   The second thing I want to talk about is an interesting thing

00:05:05   that I'm trying with PodWrangler that's

00:05:07   a difference than a typical way that I would distribute an app.

00:05:10   And so this has to do with the business model.

00:05:12   This week especially, it seems like there's

00:05:14   been a lot of talk about business models in the App Store

00:05:17   again.

00:05:17   The same thing happens over and over again.

00:05:19   It's not anything particularly new.

00:05:22   A lot of it was coming from RealMac's decision

00:05:24   to backpedal a bit on what they were doing with Clear,

00:05:28   the to-do list manager, where essentially they'd

00:05:30   done a paid upgrade and then they had to undo that

00:05:32   and just give it to everybody for free because of user anger,

00:05:38   I guess.

00:05:39   And it's just increasingly becoming, I would say,

00:05:42   difficult to do.

00:05:45   For a while, there was a model in the App Store

00:05:47   make money was to make anything and put it out there.

00:05:52   Which only sort of was true, but there was a period of time when you could create almost

00:05:56   anything, put it in the store, and it would get attention.

00:05:58   You would be able to have some amount of traction.

00:06:00   I remember the days when the recently updated list in the App Store was one of the big drivers

00:06:06   of launch success because there were just so few apps that in a given day that was actually

00:06:11   useful if you were one of the only two or three apps in your category that launched

00:06:14   that day, that you actually got a lot of traction

00:06:16   and a lot of interest from it.

00:06:18   But now, what that's doing is-- that side of things

00:06:21   is completely gone.

00:06:22   There's a million apps in the App Store.

00:06:24   You're not going to stand out from that.

00:06:26   And then there was a period of time,

00:06:27   I'd say, when the way that most indies approach this

00:06:32   was you'd want to have this big launch.

00:06:35   And the goal in a lot of ways was

00:06:37   you're trying to line up all your publicity, all your press,

00:06:39   all your people.

00:06:40   And so you'd launch, and you have this big push.

00:06:43   And your goal was to fly up the charts and hang out at the top

00:06:46   and to stick yourself there as long as you could before you'd

00:06:50   fall down and make a pretty substantial amount

00:06:54   of your revenue for the application

00:06:56   in that first couple of days, in that first week.

00:06:59   And you could fund a lot of the development from that.

00:07:01   And you'd fall off and settle down.

00:07:03   And then you'd have some amount of recurring revenue.

00:07:07   But a lot of it was based on having a big first spike,

00:07:10   that kind of hit-driven model, which works to some degree today.

00:07:14   But one thing that I've noticed myself and from reports from other developers is that

00:07:18   the amount of volume you can get, even if you get into the top 10, the top five overall

00:07:22   in the store on the paid side, the amount of revenue there is quite a bit smaller than

00:07:27   it used to be.

00:07:28   It used to be you'd be talking about tens of thousands of dollars, and now you're talking

00:07:31   more about thousands of dollars.

00:07:33   And that's awkward as a developer to make a living from this, even if you have a huge

00:07:42   launch, a big splashy thing, that you're not going to be able to necessarily make that

00:07:46   back very easily.

00:07:47   So where does that put us?

00:07:49   With Feed Wrangler, where I've decided to start heading is into more of a subscription

00:07:54   model, where rather than trying to have a big, broad audience, I'm trying to have a

00:07:58   relatively modest, small audience who

00:08:03   has an invested interest in my applications,

00:08:05   and to whom I'm trying to build a relationship over time.

00:08:09   And that every one of these people

00:08:10   essentially gives me $19 a year, and I provide them

00:08:13   with software for that membership,

00:08:15   for that subscription.

00:08:16   And I kind of like that model, that if I

00:08:19   can build that audience to a large enough space

00:08:22   that I can make a living from it,

00:08:24   then I have a very much more narrow business problem

00:08:27   that I'm trying to solve.

00:08:28   I'm trying to keep the small group of people happy.

00:08:33   And if they're happy, my business is doing well.

00:08:35   If they're unhappy, my business is not doing well.

00:08:37   But I only have a few thousand people

00:08:38   that I need to really pay attention to,

00:08:40   rather than trying to think about the millions

00:08:42   and hundreds of millions of people who are in the app store.

00:08:44   And so that's kind of where I head with Feed Wrangler.

00:08:46   And so far, it's going pretty well.

00:08:47   I mean, it's a modest but solid income

00:08:51   that I'm getting from it.

00:08:52   And with PodWrangler, I'm essentially

00:08:54   trying to make that membership even more valuable to them.

00:08:58   Because maybe they're not as interested in RSS

00:09:01   as they used to be.

00:09:02   They jumped off into Feed Wrangler

00:09:05   when Google Reader announced they were going to die.

00:09:07   Turns out they actually never really used Google Reader.

00:09:09   They just wanted to have an option.

00:09:11   And so they're like, oh, maybe next year they

00:09:12   wouldn't have actually renewed.

00:09:14   But maybe they're a big podcast guy.

00:09:15   And so now they have a podcast client

00:09:16   that sort of gets thrown in, bundled in,

00:09:18   with their Feed Wrangler subscription.

00:09:20   So if you're a Feed Wrangler member,

00:09:22   you open up Pod Wrangler, it'll say, hey,

00:09:23   Do you have a feed wrangler account?

00:09:25   Great.

00:09:25   Log in with that, and I'll get you all the features for free.

00:09:29   They're just bundled in.

00:09:30   It's a free app for you with all the features ready to go.

00:09:34   But that created an interesting opportunity for me.

00:09:36   And this is the part that I think is interesting,

00:09:38   is that I'm also taking advantage of the fact

00:09:40   that I was going to build this app anyway for this group of--

00:09:42   the group of people who is the feed wrangler core.

00:09:45   I was going to build it anyway.

00:09:46   And if the app had just launched as a feed wrangler only thing,

00:09:50   it still would have been a useful, reasonable app

00:09:52   that I think I would have made money from in the sense

00:09:54   of enhancing my membership base.

00:09:56   But what I can also do, and what I've done,

00:09:58   is I offer that to everybody.

00:10:00   And so PodWrangler is a free app that anybody can download

00:10:03   and anybody can use.

00:10:05   If you are someone off the street who uses it,

00:10:07   who's not a feed wrangler member,

00:10:09   you have a few limitations that I put on it.

00:10:11   I think it's five subscriptions.

00:10:13   You don't push notifications.

00:10:14   And I'll show iAds inside the application.

00:10:17   But all of that, then you have an in-app purchase

00:10:20   to unlock and remove all that.

00:10:23   But what I love about this approach

00:10:24   is by focusing on nurturing and building my membership core,

00:10:29   I can still have all these other experiments

00:10:32   that I'm running that are free and open to the store.

00:10:34   And if that hits and if that works, then awesome.

00:10:37   Any money I get from free users or from in-app purchase

00:10:40   is just icing on the cake.

00:10:43   Because the cake is what I'm doing with my core memberships.

00:10:45   And so I kind of like this model.

00:10:47   And so it's something that I think is interesting.

00:10:49   And I think we're going to have to, as a group,

00:10:52   as independent developers, I think

00:10:53   we're going to increasingly have to be creative in these kind

00:10:56   of ways to find ways to make good, sustainable livings

00:10:59   in the App Store.

00:11:00   Because it is getting more and more difficult.

00:11:02   And there's a variety of reasons to go into that.

00:11:04   But the reality is that's the world in which we live.

00:11:07   And understanding the business dynamics

00:11:09   behind that, and understanding that we

00:11:11   have to be a bit more creative, it's not quite just--

00:11:14   it's never really been.

00:11:16   But it's especially now, I wouldn't say,

00:11:18   a situation where you build something, you make it good, you make it quality, you put

00:11:21   it out there, and you're going to be able to make a living from it.

00:11:25   That can happen, but it takes a lot of patience, it takes a lot of energy, it's probably going

00:11:28   to take a couple of flops in the beginning before you find the thing, find the niche

00:11:32   that really works for you.

00:11:33   And so that's kind of what I'm trying to do with PodWranglers.

00:11:36   And I'm trying to put, trying to mark capitalized on as broad an audience as possible.

00:11:43   So I'm going from the, with the application, I'm essentially getting money from the sort

00:11:49   of more devoted core of people who are my members.

00:11:52   And then I'm also trying to go for the people who only ever buy free apps, which is quite

00:11:55   a lot of people.

00:11:56   I think there's a lot of people I know, even my own sort of social circles I'll talk about.

00:12:00   They'd be like, "Oh, they know me and they ask what I do."

00:12:03   It's like, "Oh, I say, for example, 'Oh, I make a weather app.'

00:12:05   Oh, what's it called?

00:12:06   Oh, check the weather."

00:12:07   And go into the app store, open it up, they're like, "Oh, it's a couple bucks?

00:12:11   Oh, I only get free apps."

00:12:12   And that's what they say, and that's an understandable place

00:12:15   to be.

00:12:15   I mean, for a lot of people, they don't necessarily

00:12:20   view the app store as a place they want to take

00:12:21   their disposable income and pour it into.

00:12:24   And so I understand that.

00:12:26   It's been unfortunate as someone who makes my living that way.

00:12:29   But I understand that.

00:12:30   And the reality is, I'm just going to have to accept that

00:12:32   and start kitting towards that market in a different way.

00:12:35   And so I just kind of try and build as broad a portfolio

00:12:37   as I can, diversifying in a couple of different business

00:12:40   models.

00:12:41   And hopefully, overall, that'll work pretty well.

00:12:45   So yeah, so that's kind of a couple of things, lessons

00:12:47   I've learned, or things that I'm thinking about.

00:12:49   And so the first one was making sure

00:12:50   that if you take inventory periodically about the things

00:12:53   that you have, the experiences you have,

00:12:54   things that you're specifically uniquely prepared for,

00:12:58   that could potentially be advantages that you

00:13:00   can leverage in other ways.

00:13:02   There are experiences that you happen

00:13:03   to be an expert in a very narrow field.

00:13:05   Maybe you can use that in a way that

00:13:08   helps you differentiate yourself and helps you

00:13:13   make your mark in a more easy way.

00:13:15   And then secondly, being creative about business models,

00:13:17   trying to not think about the outside the box a little bit

00:13:20   and try things and understand that sometimes they'll work,

00:13:22   sometimes they won't.

00:13:23   But overall, I think that's the way

00:13:25   that we're going to have to be as developers going forward.

00:13:28   And probably the last note on that is if you haven't,

00:13:30   if you're listening to this show in something

00:13:32   other than PodWrangler, some people would probably

00:13:35   say shame on you.

00:13:36   I'm not one of those people.

00:13:38   But if you're not, what I'd probably recommend

00:13:40   is go try it.

00:13:40   It's a free app, like I said.

00:13:41   You can go.

00:13:42   If you just subscribe to this and a couple of other podcasts,

00:13:46   you probably wouldn't even hit the five show limit.

00:13:48   Try it.

00:13:49   If you love it, then great.

00:13:50   Sign up for Feed Wrangler.

00:13:51   You get all the features included then.

00:13:53   Or there's a $2 in-app purchase to do it then.

00:13:55   But either way, try it and see what you think.

00:13:57   That's one of those things that I love about having a free app

00:14:00   is that I can ask anybody I want.

00:14:01   Like, hey, why don't you try my app?

00:14:03   And there's no barrier to that other than their time.

00:14:07   So we recommend you give it a try.

00:14:10   I want to lay a random side note.

00:14:11   If you've been following along on the version stats

00:14:14   that I post on my website, david-smith.org/ios-version-stats,

00:14:18   it's kind of exciting to watch.

00:14:19   And I think it's kind of amazing that, as of, I think,

00:14:22   a couple of days ago, we recently hit 50% iOS 7

00:14:26   in my audiobooks app, which is remarkable.

00:14:29   It's only been about a week.

00:14:30   And we've already had about 50% adoption.

00:14:32   So that's awesome.

00:14:33   So definitely be targeting iOS 7 in all your new things.

00:14:36   And that's it for this week.

00:14:37   Happy coding.

00:14:38   I hope you have a great week.

00:14:39   If you need to get a hold of me, @_DavidSmith on Twitter,

00:14:42   david@developingperspective.com.

00:14:44   And otherwise, yeah, happy coding, great week.

00:14:46   And I'll talk to you later.

00:14:47   Bye.