Big Emoji New Release With Several Marketing Tests.

We finally updated Super Txt to iOS7, and we also renamed it 'Big Emoji'. Big Emoji is our 2 year old back burner app which makes a little money, but we kinda love the app so are unwilling to kill it despite almost never working on it. A year ago we had big plans for it and spent a bunch of iStockphoto credits that we'd use for new art packs. Never happened, but iStockphoto credits expire. Quick, spend 'em before they expire! Oh, and in iOS7 you can now paste a graphic directly into iMessage... which is at the heart of what Big Emoji is. And... we never really liked the name 'Super Txt'. 'Big Emoji' was the original name, but Apple didn't like it. Two years on and there are still a ton of (shitty) emoji apps around, so we figured it was time to give Apple a 2nd chance to approve the original name. So here we are, version 1.7 of Big Emoji, with:

  • iOS 7 build. (Not an iOS7 redesign mind you, just getting it to work!)
  • Shared directly to iMessages, and now also Facebook, Twitter, Weibo.
  • New art packs: Religion, Travel, Food, Home.
  • Can now buy all the art packs at once with a new bundle IAP. Its $5.99, which is a 30% saving over buying them one by one.
  • We threw out the invite your friends to win free emojis feature, because we never really built a proper version of it. Now its a retention mechanism - after a few days you get a local notification saying you have more free spins.

So while this started out just as a quick maintenance release and not wanting to waste our iStock credits, its a nice little experiment of a bunch of marketing tactics:

  • Name change effects ASO, will it rank higher, get more downloads?
  • Name change is better positioned for what the app actually is, will this result in more happy customers?
  • Name change is keyword stuffed with Facebook and Twitter now too!
  • Added 4 new art packs, which include stuff people have been asking for. Increase in $ per paying user? Increase in conversion?
  • The bundle saves people money, but it means someone can choose that their first purchase is $5.99 instead of 99c. Should increase $ per paying user.
  • Will people use it more now they don't have to manually paste the graphic in to iMessage? Will people start posting Big Emojis to Facebook & Twitter? (not really expecting that they will).
  • Getting the notification every few days that you have free spins to win emojis... that is supposed to increase retention. Will it? Will it affect conversion?
  • If we increase retention, will that improve our rank?
  • We also fixed the asking for a review link, which changed in iOS7. Will that get us more reviews and hence increase our rank?

Results of Translating Hit Tennis 3

Apple has been emailing developers encouraging us to localize our apps, suggesting we 'get started' with a list of 13 languages. Coincidentally we just translated our iOS game Hit Tennis 3 to 14 languages by working with our favorite app translation specialist Tethras. Overall we've had over double downloads for a few weeks as we shot up the charts in a bunch of countries. We picked languages as a combination of markets where we already do well with IAP sales, and untapped markets we want to grow into. Hit Tennis 3 had a very successul launch internationally in English. Release 3.9 came out March 9th in Japanese, Chinese (simplified), Korean, Russian, Portuguese (Brazilian), French, Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch, Swedish, Turkish, Arabic.  We didn't yet do any promotion of the translated versions. Here are the best results, these graphs show downloads per day (iPhone and iPad), over the last 60 days.

South Korea

Previously we didn't have players in South Korea, now we're a top tennis game there. We hit #1 top free iPhone, #2 top free iPad, and went on to earn a Korean app store 'Whats Hot' editorial placement.



Japan has been a top performing country for Hit Tennis 2, now Hit Tennis 3 can take its place.



We're not yet making much money in China's app store,  but we're pleased to start to build some audience there. Hit Tennis 2 actually did a lot better when it was translated to simplified Chinese.



This took us by surprise, Russians love Hit Tennis and they buy IAPs too! Chasing BRIC was the right move.



Very happy to break into Brazil. Another BRIC win.


Italy, France

Western Europe, especially Italy, France, and the UK, have always been good markets for us. Even though the english word 'Tennis' is almost the same across european languages, translating still had a great impact for us.



We saw increases in more countries including Spain, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Portugal, Venezuela. We specifically translated for Sweden and Turkey where we had very modest download increases, and also Netherlands where we saw no improvement. A few other places with no improvement included Belgium, Switzerland, and Arabic speaking countries. Note however that while Hit Tennis 3.9 is in Arabic, the app name and app store description are not because the app store doesn't support them yet. Note that we can't conclude 'translation doesn't work for Belgium' or 'translation works best for Korea'. These are just the results we had at this time with this game. I think we can conclude however that translation can be awesome for downloads.


Revenues from Hit Tennis 3 are split between IAP sales and ad publishing with Chartboost. We've seen IAP revenues grow in Russia, Korea, Japan, Europe, and small increases in many countries. USA and UK are still the biggest IAP earners for us, but with this translation release Brazil and Russia jumped way up into our IAP sales top 10. Chartboost income has seen a good upswing too. Overall income growth has been modest, and nothing like the gains in downloads in the individual country graphs above. That said, translating is ROI positive for us already.

The Strategy

We've done this before with Hit Tennis 2, it's a specific market strategy:

  • The name of the game is a familiar thing 'Tennis' so it gets instant recognition.
  • We translate the name of the game - instead of building up one brand in all languages we just want easy recognition of what the game is about in all languages.
  • 'Tennis' is actually pretty much the same in several european languages, so translating the app name isn't going to make all the difference for recognition in Europe. But its really good for China, Japan, Korea, Russia, etc.
  • Translating the name is huge for getting good search ranking in non english app stores, but it does risk reducing ranking for the english word.
  • The app store copy, screen shots, and the whole game are translated too, making the customer feel right at home and hence increasing all key metrics.
  • We're not doing localization - ie we are not being culturally sensitive to each country. (Though we did plan Hit Tennis 3 with locations and characters from around the world.) We are just translating as best we can using our app translation company Tethras. Translation can be really good value for money.
  • We're not using local publishers. This is an iOS game, and we think we know how to market using recognition, search, cross promotion, and mobile ads. Android is a different beast though, when we port we may look for local publishers.

Launching Hit Tennis 3 into the Charts

We just launched our new game Hit Tennis 3 into the iOS free charts, and  after just 10 days we achieved:

  • #2 Top free app in the USA (Angry Birds Seasons as Apple's free game of the week was #1).
  • Top 100 free game in 45 countries
  • Over 1 million downloads.

Hit Tennis 3 has not (yet) been featured by Apple, we didn't spend any money on ads, and we didn't get any press. We are a 2 person self funded indie company. So how did we do it?

Cross Promotion

We cross promoted heavily from our game Hit Tennis 2, and we arranged for five friends to advertise Hit Tennis 3 in their games. Hit Tennis 2 has about 1 million monthly active users, obviously a really good audience to promote the new version of the game to. We have users on two different versions of HT2, our newest version has ads implemented with Chartboost (we love you Chartboost!). The previous version has a home grown system for house ads, and both version also have a news feature. Our five friends who advertised for us have apps & games ranging in audience size and they use a range of different ad solutions. (Thanks everyone for your amazing help... we owe you!)

Below are details of the ad campaign. Data in black is measured data, blue are estimates from similar measurements, and red are guesstimates.

Ad type





Inst / Clk

HT 2

full screen






HT 2

app news






App B

full screen






App C







App D







App E

more games






App F







The campaign ran in 2 phases for a total of 10 days starting 6/28.  On 6/28 we released Hit Tennis 3 worldwide, and we turned on ads in Hit Tennis 2, and apps B, C, D, F. This was enough to get us into the top 25 in several big markets after 6 days, but in USA we had only charted in the free sports games category. So for that first week we were showing about 60,000 daily impressions for nearly 2000 ad based downloads a day, which grew total app downloads up to 74,000 on 7/3. By comparison our category charting Hit Tennis 2 has been getting around 10,000 downloads a day.

The second phase kicked in fully on 7/4 by adding one of our larger partners (App E) bumping our ad impressions up to over 200,000 per day for 4000 ad based downloads a day. That made enough difference to kick us up into the top25  free in the USA, and ultimately up to 300,000 downloads per day in total.

Screen Shot 2012-07-12 at 2.45.45 PM
Screen Shot 2012-07-12 at 2.45.45 PM


We agreed these ad campaigns on a barter basis... we get n clicks and installs now for our launch, and we will repay this debt for similar clicks and install of their games, either for new launches or for existing games. This is an amazingly good deal for a two person self funded indie company because it didn't cost us cash up front (but it will cost us reduced ad-publisher earnings later). How much would it cost to do this with cash instead of goodwill & trust? Fiksu maintains an index of 'cost per loyal user' which is a measure of measure of how much one has to pay in order to drive an app install. Their most recent index is $1.26, which is a bit lower than its been. A lot of the app ad networks are Cost Per Install bidding systems, and to get a lot of volume you have to make higher bids spending more per install. I don't know the bid needed to get the impression volume we had. I know that some games companies with deep pockets will bid more like $2.50 CPI and the feeling in the industry is that CPI cost is on the rise due to supply and demand.  Lets use a CPI of $1.50:

  • 20k installs from our own cross promotion,   20k * $1.50  would cost $30,000 purchased from ad networks
  • 27k installs from partners, would cost $41,000
  • Total equivalent cost about $70,000

Organic & Paid Installs

So would spending $70,000 on any game get the same results? Heck no. As MachineZone's Gabe Leydon said at Games Beat yesterday "nothing helps reduce the cost of user acquisition like a great game". For what we did with the Hit Tennis 3 launch, the promotion works like this:

  1. Ads get  the game somewhere into the charts
  2. Now its in the charts, more people see it
  3. So gets more organic downloads,
  4. Makes it go a bit higher up the charts.
  5. Now even more people see it and it gets even more organic downloads.
  6. People like it and start telling their friends to get it too
  7. It goes up higher in the charts.
  8. Repeat from 5.

Over the 10 days launch campaign period, we had about 1 million downloads in total, but only 47k of those were ad driven downloads. So thats 95% organic downloads. That doesn't happen for any old app. Why did Hit Tennis 3 perform well?

  • We launched Hit Tennis 3 during Wimbledon 2012 (biggest Tennis event in the world). This was not by accident! Tennis was in the air and on people's minds.
  • Tennis is popular, everyone knows what it is, they can imagine playing it before even seeing it.
  • Our icon is stunningly good. You can't fail to notice it in an app store listing, it screams 'tennis' and 'quality'. I can't emphasize enough how important a good icon is. There are hundreds of tennis games and apps in the store but only a small fraction have good icons.
  • Hit Tennis 3 has natural controls. The majority of people can play it in the first 20s without a tutorial. (You have no idea how hard we worked on the controls.) Ain't no stinking virtual D-pad in sight.
  • Once you start playing, the rythm of hitting that ball is fun! You are actually hitting it yourself, not controlling an avatar.
  • Chart ranking is more complex than just # of downloads. The best ranking games are the games people are actually playing, not just downloading. You need a good app with broad appeal to make this work.


Rob and I been working full time in the apps business since the app store opened in 2008. Hit Tennis 3 is our 17th app I think, and our 5th mobile game. We started making apps & games in 2008, and we spent 09-10 making apps under contract for other companies.  We've been studying games, marketing, and the apps business very hard the whole time. We made the effort to attend conferences & events like 360 iDev, WWDC, GDC, Unite, iOS Dev Camp, SViOSD, SVIGDA, et al. Thats how we've built our network of friends and colleagues to ask for help. We didn't go to school with these people or something, we showed up and met them, and then we reached out asking for help. Aka networking and biz dev ;-)

Hit Tennis 3 is the sequel to Hit Tennis 2, but we deliberately designed the controls to be very different from Hit Tennis 2. As much as we love Hit Tennis 2 and we have loyal fans, the controls to Hit Tennis 2 are hard to learn. The majority of people who try it are put off by the controls and we don't retain them as players. (Ie the trier to player conversion is poor.) One of the 3 main goals of Hit Tennis 3 is to 'fix' this problem. I think we did, but it puts our core Hit Tennis 2 fans at a disadvantage because they have to 'unlearn' the controls from Hit Tennis 2. So we've gotten some blowback for this... sorry Hit Tennis 2 fans!

The biggest factor for how we designed this launch was the timing during Wimbledon. If it wasn't for Wimbledon coming around just once a year we would have done things differently. Probably would have worked more on the game before releasing it. (Updates coming soon!) Wimbledon is a worldwide thing, so we went with a worldwide campaign. Otherwise we wouldn't have advertised in every country. We would have picked just a few places to advertise. We didn't localize yet so we would only have advertised in english speaking countries, and we would probably have left out USA too in order to start with smaller campaigns.

We've done paid ad campaigns before with Hit Tennis 2 in 2010 and 2011. We've had mixed results, sometimes driving really well up the charts, and sometimes failing to. This time it looked different, I think that burst ad campaigns can't push up chart rankings as fast as they used to be able to. The market is bigger of course, but my guess is that there are real changes to how the chart rankings work, and it just takes longer now. 1 day bursts won't work any more.

Pitch Perfect - great guide to getting app reviews.

Pitch Perfect
Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect is a fantastic new book that explains how app developers can up their PR game when pitching apps to bloggers and review sites. It's packed full of advice, case studies, and mistakes to avoid. Pitch Perfect is a practical and very engaging read, so much so that I today I rode the train to Balboa Park, and that ain't where I live!  Eria Sadun and Steve Sande are your teachers. They really know their stuff because as staffers they read tons of app pitches every day. In fact, I personally emailed Erica twice last week, making a total of at least 4 of the mistakes she points out in the book. [Cringe.]

So app developers, here's the bottom line - get it, read it, and use the advice. Or would you rather your apps stay in the 99% with 3 downloads a week?

Amazon Kindle edition

Apple iBooks edition

Is Translating Your iOS Game Cost Effective?

Is it cost effective to translate your iOS game from english to other languages? For us the answer has been a clear yes. For example, here is a graph showing our downloads and revenues in Japan for a month before and a month after adding the Japanese translation. sales graph

That improvement in both downloads and revenue per download is due to the translation to Japanese. We had similar results in one other country, more modest improvements in others. When we translated to simplified Chinese we had a very big increase in downloads but hardly any increase in revenues.

Localization can improve:

  • Chance someone will tap on your app listing when browsing (if you translate the app name)
  • Download rate (if you translate the app name and screen shots)
  • Amount of fun a customer has with your game (if you localize the app itself)
  • Chance they will buy an IAP. (if you localize the app itself)
  • Chance they will recommend to their friend. (if you localize the app itself)
  • Chance of getting Apple promotions in non english markets. (if you localize the app itself)

Thats a pretty good list of potential benefits for a modest investment in time and money. If your app is performing well in its native language markets, and there is another market with a different native tongue where you are starting to get downloads, try localizing for that country and see how it goes. We've tried a couple of companies to help with translation, and the one that we like and recommend is I like their pricing (which takes into account translation updates for app updates), they have great tech and a workflow that makes it convenient to move translations to and from your codebase, and they've been a helpful and supportive vendor.


iOS Platform Timeline

Our iOS apps industry is so old that I have trouble remembering when it all started - so I made this handy timeline / calendar. Feel free to download an editable copy & insert your own apps release dates etc as you look fondly back to distant 2007. The numbers under the year are estimates of all iOS devices sold by years end, but I didn't find particularly good sources. Other data mostly found in Wikipedia, please comments if you have corrections and I will update the chart. Thanks!

FAM Score - Evaluating Ideas for Game Projects


We have a hundred ideas for games but we're only two full time people here at Focused Apps. So how do we choose what to work on next? What ideas do we spend time prototyping, and which projects do we push forward to market? We developed our own 'points out of ten' scoring system called the 'FAM' score. FAM stands for Fun, Ability (our ability to produce and sell the game), and Market (which includes monetization). We award0 to 3 points in each category: 0=bad; 1=OK; 2=good; 3=fantastic, leaving 1 bonus point to add if we think there's some factor so super awesome it deserves another point.


The greatest of these three is Fun. For app store games, no awesome monetization scheme or ad campaign will make up for a lame game. We're aiming more towards casual games than hard core, for a broad market, for free-to-play, and we are consciously designing for iPhones: pocket sized, touch screen, connected, short pick-up-and-play gaming sessions. So things we consider for Fun include

  • Easy to learn / can the tutorial be integrated and very short, or none at all?
  • In the first 20s of play, can someone figure out what to do and start having fun?
  • Is there always something to do?
  • Is it too frustrating to lose?
  • Would you play it on the bus?
  • Are the controls intuitive? Do they replicate a real world action? Is there a rhythm to the controls?
  • Hard to master?
  • Natural Flow - does gameplay difficulty adapt to player’s skill level?
  • Are there challenges that require some skill?
  • Is there interesting / surprising / funny stuff to discover?
  • Is there uncertainty / chance?  I.e. do some things the player does have unpredictable outcomes. = more endorphins.
  • Is there easily attained progress? Is there a 'progress checklist'?
  • Is there a reason to come back for just one more try?
  • Does the game align with common fantasy & basic human drives? E.g. becoming rich, famous, popular, loved, laid, being great at a sport or your team winning, nurturing, driving really fast, flying, being a hero, showing off, ...
  • Are there cute puppies? Sexy women? Sexy men? Sexy cars, ...?
  • Is it nostalgic?
  • Will you want to talk to your friends about it?
  • Will you want to play with or against your friends?
  • Will you want to play with or against strangers on the internet?
  • When we show someone the prototype, can they play it without instruction?
  • When showing the prototype to an adult, do they actually play or just talk about it and then change the subject?
  • When showing the prototype to a child, do they keep playing or do they quit and switch to a different appas soon as you turn your back?


Real programmers ship. Real publishers sell. Given our strengths and weaknesses, some projects are going to be easier for us to ship and sell, and that’s what the Ability score is about. A huge part of the reason to be self employed is to do what you love, and to be motivated as a self employed person you've got to love it. It follows then that in order to ship, we only work on projects that we are really excited about. Things we consider for Ability include:

  • How excited are we to work in this?
  • How big is the project? Smaller projects ship more easily.
  • Can it make sense to release a minimum viable product and keep updating it as we build audience and tune fun and monetization?
  • Are we artistically capable? Can we produce the game art, can we buy it, or can we hire artists to produce it under our direction?
  • What is the balance between programed content (our strength) and artwork content (our weakness).
  • Will we have to design all the levels / game world by hand? Can we generate levels with code?
  • If we publish this, will we be proud of it or ashamed?


This is a business. It’s our job. We want to make money by entertaining people. We don't imagine ourselves to be artists, and we really want to avoid the 'starving' part of that dream. We think about the game as a sales funnel, about how the game’s name, icon, screen-shots, first play experience, continued play, will all propel players towards becoming paying customers and advocates for the game. To succeed financially we want good conversion at as many levels as we can, and perhaps more importantly, we want to be able to measure conversion and improve over time. Things we consider for Market:

  • How broadly will the appeal of the game be, is it mass market?
  • Are people searching for title words?
  • Will people recognize something from the name and icon (before they specifically know about the game) to imagine that they might like it? I.e. how well will the game's listing perform? This is a concept we call 'swimmable', as in, 'how strongly will the app swim by itself in the sea of the app store?'.
  • Does the concept have international appeal? Is it going to be stronger in some countries’ app stores than others?
  • Will the screen shots look cool?
  • Will the game seem familiar enough that players will imagine playing it from seeing a screen shot?
  • Will the game make a story for the press? Is there a way to market the game to the online games press?
  • Is there something new or unique about the game?
  • Might Apple like the game and promote it?
  • Will the concept appeal to the same kinds of people that are playing our other games? Can we do co-marketing deals with other games who do have our target audience?
  • Can we come up with well performing ads for the game? Can we design compelling promotions for the game?
  • Will players want to promote the game to their friends? Is it social or viral?
  • Is the name memorable, easily pronounced and spelled?
  • What In App Purchases will we put in the game?
  • Are there multiple price points for IAPs?
  • What power ups could we have?
  • What wearables / vanity items could we have, and is the game social enough to justify that?
  • Can we sell levels packs, new characters, new play environments?
  • Is there a content pipeline of IAPs (that we are capable of sustaining)?
  • Is there any user generated content?
  • Are gameplay & screen layouts suitable for banner or full screen ads?
  • Is there a niche that will fit a sponsor?
  • What will the games age rating be?
  • Is there anything that might be an App Store approval risk?
  • Is there a natural progression to episode 2 of the game, or a spin off, or can we lead players into a 2nd game from this that has deeper engagement and more things to sell them?


We've now released two games. Hit Tennis 2 and Santa's Lil Zombies. Hit Tennis 2 is doing well for us, and Santa's Lil Zombies makes no money at all. Our FAM score for Hit Tennis is 7 (Fun 2, Ability 2, Market 3), and Santa's Lil Zombies scored 4 (Fun 1, Ability 2, Market 1). Both of these games were released before we came up with our FAM score as a tool. (The Zombies game was developed as our 'learn how to use Unity3D' project that we then subsequently released because we liked it.)

We're using FAM going forward to evaluate ideas and prototypes. We find the FAM score very helpful at keeping us in check when we get all gooey about a new game idea and when we get fed up with our current main project. FAM keeps us honest and on track with our business strategy. I think that developers fall in love with an idea, and therefore that’s what they’re going to work on, whether or not they are on track for business success. This happens to us all the time, and the FAM score forces us to reflect on why we love a particular idea. I'm not a typical iPhone user - I'm logical, I like optimizing complex systems and shooting at stuff that moves. My favorite games to play are Civilization IV and Borderlands (neither of which is even mobile). Our business strategy is not to appeal to me. FAM helps us see the difference between an idea that we love because we want to play or program that game vs an idea we love that will also be something fun for a broad audience that we can ship and sell.

I hope our FAM scoring factors list will be helpful to you. Use it as-is or develop your own list of factors that fits your business strategy. I'll write more in the future about all the sources and influences. Many are mentioned the game design and business sections of my book recommendations.

Designing and Marketing Hit Games

How do you make a hit game? Here's an essay by Tony Downey that comes as close to a recipe for success as I've ever seen: Indie Games: Designing to Succeed. READ IT. Following his advice is going to be very hard work, but making your game without following most of this advice will be just as hard work, but you'll make less money. This essay is BRILLIANT, thanks Tony for putting this together for all of us. For more advice, check out my book reviews for books on game design and books on app marketing.

iPhone Development Books 4: Marketing & Business

If you're making iPhone apps to try to make money, then marketing is key or only your friends will ever download your app. When most people hear the word 'marketing' they think of telling people about a product after its been built, but I see marketing as much more than that, and in fact I think the most important type of marketing is the basic understanding of the market in the first place, and that comes before you make you app. Why? The most important factor in getting people to buy your app is having an app that people will want! If you can do that the rest is much easier. You have to think about out what kinds of apps people want to buy, why they choose one app over another, how many people want something like this, what you can do to make your apps desirable. Once you've got a handle on all that, then you actually make your app and go ahead with the advertising and PR part of marketing to get the word out. So here are some books to help...

The Business of iPhone App Development by Dave Wooldrige and Michael Schneider is an excellent on book that covers market research, app design & design for your promotional materials, different pricing and revenue models for apps, working with the press, connecting with customers, and running promotions. There's a lot of hands on techniques and information in this book you can really use.  (I was the tech reviewer for the first edition of this book, Dave just updated it in 2011 to a 2nd edition.)

In App Savvy Ken Yarmosh takes the reader through a masterclass in app product strategy, managing app development, marketing and engaging with customers. The book is packed with sophisticated approaches that successful app publishers are using, but all the material is presented in a accessible easy to read form. Ken's expertise comes from publishing his own iOS apps and working as a consultant on more, but he goes further and includes interviews with plenty of other successful app developers, marketers, and industry experts. App Savvy can give you an up to date understanding of the app store marketplace, will help you understand where your own app plans fit in, and its filled with guidance towards success. I especially love App Savvy because Ken introduces the ideas of Customer Development / the Lean Startup, which have been very influential on my own apps business. Whether you are an indie app maker, or working in a larger company, I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.

You probably want to get some press for your app, but can you afford a good PR firm? No? Yeah me too. If you are going to pitch the press yourself you MUST read 'Pitch Perfect' from bloggers Erica Sadun and Steve Sande. They tell you what its like on the inside to get hundreds of app pitches a week, and they coach you on how to get them to notice your app.


Another good iPhone specific marketing book is Jeffry Hughes' 'iPhone & iPad Apps Marketing, Secrets to Selling Your iPhone and iPad Apps', and it covers similar ground to Wooldridges book, and had lots of good examples of how app publishers promote their apps, and some financial models to help you make sensible plans.

Suzanne Ginsburg's 'Designing the iPhone User Experience' has some excellent advice about how to perform a competitive analysis of the market for your app, and lots of detailed information about user research and prototype app testing - key 'before you build it' marketing.

'Positioning, The Battle for Your Mind' by Al Ries and Jack Trout was first published in 1981. Its been perhaps the most important marketing book I've read, it really changed how I think about how customers feel about the products they buy, and was tremendously helpful in understanding the vast gap that exists between how you feel about and see the app you are making, vs how all those iPhone users our there might feel about and see your app. Really, it comes down to the fact that pretty much no-one will feel anything about most apps because for most apps, no-one will ever even know they exist! Positioning is a huge challenge for companies with millions to spend on marketing, so how can this book be relevant to an independent iPhone developer with a micro budget? The lesson I took away was to make something that people can imagine what it is... that they could recognize what the app will do... that they can make that jump to wanting to check it out when they first see the app icon, name, or a screen shot when they are in the app store or perhaps a website. Check it out, its a great read.

Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value is a wonderful read about behavioral economics. It should make clear to you why in app purchases can be so profitable, and why you need to sell multiple things in order to get your freemium game to pay. You know what - real customers are _not_ doing ROI calculations in their head when they consider buying your app!




  Also very influential to how I think about my iPhone business are the ideas of Customer Development and Lean Startups from Steve Blank and Eric Ries. Customer Development is about taking the risk out of startup businesses by figuring out what to make and how to sell it before investing lots of money on sales. Another way of looking at the basic idea is to say its about figuring out what people want to spend money on that you are capable of making, and it lays out techniques you can use to get there. Steve Blank explains this in his book 'The Four Steps to the Epiphany'. You can also check out the more recent The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. If you get a chance to hear Steve or Eric Ries speak, take it.

Starting your own business as an iPhone app publisher means you've got to deal with a bunch of legal and admin stuff. Whether you hire a lawyer or not, I recommend learning some of this stuff for yourself, how else can you be in-charge of your own business? For those of us in the USA, Nolo is here to help. A few of their excellent books to check out include 'Legal Guide to Web & Software Development', 'The Small Business Start-Up Kit', and 'Consultant & Independent Contractor Agreements'.

I'll leave you with one final book recommendation which can serve you well in life generally, and especially well if you take on some iPhone app consulting / contracting work! 'Bargaining for Advantage' by G Richard Shell is a great and easy read that will explain what master negotiators do, will help you defend against getting bullied in negotiations, and will help give you the confidence to find agreements that work for you - including decent contracting terms and rates.

More book recommendations: iOS Programming, App Design, Games & Unity.

Increase iPhone App Downloads by A/B Testing App Names

I'm about to outline the single most powerful thing you can do to improve sales/downloads of your iPhone app. I know this is a bold claim, but read on and I will justify it. I first presented this at 360iDev San Jose 2010. Apple made us an amazing market for our software and threw in a fantastic distribution & sales platform. All that for just 30% of receipts, which IMHO, is an incredibly good deal for developers. But the app store doesn't help anyone find your app right? Wrong! The app store is a catalog of ads for iPhone apps, and millions of people are browsing through those ads - especially the top 100 lists. These browsing people are primed and ready to download, you just have to make them notice your 'ad' among the 200,000 others. When people are looking in the app store they are scrolling through a table of app listings. It doesn't matter if they are checking out the top 100 games or they searched for 'gardening', everything in the app store is shown as a list of apps. The listing shows: icon; app name; price; star rating, company name. Get someone to notice your listing, and they will tap through to your app's page. There they see the screen shot and maybe download your app, but that can't happen until they've tapped on your listing in the first place. The key then, is to get them to tap on your listing. To make the very best performing app listing you need to carefully select the best icon and the best app name. How do you know what will be the best performing, and what do I even mean by best performing anyway?

If you study how to be successful advertising on Google, or you learn about AARRR metrics for online business, you will discover that a key metric for online ads is is the Click Through Rate. CTR = clicks / impressions. (Clicks: number of times it was clicked on by people; impressions: number of times the ad was seen by people.) Better CTR means a better performing ad. Study this or try it yourself, and you'll soon find that no-one makes money on Google by writing an ad, paying for the clicks, and sitting back while money pours in through their web-site. This is because it nearly always cost more for the ads than you can make back by selling your stuff! To make money you need to test several ads, figure out which is the best performing, take that 'winner' and make more variations to test. Keep repeating this until you have discovered one that performs well enough so that it is cost effective to pay Google a bunch of money to run the ad in large volume. iPhone app developers should use this same approach to figure out the best performing app listing: change name or icon, measure, compare, repeat.

OK, so how do you measure CTR of your app listing? You need to know impressions and clicks. But you don't know these, only Apple knows how many times your app listing was shown and how many times people tapped on it (assuming even they are tracking this stuff). Hmmm... What we need is a way to test our app listing outside of the app store. It turns out there is something almost as good and extremely affordable: Admob. Below on the left is an app store listing for one of our old apps 'Smart Caller'. On the right is an Admob ad in an iPhone app. Consider the content, structure, and context - they are very similar. So what I'm saying is that you can use Admob ads to test different icons and different app names for your app, to figure out the very best performing app name and icon for your app in the app store.


You can run an Admob mobile banner ad campaign for as little as $50, which will buy you 1000+ clicks (click prices vary by geography and demand). You might have a CTR of 1-2%, so that $50 is buying you 50,000+ impressions. This means you can test your icon or app name by sampling it 50,000+ times (which probably translates to almost 50,000 different people) all in a day. Survey 50,000 people in one day for just $50 to see which icon or which app name most catches peoples attention? Wow, if that doesn't blow your mind then you'd better leave your app marketing to someone else. You can even test several ads at once in one $50 campaign, though you might have to baby sit it a little in order to get even testing of each. Now repeat a few times and you can find an app name and icon that performs much better than the ones you started with, all this for around $200 and a few hours work.

OK, here's some proof for you of just how powerful the app icon and app name is. The graph below is real download data for one of our free apps. I won't explain all the in & outs of the various name and icon changes the app has been through here, but you can see from the graph what a huge effect changing the name and icon had on downloads. Each blue line marks where we changed name or icon, and the red line is the daily download rate. (Of course when you do this, you are trying to increase downloads, and you can see that we decreased downloads... but exactly what happened there is for another blog post!) For this app, we saw 20x difference in download rate for the best app listing vs the worst. Wow. Now in testing via Admob you won't see such a huge difference in CTR, because live in the app store, a better CTR for your app listing has a leveraging effect. Double your CTR and you double downloads. Doubling downloads will increase your rankings a whole lot, and with increased rankings more people will see your app (more impressions), which leads to even more downloads. Your app listing CTR has massive leveraging power, which I'll discuss more in a later blog post.


Often when app publishers (especially indie developers) look at paid promotions like Admob ads, it's not clear if it's money well spent because of the question of how many actual downloads you will get for your money. It can cost a lot per download (Admob does have a way to measure downloads per impression and per $ spent, which is very neat). For example, one campaign we ran ended up costing us $2.50 per download for a free app, which was not a cost effective way of acquiring users for that app. Figuring the download rate (aka conversion rate) for your ad is a more sophisticated way to measure how 'good' the ad is, and you should try to measure conversion rate if you are using ads to acquire users / makes sales. But here I'm not talking about acquiring users, I'm talking about A/B testing your app name and icon, and for that, your $200 might well be the best money you'll ever spend.

Why do I claim this is 'the best' thing you can do? Consider your sales funnel. Below is the sales funnel for a free apps that doesn't have a bunch of PR, blog reviews etc. Its downloads come only from people finding it in the app store. To get people out the bottom of the funnel where you actually get paid, you need people to enter in at the top and keep moving down the funnel. To improve the conversion rate at which people will move down from one level to the next, you have to do more work and spend more money. All the conversion rates multiply together to result in the overall conversion rate of your sales funnel, so you can double your overall conversion rate by doubling conversions at any one of the stages. Improving how much people love to use your app (app use stage, or activation and retention in AARRR metrics) is probably quite hard and expensive, but improving how many people click on your app listing in the first place (acquisition) is quite easy and cheap by doing what I just described. Then on top of how cheap this is to do, add in the leveraging effect your app listing CTR can have and I hope you can see the potential here.


You can and should test your app name before you release your app, but you can also do it for an app that's been out for ages. Got an app sitting there not selling? Experiment with different names and icons and find something that performs better for you. In our experience, existing users won't mind you changing name & icon, but do consider changing only one at one time unless you go for a full rebranding, in which case just tell existing users what you are doing.

Would you like to de-risk your entire app making business by using this technique? Do app name testing before you ever write a line of code or design a single pixel. Are you an iPhone game developer? I bet you have many ideas for different games, but you're not sure which one to invest the time and money to develop? Use ads to test several concepts, and build the one with the best click through rate. By doing this you'll be pre-picking the one that has the best chance of being noticed by people and rising up the app store charts. Up-front market research like this is part of what the customer development & lean startup approach is all about - testing your idea as early as you can.

When you try this watch the CTRs for your ads and see if they change over time. When the ads first run, CTR tends to show higher in the reports than it will end up. As time goes on CTRs drop. Then leave it a few days and you'll sometimes see CTRs rise again (even once the ad campaign has finished). I think it's just differences in timing of how the click data and impressions data gets reported. I also suspect there's an effect because of 'ad-click jockeys', users who really like clicking ads to see what new apps are out there, so these people click on new ads as soon as they see them. If this is happening its just fine, because click jockeys are the same people who are going to push your app up in the charts. So do keep an eye on the CTRs, and check back after a few days to see how the numbers settle.

I'd love to hear from anyone else who's doing this kind of stuff with their mobile app business, and if I've inspired you to try it, let me know how it works out for you. Comment below or email markj at markj dot net. I'd love it if you could share the CTRs you get for different kinds of apps and the ranges you find between best and worst performing in order to develop some benchmarks for evaluating app ideas. I'll be writing more on these topics myself, so please consider subscribing to this blog. Below are some references to the people I learned these techniques from, I encourage you to go read their blogs, books, and hear them speak if you can.

Steve Blank: developed the 'Customer Development' approach to the startup business, which my iPhone business is based on.

Eric Ries: was Steve's student, and went on to pioneer customer development for online businesses in combination with agile engineering practices, resulting in the 'Lean Startup' movement.

Dave McClure: has fantastic work on metrics for online businesses and understanding your sales funnels, a lot of which applies well to the app store. AARRR!

Sean Ellis: Lots more great advice on startups and marketing.

Al Ries and Jack Trout: their book 'Positioning - The Battle for your Mind' explains the challenges in communicating with your customer, and sets the background for just why your app name is so powerful if you get it right.

Perry Marshal: great material on understanding online advertising with Google (and by proxy Admob etc).

Glenn Livingston: teaches online marketing, emotional marketing, and understanding customers (which is at the heart of whole customer development approach).

Neil Young: At iPhone and game conferences, Neil stands up and lays out ngmoco's strategy to us. (And I started on a ZX Spectrum too!)

360idev: great place to learn about this mobile apps biz. I first presented this at 360iDev San Jose 2010.

Dave Wooldridge: The Business of iPhone App Development a great practical marketing book for iPhone devs. (Which I was the tech reviewer for.)

Tweeting from an Ad on the iPhone Using URL Schemes

Lately I’ve been experimenting with promoting out app 'Friend Focus (for Facebook)' by ‘turning out the vote’ - ie getting our existing users to help us promote Focus. Once I’ve found a formula that works well we’ll implement the scheme in app and figure out a way to reward users for helping us, but for now I’ve been using house ads. House ads are our own ads placed in our app using the ad network we’re integrated with. Admob in this case. This is a great way to try out ad copy and experiment with different promotions because its all done with no code updates to our app, all I have to make is a simple HTML landing page for each ad. A recent campaign we’ve been running is ‘Tweet your support for Focus’, which asks people to tweet saying that Focus is great:

Tweet support for Focus ad

Tweet support landing page

Naturally the tweet has to be pre-filled, which lets me use a link so I can track the effectiveness of the campaign. A ‘tweet me’ link is pretty easy on the web, but this is on people’s iphone. Twitter users with lots of followers (ie the people we want to tweet) aren’t using the twitter website on their iPhone, they’re using a twitter app, of which there are many to choose from! So how do we turn a click on my ad into a pre-filled tweet right inside someone’s pre-logged in twitter app of choice? The solution is to use custom URL schemes. Several iPhone twitter apps have custom url schemes that allow you to launch them and pre-fill a tweet using their custom url. This works just as well from the landing page of an admob, in code in a native app, in a web page in mobile safari, or a link in an email.

Hmmm, but which twitter app to choose? Turns out you can choose them all! I wrote some simple javascript to just open all of them - one of them is bound to hit. The code is below. I picked 5 of the most popular twitter clients and included them. The script works great in the UIWebView that Admob opens to show the landing page for the ad, because the UIWebView isn’t throwing up a dialog saying “couldn’t open that URL” for urls where a scheme isn’t installed on the devide. Its imperfect as a web page because of these alerts, which you will see if you try it. I tried a bunch of things - using the tweet url for an image src, in an iframe, as a form submit. I also played with timers and onblur event to try to cancel out the urls tries upon returning to the page in Safari. If someone could figure out the perfect javascript for this that works in Safari and post here in the comments, that would be very awesome.

Go ahead and try it by clicking the ad above, and if you tweet your support for Focus, that would be splendid! As you can see to the left, it works... we've had 28 tweets so far, from a variety of twitter apps, which has generated 165 click throughs to the Focus website. Thanks to everyone who tweeted for us so far. Below is my hastily put together javascript.

Tweet Focus Support

Tweet Your Support

We need your help to spread the word about Focus for Facebook. If you use Twitter, please take a moment to...

tweet support

tweet support

Mark & Rob, Focused Apps.

Sales Stats Tools for iPhone Apps

AppViz charts all your app store sales reports for you, and for a huge time saving it logs in to iTunes Connect for you and downloads them automatically. An added bonus (assuming you can stomach reading them) is that AppViz will download all your app reviews too! AppViz charts new downloads, upgrade downloads, all downloads, and sales revenue. Graphs can be plotted by different date ranges and for different countries, and it converts everything to your own currency. AppViz doesn't currently support multiple iTunes Connect accounts, but there are work-arounds and the feature will be added soon. I'd like to see it handle the financial reports a bit differently to make it easier to reconcile with payments from Apple. Highly recommended. appViz.png

AppSales Mobile is similar to AppViz, but its for your iPhone! AppSales source code is in Google Code right now, download with SVN and pop it on your phone with a debug build. Great distribution model for us developers! It's a fantastically designed app, squeezing lots of charts onto the phone without anything ever look squeezed. Charts and reports show daily or weekly sales revenue with drill down by product or country. AppSales does have one big drawback, it is oriented around revenue from paid apps. It will show download number for free apps mixed in with the overall report data, but it doesn't include downloads in the line graphs, they are revenue only. (Back in the day I used to use AppSales for the mac, but it's no longer being distributed or updated.)

My App Sales is another sales stats checker for your iPhone, but unlike AppSales it reports and charts both free and paid apps. Reports are broken down by day and week, with your account totals and app by app too, showing new downloads, update downloads, refunds, and sales revenue for paid apps. From the reports screen you can drill down to see that data country by country. The app will chart your data by sales revenue or downloads by day or week. My App Sales is the work of Oliver Drobnik, and he's still maintaining and actively marketing the app.

myAppSales2.png myAppSales1.png

MajicRank and AppRanking scan iTunes servers and figure out apps ranking in iTunes stores around the world. As well as top 100 free and top 100 paid, the app stores have top 100 free and paid for each app category and game sub category, all of which can be browsed on the app store available on the iPhone and Touch themselves. I was very surprised to learn that Hit Tennis is in the top 100 paid sports games even in many countries including the USA, and its even in the top 100 paid games in a few countries around the world. This is really encouraging, and moves up the next release of Hit Tennis in my priorities. MajicRank is the first of the sales stats tools to record ranking data over time and graph it. Graphing ranking data alongside sales data and your calendar of marketing actions is very powerful for understanding how to tune your marketing plans to make the most from your apps. If you're not sure about what all the different ranking lists are, read: app store top 100 rankings explained.


Mobclix shows app rankings on their site, with graphs. They are charting top 100 popularity free and paid combined, for the USA app store (so their numbers won't match MajicRank's numbers). Go Imangi!

CM Capture 18.png

AppStore Clerk is a simple utility that parses daily and weekly download reports and shows you the data in an easy to read table, showing new downloads and updates.

screen 1.png

Heartbeat is a fully featured subscription website that features everything in all the tools above mixed with crash reporting, analytics, and a whole lot more. When I sell my millionth app I'll try it :-).

AppStatz is another online solution to check out, though it's still in private beta. (thanks @shanev). AppStatz - let me in your beta :-)

Drop me a line and tell me about the tools you use.

Apple's TV Ad Causes Hit Tennis Sales Spike?

On Feb 17th I had a 5x sales spike in my iPhone game Hit Tennis. Cool - a little extra income, but what caused the spike? I looked at Google Analytics and over the next couple of days I Googled and Yahooed looking for a new review or something, but nothing. The only clue I had was from my daily download stats that I check using AppViz from IdeaSwarm. By filtering by country I could see that the spike was in the USA only, maybe meaning that my mystery promoter might not be a website, but some US only media. (People all over the world read web sites in English - and even in the UK, Australia and Canada sales are the same.) Here's that graph of Hit Tennis sales in the US:


Then my girlfriend noticed Apple's new iPod Touch TV ad, which I think started airing on the 16th. Towards the end it shows about 1 second of TouchSports Tennis - the tennis game with the awesome 3D graphics. No word on about sales on Handheld Games blog, but Mobclix publishes app store ranking histories, and TouchSports Tennis jumped from #197 to #69 between the 16th and 20th. (Hit Tennis' ranking didn't change.) So our guess is that  iPhone and iPod owners were driven crazy excited by the TV spot and rushed to the app store looking for Tennis games, and they came across Hit Tennis with it's fun and engaging  game play of swiping of your finger across the touch screen to swing the raquet and hit the ball. So if this is the reason for my sales spike, then Thanks Apple, thanks Handheld Games, and thanks all my customers out there!


Christmas Day 4x sales boost for iPhone Games - Hit Tennis numbers

iTunes Connect just opened its doors after the Christmas break, allowing iPhone developers (me!) to log in and check our sales stats for Christmas. I'm very pleased to discover that Apple managed to get some extra pressies under the tree for me this year in the form of 4x sales increase for Christmas! Check out the graph below of sales figures for my iPhone game Hit Tennis (the tennis game where YOU hit the ball with swipe of your finger). Hit Tennis for iPhone sales over Christmas

Over the past few weeks I've been working hard on my other iPhone app, Smart Caller, I've launched an unique pricing wizzard that finds the best deal for customers in the USA, and I'm about to release an international version for customers worldwide that includes the effortless 'we set it up for you' feature too, so check it out for real savings on internatinal calls on your iPhone. Hit Tennis fans hang tight, I'm planning Hit Tennis 2 which will include full match play and challenging new computer opponents.

Cheers, Mark

Hit Tennis: The adictive tennis game on iPhone where YOU hit the ball with a swipe of your finger.

Smart Caller: Great rates on iPhone international calls with effortless iPhone calling cards

iPhone App Store Price and Category Analysis

The iPhone app store is bursting with apps and I wanted to put some numbers to it. (I should have just looked here: :-). A little copy, paste, and Excel later I have a spread sheet with 5,293 apps from Oct 16th 2008 in the US app store.

  • 99c is the most popular price point with nearly 1800 apps, followed by free with just over 1200.
  • Games is the biggest category with over 1,400 apps, followed closely by Entertainment and Utilities (but its only close because so many apps use Entertainment or Utilities as their secondary category).
  • Hotspots are 99c in Entertainment, Game, and Utility, and there are lots of $1.99 and $2.99 games too.
  • 23% of apps are free.
  • Note that the majority of games are not free, and of course many of the free games are lite editions of non-free games.
  • Travel, Reference, and Education are where you will find most of the apps at $10 and over.

Note: I first publish inaccurate numbers because I made the mistake of not counting apps that didn't use a secondary category, which is 1557 apps - mostly games.