2014 iOS Developer Conference

I had a wonderful three days at the 2014, a small grass roots conference in San Francisco for iOS app makers. The two year young conference is organized by Tim Burks, local iOS developer who also runs the Silicon Valley iOS Developers Meetup. Tim set about to make a community event for developers and designers that is for us, not for people trying to sell us stuff. Its filled with a wealth of colleagues to trade stories and ideas with and thoughtful speakers with insight and pragmatic advice to share.

Day one was titled 'Inspiration', Bill Budge entertained us with stories of Pinball Construction Set and early Mac development. The day was filled with talks about lesser know areas of iOS: spritekit, 3D, accessibility, iBooks, music. The highlight for me was hearing Savvy Apps' Ken Yarmosh describe his strategy for launching paid productivity apps. Ken reflected that his market is growing tougher due free productivity apps from venture funded companies that can iterate fast and release on multiple platforms at the same time. For Savvy Apps, the release early release often mantra we hear from the web space is a misfit for mobile, Ken emphasized that a productivity app needs to be a quality launch or else it will disappear quickly as an 'also ran'. I think that a minimum viable product approach is appropriate for the app store, but the key is that you can't ship bad software. The features you do ship had better work well and make a coherent experience.

Day two: 'Essentials' was a wonderful conference day full of advice on shipping software, avoiding pitfalls, keeping projects on track. Rob Napier gave an excellent presentation on techniques and APIs for security and encryption. His advice is very actionable via his library RNCryptor on github which you can use in both objc and on your server side in Javascript etc. Following Rob we heard from Laura Berger from the Federal Trade Commission. Laura described what the FTC does re privacy, fraud, COPPA, etc. She included specific examples of investigations of known apps and web sites to show us how we could be effected.  Following Laura was a thought provoking presentation by Prof. Shannon Vallor from Santa Clara University on Ethics for App Makers. It was an ethics 101 followed by a discussion of the hot topics for app makers today like IAPs in freemium games. Going through ethics, the FTC explaining our legal responsibilities, and seeing how to correctly use security APIs - where else can you get a top to bottom slice through issues? At which other tech conference can you get a wonderful hour of ethics education?

Still on day two, Michael Mace gave a fantastic keynote on user testing and UX design pitfalls. He introduced us to, a pragmatic and affordable user testing service, and from all the user testing work he sees he drew up a list of common UX design problems. Michael described each UX problem and showed an example in a snippet from a narrated user testing video. I love talks like his that combine a high level point of view with specific examples and actionable advice. It becomes impossible for a developer or designer of an app to know how a new user will experience it, we need constant reminders that new users are going to see things differently. Michael did this masterfully. I already made two changes to Hit Tennis Multiplayer based on his advice.

Following Michael we listened to talks on project dynamics between consultant and client and developers and designers. Danielle Arvanitis shared her insights about different kinds of designers and how to tell them apart. She shared her techniques to tell if a designer is more interested in form or function, which is critical to hiring a balanced team. When interviewing, does the designer talk more about 'I' or about 'the user'. A form focused designer tends to talk about themselves making something beautiful, a function focused design tends to talk about users trying to get stuff done. Danielle says you need both, but form comes first.

Day three "Opportunities" included looks at bluetooth LE, cloud services, iOS7 design. A great session with Jeff Smith from Smule, where he laid out Smule's marketing strategies. He shared some rare data too: word of mouth distribution around 25% for Smule apps; split testing icons jumped Magic Piano from mid 20s rank to mid 10s rank.

The day three show stealer was Horace Dediu's keynote. You may know Horace's writing at or his podcast 'The Critical Path'. His long form live presentation is something much much more than those though, he left me in awe.  Horace used complex interactive charts to tell a story about society, technology, and consumerism, by looking at US household adoption of different technologies over the last 100 years. We then pondered 'what does that story tell us about smartphones and apps?' 'what does it tell us about future technologies, society and the economy, our careers?' Horace said he rarely gets more than 45 minutes to speak, Tim scheduled him 90 minutes I think. Those 90 minutes flew by and I feel privileged to have been there. 

Did I convince you how great is yet, how unique and valuable the speakers talks were? If missing it fills you with regret then keep an eye out, because Tim will shortly be publishing videos of all the talks. Thanks to Tim and all the speakers. For future speakers, IMHO here's what made great talks: a high level point of view, explained with specific examples, and reinforced with actionable advice. See you at 2015.



20 Million Downloads

Focused Apps passed a big milestone yesterday - company wide we have over 20 million downloads of our apps! Here's how we got here:

  • Rob made a couple of apps each back in 2008 that we have since retired. Then met at the Silicon Valley iPhone Developers Meetup thanks to Tim Burks.
  • We teamed up to start the Hunter and Johnson partnership at the start of 2009, which we've since morphed into Focused Apps LLC. Our goal was always to split our time between consulting and making our own apps. In 2009 and 2010 we shipped 5 apps for clients, and we wound down consulting in 2011. Thanks especially to Jason and Anu for hiring us and being awesome clients.
  • Sept 2009: published our companies first app, Focus for Facebook. It now has 750,000 downloads and found a niche with visually impaired users due to its clean presentation of the Facebook feed and support for voice-over. We released another app, Duck You Undo, that we've retired.
  • April 2010: we shipped our breakout game, Hit Tennis 2, and went freemium as soon as free apps were allowed IAPs. Its now at 14.1 million downloads. Its gone through 15 revisions, and is still popular on iPhone and iPad.
  • Dec 2010: shipped Santas 'lil Zombies, which was our 'lets learn Unity' project, it has only 6000 downloads. We're now updating the gameplay and will be re-releasing it in a few weeks.
  • Jan 2012: built 2 (more?) new prototype games, but we didn't bring them to market. One of these led us to the design of the controls for Hit Tennis 3.
  • Feb 2012: shipped Super Txt, which is now at 181,000 downloads. This has been our lower priority project this year, but its KPIs are good, so we'll be investing in new features and marketing next year. We are lucky to have found a couple of awesome artists who work with on this.
  • June 2012: shipped Hit Tennis 3, our sequel to Hit Tennis 2. Its now at over 5 million downloads! Many thanks to our indie colleagues who work with us on cross promotion ad campaigns. HT3 has had 6 updates, and we've recently brought it to iPad and Kindle Fire devices. Expect to see wide Android support next year. HT3 would not be possible without our wonderful 3D artist and character illustrator.

Its been a very fun few years, we're profitable, we'll continue to grow next year. Thank you Rob Hunter, you are an awesome business partner and friend.


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!

360iDev iOS Dev Conference Denver 2011


360iDev 2011, the friendly iOS developer conference is coming in September to Denver CO. I'll be there with the entire Focused Apps team (so that's me and Rob ;-), and we're presenting on 'How to be an iOS Consultant'. I attended the first 360iDev in March 2009, it was a fantastic place to learn what was going on in the app store, get top notch technical info, and I met a bunch of inspiring indie iOS devs who continue to publish some great apps. I attended again in 2010 and became a speaker. This is no GDC or  WWDC, which is a fantastic thing. Those conferences are huge, overwhelming, and you can't get into all the talks. 360 is small enough that you'll be able to meet the majority of people there if you make the effort, and you'll certainly be able to speak at length with many speakers and attendees. Its such a friendly conference, people will help you design your game, solve bugs, give you ideas for your next app, try to hire you, and want to join your team. Above all else this is a great place to go if you are trying to make it in the app store. Its a good mix of people from passionate newbies through to big time app store success stories. Seriously, coming to 360 will raise your game, and you'll make back a lot more than the ticket price in increased sales and better work.

One of the focuses this year is on consulting & contracting. John and Nicole have lined up a handful of us to speak on how to make it as an iOS consultant / contractor. Rob and I will be giving advice on how to get good clients and filter out waste of time projects, how to negotiate good agreements, how to structure projects to decreased risk for both parties, and how to stay ahead of the curve and demand good rates. Of course you can ask us all about our publishing businesses too like ROI from translating apps into other languages, how we promote apps, pricing models and pricing psychology, app store ranks, the state of mobile advertising, working with Unity 3D, ...

I hear its closing on selling out this year, so check out the full schedule, and then get a ticket and book flights and hotels. Looking forward to seeing you there :-).

Santa's Lil' Zombies - Our first Unity 3D iPhone game

Santas Lil ZombiesSanta's Lil' Zombies is our first free iPhone game build with Unity 3D, it's out now in time for Christmas! We're releasing it in 3 versions:

This casual iPhone game is full 3D but designed to be super easy for anyone to pick-up-and-play. Its a portrait mode game leaving room for iAds, and you can play one handed by holding the phone and aiming the gun with your thumb. Its very easy, in our player tests, even non-gamers who don't have iPhones were able to get into the game quickly. As we built it with the most awesome Unity 3D, its easy to publish it on the web, so has a full free demo of the first 3 levels of the game.

iPhone Development Books 2: App Design

I have a handful of books on user interface & app design, and one shining star is 'Tapworthy, Designing Great iPhone Apps' by Josh Clark. Josh takes the reader through a journey to understand what makes great iPhone apps. Josh examines how real people use their iPhone and their apps, what thrills them, how people like to get in and out of an app quickly and use it for one thing without having to think too much about it. For example he compares gestures that are known by everyone with gestures that most people never use (ie don't design for a UI gesture that only geeky iPhone experts know about). He introduces all the standard controls and talks about how to use SDK components to structure and organize the your UI in a way that will be natural for iphone users, and then goes on to show how you can dress UI components for a custom look. Josh doesn't shy away from discussing when you shouldn't use a standard interaction too, and Apple should take note: no-one likes the shake! Throughout Tapworthy there are case studies based on interviews with app designers explaining the design choices of some hugely successful apps including Facebook, Gowalla, USA Today, Things, Twitterific, & PCalc. Whether you are building for iPhone or another mobile platform, you should study this book and keep it on your shelf, its that good. Suzanne Ginsburg's 'Designing the iPhone User Experience' is another worthy read. Its 277 pages cover iPhone apps from the point of view of a UI specialist and includes tons of good advice about market research by, prototyping, testing, how to approach the overall app design, UI design, and branding. On my first look through I feared it was another manual of 'how the pros do it' that would not suit the resources of my own two person company, but on closer inspection that's not the case at all. When the author does explain bigger budget approaches she also explains low budget 'guerilla' methods. There are tips and anecdotes throughout the book drawn from Susanne's experience working on iPhone app design and UI testing. (Suzanne is an acomplished user experience consultant in Silicon Valley.)

One piece of advice about listening to designers... They have a lot to say about things you should do, and stuff you should put into you app. All those 'shoulds' are scary to an indie software developer short on time and money and focused mainly on writing code. Think of all the 'shoulds' as a menu of stuff you can consider, and then spend your time and money where it makes sense for you. Remember though, end users don't care one bit how costly or time consuming an app is, they only care how delightful, fun, and useful the app is, and your app is going to be competing against apps that have had a lot of careful design put into them.

For those of you who can't get enough I'd like to recommend a couple more design books, though they are not iPhone books. 'The Design of Everyday Things'by D Norman is an industrial design classic. As the iPone is a device you hold and touch, the app design direction of physical / real world metaphor has proved very successful for a number of apps, and Norman's book is probably the best design guidance you will find for that kind of app.

'Don't Make Me Think' is a concise and accessible book on web usability design, it has some great lessons that iPhone designers can use too that might be a little easier to learn when seen in the context of the more familiar web.

Finally a quick mention of 'Design Basics Index' by Jim Krause, which is a useful intro and reference for graphic design concepts that's helpful to those of us without training in graphic design.

More book recommendations: iOS ProgrammingGames & UnityMarketing & Business.

iPhone Development Books 3: Games & Unity 3D

As game players we all think we can design games, but to make a great game you really need to step outside your own enjoyment of playing games, think about what makes games fun and more, how games generate an emotional experience for they player. 'A Theory of Fun' by Ralf Koster is an easy to read 221 page masterpiece exploring what games are and why they are fun. Every 2nd page is a cartoon that illuminates the concept on the proceeding page. This is no gimmick, it really makes the book more accessible and will aid your understanding. Koster gets right to the heart of what the human mind gets from game playing, how people vary in how they like to play, whats happening when players cheat. This book is so good, I need to go read it again for a third time instead of describing it more. Making a game? Buy this book. Scott Rogers' 'Level Up, The Guide To Great Video Game Design' is my second recommendation for game makers. Its a much bigger book that Koster's and instead of looking at the heart of what gaming is in the player's mind, the book takes a hands on look at the elements of computer games: characters, camera, controls, UI, cevels, combat, game mechanics, audio, etc. Its also a very readable book with lots of cartoons, and it will help you understand what you are building in terms of the conventions of all the games that came before, from which your players learned how to play computer games. Its an excellent resource to help you understand some of your choices when you get stuck with some part of your game's design, and it will help you round out parts of your game you've neglected.

Finally on general game design, I'd like to give a shout out to Nicole Lazzaro. I don't think she's written a book yet, but go hear her speak if you can, and get her papers on the 4 Keys to Fun at her website

Typically games means animated 2D or 3D graphics, and you'd be a fool to write a game from scratch without using a game engine. There are a bunch of excellent game engines on the iOS platform, but undoubtedly the two leaders are Unity 3D and Cocos2D (with Box2D or Chipmunk Physics). After writing our first iPhone game from scratch in C and Open GL ES, we've now chosen Unity 3D for our next games, and I have to tell you so far its amazing, brilliant, excellent value for money, and totally fun to use! Despite the name, Unity 3D is good for 2D games too (check out Sprite Manager 2). It speaks volumes about Unity that there are several books now available to help you learn to harness it...

Unity Game Development Essentials by Will Goldstone, and Unity 3D Game Development by Example are two good beginners books, feel free to select either one or both to get started in creating Unity scenes, scripting objects, and making basic games. Unity Game Development Essentials introduces everything by working through the building of a simple first person perspective game where you walk around an island and interact with the 3D world. The example game the book takes you through can't be run on the iPhone though, as it makes use of the terrain modeling features of Unity which are not supported on iOS. Unity 3D Game Development by Example on the other hand takes you through building a handful of casual games without using any features that aren't supported in iOS. The book is aimed not just at Unity beginners, but at beginner programmers too, and it a very easy to follow. If you are an experienced programmer you might find it a bit annoying, and in fact the authors very casual style ends up detracting from the book a little because the humorous section titles just make it hard to look up Unity stuff you need help with.

'Creating 3D Game Art for the iPhone with Unity, Featuring modo and Blender Pipelines' by Wes McDermott is a fantastic book to help you get to grips with Unity. From the title you might think this book is for game artists about 3D modeling, but really the title could have been 'Everything technical you need to know about making 3D games with Unity for iPhone except programming'. It will teach you how to use 3D models, animation, and textures in Unity whether you are creating them yourself, using stock, or hiring a 3D artist. Also, despite the fact that modo and Blender are in the title, this book is for you whether you use those applications or not. The book explains the power and limitations of Unity on the iPhone and has great advice on how to get good graphical performance. It teaches how to use all the different settings for importing graphics into Unity so they will work well on iPhone, and explains some performant techniques for constructing the game world. The author takes you through all this by building up an animated 3D over the shoulder perspective shooter game.

More book recommendations: iOS ProgrammingApp Design,  Marketing & Business.

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!

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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.

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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.

iPhone 3.0 As the Accessory to ...?

Apple's iPhone 3.0 announcement included the news that 3.0 apps will be able to use bluetooth and the dock connector to talk to accessories, eg control your HiFi. Instead of thinking just about accessories for iPhone, what about making the iPhone an accessory to another contraption - it provides a great touch screen, can update the UI and content, and it's a micro-transaction platform. Eg interactive toys that bluetooth to an iPod touch, ...

Read More

360 iDev iPhone conference, days 2&3

360 iDev is over. Wow. Totally awesome conference. There were about 170 of us there (?) and we had 47 session over 3+1 days. I missed several sessions I wanted to see because of overlap or just brain melt. But that's the kind of problem you want to have right - too much of a good thing. I registered at $350, and I live in San Francisco so I just had to add to that a couple of tanks of gas and a few hours of lost sleep for getting up at 6:30am. So $350 for 3 days of education and networking that there is no other way to get in an exploding new market. Maybe in a year I'll be able to estimate the value I got out of this, but its got to be 4 or 5 figures of $value. How can this be? Here are some of the things I got:

  • Hard core marketing advice on promoting my existing apps, new ways to moneytize, and how to choose and design future apps
  • Learned the latest market trends from Pinch Media, Flurry, Admob, Medialets, etc, and got 1-1 help using their services from their founders & top people.
  • Was taught a game-plan how to build a productive working relationship with the mothership, and gleened quite a bit of inside info.
  • Learned about many open source libs I can use in my and client's apps
  • Got offered awesome free new iphone feature by AT&T Interactive to roll into my apps (in a few months I hope)
  • Met several developers of hit apps we've all heard of.
  • Over the three days I made significant progress / improvements with my own business plans and got specific advice on some deals I'm working on.
  • Free legal advice from an expensive firm
  • ...

And did I mention it was fun? Hope others got something good out of me in return... got to speak at the next one. Many thanks to Tom and John at 360 Conferences for organizing. One suggestion for you guys: get an air horn and sound it when the food arrives. That lunch went pretty quickly.

360 iDev iPhone Conference day 1

Years of hard work with the US immigration system has me living and working in San Francisco just north of Silicon Valley, and I make sure to get to all the awesome iPhone developer events here: iPhone Dev Camp, Silicon Valley Developer's Meetup, and now 360 iDev iPhone Conference which is on right now. Day 1 was great, here are some of the people I spoke with or presentations I caught: Scott  Michaels from Atimi Software gave a fantastic presentation on app marketing discussing PR, managing your relationship with Apple and bloggers, how to make a lite version work, the state of in app commerce and other revenue oportunities....

Owen Goss presented the story of developing his new game Dapple. Owen has tons of experience in the game industry and explained how he applied his background to his indy iPhone title. His compelling message is focus on pre-production (which to the non entertainment industry folks among us means design). Dapple is a color matching game where you get to make matches by using a paint brush to mix paints and change colors. Paint spreads, and color matches don't have to be all in a line, so gameplay is a bit different from other color matching games. Its a very polished fun title, check it out.

Noel Llopis showed me Flower Garden, a lovely 3D flower growing toy / sim that's shaping up to be pretty special.

Keith Shephard game me a demo of Little Red Sled, a sled racing game with a winning combo of cute cartoon graphics, fast and smooth 3D animation, snappy accelerometer controls, and lighthearted audio design. The whole thing comes together to make a fun game with a delightful kid esthetic.

Michael Huntington presented on the Unity Game Engine, and he the audience was very open talking about experiences with Unity, OpenGL, Maya and Blender. Unity looks attractive and there are a couple of dozen title iPhone titles out on it now.

Finally, Mike Lee gave us the Keynote, in which he 'toured us around the Cocoa developer community'. Good stuff Mike.