An indie development shop’s thoughts on iPhone App Marketing (Part 1)

September 16th, 2010

What we do:
We design and build apps that make a positive impact on your life.

We’ve released titles in the Productivity, Education and Lifestyle Categories.

Productivity: HoneyDo (AppStore Essentials List – Apps for Busy Parents, What’s Hot, New & NoteWorthy, positive reviews from Bloomberg TV, Huffington Post, MacWorld, numerous app Blogs etc.)

Lifestyle: MarioCooks! (#1 Grossing App since the first day of launch in the LifeStyle Category)

Education: Smart Vocab Suite of vocabulary building apps (Consistently the Top Grossing vocabulary app in the AppStore with hundreds of positive reviews, beats Princeton Review and Kaplan)

Why am I self-advertising so much?

It’s important to note that our products are of high quality and made with a sense of love and caring that you will not find anywhere on the appStore. Our customer service is fanatical and we talk to our customers everyday. In short, we know how to build quality apps that people love.

Paid iPhone App Marketing (our options):

When we launched HoneyDo our goal was to get it in front of hundreds of users and get feedback in the first few months. After a relatively quiet launch our numbers started to get better and the constant flow of feedback from users was used to improve the product.

After the first month we finally decided to experiment with paid ads on mobile devices to attract users to our iTunes Landing Page in the hopes that they would convert.

Here are the services we looked at:

Admob and JumpTap.

We decided to can Admob since it took them over 4 days just to activate our account. We never spoke to a live person in that company since our budget was so small they wouldn’t even spit in our general direction.

JumpTap on the other hand had a sales rep call us and guide us through the initial few steps.

We started our 1 week trial run with spends of about 100USD/day with JumpTap.

Conversion? Attribution?

I’m sure there are plenty of options out there just like JumpTap and AdMob. You can go with any – they all have one fatal flaw: attribution is very very difficult when it comes to native app downloads. Here’s why: these services provide most of their ad-impressions on the web. ie a mobile web browser renders your ad in a cookie based session stream and a click through is recorded on their end. You might pay in some cases for the impressions (regular CPM) or for the click throughs. As an app developer though you are interested in purchases.

If a customer purchases an app you need to have a record of the unique device ID (UDID) for that device on which your app is now installed, most developers on the appStore do not have this capability and don’t invest the time in building out some basic analytics of their own on their own hosted servers. Luckily for us, most of our apps have a server side component where we can track unique devices and installs.

When you pay for an ad-campaign you should be very clear with your service provider that you will need to see the list of UDID’s that they claim clicked through to your iTunes landing page. You can then check this list against your list of UDIDs and arrive at an accurate conversion rate for dollar spent on your ad-campaign.

Since we had the data to compare against, we peppered our contact at JumpTap about this data. Emails, calls, more emails have been made and repeated attempts to request this data have been followed by silence and finally a response claiming “technical difficulties” to get the UDIDs that they claim to have rendered the ads to.

Attribution and real conversion are the key to running a campaign online for your apps. Google does a fantastic job of this with Adwords and Analytics working in tandem. In the app space the only thing close to this I have seen is Flurry’s AppCircle (more on this in another post).

Our Results

Spent: 100USD / day for a week long campaign

Results: unknown (*our sales data indicated no measurable gain), UDID data is being hidden from us by JumpTap

great strides in iOS4.0 and one hidden gem

June 15th, 2010

Most developers including the team at High Five Labs are thrilled with all the major improvements the iOS4.0  brings to the iDevice ecoSystem. API Enhancements like:

  • multi-tasking
  • Event Kit (allowing calendar integration)
  • Folders/Grouping

are truly a giant leap forward for consumers as well as developers and promise to launch a wave of new app development which will truly exercise the capability of the platform and make life easier and much more fun for all users.

One hidden gem in the iOS4.0 announcement was the ability to create small test scripts written in Java Script which will allow app developers to create simple scripts to test out basic/complex repeatable flows for their apps. This most basic functional testing requirement was unheard of in mobile development until Apple introduced it to developers with the UIAutomation Kit.

This is huge!

We’ve been struggling with manual testing of our apps which are quite complex in certain use cases and require hours of prep time to just setup the test case scenarios. With the UIAutomation Kit we will (more on this coming soon) be able to create simple scripts which can be executed while the app is being built to regress through the app and check for any glaring bugs before we put out a release.

Now if the good folks at UISpec utilize these new libraries and update the spec implementation we’ll gladly write specs for all our apps. While they’re at it though we’re going to experiment with the JS scripts and write up our feedback on what we thought and how we’re using the new libraries.

upgrading apn_on_rails from version 0.3.0 to 0.3.1

May 6th, 2010

We’ve been using apn_on_rails successfully for our HoneyDo API as a push messaging library for the apple push notification service. Recently, a change they made to the trunk allowed for easily adding custom_properties to the payload message.

We were really missing this in v0.3.0 and when they added it, they just tweaked the existing migration which can cause havoc when you have a deployed system containing data for 1000s of users. This is so trivial that blogging about it is strange: but, we just wanted to let people know that adding a new migration to your apn_notifications and then using 0.3.1 works like a charm.

Sending custom properties is a breeze and a new attribute to the apn_notification model makes adding the hash of values very very easy.

Here are the steps:
if you’re in 0.3.0 and upgrading:
1. add a migration to support custom_properties for apn_notifications
2. upgrade your gem to 0.3.1 (delete the old gem)
3. run the migration against the servers
4. test using script/console
5. on the device in your didFinishLaunchingWithOptions method, play with launchOptions and you now have the dictionary you sent attached to the aps payload:

- (BOOL)application:(UIApplication *)application didFinishLaunchingWithOptions:(NSDictionary *)launchOptions{
NSLog([NSString stringWithFormat:@"%@", launchOptions]);

NOTE: keep the additional dictionary you send as tight as possible since you only have 256bytes available for the entire payload.

installing a provisioning profile for a beta build

March 31st, 2010

Installing a new provisioning profile

Once you have the new provisioning profile you can add it to your device by doing the following:

  1. Add the provisioning profile to iTunes, by dragging the file into iTunes, into the Library group (the section containing Music, Movies, TV Shows, Applications, etc). This is also how you will add our beta builds or any ad-hoc distribution apps to iTunes.
  2. Connect your device to your computer and Sync your device using iTunes.

Inspecting provisioning profiles

On the iPhone you can see the provisioning profiles installed on the device by going to Settings -> General -> Profile. You can have more than one provisioning profile active on your device. You can also remove a profile whenever you feel like it. Remove it from the device or from iTunes. If you do remove the profile that a beta application needs the application will not run on your device.

make art

January 30th, 2010

Art is an original gift, a connection that changes the recipient, a human ability to make a difference. Art isn’t a painting or even a poem, it’s something that any of us can do. If you interact with others, you have the platform to create something new—something that changes everything. I call that art.
Art is the opposite of trigonometry. Art doesn’t follow instructions or a manual or a boss’s orders. Instead, art is the very human act of creating the uncreated, of connecting with another person at a human level. What we’ve seen is that more and more markets will reward art handsomely, and hand out the compliant work to the lowest bidder.

from BrainWashed: a really interesting read by Seth Godin.

here’s the pdf:


endless opportunities, new apps, 2010 here we come!

January 13th, 2010

When Monty, Matt and I started High Five Labs we just had one basic construct in place: make the most useful mobile applications for students around the world. We launched our first suite of applications in the iTunes store about 2 months ago and have seen steady adoption and a large number of users writing to us with great feedback… here’s some feedback we’ve received from our users (there’s a lot more on the iTunes US Store):

Just wanted to let you guys know how much I like this application. It’s helped me a lot in expanding my vocabulary. My Mom and I went out on a Sunday afternoon for a burger shortly after I bought it and I showed it to her while I waited for the order to be ready. When I returned to the table she could hardly take her hands off my iPod and she has NEVER picked it up! Not once! It was a surprise to me! Keep up the great work! – Steph (Smart Vocab SAT customer)
Overall, this is a pretty good study tool and the best one available in the App Store (I looked at them all).  I like the quizzes and the fact that the program automatically makes you restudy the words that you missed in the quiz.  I also like the fact that when the quiz is done you can touch the word and get an automatic definition.  The BEST feature of this program is the directness of the definition.  Most, if not all, of the words have 1-3 words definitions. – Shavonne Williams (Smart Vocab GRE customer)
I just got this application tonight and it rockssss.Im preparing To take the GRE for PA school and I  was getting worry about my vocabulary being too narrow since english is my second language but with this app. None of that.I think Adding a audio feature would make the app a little bit better but other than that it’s amazing totally worth the money.keep up the great job guys!!!! – Johana (Smart Vocab GRE customer)

In 2009 we gave ourselves a chance and now its time to really step up the ante and do something great – endless opportunity…

We’ve really poured our heart and soul into these apps and we’ve gotten our startup moving. Today we just submitted a major release of the smart vocab series of apps to apple for review and we’re really setting ourselves up for success. We’ve seen some validation in the way our apps are performing in general on the iTunes Store but for 2010, rankings don’t necessarily mean much to us, its the positive feedback we hear from our customers that’s driving us to build better products. Everything else will follow.

Rankings really don’t mean much to us, but, we did break into the Top 100 multiple times in 2009. {evil grin}

For 2010, we’re geared up to release a number of applications which will truly engage our users and help them through their various problem areas in school or college. We’re also building our first application outside the education vertical because the three of us want this app and will find it useful, a lot of our friends have said the same thing.

What is it?

Well, you’ll have to sign up to our private beta program to find out. email us at and we’ll call you for a quick chat to see if you can participate. Its not rocket surgery and it will not take too much of your time, but, we want to make sure you’re comfortable talking to us and giving us feedback about making our apps better.

product release planning for iPhone apps

November 17th, 2009

We’ve successfully released 2 apps on the iTunes store now with relatively effective results. Both apps are paid apps and are in the education space where we’re currently focusing our attention. This release cycle is what we’re using as a general rule of thumb going forward:


Embrace the Review Process

Your initial push for the design and ideation of the app can be a few days to a week, developing v1.0 can take upto 2 months (or more if it makes sense) but the main learning for us has been to embrace the iTunes Review process. We know this has stabilized to around 2 weeks (10 working days) now and we plan our release cycles with this in mind. Always.

Version 1.0 of the apps that we work on generally take not more than 2 months to build. This is a completely beta tested, working piece of software which has been designed impeccably and has had multiple iterations of indepth user reviews in closed beta (hence the 2 months). We’ve not had a single bug flagged by Apple (yet :) ) so although our initial 2 month iteration seems long, it truly works for us. After the initial push to get v1.0 out of the door all subsequent features get prioritized into iterations which are then ready to go out every 2 weeks. Since we like to maintain our release rhythm we’re constantly pushing out to our beta testers in the interim and trying to ensure that the v1.n release is as solid as possible before submitting it for review. If the build is green and tested well we hope never to break the 2 week long release cycle which is tied directly into the iTunes Connect Review period.

Changing availability dates on new version submissions in iTunes Connect

November 5th, 2009

Editing Application Information in iTunes Connect has one major oddity which caused me some pain a few days ago and I thought I should blog about it to see if other people have experienced this pain too.

First off, When you create a new version of an existing app you will notice that all existing information for the app persists which is good. The application ID also stays the same. The issue started when I noticed that the availability date for the app was available to be edited. This seems like a nice feature to have since you can plan the release of your upcoming version and get some press-releases and marketing campaigns lined up for the release date. Seems fair to think that is exactly what this is supposed to do for developers releasing new versions right?

Not quite, apparently, this feature works as expected on apps that are NOT yet on sale. ie. if this is your first production release into the iTunes store. If you have a version of the app on sale what this will do is remove (yes remove!) your current application from the iTunes store and wait until the new un-reviewed version of the app is approved and then make it available only when the date has been met.

Apple should really fix this asap.

What’s the point of exposing the availability date when it has such a profound effect on the current version that’s on sale?

smart:vocab analog trial

October 25th, 2009

Looks like our analog version is not going to catch on at all :)

Users are finding smart:vocab on the iPhone and iTouch addictive and helpful, this single analog version now needs to be retired to the High Five Labs retired ideas pile.


Hello world!

October 20th, 2009

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