PalettePro AppDiction Review

Since the launch of our first company-owned iOS application, PalettePro,  at the end of May, it has been a bit of a learning experience about marketing my first application and every bit of publicity helps and is appreciated.

I was pleased to see the write-up about PalettePro on the AppDictions web site.  

The concept of this tool is simple—the best ones usually are. Sometimes people spot a color that they would have for a project or practical purposes. What you can do with PalettePro is take a picture with your gadget from within the application, select the color from the image and allow the app to isolate the exact hue you wanted. It couldn’t be any simpler or more straight-forward; this is a tool that even the most technologically-impaired person could get the hang of it after a few tries.

The idea of PalettePro is simplicity and it pleases me it’s one thing that stood out.

PalettePro – iOS Application for the Apple App Store

PalettePro

I recently finished up and submitted my first personal iOS application to Apple for sale in the App Store and have it approved.  It is the first application developed for Still River Software and not specifically for one of our clients.

The application is named PalettePro and is available now.

Background

The idea for PalettePro came about when I was out at dinner one evening with a friend of mine and we got to discussing a client project and app ideas.  This idea came to the top of the list and as a way to help us match colors for client web sites to their logo, office colors or whatever colors were important to them.  

I decided I would work on the application as time permitted and come up with something I wanted to use and if others could find value, then great.

The purpose of the tool is simple; use the camera on the iPhone or iPad to look at an object and sample the color in order to be used in web applications.  

Design

I have to first say that I am not a designer but I appreciate simple tools that do a single job and do it well.  This was my goal for the first iteration of this application; keep it simple.

The user experience is to be straightforward, just point the device at an object, tap the screen or button and see color values.  I also wanted to be able to save the results for later viewing.

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You should notice when looking at the application that it’s simple and does one thing well.

Usage

Using PalettePro is easy and just like taking a picture.  When the application loads you are immediately presented with a screen similar to above, obviously with your view in the camera.  As you pan around your target the color values automatically change until the desired color is sampled.  Hit the Scan button or tapping the screen freezes the color scanning and you can with save or scan again.  Simple and straightforward.

Later copy the hex values into your web application or take the device to your local paint store to match.

Check It Out

PalettePro is available now in the Apple App Store and I would really appreciate any feedback people may have.  The cost is $0.99 and I think well worth the cost of a cheap cup of coffee.

I have already gotten feedback and suggestions for additional features which I am working on for the next point release.

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Marco’s Love of Android

I have been following an interesting discussion between the Shifty Jelly folks and Marco Arment of Instapaper regarding the merits of developing for iOS versus Android and whether it’s worth the developer’s time (read money) creating for the platform.

Eric Schmidt spoke recently at Le Web where he said developers, like it or not, will target Android.  As someone who writes iOS applications, it seemed like an arrogant statement and Marco had his thoughts, which seem reasonable to me:

Android devices have been selling in large quantities for a long time. That’s not new. Yet today, compared to iOS, Android is much less profitable for developers (especially for paid apps), its users are less influential for expanding new services, and its app development is much more painful and expensive. And in the rapidly growing and increasingly influential tablet market, Android has an extremely low marketshare.

Shify Jelly creators of applications for both iOS and Android took offense to Marco statements and wrote some elegant dialog as to the contrary:

First some background. We’ve been in the iOS app store since August of 2008, which for those that are counting is only a month or so after it first launched. We’ve been on Android now for about a year. We make serious apps like Pocket Casts and Pocket Weather AU, things that take a lot of development effort and involve serious server back-ends. We’ve made enough money since then to support 2 full time staff, and 2 part time designers. Yes we’re the guys who had the run in with Amazon, the email from Steve Jobs, and we’re not millionaires.

Finally, since neither of these developers allow comments on their blog, Marco’s rebuttal to the challenge by Shifty Jelly:

If you make the first great Android Instapaper client that:

  • uses the official API
  • contains a significant portion of the iOS app’s features, the details of which we’d work out privately
  • runs on a wide variety of Android devices and OS versions including modern smartphones, the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, and whichever 10” tablet matters at the time of completion
  • is priced at $2.99 or higher in the U.S. with approximately equivalent pricing elsewhere, and satisfies requirements to be sold in the Google Marketplace, Amazon Appstore, and whatever B&N uses for the Nook Tablet

I’ll call it the official Instapaper app for Android, I’ll promote it on the Instapaper site, I’ll drop the subscription requirement for its API access, you’ll answer all support email that comes from it, and we’ll split the net revenue 50/50.

As you may know, I write iOS applications but have not given Android much thought primarily for Marco’s reasons.  I like to keep an open mind and would target Android if there was money to be made in any of the apps stores.  I just don’t see it.  Certainly there are tons of Android phones flying out of the stores but are those people spending the money like the users in Apple’s App Store?  I fear not, at least not today.  If users aren’t spending their hard earned dollars on applications how can we be expected to spend our hours on developing for a platform with almost no return.

Who is making money selling their Android applications today?  Please leave a comment.

The dialog is worth the read and is food for thought.  It’s interesting how, since neither allows comments on their blogs, they are forced to trade shots in this way.

 

Get Your Mobile Development Chops On

It appears companies are having a difficult time finding enough mobile developers to suite their needs.  As reported by the Wall Street Journal:

The intense competition for mobile engineers, which affects large companies and fast-growing start-ups alike, is emerging as a key bottleneck as companies scramble to capitalize on the fast growth of smartphones and other mobile devices.

I wondered when we would start reading reports of such problems.  With Apple, Microsoft and Google releasing new version of their respective mobile operating systems and selling handsets at a blistering pace, companies see the obvious opportunity.  The opportunity may be there but developers are hard to find regardless of the technology.  This only makes it harder.

Developers today should be looking at each of the big companies and learning some aspects of one or more platforms.  Even if only learning a cursory level of the platform, enough to speak intelligently about the technology can go a long way.

Demand Means More $$$

As developers know, we are in a great place to make a good living but

The mismatch has put upward pressure on wages. According to an October survey by tech job board Dice.com, about 31% of companies reported that average pay among mobile software designers and engineers increased at a higher rate than normal, mostly because of heightening competition for talent.

 

The Dice survey said the average mobile salary last fall was about $76,000, but several companies said they pay experienced mobile developers anywhere from $90,000 to $150,000 a year.

Picking a technology doesn’t seem to matter.  Based on this graph, everything seems to moving at the same pace:

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The exception here is BlackBerry, which seems to be declining.  I think Windows Phone 7 will be replacing some of the BlackBerry development and being a viable mobile development platform going forward.

Platform Resources

So, where to find out more about important mobile platforms today:

Do Something

So, instead of watching re-runs of Gilligan’s Island this weekend, get out and read about these platforms and explore some code.   If demand is growing at the pace we see here, there is no time like the present to bettering yourself.

I know I will be spending some extra time learning a bit more about the new updates to Windows Phone 7 announced at Mix 11.

 

I Want My Content and Consume it Too

When Apple announced the ability of content providers to offer in-app purchases of their goods, newspapers and magazines breathed a small sigh of relief.  The Internet age has left traditional print a bit in the dust.

Over the recent weeks I have noticed several old-school publishers, The Economist in particular, offering their magazine to subscribers as iOS application.  A user grabs the app from the Apple App Store and when running it they can purchase a single issue or become a subscriber right while in the app.  How convenient is this?  I love it.

The issue is downloaded to the iOS device for later consumption.   Here is the kicker, it appears to be downloaded and probably most of the content is,  but the cord is not cut back to the mothership.  I received this email today:

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Interesting..I may be unable to access The Economist on iPhone and iPad.  Why should this be?  If I downloaded the issue to my iPad I should be able to read the purchased content regardless of their backend.

Maybe they embed some analytics, make calls to a server or display ads served from their servers, but that should not render my reading experience useless.  I should be able to be in the most remote part of the world, or on a plane for that matter, devoid of WiFi or cell service and be able to read my copy of The Economist without issue on my iPad.

If mobile applications offering content to me aren’t going to be able to function without Internet connectivity, they are going to fail.  I would not buy a subscription or a single issue if I can’t acquire the content and have no further obligation from the publisher.

I see no legitimate reason I should be required to have a connection to view my purchased content, from any application, any time or place.

The Cosmonaut: A Wide-Grip Stylus for Touch Screens

Since buying the first iPad a year ago I have looked for and tried many a stylus.  I have found myself disappointed in all of them.

I came across a Kickstarter project named The Cosmonaut which looks like a big crayon to me and conceived by the same people who created The Glif.

The inspiration for the design from the site:

The Cosmonaut was born out of our desire to have a really great stylus for our iPads. We love to sketch out quick ideas or doodle on our tablets, and using a stylus is much better than a finger for such tasks. We bought several different models currently available on the market but they all suffered the same problem: they were designed to look and feel like a pen. But why? Writing or drawing on the iPad feels nothing like using a pen or pencil. For one, tablets are ideal for low fidelity sketching. Also, it is pretty awkward to rest your palm on the screen of the device because it throws off the capacitive detection. Writing on a tablet feels like writing on a dry erase board: fast, simple, low fidelity. The perfect tablet stylus is one that feels like a dry erase marker.

I am sure to blog about this stylus when it ships in June.

Dear Android, More is not Necessarily Better

Marco Arment had a great and timely post about the future of Android over the weekend.  It’s timely because I had just gone through the whole iPhone on AT&T to Android on Verizon to iPhone on Verizon journey and his words rang true.  I had just wrote about the experience last week.

I had experienced the exact pain points Marco mentions:

We’re talking about Android… which has terrible development economics hindered by severe frag mentation and poor payment integration, and is not generally used by most of the influential people needed to spread the word on new services.

Google reports fantastic adoption of Android devices across all the major carriers, which is great but where are the influential tech people cheering for Android from the rooftops?  Well, nobody I can recall but iOS on the other hand…

Marco’s post was a response to Fred Wilson’s post of last week about Android:

It looks like the Verizon iPhone launch is helping iOS hold its own with 25% of the market. I expect (and hope) that iOS will remain a strong competitor to Android. But as I’ve been saying for several years now, I believe the mobile OS market will play out very similarly to Windows and Macintosh, with Android in the role of Windows. And so if you want to be in front of the largest number of users, you need to be on Android.

He points out the Verizon iPhone launch is helping iOS hold its own.  I think we won’t see the impact of the Verizon launch for a while since people (like myself) moved to Verizon for a smartphone and Android because AT&T has such lousy coverage.  I forced the issue and bought an iPhone off of contract, because I could, but I am sure most can’t or won’t go this route until their contract is up.   I predict a wave of users move to iPhones from Android on contract renewal.

Marco thinks as I do:

We don’t really know, of course. But it’s worth considering. Were they choosing to buy an Android phone, or were they choosing to buy the most iPhone-like option in the Verizon store? If the latter, what are they likely to choose next time?

If Android phones were delighting its customers and building loyalty after the purchase, it would be reasonable to conclude that a lot of its existing customers were likely to continue buying Android phones in the future. So how is that after-purchase experience? How much do mainstream buyers like their Android phones?

I am one of those buyers and I did not like the Android phone one bit.  Battery life alone was enough for me to take issue with it.

Google seems to recognize fragmentation is an issue with Android because they have decided to hold back the source to Honeycomb.  Wait, I thought Android was open?  Well, not so fast all you developer out there..it’s only open as long as Google says it is.

So, who can champion Android to real success? Amazon maybe? They have the infrastructure and ability to make it happen and the opening of their Android app store is probably a good sign they have intentions.  Amazon has a great device in the Kindle, so how hard would it be for them to produce a tablet with great hardware like the Kindle?  They certainly have the distribution channel, lots of books, MP3s and now apps.

Marco warns:

So while Android’s currently doing well, investing heavily in it for anything with long-term costs and obligations should be carefully considered. If you’re not in a rush to make such predictions, I’d wait and see what the market looks like 18 months from now.

I won’t be putting any resources into Android development.  iOS holds so much more opportunity at this point and with limited resources you have to go where the money is.

The Android Hubbub

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I wrote a few months back about dumping the iPhone in favor of an Android phone running on Verizon, not because I didn’t like the iPhone but because I despised AT&T.

We hear a lot about how fast the adoption of Android is and how it is taking over as the #1 mobile operating system.  Sure, when carriers are signing up to sell as many Android handsets as possible it’s no wonder Google claims the adoption rate is so high.  One thing the numbers don’t take into account is quality, we need to remember that quantity does not equate to quality.

Since October 2010 I have been using a Droid X and having come from an iPhone 3GS, I think I have a fair amount of experience using both platforms.  Comparing the experience of using both, I arrive at the following conclusions:

  • The Droid X is nice hardware, very comparable to the iPhone
  • The Droid X running Android is quite a bit slower than the 3GS.  Remember, the 3GS hardware is pretty old.  Applications are not nearly as responsive as the iPhone.
  • The Android applications I used crash quite often.  I don’t want to name any but suffice to say, very similar applications with some being from the same company, crash more often than is acceptable.
  • The aesthetics of the iOS applications are far and above any Android application.  I struggle to find an acceptable beauty in any, with the slight exception of the official Twitter application.
  • Applications on Android have an inconsistent user interface, maybe because of the lack of quality control going into the process of putting something in the app store.

After using the Droid X for these months I can safely say it was a suffering experience.  I grew to a real dislike for the device and often times hoped I would lose the phone or have it fall to an untimely death just so I had an excuse to replace it.

I am happy to report that I have come to my last ounce of patients with Android and am returning to the iPhone.  Oh how I have missed you.  I had hoped to wait until the iPhone 5 was available but resolved that life is too short to have to have a sub-par mobile experience.

I ran into an article recently titled, “Android Isn’t About Building a Mobile Platform“, which really explains a lot about Google’s drive behind creating Android:

Google is building Android not so they can make great mobile devices and sell them to consumers. Rather, they are making them for these two simple reasons: (1) to disrupt Apple’s growing dominance of mobile devices, both so Google doesn’t have to rely on Apple for access to their users and to eliminate their paid-for application model; and (2) so Google can control the mobile industry and thus secure advertising from it.

It makes a lot of sense and is brilliantly clear but a shame.  I believe if the goal is not to create a great mobile platform but rather just a conduit for advertising then it will always be sub-par.

So to my readers, I am not writing this post to complain, but to warn.  I write this from the standpoint of someone who has given two popular mobile platforms a fair shake and come to the realization how different they are.  Different can be good but it can also be a step backwards, Android is certainly a step in the backwards direction.  The grass is not greener on the other side of this fence, there are just seeds on this other side.  It’s young and will likely evolve but it has a long way to go.  Appreciate your iPhone as I will, which is out for delivery and will arrive today.

Easily iPad Enable Your WordPress Blog

The Apple iPad is the single most exciting technology to come since the introduction of the IBM PC many years ago.  I am old enough to see both come to market.  The iPad is a platform for content consumption and we are seeing only the very beginning of how creators will visually delivery their content to us.

I have in recent months moved this blog to WordPress from another self-hosted platform and often wonder how I waited so long to make the transition when I see the great themes and plugins made available to us.

The recent release of WordPress 3.1 made me aware of one such plugin.  Onswipe plugin allows any WordPress blog to have a unique view when viewing on the iPad.  The implementation looks very much like my current favorite iPad app, Flipboard.

The publisher says:

Onswipe makes it insanely easy to publish on touch enabled devices. When your readers navigate from an iPad to your site they are given a beautiful app like experience.

This is a pretty bold claim but one I think the plugin lives up to quite handily.

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I installed the plugin from the WordPress Dashboard and accepted the defaults.  Above you can see what my blog looks like on the front page, taken from my iPad.  If you are familiar with the Flipboard application, the user is presented with “swipe me”, a simple gesture brings the user to the first page of the site.

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What interests me here is 5 posts shown per page and *if* I had an image associated a post,  the image would be used.  I think if there are multiple images in the post the first one appearing in the HTML will be used.  The content is really nicely laid out and presented cleanly without any work on my end.

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The page for a particular post has a very clean presentation.  The font face and the color of the title are customizable from the WordPress Dashboard.  Any comments for a post are visible from the View Comments button where users can also add new comments.

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The little icon in the upper right corner of a post, like so many iPad apps, allows the reader to share the post to Twitter, Facebook or by email.  This is nice little addition to the theme.

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The menu button from the front page allows easy navigation to Pages, posts by a particular category or all the posts.

I have tested this blog from my iPad and it really is a thing of beauty.  The HTML5 is well done and fast and truly transform my blog both in function and in presentation.  Well-done Onswipe, who looks to have some other offerings on the horizon.

So, go grab your iPad and take a look at this site using it.

Making Money on Mobile Applications

Tim Bray had an interesting and timely post recently regarding his view on a developer’s ability to make money creating mobile applications.

As a developer who is in the process of publishing my first application to the App Store, I have spent some time examining the various mobile platforms and looking at paid vs. ad supported applications.  I am in no-way suggesting Tim is wrong nor am I supporting his view.  He brings up great points and I wanted to give a bit of my own feedback from the perspective of a developer who did a bit of research to choose a platform to support.

Tim does bring up some good points and his view is probably reflective of many mobile application developers.  Keep in mind, Tim works for Google so his Google Goggles may be on and he is not seeing very many developers making money selling Android applications.

One point which keeps sticking in my mind is, at least in the Apple App Store is when selling an application, you get the sale once and that’s it:

…I deeply believe that the app-sales business sucks. Selling anything on a one-time basis at a price below $10 is historically the kind of business that’s been owned by companies like Walmart. I acknowledge that it’s working for some people, but it’s just not where I’d want to be.

So, which platform makes the most sense to start with?  I really don’t know but can make a best guess and say Apple.

iOS vs. Android

The intent is not to start a flame war here but just calling it like I see it from a very high level as well as from a user level, owning both an iPhone and a Motorola Droid X:

Android has a ton of handsets out there so the market is very attractive for developers.  The barrier to entry is also extremely low and the process of submitting applications virtually non-existant.  This leads to a lot of really low-quality apps, which people are not interested in paying for.

iOS whose barrier is considerably higher here, with a $99 annual fee and fairly stringent review process before an application can see the light of day in the App Store, this leads at least to a lower number of bad apps getting to market.   The early days of the fart app are gone and now we are seeing good quality.

Ad Sales

I think it would be interesting to be able to have two identical apps, one is paid and the other is ad-supported, in order to find out which is better.  The question could become, do I charge $0.99 for my app or give it away and put ads in the application.  It seems many Android developers are going down the ad-supported path.

Tim says:

I work for Google, and this is obviously one of our strengths. I don’t have the strong positive vibe about ads that I get about the relationship selling, as in upgrades and in-app. Having said that, I know for a fact from talking to developers that ads are starting to work pretty well for some of them.

Since he is employed by Google so I will therefore assume he has been speaking to Android developers, I have to think ads are what works best for them.

Upgrades and In-App Purchase

I think there are folks who are very successful with in-app purchases but I’m not sure to what extent.  Do developers turn on features in applications based on a purchase?  I can see this being very effective way for additional revenue beyond the initial $4.99 sale.

Looking at the history of the Apple App Store paid upgrades seem to be non-existant.  I have bought a lot of apps for either the iPhone and iPad and have never once been asked to pay for an upgrade from version to version.  This seems like something developers have secretly agreed on and nobody does it.  I can’t say it happens on Android, since I have never paid for an Android app, all the ones on my Droid X were free.

I wonder what would happen if charging for an upgrade was attempted?  In the Apple App Store it would have to be a totally new version and it would not be an upgrade at all but totally new.  Didn’t Tweetie try this?  I bet it doesn’t work.

In-app purchases does seem like an attractive option.  Produce new versions of the application which can only be accessed by spending more money.  I like it from a developer perspective, but probably not from a consumer one.  If the features were big then may they would be worthy of paying a fee but a clear distinction would have to be made between an upgrade and something considered a new purchased feature.

Rich Client on a Web Service

My intention is simply this; create a headless (no UI) web applications, all web service, where I can create any client I want to access and consume the web service(s).  This way the client could be an iOS device, Android tablet or maybe even a Windows Mobile Phone 7.

The web service would be a SaaS model which charges monthly for the privilege.  The client application would be given away and with recurring monthly revenue the problem of making money on mobile solved.  Another variation worth considering is selling the application for a small amount which is fully functional standalone but adds functionality when used in conjunction with the web service.

One aspect of this model which bothers me is what happens when the user doesn’t have good service or the web service was down for maintenance?  I think the ability for applications to store data locally to later be synced back to the cloud gives the user the best of both worlds.

Conclusion

I am interested in learning more.  I know very little about being a successful mobile developer but I have been marketing software for a long time.

How can one make a living differently from what I am suggesting?  Are app sales dead and only limited a few developers?  I don’t think so but these are hard numbers to acquire.