How app ideas are born

Yesterday I returned from the third Release Notes conference. Like in the previous two years, I had a fantastic time, meeting old and new friends, getting educated and inspired. If you’re in the business of making software, you should definitely check it out.

Release Notes Conference Venue

One of the highlights of this conference is the dine-around — a dinner with a small group of participants that fits around one table. All the participants get split into such groups and go to different restaurants based on their food preferences. This year I was in the group that dined at a sushi place, Tanoshii.

The food and the chat were great. Then came the bill. One bill. What should’ve been 11 separate bills (as Charles, one of the conference organizers, instructed restaurants ahead of time) became one, long, list of items.

I believe that the process of paying the bill took at least 30 minutes and involved quite a lot of fiddling like marking in the bill, counting and passing around credit cards.

Naturally, with all the app developers around the table, this turned into a discussion of how we could solve it faster with an appropriate app. Curtis, who gave a fantastic business talk the next morning, started to brainstorm ideas of how to use latest Apple mobile technologies to build an app to split such bills in a short time. Others have joined. The app now used photo scanning with OCR, face recognition, drag and drop, and ARKit.

Everything seemed to be ready and planned, and Curtis was almost prepared to take on the project during the weekend.

I realized that the app was missing a catchy name. I got an idea, and this was my only contribution to the “project”. In my mind, it could only be named after its inspiration: Tanoshii.

Licensing changes and pricing

Today Bohemian Coding, an indie Mac development company, who develop the fantastic design application Sketch, announced a change to licensing and versioning scheme of the application.

They are trying something new for them, after moving away from the Mac App Store in the last year, to have full control over the licensing process, among other reasons.

As is expected, such changes bring a lot of response from existing customers. And many are unhappy with change. And they wrote about their disagreement in comments to the blog.

One thing I noticed is that Bohemian Coding’s announcement doesn’t include the price of the new license scheme. So customers can’t really know what they are going to pay. And so some assume that it’ll be $99 per year. Some argue that it should be $50 per year because previously major updates were about every two years. Some say that it should be based on upgrade pricing, which is indeterminate.

The truth it, is that I think Bohemian Coding should’ve announced the pricing structure in the same blog post. Yes, maybe they haven’t decided yet. But price is of such utmost importance to customers’ feelings towards such changes, that leaving it out is, in my opinion, a mistake. People have visceral, immediate response to pricing, on subconscious level.

Consider this: current new license of Sketch is USD$99. The license is for a major version that runs for about two years. Yes, maybe you bought the license 6 months before the new major version and then it’s less value (one thing that the new theme tries to avoid). In any case, taking this price into account:

  • What do you feel about the change to paying $99 for a year of upgrades to Sketch?
  • What do you feel about the change to paying $20 for a year of upgrades to Sketch?
  • What do you feel about the change to paying $49 for a year of upgrades to Sketch?
  • What do you feel about the change to paying $139 for a year of upgrades to Sketch?
  • What do you feel about the change to paying $79 for a year of upgrades to Sketch?

Did you get an immediate gut feeling of “that’s a rip-off”, “that’s a bargain”, “that’s fair”, “kinda OK”?

Maybe Bohemian Coding thinks that the have time to decide about the price because they have at least 6 months before people need to buy the new licenses. I know many people at Bohemian Coding, and they’re smart and passionate. But I wouldn’t suggest putting the announcement off until that moment. Look at what’s happened with Smile’s announcement of TextExpander 6 going to a subscription-based model. Lots of backlash from the customers and the media. Mainly because the people thought they got the price wrong. Then Smile adjusted the prices to a level that seemed reasonable to more people, especially to the existing customer base.

If Sketch announces the pricing now, they’ll remove the speculations and will still have time to adjust the pricing strategy before new scheme goes into effect, before first people are billed.

Pricing is hard. Pricing is psychology. Don’t let people guess what you pricing will be. Tell them the price, then observe the reaction.


The blog post from Sketch was updated with the pricing decision, after they got questions from customers. Now they have to watch the reaction and have a thick skin.

Benefits of providing customer support

Doing customer support can bring more benefits than just another happy customer.

An interaction with a customer of your application can lead to:

  • Understanding what the customers want from your application
  • Learning where customers learned about your application
  • Ideas for future features
  • Recognizing which problems return with different customers
  • Leads to other customers
  • New vectors for marketing
  • Fixing the underlying issue for the above problem or otherwise reducing this support request in the future
  • Writing an FAQ article
  • Creating a how-to-video for the issue
  • Publishing the above video on YouTube
  • Publishing an article explaining this video on the blog
  • Tweeting and posting on Facebook about the article on the blog
  • Mentioning it in the newsletter as a tip, perhaps
  • Writing an article on the blog about how customer support can benefit you
  • Tweeting about the above article

Song: App Oddity

I made another musical video. This time I remade David Bowie’s excellent “Space Oddity” with lyrics on the subject of ups and downs of indie app development. It should be more accessible to the general population than my previous video about the programming language Swift.

Lyrics are embedded in the video but here they are in full:

App Oddity

App Review to Coder Tom
App Review to Coder Tom
Take your caffeine pills
And put your headphones on

App Review to Coder Tom
Commencing countdown,
you’re logged on.
Check submission
and may Jobs’ love be with you

This is App Review to Coder Tom
You’re featured on first page
And the web sites want to know how much you’ve made
Now it’s time to go out and celebrate

This is Coder Tom to App Review
I’m stepping through the doors
And my head spins in a most peculiar way
And the App Store’s very different today

For here
Am I sitting in my basement
Far from outside world
Why do I feel blue
Is there something I can do?

Though I’m past
one million free downloads
I can’t see many sales
And I think I might've chosen wrong way to go
Tell my customers I care, 
'cause they should know

App Review to Coder Tom
Your app is dead,
there’s something wrong
Can you fix it Coder Tom
Can you fix it Coder Tom
Can you hear us Coder Tom
Can you…

Here am I lying in my basement
Far from outside world
All I feel is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

On Efficacy of Business Books

These days I’m reading what appears to be a fantastic book by Daniel Kahneman, called “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. It’s about how the intuitive and analytical minds think and interact. It’s about statistics and the fallacies of our minds with regards to statistical intuition and other thinking fallacies.

The quotes in the image are just a sample of quotes from one chapter. These specifically refer to the efficacy, or rather lack of thereof, of a specific kind of business books, those that try to teach the readers how to be successful in business by analyzing previous successful businesses, as if their management was somehow especially smart. The thing, as Kahneman explains, is that luck plays a much more important role than a specific CEO’s abilities are and eventually, over time, the companies come to some middle ground because luck averages out.

In short, read the quotes. Better yet, get the book.

My most successful client project

Successfully completed a client project in record time and budget by convincing the client that there’s no need for it.

Of course I wasn’t paid for the couple of hours it took me to research the idea and communicate my thoughts on it with the potential client. But it was the correct thing to do and I’d do the same again. Going for it could’ve ended very frustrating to all the parties involved.