Four Legs Good, Two Legs Better!

“So”, I hear you thinking, “I remember James being very anti-software bundle earlier this year. He had that spat with John Casasanta and everything. Imagine my surprise when I saw this offer in my inbox this morning – both DragThing and PCalc are part of the new MacUpdate Promo Winter Bundle. Is he a just a big capitalist sellout after all?”


Ok, let me qualify that slightly.

Way back in June, we took part in the inaugural bundle. The idea was a great one – this was a bundle by developers, for developers, with an equal split of the profits for all who took part. In practice however, it was something of a disappointment. Sales of the bundle were small, not down to the quality of the applications or people involved, but partially because it was going up against the much stronger MacUpdate bundle at the time, and partially because – in my opinion – it didn’t compare particularly favourably to the slick marketing efforts of MacHeist and MacUpdate.

It was mocked at the time by the ever-tactful John Casasanta of MacHeist, who basically said that without a substantial marketing budget, it was doomed. Annoyingly, he was actually right.

A couple of months ago, the MacUpdate people contacted me and asked if I wanted to be part of their winter bundle. What they offered per-bundle-sold wasn’t completely terrible – I’ve been offered a lot worse. Sales of DragThing have slowed a little bit of late since I’ve only done fairly minor updates recently, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to get it back into the public eye. And likewise, PCalc on the Mac has always been a good promotional tool for selling copies of PCalc on the iPhone.

So, fine, let’s give it a try. It’s a good bundle of apps – I fancy getting a few of them myself. I’ve been looking forward to the point-and-click adventure game Machinarium for ages, and I didn’t realise it was already out. Plus I’ve heard good things about Socialite and GarageSale, and many of the others. Path Finder is another veteran app in the bundle, and I know lots of people use that in combination with DragThing.

Will we make more money over the next two weeks than we would have otherwise? Am I damaging future sales of our apps? That remains to be seen. You can see the total number of sales of the bundle on the MUPromo page. I’m legally not allowed to tell you exactly how much of the $49.99 we’re getting, but think of a very small number. Now half it. You’re pretty much there. Feel free to multiply that by the current sales figure.

The bottom line is that our decades-old kitchen is due to be replaced in January, and it would be nice if this deal helped pay for it… Does that make me a capitalist?

Or a culinarist?

Go Towards The Lite

Apologies for my silence over the last few weeks gentle reader, I caught the man-flu that’s going around these parts, and haven’t felt up to much until now. Two weeks ago, I started working on a PCalc 3.4 release, and in less than a day of highly productive work I had ported the themes from the iPhone version back to the Mac. 24 hours later had a temperature of 39°C and I haven’t touched the code since… That’ll teach me. At the moment, I just have the tail end of a cold, so it’s back to work.

Anyway, one of the things I was mulling over in my feverish state was the possibility of doing a free “Lite” version of PCalc for iPhone.

In the continuing absence of demos or trial periods, I was thinking I should create something useful to give people a taste of the full awesome PCalc experience and encourage them to buy it, but not quite so full or as awesome as to cannibalise our sales. The App Store is filling up with such little tastes at the moment, so it certainly qualifies as a trend. And I’ve heard at least some anecdotal evidence from other developers that lite versions can increase sales.

This is more a “pre-mortem” rather than post – I haven’t started working on it yet, but I thought I’d encourage some debate before I do.

There are two big questions really. The obvious one is “what functionality should I remove?” and the slightly less obvious one is “what will Apple actually let me put in the store?”.

Erica Sadun wrote a nice guide on Ars recently entitled “App Store lessons: creating demos for fun and profit“. She says:

“Demos help sell products for very little overhead. Developers need only cut down their feature set, change a few options and ship the result out to App Store. From a financial point of view, demos are made of win.”

But I’ve also been hearing from illustrious people like Craig Hockenberry that Apple is insisting that “free and paid versions have to be feature equivalent” and that explicit upselling language isn’t allowed. The Iconfactory has a free ad-supported version of Twitterific as well as a premium version at $9.99. They are pretty much identical in terms of functionality, with the exception of no adverts in the premium version and an additional theme. Apparently that’s all Apple would allow them to do.

So which is it? Clearly, I can’t just produce a feature equivalent version of PCalc and give it away for free. Ed Voas wryly suggested I just remove the “9” button, which isn’t actually a bad idea in terms of letting people try everything without giving away the farm, but I suspect that Apple wouldn’t find it quite so droll. 

So far, I haven’t been able to track down a definitive policy statement from Apple on the matter. It’s easy enough for a game – you just include the first couple of levels and get people wanting to play more. And you can do that while staying within the (apparently unwritten) guidelines.

So what is PCalc Lite going to be then?

I could ship it with some very basic layouts for a start – remove functionality that way. If you think of a layout as a game level, that kind of works. I’ll lose the binary, octal and hex, some of the fancier scientific stuff.

Likewise with the themes – just ship with the one, probably the original “Blue Sun” one. Most people seem to prefer the fancier coloured ones, so it’s a chance to convince people to upgrade there. Likewise, get rid of the LCD colours, and the two-line display option.

Conversions and constants, also should go – or perhaps just include one or two as a demonstration.

I should probably keep the RPN mode though, that means I’ll have something to offer over the built in calculator.

So yes, I think the idea should be to provide a very simple RPN calculator that hints at what you will get with the full version of PCalc, but is still quite useful in its own right. And if it proves to be really popular at the expense of sales, I guess I can always kill it!

Any thoughts, please add them below.

Bonus trivia, Apple fact fans. I made a DragThing Lite many moons ago, back in the days when I was working at Apple. I was asked by management to put one together – to potentially ship as part of Mac OS 8.5 – when it didn’t look like the in-house app switcher would be ready in time. I made a quick prototype over a weekend, but in the end I think I remember the development time was extended for the OS in general and it wasn’t needed. So I just shipped the Lite version myself with DragThing 2. But yeah, DragThing was nearly part of the OS.