Universal cheapness

Today, I would like to complain about the following two groups of people who are cheap:

  • Developers
  • Users

Ok, not all of them, some of you are quite lovely. But I’ve been noticing a couple of trends of late that I think deserve comment, and a couple of people today really pushed me to the point of anger. If I blame everybody equally, it cancels out, right?

Firstly, universal iPhone / iPad apps, or the lack of same – particularly in the field of games.

When the iPad came out, there was a slew of seperate HD versions of apps with appropriately HD pricing. “No”, said the developers, “we’re not just price gouging because there is a shiny new device out there which we think we can make a vast profit from. Look, we need to create these lovely high resolution assets. That costs real money!”.

And that was, on the whole, entirely true.

Then the iPhone 4 came out, and a lot of iPhone games have been updated recently for free with Retina display support with lovely high resolution assets. Some strangely familiar high resolution assets in some cases.

So, you might now be paying twice for exactly the same game, with exactly the same assets. These games are crying out to be universal apps. By all means charge more money for a universal app, that’s not the problem – I like paying money for good software – but don’t charge me a second time for the same thing.

Now this doesn’t apply to all games, and certainly doesn’t apply to all apps. A complex, well thought out UI on the iPhone doesn’t always scale to the iPad, and vice versa, even if they now have a similar number of pixels. But some games are pretty much identical on both. And those, my friend, should be universal apps.

I think what bothers me most is games that start out on the iPad, and then migrate to the iPhone. They’ve already done the hard work making it look amazing on the iPad, and I gladly paid the HD price for it. But now there’s an iPhone 4 optimised version coming and you want me to pay a second time? That makes me unhappy.

A recent example that did this right was Geometry Wars – they started out as an iPad app and added a universal app in a recent update. This made me feel even happier about my original iPad purchase. Pleased to the point that I’m telling you about the game now. Go buy it, it’s great fun.

Osmos is another really great game I bought for my iPad, and it sounds as if they are about to bring out a separate iPhone version, rather than a universal one. That makes me feel worse about my original purchase. They are both great games from great developers, but making your customers feel happy is an important thing.

Angry Birds is a more complex example – they’ve been great at doing lots of free updates to their iPhone version, and have earned a hell of a lot of customer loyalty from it (and a shedload of money as a result). But they also have a separate “pay again” HD iPad version, which I’m told frequently lags in updates behind the iPhone one. Boo, and boo.

Every time I buy a new game on the app store that isn’t universal, I sigh a little bit more, knowing it’s constrained to one device for reasons which are not always purely technical. I’m informed by the always wise Neil Inglis that universal apps bought in iTunes only count in the iPhone sales charts, and that could account for one reason why developers like having two separate apps. But that seems like it could be easily fixed by Apple. But then, Apple gets 30% of all the extra sales of the other versions… CUE CONSPIRACY THEORY!

Anyway, yes, developers are just after your money. But you know who else is cheap? Users.

This week, I saw a comment about my PCalc which basically said “How come the Mac version is twice the price of the iPhone version? I think all Mac software is overpriced.”

No, no, NO.

PCalc is $19 on the Mac, $9.99 on iOS. Leaving aside the fact that buying the iOS version of PCalc gets you a code which gives you a generous $9 discount on the Mac one, a more correct conclusion that they could have come to is “Perhaps all iPhone software is underpriced, and it might not be a sustainable market in the long term”. Or perhaps “I wonder why people will pay more for something, the bigger a screen it comes on?”.

I expect Apple will bring out an App Store for Mac OS sooner rather than later. I wonder what will happen to pricing then, if it will stay the same, or be more in line with the iOS apps. And I also wonder whether Apple will be able to ask for 30% of all sales. It would be a major shake up for the Mac software market, and I’m willing to bet 59p that it will happen.

Finally, I got an email today from somebody who had been running the Mac version of PCalc for many years, and had been faithfully clicking the “Not Yet” button every time he launched it. He decided he wanted to pay up, but when he finally saw the price, he decided against it, because he only ever really used the widget. For all of the many years he had been running the software without paying for it.

Oh, and the best bit? He was an indie developer as well…

I think I might be too generous with the trial periods in DragThing and PCalc. When the two week trial is over, they both keep working on the whole, requesting politely that you pay, but not being too obnoxious about it. They were both created in a different age, where that approach was normal and expected. Should I change them to stop working completely as soon as the trial period expires? The user in me says no, the developer says yes.

What do you think?

How To Make Your iPhone App Launch Faster

So, one of the most common complaints about PCalc before 1.7 is that it took too long to launch – around four seconds on an iPhone 1st Generation. I actually got emails accusing me of having a massive ego because I was making the splash screen stay up for so long. Now, I may have a massive ego anyway, but that’s not why it was happening.

Continue reading “How To Make Your iPhone App Launch Faster”

Dear Members Of The Press

Trying a slightly different self-deprecating approach to the press release today. We’ll see if it works. New PCalc updates for the iPhone and Mac OS X, all out today. The App Store is doing its usual trick of not listing new things on time, so at this point I’m relying strictly on press coverage to get some sales. Fingers crossed, please.

Continue reading “Dear Members Of The Press”

Twitkitteh, Where Did It All Go Wrong? Part 2

I trust you have read the background to all this in Part 1. If not, go read it now. We’ll all wait.

Right, so where were we? Oh yes, I’d just submitted Twitkitteh to the app store nearly two weeks ago and was full of childlike hope and dreams. Would it be a success? Would cute animal Twitter clients be the future of the iPhone? Would I make enough money from it to pay for the domain name and the website?

Ok, full disclosure time.

Since Twitkitteh released about a week ago, we have sold exactly a hundred and one copies, at roughly 99c each. That makes it about £50 in terms of income at current exchange rates after Apple’s 30% cut. About 14 quid of that went on the domain name for a year, and about another 11 quid on hosting the domain on our existing server.

That leaves us £25 profit for three week’s work. Oh, and minus the 120 or so engineer-hours spent designing, writing, and promoting it that could have been spent on something else. So, depending on exactly how much you rate iPhone engineers at on an hourly basis, you can calculate exactly how much we lost on the whole project.

Not, as you will admit, the resounding success we were all hoping for. To be honest, when I went into it, I figured it would do absolutely nothing, or be the next big thing. Given that the reaction of most people to the idea was to ask when I was going to be retiring, I was kind of hoping it would tend towards the latter. My actual goal was to make enough extra money for a new laptop or two, but as it turns out, I don’t think I could afford a reconditioned 2nd generation iPod shuffle.

This is really the first thing I’ve written that’s not been a success, and is – if I’m honest with myself – really quite firmly in the failure camp. I’m not sure exactly how to deal with that. There’s a whole other post waiting to be written about the independent developer as artist, and how we view our creations as extensions of ourselves. If they don’t do well, we do take it personally. But that, as I said, is for another discussion.

So – and you should have really realised where we were going with this from the title of last week’s post – where did it all go wrong?

I think there are a lot of factors. I think the product – as it is written – is perfectly fine. It’s silly, and intentionally so, but those people who get it think it’s great. It does what it says. I don’t see it being any more silly or less worthwhile than some stuff on the app store which is selling thousands of copies a day, anyway.

I think, while I assumed I was aiming for something mass-market, I didn’t really. It’s a common fallacy to think that just because you take three things that are big and popular – cats, iPhones, and Twitter in this case, then a product that is the intersection of all three must be just plain huge. But as it turns out, a lot of people said “that’s great, but I don’t have an iPhone”. Or indeed, “that’s great, but I don’t have a cat”.

The initial sales weren’t helped by the fact that while I got the “Ready for sale” email from Apple to say Twitkitteh was on the store, it wasn’t actually listed anywhere. If you searched for it by name, it was there, but it wasn’t listed under the recently released applications, or the alphabetical section. In iTunes that was fixed in 24 hours, but on the phone it took much longer. Given that significant sales come from people just randomly finding your app in the store from it being at the top of the recent apps, that wasn’t a great start. Submitting an app just after a big update to the App Store software might not have been a clever move…

Also, while there was an impressive grassroots movement on Twitter to promote it, led by the iPhone Twitterati of  @atebits, @chockenberry, and @mattgemmell, very few places picked up on my press releases, with the notable exception of Rene Ritchie at The iPhone Blog. Lack of press being a common theme here during PCalc development of course, but I assumed there would be a lot more mainstream interest this time round.

I also hoped that the absurd nature of the app would at least get some reaction, one way or another. I submitted press releases – each with an iTunes promo code for a download, of course – to a much wider assortment of sites, outside of the traditional Mac folk I would normally market to. I worked solidly for about 2-3 days just trying to get a bite with my PR hook without success. Surely somebody like Engadget, or Gizmodo, or even The Register would pillory me. Apparently not.

Perhaps the Mac sites, who are still unsure about how to cover the sea of iPhone apps generally, were put off by the whole feline frivolousness, and the non-technical sites were put off by the iPhone / Twitter / Cat 2.0 side. Not everyone gets my sense of humour either it has to be said, and were taking things entirely seriously. Some people did though – Jason Snell of Macworld said:

This is like performance art via app. Or practical joke. It really works, though.

Rene Ritchie added:

We can’t tell if Twitkitteh is shrewd marketing or wicked satire at the state of the App Store and Twitter. We suspect it’s equal parts both, finished with a good shot of lulz.

I tried using Facebook, digg, reddit buttons on the website, but they only got a few clicks – mainly – after some investigation – by people who I know personally. I still think it’s a mainstream press story away from success, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen now. It very briefly made it to number 46 in the Social Networking category of the App Store, but dropped off quickly. Sales yesterday were a mere six, and the chatter on Twitter has dropped off markedly now.

So, yes, failure as a product. But also an interesting success in terms of learning a little more about the mysterious ways of the App Store.

Lesson 1 – You cannot manufacture a hit record.

I went into this deliberately trying to create something wildly populist, and ended up making something that’s sold significantly less than a scientific calculator. And I thought I was being pretty smart about it too.

Lesson 2 – It’s a lottery.

Any old nonsense put up on the App Store, priced at 99c, will not make you rich. Some people will get rich, but the odds are, it’s not going to be you. As more and more people come to the App Store gold deposit, thinking they are going to make a fortune, the less gold there is going to be to go round. Yes, writing a good product is important too, but it’s not a guarantee of success.

Oh well, I gave it a good shot. Worst case, I learned about a number of new iPhone technologies I hadn’t looked at before, so I’m in a better state for my third iPhone app. And that will be THE GREATEST IPHONE APP EVER.

Twitkitteh: Where Did It All Go Wrong?

By now, hopefully most of you will have heard of Twitkitteh, our ground-breaking new iPhone Twitter client designed for cats.

I alluded to this being an experiment earlier, so I thought I should explain my actions to the whole class.

So, as many of you know, I’ve been working away on PCalc for the iPhone for pretty much the last year, with some modest success. It’s done a lot better than PCalc on the Mac ever did, and is quite highly rated in the iPhone world, if I say so myself. But it’s never had life-changing levels of sales, and to a certain extent that has to be expected. As an advanced scientific/engineering calculator, even a damn good one, it’s quite a niche product, so it’s never going to be a truly mass market item.

I’ve talked a lot on this blog about the difficulties of marketing iPhone apps, and the different techniques I’ve tried over the past months to get the word out. And I’ve been looking at the software on the app store which has been a runaway success. The store has been likened to a gold rush – a number of people have become very rich, very quickly. But in the long term, the people who are going to be making the most money are the ones selling the shovels…

The single most annoying thing about the app store is not the opaque nature of the submission process, the Kafkaesque paperwork, or the complete lack of communication from Apple in response to time-critical problems. No, the single most annoying thing is the news story you see in the press every other week about some four-year-old who wrote an application in her basement in fifteen minutes and made a million dollars over the space of a weekend.

I think I have developed a facial tic due to the breathless press coverage about how everybody writing iPhone software is now living in a giant castle made from the finest diamonds. Amazingly enough, we’re not. Out of the many tens of thousands of developers, a few dozen or so have probably made a fortune, some are making a living, or at least close to one, and many many people aren’t making anything at all.

Ok, I realise there is a tiny element of bitter jealousy here. PCalc isn’t going to make me a million dollars overnight, and if I’m being honest, I would actually quite like a million dollars. While the artistic process is enjoyable, I am ultimately trying to run a business, just like Apple. I get a kick out of making decent products that people enjoy using, but I do also like being able to pay the bills. Call me crazy, I know.

But it does seem to be the case that what’s selling on a big scale on the store isn’t the $9.99 application, the one that actually does something useful, but it’s the 99c toy that people buy to show off their phone to their friends and use for about a week before moving onto something else. Surely, if you wrote one of them, you’ll get rich? I mean, the platform might suffer a little, but it’s a license to print money, right?

I figured, fine, let’s actually sit down and try writing something silly and see what happens. I decided I would give myself a couple of weeks to design and implement a small app, and I would try and make the most populist thing I could possibly think of.

Now, here’s where you can question my true motives. Was I:

  • a) darkly satirizing the current state of iPhone development
  • b) doing a serious investigation into the marketing and sales of a mass market application
  • c) trying to make a million dollars myself
  • d) all of the above

I think it’s (d) if I’m really honest. I certainly started with mostly (a) and (b) in my head, but once I was working on it, I did start to believe the hype a little bit. I figured I would write something to point out the absurdities of the app store, and worst case, if it outsold PCalc a hundred to one and I made a fortune, I could point to that as proof of my theories while relaxing on a warm bed of money.

So, I thought about it a little bit and, a few nights later, when I was sleeping – and this is the honest truth, I swear – I had a vivid dream about having been contracted to write iPhone software for cats. I can’t remember if it was the cats themselves who were the clients, but the first thing they wanted me to write was a Twitter app.

I woke up at 3:30AM and thought to myself, that’s completely absurd. Then I thought to myself, that’s completely brilliant. I had the name, product design, and everything, just handed to me on a plate by my deranged subconscious. I got up, registered the domain name, scribbled some design notes down in a BBEdit file, and went back to bed.

microblogging for your cat
featuring a multipaw interface
i has a twitter
cat face / blue feather icon
random lolcat style tweets
long tail
popup keyboard style from pcalc?
lolspeak instructions
100s of random kitteh phrases

The genius I thought was in the idea. A simple pitch of “it’s a twitter application for cats”. People’s reaction to that ranged from thinking I’d gone insane to thinking it was the best thing they’d ever heard of. I was confident I was onto a winner.

I tweeted a bit about having had a great idea for the best iPhone app ever, and got many people rather excited. This was exactly the kind of thing the mainstream media would pick up on though I thought. Either they would say it was evidence of the decline of western civilisation, or they would say it was brilliant, but either way there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

So, let’s treat this as a real contract, and write the thing. I thought about how I would design such an app, I even tested it on a real cat. Yes, my tongue was firmly in my cheek, but I did want to do it properly and write a quality product. I spent a long time on it over those weeks, to get everything done within my time limit. I generally suck at graphics, so it took me about eight hours in Photoshop, and my sister-in-law’s cat, to come up with a decent icon.

Of course, the blue feather is a reference to Twitterific. Sorry Craig, it was in the dream.

Thankfully, the hardest part on a technical level – the networking code that would talk to Twitter – was already written. Matt Gemmell’s excellent open source MGTwitterEngine did everything I needed. It’s used by Twitterific amongst other things too. And, as a bonus, it’s also written in Scotland.

I certainly had fun writing the tweets – roping in my friends and family to brainstorm ideas of what a cat would say, and translating that into lolspeak. There are quite a few knowing references to pop culture, long tails, and blue birds thrown in for good measure. I think it’s fair to say I got a bit carried away, especially with the animating mice and the sound effects.

A few weeks later, I showed off the finished app to a limited set of people. Opinion ranged from quiet bemusement to excited registering of multiple Twitter accounts. Matt Gemmell wrote to me in an IM:

You’re standing on a small hill, looking out at the landscape around. Behind you, there’s a lush and verdant valley with a shining river running through it. That valley symbolises James Thomson, creator of the venerable and much-loved DragThing, former Finder team engineer, and subject of quiet respect in the community.

Ahead is a chasm, filled with the corpses of kittens, then a blasted wasteland with strange, floating captions in a narrow, white sans-serif  typeface.

In this darker land ahead, you are the Twitkitteh guy, and parents warn children away from you at the same time as they teach their kids lessons like always using the proper crossing when going to the shops.

I want you to take stock for a moment, because you’ll never stand at this boundary again.

Seriously though, I’m looking forward to it.

I figured if it could get that kind of reaction, I must be doing something right.

And so, last Monday, it was submitted to the App Store.


Meet The Press

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about press coverage for iPhone apps – and not just because I would like some. I think there’s somewhat of a disconnect between the way iPhone development is working at the moment, and the way old-school Mac development works, that might be causing problems with coverage of iPhone apps in the Mac press.

Here’s my big theory anyway.

A traditional Mac app will get one or two significant updates a year (and some small maintenance updates of course), and the press are quite happy to cover that. They can easily write an interesting article talking about the Big New Features, developer gets good coverage and thus sales, and everybody is happy. This is the way it was always done.

But iPhone apps are typically releasing updates every month in response to user feedback, sometimes even quicker than that. Go six months between releases? That’s how old the entire history of iPhone development is. By the time you did your second release, the entire market would be different.

So, the pressure is on iPhone developers to respond quickly to their users, and that means instead of doing large monolithic releases every six months, we’re doing six smaller releases in the same timeframe. Probably if you went back and added up those monthly releases, you’d have a decent Mac-sized “What’s New” list, but individually they’re not as weighty.

Anyway, that’s great isn’t it? The development process is a lot more interactive than on the Mac side, with a much quicker turnaround on user feedback. Users get cool new stuff on a weekly basis, a constant stream of updates for all their apps. Developers are in closer touch with their users and can react faster to what the market wants. Sounds good to me. And it’s quite a rush.

There’s one small problem though. How do you get press coverage? If you write a press release every single month that says “implemented one or two medium sized features, tweaked a couple of things based on user feedback, launches faster, fixed a few bugs” you aren’t going to get any stories written about you. I speak from tearful personal experience. It’s really just not interesting enough. Best case, you’re going to get a little snippet on a website somewhere that rewords your three press release bullet points, and users care even less about them.

Added to that, that there are now a few orders of magnitude more iPhone apps than there were six months ago, and even if you filter out all the apps related to bodily functions, there’s still a whole lot of them and they all want press coverage. I imagine your typical tech journalist is seeing hundreds of iPhone app press releases per day at this point.

Case in point. The PCalc 1.4 / PCalc Lite 1.4 release last month generated almost no press coverage whatsoever, and we didn’t see a great sales spike from it. It’s doing okay still, but I think that’s mainly down to word of mouth and the free version encouraging users to check out the full version.

PCalc 1.4 may or may not be the coolest iPhone calculator on the planet, but it’s not hugely better than the PCalc 1.3 release the previous month which did get a good number of stories. Mainly because that was the first release of the free PCalc Lite, so there was something genuinely new to talk about. I can imagine some people read the press release and thought, “Didn’t I just write about that calculator a few weeks ago?”. <spacebar><spacebar><spacebar>

I know a number of Mac journalists quite well, a lot of them even help me beta test new versions. But you don’t really want to be saying to them “Er… Could you write a story about this release please?” every month. If they think something is interesting, they will write about it. And I consider some of these folk to be friends, or at least good fraquaintances, so it’s a very fine line to walk when you start pushing them for coverage. You can only lie at their feet and beg and plead for a story so many times before they start quietly backing away and look into how difficult it is to get a restraining order… I’m looking at you Jason.

I don’t know what the solution is, for either side. All developers obviously think their applications are the most important in the whole world, and they want to get their PR message out to the people. For, if only the people knew about their magical app, they would buy it in droves. There’s nothing new there, I’m sure.

But I think the iPhone has just made everything ten or a hundred times more annoying. There’s still a goldrush mentality going on, with people trampling on each other for a piece of the action. Is that going to settle down when we’re a year or two further on into the App Store? I don’t know, but I somehow doubt it. Apple’s phone marketshare is still increasing rapidly, and the dollar signs are still lighting up in the eyes of developers everywhere.

So, I throw the question open to the floor. Dear journalists, what can we do to make your lives easier? Would you like us to only send you press releases for every second or third release? We’ll cut down on the noise a bit, if you promise to have a quick read of our PR in exchange. If it looks interesting, how about a story, or even a 140 character tweet? Deal? I feel I should be writing the iPhone Developer Manifesto or something.

Oh, while I remember. If any of you influential journalist types would like a copy of PCalc to play with, please just tweet me at @jamesthomson and I’ll dm a promo code back. Or, you know, use that email thing.

Ok, instead of only just hawking PCalc at the end of this thousand words, I thought I’d mention a new app by a friend of mine, which is currently sinking into the treacherous mire of the App Store games section. Aragom by Stairways Software, aka Peter N Lewis, is a very retro shooter in the style of the similarly very old TRS-80 Star Trek game. It’s $2.99. If your earliest gaming memory was Sonic the Hedgehog 2, it’s probably not for you. Of course, it’s way before my time…

I should also say that I just spent $2.99 of the PCalc profits on a copy of Fieldrunners. It’s a very polished tower defence game for the iPhone, which I realise you all know about already and I’m late to the party, but it’s definitely a suitably therapeutic way to unwind before going to sleep…

Let There Be Lite

Ok, it’s been exactly a month since the release of PCalc Lite and I figured I should share my findings with y’all. Sorry, I’m not entirely sure why I used the phrase “y’all” there, but let’s roll with it.

The executive summary is that sales of the full PCalc just about doubled over the same period, and we’re seeing sales run at around 1-2% of the downloads of the free version.

Here’s a pretty graph:

Basically, the left side of the graph is the 1.2 release, and the subsequent month, whereas the right side is the 1.3 release (with added PCalc Lite) and the subsequent month. Yes, I’m not giving you my exact sales figures.

We didn’t get as much publicity on the 1.3, so the initial sales spike wasn’t as high unfortunately, but the month itself was a lot flatter, without the boom and bust we’ve seen on previous releases.

It’s still early days of course, but it looks like having a free version so people can try out the basics certainly helps. And I think I picked the functionality for PCalc Lite reasonably well. It’s pretty good for a free app, but not so useful that it’s hurting our sales, which was my main fear.

Anecdotally, I did have quite a few people tell me that they’d gone ahead and bought the full version on the strength of playing with the free one.

Last time I checked, PCalc Lite was the most popular calculator on the US App Store. Downloads of the free one are falling off, perhaps as it gets further away from the front of the listings, but we’ll see what happens with 1.4 which should be due very shortly. 

So, some key points I think:

  • Make a lite version of your app available. Potential customers of your app will be very happy that they can try out at least some of it before buying. You’re really saying “this is the quality of software I make, buy the full version with confidence that you’re not about to waste your money”.
  • Make the lite version actually useful in its own right. If it’s useful and doesn’t annoy people constantly about the full version, people will download it and tell their friends. Maybe only a small percentage of them will buy the full version, but if the original number is big enough, that’s good.
  • Why not go and download a copy of PCalc Lite 🙂

I consider this a success anyway.

Carving Statues Of Elephants

Ok, since it’s the festive season, I’ll do the good news first before ranting a bit:

  1. You can now download PCalc Lite, a free and only-slightly-less-awesome version of PCalc for the iPhone and iPod Touch. It’s available on the App Store here.
  2. Despite being a new app, was approved by Apple in a mere three days from submission to being on the store.

And the bad news:

  1. Despite being a new app, the release date was set to the day of submission, the 16th, not the day it actually turned up on the store. So, it’s already on page 3 of Utilities and won’t get the “new app bump”. I don’t know if the release date trick works for new apps, but I’ve given it a try.
  2. PCalc 1.3, an update to an existing app, is nowhere to be seen, lost in the submission queue. Well, so much for publicising them together.
  3. It’s almost impossible to plan a product release in advance with the App Store. I mean, don’t get me wrong, a three-day turnaround on a new app submission is really good to see. It’s just that it could have easily turned up next year. I was taken by surprise this morning and was scrambling to update the website at 8am.

Ok, let’s back up a little bit and talk about PCalc Lite. My PR spiel for the release says:

Available for a limited time only, PCalc Lite is a fully functional and free taste of our popular scientific calculator for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

It includes an optional RPN mode, multiple undo and redo, unit conversions and constants, as well as two stylish themes and our highly praised design.

If you like what you see, the full version has many more settings and themes, a paper tape, engineering and scientific notation, and full support for hexadecimal, octal and binary calculations.

In the continuing absence of demos or trial periods in the App Store, the idea behind PCalc Lite is to provide something useful and free that’s better than the Apple calculator, but which will also drive interest in our full version. PCalc Lite is a great calculator, but PCalc is even better!

So yes, it’s basically an advert for PCalc, but it’s actually a pretty solid calculator in its own right and miles better than the default Apple one. And did I mention it was free? So, everybody should go and download it. I can say it’s awesome all I like, but just go try it and see what you think yourself.

This is of course, another in a long line of big marketing experiments. I’ve given away something significant with the hope of making more money by doing so. The real question is, have I got the right balance between removing functionality and making it useful, so it doesn’t completely kill sales of the full version?

As the old line goes:

How do you carve a statue of an elephant? Start with a block of marble, and remove everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.

So, I took PCalc and chipped away at all the features. I decided early on to keep the RPN mode which is probably the most dangerous decision. It’s something that makes it quite distinct from the Apple calculator, but it’s also an important selling point to a lot of people. I figured if I took it out, people might say that there’s no reason to download PCalc Lite over the Apple calculator in terms of features. I’d disagree politely, of course. But some of my beta testers expressed the concern that with the RPN mode in there, PCalc Lite does everything they need and they wouldn’t need to buy the full version.

All of the other options are gone, with the exception of the “easier to read digits” option and two themes. I made a new “Twilight” theme to be the default for PCalc Lite, mainly because I needed to create a distinct new icon for it, and wanted them to match. Attention to detail and all that. In the end, I ultimately added the theme as an option in the full version of 1.3 as well, as it looks pretty sweet.

I also trimmed the constants and conversions down by half, taking out all but the basics, and adding a small polite note in those sections saying you can get more in the full version.

Hex, octal and binary modes gone. Tape and stack / register display gone. Two-line display gone. Engineering and scientific notation gone. Even thousands separators. I took a positively Jobsian approach to the removal of options and features.

But the core user interface is all intact, so you should be able to get the feel of the application which I think is very important. Like the way undo and redo is implemented with swipes on the LCD, or the way the parentheses display works. The subtle details that make the difference, or so I hope.

Many of my testers commented that I should keep all the features in there, but if you tapped on anything outside of the Lite stuff, I should throw up an annoying alert saying that it’s only available in the full version.

That’s tempting, but I don’t think Apple would allow it into the store. As it is, I thought I was sailing close to the wind, given that @chockenberry had already told me about the problems they’d had with the free version of Twitterific. I think it might be different for PCalc because my Lite version isn’t ad-supported, it’s just plain free. Or I might have just been lucky.

But it was important to me to make something that was a complete product in its own right, with some gentle upselling to the full version. I’m hoping that decision will make PCalc Lite very popular, perhaps even Top 100 popular in the free apps section if I’m lucky, and I’ll make the sales up due to the sheer number of people exposed to the wholesome PCalc goodness.

I’ve said it’s only available for a limited time, but to be honest, that depends on how popular it is, and what it does for sales. If sales nose-dive from the get go, it’s going to be pretty darn limited. If sales go up significantly, then I don’t see any reason to remove it.

So, today will be spent promoting PCalc Lite, trying to give it a good start in life, and hoping this form of altruistic capitalism pays off. Wish me luck!


Yes, the release date trick works even for new apps! Currently PCalc Lite is on the front page of the new releases in the Utilities section of the iPhone store, though the iTunes view hasn’t updated yet. I expect it will as data gets pushed out to the servers. Ok, now to try and get some press coverage…

UPDATE 2 – 8pm GMT

Oh, App Store, you are so loveably unpredictable! I just got an email there saying that the full PCalc 1.3 release is also now approved and “Ready for Sale”. I’ve never had one of those emails at this time of day before. I wonder if somebody in Apple reads this blog?

Anyway, it’s not appeared on any of the stores as yet, but presumably it will be there soon. I’ll wait before updating pcalc.com though.

Of course, I sent out all the PCalc Lite PR emails about four hours ago, and Macworld has run a story at least so far. I can’t really send out another one now. Will assess the situation tomorrow I think…