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.

Author: James Thomson

Indie iOS / Mac developer, maker of PCalc and DragThing. Occasional writer, conference speaker, and podcast pundit.

5 thoughts on “Go Towards The Lite”

  1. One thing I’ve heard many reports on is that you can’t have options ‘grayed out’ and suggest to the user that they’ll have to upgrade to the full version to use it. The ‘Lite’ version has to be complete in that everything displayed has to work.

  2. It feels to me like an Xbox Live Arcade game model would be good where developers could make an amount of content available for a certain amount of time/ number of uses before a user was required to upgrade their product. It feels like it would be easier for people to convert to paid customers that way rather than have to go out of the app, to the app store, search for the app, enter password and then buy.

  3. I have a light version of my Converter unit-conversion app called Heat. It contains the full interface of Converter, but with only the temperature conversion panel; the tab bar that’s normally used to switch functions is replaced by a toolbar with a button to display an ad for Converter. Apple accepted it without any problems, and it’s seen 35,000+ downloads so far, with an aggregate rating of 3.5 stars.

    On the other hand, I never saw any convincing evidence that it actually helped sales, which is sort of the point.

  4. My 2¢:

    I agree that eliminating the choices for layout and theme and the 2-line display make sense for a Lite version. RPN should stay because I suspect many prospective buyers are RPN users and they will want to test it out. For similar reasons, I think one of the Hex/Oct/Bin modes should probably stay. I’m not a programmer, but your implementation of those modes seems very nice to me (especially seeing them all on the stack at once) and a strong selling point for people in the market for a programmer’s calculator.

    The cleanest way to eliminate functionality is to drop the 2nd key and all the functions it turns on. You can get the gist of PCalc without them. Same for Radians.

  5. Why not keep all the same functionality, but remove the C button – that way everything works but it becomes a pain to start a “new” calculation – you’d have to do “- X” when the display is showing X to get back to zero.

    Sort of annoying, and yet able to show off all the features you’d be getting for your money were you to stump up the readies, plus the smallest amount of code changes (versus your other suggestions of changing the LCD / theme variety / conversions etc.). And for those too tight to pay for the real deal (there will always be some people in this category) then they can carry on awkwardly (working around the lack of a C button) “for free” (if they class their time as being ‘unlimited and free’ that is)

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