Things to know about building an iPad app
Exactly one week ago, I released my very first foray into the app world with Interactive Alphabet for iPad. Creating it was a long and bumpy road and it taught me many things, some specific to developing apps for the iPad and some about creating things in general. I’d like to share with you some of the more fundamental things I wish I had known going into the project instead of realizing coming out of it.
I get a lot of ideas for projects and I tend to try and hold on to them. I want to remain in control, lest the essence of my idea be lost or maligned. I think this is common for designers, it’s an ongoing lesson to learn how to take critique and really embrace it. With this project, I learned that getting good people involved and letting go of my personal vision created a product that is a million times better than anything I could have conceived on my own.
It started first with the developer, Matt Smith who is an amazing developer but also just an awesome guy. He balanced my “artist” ways out by asking all the hard questions and keeping me on task with the things I needed to do. He brought a level of management to the project that really wouldn’t have been there if I was in complete control. His involvement really made me take the project more seriously and indeed it made for a more serious product. He drives hard for quality and doesn’t want to settle for anything less than the absolute best we can do and that really helped me to step it up.
Up until a little over mid-way through the project I had recorded the music for the app on my ukulele. I am not a musician by any means but I was able to find a couple chords on my uke that sounded not bad together and we rolled with it. We were also using random clips we could find on the internet that were free for the sounds effects. Along came Shawn James Seymour aka Lullatone. Both driven by an interest in ukulele, our worlds collided. I got him involved with our music and sound effects and holy crap did he revolutionize the audio quality of the app. I had a certain amount of pride in that I had done the music, but if I had stuck with it we would have had sub-par music and stock sounds.
About half way through development on the app and around version two of our feature set we had settled on the name “Alphabot Flash Cards” for the app. We arrived at this title not without a fair amount of deliberation and discussion and even research. It seemed an apt choice with our robot mascot and Alphabet focus. I googled “Alphabot” many times and always found the Canadian Electro band Alphabot!. I thought we were good to go and we didn’t look back. Not until a few days after we had submitted the app did I google the exact phrase “Alphabot Flash Cards” and you know what I found? An iPhone app named exactly “Alphabot Flash Cards” with an almost identical feature set to that version two of our app. I was completely floored. It totally took all the wind out of my sails, it was shocking. We had to reject our app and quickly come up with something else to call it.
During this rehash we realized something. It seemed this little iphone app was near impossible to find. I had trouble getting it to show up in iTunes searches and it seemed to have hardly any search result presence. It was then when it really sunk in that Descriptive > Abstract. We had moved quite far away from the feature set we had when we came up with Alphabot, and thankfully far away from the features of the “real” Alphabot, and it made total sense to revisit the name. We came up with super descriptive “Interactive Alphabet for iPad” and it seems to have really payed off. We’re now in the top searches for “Alphabet” and “ABCs” in iTunes and even have some good search results for like terms. Bottom line: Google everything you can think of in any configuration you can think of and more. You need to know the waters you’re sailing in and know them well.
It Will Take Longer Than You Think
Always go for the ultimate best product you can muster. There are plenty of “ok” and “good enough” apps in the store. Don’t drown in the sea of mediocrity, you’re better than that. Take your time, apply yourself, and achieve something. When we first started this project we thought just maybe we could release around the time the iPad was actually released. Could we have made that date? Possibly, but it would have been one lame app. We constantly asked ourselves “Is this an outstanding app, will we be extremely proud of this when it is released?” The answer was almost always “mmm, maybe not quite” and we would continue to refine and polish. Now looking back at the first few versions of the app I can’t believe how much ground we covered, and I am so much more proud of the app as it is than I would have if we’d released before. Great things take time, lots of it, but it’s totally worth it.
This one I learned quite recently and is tied closely. Despite our best efforts to stay aware of what was going on around our launch date, we failed to think of one thing. Back to School. We launched mid-week with a fantastic welcome. In less than a day and a half we had reached #2 in Education. This was great until Thursday night. Apple started a Back to School apps promotion, filled to the brim with apps in the Education category. Apple wasn’t the only one, a lot of people were into this category as kids were gearing up for school time. This really tanked our rankings since our app is not really for school-age kids and Apple failed to invite us in their little promotion. Now, what could we really have done? If we had thought of this factor we might have tried to avoid the back to school period for a release and tried to launch earlier. It all just comes down to trying to stay abreast of all the factors around you. It’s not enough to think just about your app’s competition, keep a weather eye out for things you wouldn’t necessarily think about.
These things I learned on the development road and while that is mostly over, the iTunes store game is in full force and is teaching some more lessons. I hope to continue to document this crazy journey. Next I’ll blog about our launch strategy and how we think a “soft-launch” helped us in our crucial first days.