Friday, December 21, 2012

Episode 7 - Developer Diary: Locked Up For The Holidays

Today is the big day.

Or should I say the end of days, if you believe the Mayans. It certainly looked, felt, and sounded like the apocalypse when I stepped outside this morning, dodging fallen garbage cans and overturned recycling bins, in a relentless assault of howling wind and rain.

But I made it to work and what I really want to talk about is the other big day. Today, the App Store will officially go into lockdown and us developers will be locked out until December 28th.

If you’ve been following our story, you’ve seen a small indie development company strategically target high App Store visibility with a new app launch and an app promotion right before the expected holiday ranking freeze.

Our game plan paid off, and today our new Marble Math Lite: Multiplication app is a featured iPad Education New and Noteworthy selection for a second straight week, and our Alien Buddies sales are up over 30%.

Even more important than short term rankings and sales spikes, it does appear that our plan to drive up sales of Marble Math and Marble Math Junior by offering the Lite Multiplication version as a free test drive, is working.

One thing we’ve noticed about the iPad App Store featured window space, If you hold your iPad vertically and view the New and Noteworthy picks on the main category page you’ll see that the apps are presented in neat groups of 6 (8, if iPad is in landscape). You have to swipe to get to the next group, for a total display of 18 apps in 2 swipes. There are however 24 New and Noteworthy selections in all. The only way to see the entire collection is to tap “See All” at the top right of the list.

So what, you ask?

Well, every time you ask a user to do something, like swipe, you’re losing downloads because the act of swiping takes effort.

If the user has to swipe and tap - forget it.

Marble Math Multiplication landed on the New and Noteworthy features at position 8 last week which means you had to swipe once to see it, if you hold your iPad like a book, but you wouldn’t need to do a thing to see the app if your iPad was in landscape.

We’re thrilled to still be a New and Noteworthy pick and viewable on the Education category page going into the holidays, but now we’re at the back of the line. It takes 2 swipes to find the app and that means an instant drop in downloads and rankings. We went from #40 to #70 overnight which means a drop-off of something like 300 daily downloads from the previous week.

And if you end up somewhere in the last group of 6, and you can only be found by locating and tapping “See All”, you’ve probably only got a week in the New and Noteworthy holding pen before you're released back to general population with all of the other 70,000+ apps in the Education category that aren’t featured. And I’m pretty sure the holding pen is where you’ll find Marble Math Multiply next week when we return from the holiday break.

But we’re not complaining.

We’ve got a new app set to launch in 2013 and we’ve got lots of hope heading into the Holidays.

We’ll wrap up this diary in January with a full report of life on the inside during the lockdown.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Episode 6 - Developer Diary: Locked Up For The Holidays

How was your weekend?

After a sudden turn of good fortune, we found ourselves strutting around the App Store with the big dogs in the Education category.

It’s exciting to see our marketing strategy and efforts to promote our new app, Marble Math Lite: Multiplication, pay off handsomely in a featured App Store Education window spot.
In an instant, Marble Math Multiply went from New and Not Possible to Find, to New and Noteworthy - and what a difference that visibility makes.

Before the New and Noteworthy feature, Marble Math Multiplication was struggling to stay above the Top 300 fold, averaging around 200 downloads/day, today it’s holding steady at around #40 in Top Free Education apps.

That’s about 1,000 downloads a day.

We also ran our free Alien Buddies promotion on App Friday.

App Friday is a weekly web event and Facebook party, featuring select family-friendly developers and their discounted apps, and it’s been a really good platform for us to mingle with folks who use our apps, as well as other developers.

The simple act of switching your paid app to free triggers the alarm for all of the app price change aggregators, but you also want to reach out individually to reviewers, bloggers and friends in your network ahead of your promotion, to make sure they are prepared to lend social media support.

With the full force of our social media network behind them and a generous push from AppAdvice Apps Gone Free, our little Buddies raced up the charts on App Friday, leaving even Marble Math Multiplication in their dust as they reached exalted Top 10 territory, settling at #7 with only the likes of Mickey Mouse and Toca Boca ahead of them. We waited until Saturday afternoon to manually switch Alien Buddies back to Paid to make sure everyone worldwide had a chance to download the app during the promotion.

Alien Buddies was downloaded over 11,000 times.

It’s always hard to pull the plug when you’re staring at your app in a Top 10 position, and when you do, your app ceases to exist on the charts at all - it falls into a black hole as the charts re-calibrate and that’s when the fear creeps in.

“Will I ever make it back?”

Before the promotion, our Alien Buddies were hanging around in the 250-300 chart range.

Today, they’ve jumped about 100 spots and look quite content around #150.

It remains to be seen whether they can hold their turf higher up the charts. Typically, sales and free promotions are good for a quick rankings injection and a short-lived status bounce, before things settle  back to their natural order.

But sometimes the bounce is just enough to get some extra attention.

With any luck, Alien Buddies will hang on to their new chart territory and Marble Math Multiplication will still be a New and Noteworthy app when the dust settles from the App Store changes this Thursday, before the holiday lockdown.

There it is again - hope.

Without it, we’d be working in a shoe repair shop or delivering pizzas or something.

* The author actually worked in a shoe repair shop and delivered pizzas once upon a time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Episode 4 - Developer Diary: Locked Up For The Holidays

If you’ve been following our Developer Diary, you know tomorrow signals a changing of the guard in the App Store - every Thursday the App Store features get a scrubbing and the stale apps get rotated to the back of the shelf to make way for the New and Noteworthy big dogs.

When we launched Marble Math Lite: Multiplication, a couple of weeks ago, I assumed the established success of our two paid Marble Math apps and the news of a new free app would land Marble Math Multiply on the Top 300 Free Education Charts.

I was wrong.

The plot to launch a free app was designed to take purchase price out of the equation and throw open the doors to parents and educators who really want to try before they buy - and what better way to get their attention than with a shiny new app?

You can always make your app free, but your app can only be new once.

Apple used to give each new app a few minutes of fame at the top of the lists when viewing by release date but with Marble Math Multiplication we suddenly realized that there is no list to view by release date anymore - it’s been eliminated from the iPad (I don’t even bother searching on my iPhone - do you?)

But don’t think for a second that being new doesn’t matter - it’s still your best time to share your excitement with others and entice app reviewers, bloggers, educators and parents to commit their impressions to writing and/or video for all of the world to see.

Marble Math Multiplication may be the first app we’ve launched as a free download straight out of the gate, but we’ve run free promos before and we know it takes a lot more downloads to crack the charts when you’re free - roughly 10 to 1.

So if it takes 20 downloads to get a Paid rank of 300, it will take 200 downloads to get a Free rank of 300 in the Education category.

And it’s hard to see quite how those 200 trigger happy users will find you if you’re choking on dirt, buried below the App Store fold at #301 with over 70,000 other helpless apps.

Apple doesn’t hand out floodlights and mining gear at the front door.

But we had a breakthrough Monday.

A sliver of light.

Marble Math Multiplication finally popped up and made an appearance on the Top 300 Free Charts and it’s been hanging around doing little jailhouse chin-ups above and below the fold, ever since.

It’s not much, but it’s a little bit of hope.

And when you’re locked up in the App Store, sometimes hope is all ya got.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Alien Buddies Kids App - Updated & Free This Friday 12/14!

Stock the fridge with eggnog and put out your finest fruit cake, the Alien Buddies are coming to town!

This Holiday Season we’re pleased to offer our award winning Alien Buddies as a FREE download for your iPad/iPhone - 1 Day Only, Friday December 14th.

And thanks to the latest update, these adorable little critters will look their best on your iPhone 5.

Good looking and Free - it really doesn't get much better.

Please share with your friends and followers (human or other).

Monday, December 10, 2012

Episode 3 - Developer Diary: Locked Up For The Holidays

“Your app status is In Review.”

When I saw the iTunes Store email last Sunday night I was shocked.

On any other day, the email subject “Your app status is In Review” would trigger a harmonious concert of promotional efforts: a press release would fire, app reviewers would receive the signal that something new and exciting had just happened, and our social media army would buzz our network, expertly stoking the fire of anticipation for an attractive upcoming offer designed to boost downloads and get the app on devices.

“In Review” is pretty important - that’s why they use capital letters.

It means your app will be likely be approved or rejected in a matter of hours.

If your app is approved, you’ll get two more emails in pretty quick succession after review, “Your app status is Processing for App Store” followed by the glorious “Your App Status is Ready for Sale.”

I was just finishing dinner with the family when I saw the status for Marble Math Lite: Multiplication change to Ready for Sale.

I didn’t even have a press release ready.

When we huddled a few months ago to map out our strategy aiming for prime App Store Holiday positioning, we decided to launch a new app, Marble Math Lite: Multiplication, and to update an existing app, Alien Buddies.

Marble Math Lite: Multiplication was approved after 5 days in the iTunes review queue.

Alien Buddies v.1.2.2 was also approved after 5 days and went live last night - on a Sunday, just like Marble Math.

This is unusual in more ways than one.

New apps and app updates normally take 7 days for approval, and I’ve never heard of Apple working the weekends for approvals until now.

So instead of longer review times it appears Apple is working overtime to speed things up.

As an app developer you need to learn to sleep with one eye open.

I just finished writing the Alien Buddies press release to go out Friday morning, and we’ll offer the app for free for the day as part of the weekly family-friendly App Friday festivities to boost downloads.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you free promos don’t work.

It’s like an instant shot of app sales adrenalin and can be extremely useful, especially for a quick lift, say the week before Apple locks down the App Store and freezes app rankings.

Just make sure to tip off your social media networks in advance, and make sure you have a solid press release ready to go.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Episode 2 - Developer Diary: Locked Up For The Holidays

Episode 2

Welcome to the second installment of our developer diary, chronicling our efforts to stand out in the App Store during the the Holiday rush and iTunes Connect lockdown.

We're indie app developers making educational games for kids and our apps are consistently ranked in the Top 5% of all Paid Educational Apps in the US.

That's pretty respectable considering there are more than 75,000 active apps in our space.

But we’re still saving for our private island and we still rely on client work to make a living. Our little patch of App Store turf is under constant threat as big brands move in and each day is a fight to hold our rank in the Top 300.

If you’re not in the Top 300, you’re a needle in a haystack and you better be working on your next app.

The Top 100 - these are the big dogs, the Disneys, the Nickelodeons, and the Toca Bocas.

The Top 200 to 300 - this is our turf. We usually have 2 or 3 apps hanging around 200.

And then you have the Editor’s creme de la creme - the collections, the New and Noteworthies, and flavors of the week.

Getting picked can make you an instant big dog.

And guess what.
Apple just made their picks for the week.

And we didn’t get picked.

And we’re okay with that because getting picked by Apple for a featured spot is not a marketing strategy. A marketing strategy works on multiple fronts and takes time to cultivate. First and foremost, a marketing strategy needs an excellent product.

Which brings me to our latest app, Marble Math Lite: Multiplication.
It’s new and free and we think it’s pretty excellent.

Now pay attention:
People (and Apple) like things that are shiny and new.

People (and Apple) like things that are free.

People (and Apple) like things that are excellent.
Marble Math Multiplication is a free app but it’s also a gateway to our two established paid apps, Marble Math and Marble Math Junior, which we also think are pretty excellent.

We know the Marble Math apps are popular in classrooms, but schools and teachers are often reluctant to pay for apps, even with their educational discount.

Of course we have a demo video on the Marble Math website and we’ve got tons of great reviews from reputable sources like and Common Sense Media, and we regularly share news and reviews across our social networks, but some folks really want that test drive.
And we want them to play the game.

And we especially want them to play the game over the holidays on their shiny new iPads.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

App Store Developer Diary: Locked Up For The Holidays

We’re Artgig Apps, developers of educational apps for kids, and this is our experience marketing and promoting our apps in the App Store leading up to, and during, the holiday break.

The App Store developer portal, iTunes Connect, is closed from Dec 21 to Dec 28th, so expect a mad rush as developers scramble to get new apps approved and rank positions locked up before the Store is locked down.

And when I say locked down, I'm talking Alcatraz.

No new apps, no price changes, and no updates are allowed in this period.

So yeah, you better not pout and you better not cry, but more importantly, you better plan your promotions and maximize your exposure now to plan for extended review periods and possible delays before the freeze.

And remember, your App Store rank on December 28th will be exactly the same rank it is on Dec 21.

So you’ll want to look your best when Apple takes your snapshot before the freeze.

Our holiday marketing strategy features 2 primary promotions:

1 - Launch a new free app
2 - Make an existing app free for a day

We just launched our new free app, Marble Math Lite: Multiplication.

And we’ve got another app scheduled for a free Dec 14th promotion.

Stay tuned as we share the highs and lows of our holiday journey, ending with a January recap.

It’s like reality TV without the TV.

Monday, December 3, 2012

New Marble Math Multiplication App Launches! (And It's Free)

I noticed the other night that the lights are up here in town so we figured we better do our part to start spreading some Holiday cheer.

Please welcome the newest member of the Marble Math family, Marble Math Lite: Multiplication.

The icon even looks festive, doesn't it?

So, why don't you cozy up by the fire with your friends and family and download our newest educational app for FREE this Holiday season.

Marble Math Multiplication features the same great gameplay as Marble Math and Marble Math Junior, and it's a fun way to practice times tables.

It also goes well with roasted chestnuts.