Tag Archives: experience

Google Play No Longer Loves Indie Developers

Both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store were built on the backs of independent developers.  The platform was wonderful!  People could easily find exactly the apps they were looking for, and developers could finally reach out to niche markets.  The pay for developers was reasonable, and the cost for users was much cheaper than traditional software.  Life was great.

But not anymore.  Let me share a couple experiences…

unnamedOver two years ago I released my second app to the Play Store, Funny Voice Changer.  My first app, Palette Painter, had a really slow launch, after all it only supported Android 3.0 on launch day which had less than 1% of the market (though it supports 2.2+ now, and is still going strong).  I expected the same slow response with Funny Voice Changer, so I clicked Publish and went on vacation.  Boy was I wrong.

Funny Voice Changer exploded overnight.  It was getting thousands of downloads a day.  In fact, it was too many.  I wasn’t ready for the barrage of ratings, the bugs it encountered, and the emotional roller coaster that ensued.  I gave up on the app after just a couple of months, something I have regretted ever since.

unnamed1I have since learned about the importance of iteration, and finally decided to fix those two apps, and remove that regret from my shoulders.  Yesterday, I finally released the refreshed versions, Funny Voice Changer 2.0 and Scary Voice Changer 2.0.

So how is the launch going so far?  Try a little experiment for me, go to the play store and search for Funny Voice Changer or better yet, use the name exactly Funny Voice Changer 2.0.  Do you see it?  If you don’t, that’s because it is ranked #124 for the first, and #88 for the second.  That’s right you can’t even find your own apps by name anymore.  Note: You will see my Voice Changers from 2.5 years ago in the 1st and 4th places.  You won’t find my new voice changers.

You can’t even find your own apps by name anymore.

Perhaps this is a one time thing?  (Well two technically, since there are two voice changers)  But the same thing happened to me just a couple weeks ago.  I released a fun Hidden Animals game.  My son loves it, and I’m certain other kids would as well.  But the day of the launch I couldn’t find it.  Even searching by the exact name it didn’t show up at all, not in any page, in any search I tried.  I have since tweaked the name and description a bit and have gotten it to show up at about the same 100th place on the search, but not exactly a searchable spot.


So how are they ranking apps via search?  Nobody knows.  Which is probably for the best, otherwise people would game the system.  It is obvious that the title and description don’t help as much as they once did.  So perhaps there is a variety of good reasons they’ve done so, right?  After all,the goal is to provide people with the best apps possible.  So what factors could they be using to rank apps?

Here are a few ideas along with some comments:

– Ratings.  This actually seems like a fairly reasonable way to organize apps.  But I have my doubts that it actually has much of an effect.  After all my previous Funny Voice Changer is ranked #1 and it has a miserable 3.3 star rating.  But worse, even some 1-star apps are showing up higher than my new apps, and these are apps that people obviously don’t want.

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 11.28.46 AM

– True intent.  A user types in “Funny Voice Changer”, but is really interested in any voice recorder out there.  This has a grain of salt to it, we don’t always know exactly what we are looking for.  Though I believe people are generally pretty good at it… but if they are looking for a funny voice changer it doesn’t make much sense to show a face changer.  That having been said, there are a *lot* of voice changers, so I do applaud Google for trying to parse it into something reasonable (assuming the results are reasonable).

– Number downloads.  Once again it makes sense that if an app is downloaded a lot it must be loved.  Though I do argue this should be weighted by how well people *liked* the app after they downloaded it.  For instance, even though this app has 100,000 – 500,000 downloads, something tells me that if you download it, you won’t like it.  This method of course helps either apps that have been in the store for a long time (regardless of worth), and developers with large pockets who can advertise to get a lot of downloads quickly.

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 11.27.47 AM

– App awesomeness.  I think this is a great metric, but how do you calculate this?  The only way I can think would be how pleasing the screenshots, title, description, ect are.  I would love to believe that they’re doing crunching on these to calculate an awesome score, but seeing apps like this and this make me believe they aren’t.

– App life – I’ve heard some people say that uninstalls have a huge impact on your ranking.  That makes a fair bit of sense, and I hope it is something they are doing.  On the other side of things, not all lifecycles are the same.  While some apps like Facebook you may keep on for the long haul, there are apps that may be perfect for an occasion.  Mine are great for sleepovers, others are great for weddings, and others for travel.  But you still should be able to find those apps if you’re in the moment.

– External links/Google magic.  This seems the most reasonable idea.  But it also tends to benefit those with large pockets.  Do you want lots of reviews of your app?  Do you want press releases?  Then open up your checkbook, because nothing is free.  And that’s assuming  your SEO efforts even pay off, it is very likely they won’t.

I don’t know how their ranking algorithm works.  But it is clear to me that as an indie developer it is no longer worth it to invest my time into building creative apps for the Play Store.

I’d love to hear your experiences on deploying to the store.  Has it been the same for you?

Startup Weekend

A week ago I attended my first Startup Weekend in Provo.  The experience was good overall, but for none of the reasons I expected.  And in the end I had plenty of disappointments, even though I was glad I went.

The Ideas

From the onset I was really excited to hear the great ideas from other people.  I have worked on a lot of fun projects, (from Face Morphing to Augmented Reality and from Kid’s Games to Voice Changers).  I have a notepad full of ideas, and always love to hear ideas from other.  So I was super curious to hear each of the different pitches.

But to be honest the ideas I was underwhelmed.  There were only three ideas that stuck out to me as being interesting enough to work on.

  1. Love Journal – This was interesting since the pitch was given by Nate Bagley.  Nate had spent a year of his life interviewing couples to find the keys to a successful relationship.
  2. Draw-A-Doll – Jethro’s idea to turn kid’s drawings into sewn dolls.  I really liked the idea, but I didn’t want to spend my first Startup Weekend working with a friend as I was worried it would taint my experience.
  3. Mouth Music – An idea to turn your mouth into an instrument.  I had all the skills to make the project a success, I’ve worked on voice manipulators in the past, and was probably the most qualified person in the room to make it happen.  It didn’t make it past the first round, but I was apprehensive about repurposing old code I had already written for the competition anyway.

With so many pitches, I was really hoping to hear a variety of amazing ideas.  But to be honest I came away from the first part of the weekend disappointed.  Day to day, I hear a lot of ideas.  It seems like everyone has an idea for an app, and (not having the skills to make it come to pass) they really want to share it with me.  Since I’ve heard so many one minute pitches in my life, perhaps I just set the bar too high.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a variety of good ideas.  But I was looking for both a good idea, and something I was interested in working on.  In the end I picked Love Journal.

The Skillset

After picking the idea of Love Journal, which later was changed to be called the Love Note the work began.  We looked around the room to assess what kind of skill-set we had.  The goal was to build a moderately complex mobile app.  The breakdown of the skills was interesting…

4 Non-Technical
2 Graphic Designers
3 Web Designers (1 of which is new the field)
1 Android Developer… Me.

From the very beginning I was worried about the amount that we would be able to accomplish.  Nobody had mobile design experience, and I was the only mobile developer.  And the main focus was a mobile app.  But I decided to go in with full throttle and accomplish as much as I possible could.

I threw my headphones on and started working my tail off.  Luckily it turned out one of the graphic designers (Richard Austin) had a good handle on the mobile design, and between the two of us we were able to put together a pretty snazzy looking product with nice animations and good functionality by the end.

The Work

In the beginning I was pretty optimistic.  I knew the project depended upon me so I was working my tail off.  For the first 8 hours or so this worked out great.  But as time went on I started to get more and more discouraged.

The first discouragement was realizing I wouldn’t have the proper backend support.  I tasked a couple of the designers with building me one, but they didn’t seem to know where to start.  So I took the task on myself.  But as time went on, and the hours ticked by I started to lower my expectations further and further, and started to add more and more hacks and shortcuts.

My second discouragement came later in the day when much of the rest of the team just stopped working.  The non-technical members had worked hard, but ran out of things to do.  They were goofing around, watching videos, and chatting on Facebook.  All while my stress was going up realizing the amount of incomplete code that still needed completing.  I really felt the weight of the team on my shoulders, but I didn’t feel the support I was hoping for.

The Company

I love competition, and when I go, I go to win.  That was my attitude with this weekend too.  So there was a big disappointment not being part of a winning group.  On the flip side of things I am really glad I went.  I met some really awesome people.  And, the goal for me of the competition was to meet people, so in the end the experience was well worth it.

Honestly, I’d go again in a heartbeat, even with all my disappointments.  As a developer I don’t always get to interface with the non-technical crowd.  Getting to meet them, hear their side of the story, and learning from them was invaluable.  I run a business on the side, and I know that the business lacks in marketing, business strategy, ect.  I know I need to connect with people that have those skills, but it isn’t something that happens often for me.

If getting away for a few days and working my tail off is the only way to get to know great people, then perhaps it is a price worth paying.

The Food

The most surprising piece of the competition was how greasy gross the food was.  I guess I should have expected as much, but the whole experience left me feeling fairly ill.  It really felt gross by the end of Saturday.  I guess I have a good wife that cooks fairly healthy and treats me well better than I deserve; but I can’t imagine others didn’t feel that same way by the end.  It took me the better part of the next week to rebound from the lack of sleep and gross internal feeling.

All in all the experience wasn’t what I expected at all.  I really wish there were better ways to get in contact with potential entrepreneurial individuals.  But I’m not aware of where they may be.  So until then I’ll probably keep attending just so I can meet great people.