Posted Thursday, February 24, 2011 by Nigel Sampson
An avid reader of startup blogs I've always enjoyed reading about the companies that are completely transparent about their numbers, how the company is going and the history for those numbers. There are some great lessons that can be learned from other companies when they do this. So I thought I'd do the same for the first three months of my first app To Do Today.
A bit of history first, To Do Today was originally written with the idea of building my first app in a relatively known domain and to get my feet wet in building and releasing an app into the marketplace.
I released the first version around the 11th of November 2010, not long after the launch of the phone. Thankfully with a decent emulator released before launch I had a good head start to build what I considered my Minimum Viable Product, a very simple task manager, no categorisation or anything I'd consider advanced.
At launch the things that I thought made it unique was that it the app that fit the closest with Windows Phone 7 "Metro" design language and had some usability short cuts to let users select "Today", "Tomorrow", "This Week" etc. as due dates.
About two months after launch (early January 2011) I rolled out the first major update (1.2) including recurring tasks as a feature. It was one of three major feature requests I was receiving via email and given no other task app in the marketplace supported the feature I felt it was the obvious choice to concentrate on.
In late January, early February I released the next major update (1.4) that added categories for tasks, I've been receiving positive feedback for both releases and the average review score has been climbing.
In total To Do Today has been downloaded 1,150 times in the last three months 234 of those have been paid downloads. The history of the trial vs paid downloads is as follows:
The initial trend that jumps out is the spike in downloads in the first month after launch, followed by a decline to a another steady rate, although in the last month or so daily sales figures are rising again. An interesting note is the complete lack of Christmas bump, I'm not sure why that is.
From what I can see the inadvertent price change in early January (discussed in What went wrong) and no effect on sales.
The latest version update looks to have had a positive effect on sales, I'm crossing my fingers that this continues.
What went right
Looking at the numbers you'll see the conversion rate from downloading the trial (which is limited to four tasks) is hovering around 20% which I'm really happy about. Hopefully I can keep the conversion rate going as the marketplace increases in volume.
Given the market size of the phone users, the fact that the app hasn't been featured by Microsoft or any major website the numbers fall in line with my expectations when compared other platforms in similar situations.
The "Metro" design of Windows Phone 7 really appeals to me and for someone with limited design skills a lot of the resources available allow one such as me to build something that looks like it fits in with the rest of the phone. I believe a lot of initial sales were driven by this.
The decision to reorder my feature priorities and release recurring tasks in the first update was the correct one. I believe getting recurring tasks out as a unique selling point (at that time) was beneficial.
The marketplace submission process has been fairly painless, the average turnaround on any submission was around 48 hours. There were a couple of rejections, initially frustrating but I think some of the feedback from the rejection made the app a better product.
What went wrong
One thing that got the best of me is that the Windows Phone marketplace doesn't pre-populate the update forms with the existing details of the application. You have to re-populate all your tags, descriptions, categories and so forth.
This was where my attention to detail slipped and I posted an app update in the wrong category with the wrong price. The unfortunate extra detail on this is that the default category is Games / Puzzles, so suddenly my app moved from the standard menu into the Games hub. As soon as I noticed I pushed another update, in total it was placed incorrectly for about six days.
I'm not entirely certain whether the shift in category is related, but by the time it made it's way back to the Productivity category it came in about fifteen places lower in the category and as since slipped further down the lists.
The price change was the other missed change, I had accidentally upped the price from $1.99 to $2.99, I noticed this pretty quick but decided to leave it as an experiment. It hasn't had an adverse affect on sales, but I may lower it again to see if it has a positive affect.
At the time of wiring To Do Today received 21 reviews with an average of 6.95 / 10 according to the marketplace aggregation website on Windows Phone Geek. One thing you'll notice a number of 0 / 10 reviews with comments that don't warrant such a harsh score. This I believe is a side effect of the Zune software where people are entering comments without posting a rating and therefore rating it a 0.
Quite frustrating and no real way for me to deal with it. Looking at iOS and Android sites there doesn't seem to be any better ways to deal with negative reviews in other marketplaces once they're posted, but there are strategies to prevent them.
A great point of difference for WP7 are the Live Tiles on the home screen, being able to display useful information in those tiles provides a fantastic feedback mechanism and can add real polish to an app. A task management app really lends itself to a Live Tile as well. Unfortunately my attempts have been hampered so far in adding one, I've covered the technical reasons why in "Why To Do Today doesn't have a Live Tile".
So what have I learned from the process so far?
The first is to check, double check and triple check the details of any submission to the marketplace, a stupid mistake by me here certainly cost.
Provide easy in-app mechanisms for users to send you feedback. This will give you a way to start a dialogue with a frustrated user that would be impossible if they just left a negative review. During the latest update I ensured the support email address on the about page was clickable, this tripled the amount of email feedback and I haven't had a negative review since.
Where to from here?
From a functionality point of view I think To Do Today is pretty much complete. If the capability to add decent Live Tiles becomes available I'll certainly be adding that. Otherwise the most requested features are different integration points which I'll be leaving out for the moment. The goal being a simple stand alone app.
In terms of my next app I'm currently in the process of brainstorming that.
What I'd like to see
In terms of the marketplace I'd love to see better access to sales figures, compiling the above graphs was such a pain in the ass. Also populating updates with app details would be nice.
On the technical side, better Live Tiles, more integration with phone software and hardware would go a long way to being able to create better apps.
Posted Saturday, February 12, 2011 by Nigel Sampson
One of the major feature requests I get for To Do Today is for Live Tile functionality, I've even received zero reviews because it doesn't have this functionality (that's a whole different issue). Live tiles are one of the major selling points for the Windows Phone 7 and a task list management application lends itself to an updating live tile very easily. It's something I put on my original feature list for version 1.0 before I started building the application, yet after two major updates it hasn't been added. Why?
The short answer is, a very limited API that really holds back what applications can do with live tiles and ties them very closely to your phones data connection.
Now for the longer more technical explanation:
The functionality I'd been keen to add would be to display the amount of tasks due that day as part of the live tile, possibly highlighting the tile if something is overdue.
A live tile consists of three pieces of information, a title, an image and an count and currently there are two ways to update a live tile, each with their own restrictions and caveats.
Push Notifications are where a server run by the application developer sends a notification to Microsoft's notification servers which then send it down to the phone. One flavour of push notification is the tile notification, this lets you update all three parts of the tile relatively easily.
The major problems with this approach is the use of a third party server owned by the application developer that would store the date required for the notifications, all for the sole purpose of updating the tile on your phone. It would be a massive waste of your data connection shuttling data up to the cloud to send back notifications to update the tile.
A slightly less data intensive approach is to have the phone send notifications to Microsoft to send back to the phone (sigh), this still has issues for me with the data connection requirement. By this I mean that if your phone doesn't have it's data connection active then the tile won't update which is stupid in my opinion for the required functionality.
Shell Tile Schedule
This piece of functionality allows you to set up a schedule for the tile to update, the smallest increment is hourly and can happen once off or until its cancelled. This API can only update the live tile image and not the title or count. The image we're updating the tile too must be a remote image so again we're requiring the data connection and will be a static path.
This works well for say weather applications, where you can point people to something like a "New York weather image" and have the schedule refresh the tile to that image each hour. On your own server you'd replace that image with one representing the current weather in New York. Works very well since you're serving up the same image to many users and for data that's been determined by something on the cloud.
This fails to work well for To Do Today for a number of reasons, the scheduled update isn't granular enough. It can take up to an hour for the tile to update and still requires a data connection.
What I'd Like To See
A simple API where I can make one off instant updates to all properties of the tile that in no way requires a data connection. That's all that's really required.
One thing I haven't dealt with is dealing with the date, the tile should update on day change to the new amount, realistically this will only be possible with some sort of multi tasking functionality.
At the moment all this functionality is possible as it all mimics features in the built in Calendar application, it's simply not available to the average developer.
I really hope a lot of this changes as they're a great selling point to any application and the phone in general. Let's hope Microsoft lets us make better use of them.