Friday, March 26, 2010

I'm Going Back to My Droid

Yes, sad to say it, but after only 48 hours with my new Nexus, I'll be going back to my Droid.

The main reason has nothing to do with the phone itself, which ends up pretty much balancing out in terms of pros and cons when compared to the Droid. No, the biggest problem is the network service itself.

Back when I first got my G1, I signed up with T-Mobile. At that point in Lafayette, they had not implemented 3G coverage in the area. I made due with Edge speeds, and not knowing anything else, was satisfied. Right when I switched to the Droid, T-Mobile upgraded the area to 3G, but I hadn't got a chance to see how well it worked in my area.

Now I have, and unfortunately, it sucks. Trying to simply access mobile websites while at home leads to time-outs. So far I tend to get 2-3 bars within the city limits of Lafayette, though yesterday while in a Barnes & Noble, 100 feet from a T-Mobile outlet, the network reverted to Edge. And coverage completely fell apart when leaving the city limits. It was spotty to non-existent for most of the 1-hour trip toward New Iberia.

Needless to say, very disappointing. Either the network has gotten worse since the upgrade, or more likely, I just didn't realize how bad it was until I got service with Verizon. The extra $15/month is worth it for vastly better coverage.

As for the phone itself, the good things about it are still good. The screen is great. I finally got a Google Voice account with the phone. Pinch zooming works, and it is awesome.

However, I have some minor gripes about the phone itself. One, the form factor is slender and cool, but the phone feels like it's going to slip out of your hand. The shell almost feels like teflon. This is one phone that likely would be much better with a cover. I ordered one on the cheap, and I think it will likely make holding and using the phone better. Second, related to the size, the thing heats up, which is reasonable considering the sheer amount of electronics crammed into such a small package. My Droid may also be heating up, but I never feel it, probably because the hardware keyboard shields it.

Also the default indicator light is the one in the trackball, which is much slower and also much brighter than the one on other Android phones, which by default use the same light for charge strength as for indicating that you have missed emails or calls. I thought perhaps this was a setting I could change, but so far haven't seen anything that will let me use my charge indicator instead of the trackball as the indicator light. Minor, but annoying.

Really, though, the phone-issues are minor, and the Nexus is cool and sleek enough for me to choose it as a primary phone, if the network were comparable. Since it isn't, I'm running back into the arms of my Droid.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Just Got My Nexus...Thanks, Google!

As I mentioned a while back, Google has been giving out free phones to top developers. I got mine today...just what I wanted, a shiny new Nexus One. Here it is, fresh out of the box, charging up:

It's a beautiful device...slim, light, and comfortable in your hand. I've been using the Droid since November, and I think the Nexus may become my new default phone.

I found the default animated wallpaper distracting right off the bat, while trying to set things up. Though I did look through the other animated wallpapers, and some are not so busy. I'm trying out the waving grass, which is nice.

I was impressed by how the phone automatically imported and installed apps associated with my Google account. I wasn't aware that information was being stored on a server somewhere, and this wasn't something that happened when I switched from my G1 to my Droid, but it's definitely cool.

I'm sure I'll have more feedback as I get more experience with it. In the meanwhile, I think this was a nice move on Google's part. There's lots of room for improvement with Android, but one thing Google gets is that the success of an OS is directly related to the software it runs, and drawing and keeping Android developers happy is a key part of that strategy.

Thanks, Google. :)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Welcome, Canadians!

I heard a report that Canadians were finally able to purchase paid apps in the Android Market, so I went the developer portal and looked at available countries to sell to, and what do you know? It's true...finally!

I don't know where the logistical hang-ups were that kept Canadians from buying and selling paid apps in the Android Market, but I'm glad they red tape finally got cut.

Polyclef Software: The Year in Review

And what a year it's been.

For those of you who don't know the story, my friend Philip works at Google. Last year he got a G1, the first Android phone, as a bonus at work. He already had an iPhone, so he gifted it to me for my birthday (March 12th). Turns out it was a great gift!

I hadn't heard of Android before then. When I got the phone, I started reading up on Android. I learned there was an app store comparable to the iPhone app store, only it was in its infancy. There were other differences, too: only a $25 registration fee (for life), no up-front approval process for apps, and apps that are written natively in Java. There were issues, too. Lack of a good web portal (which is still a problem). But the biggest downside was that Android was a bit of a gamble. At that point no one was really making serious money on Android (at least, no one was talking about it).

But it seemed fairly low-risk to try my hand at writing a few apps and trying to supplement my meager graduate student stipend with a little extra cash. My first app was TippinTime, a tip calculator. It was a nice first app because it taught me the basics of how the interface elements like text fields and buttons are laid out using XML and at the most basic level how to construct an app in Android. I published it for free, no ads or anything. It's still doing well on the market despite the flood of tip calculators. It has 6961 active installs and a 4.5-star rating.

What I really wanted to do was make games, but first I wanted to explore the basics of how to use elements of the mobile platform. So I made Where Am I?, a simple app that uses the phone's GPS to determine longitude and latitude, calculate distance from the equator, and other basic location information. I made DogWhistle, a simple app that generates high frequency sounds, and JoyBuzz, a simple app that makes a noise and vibrates when you push a button. All this was just to learn how to do basic input/output with various features. But I put DogWhistle up for $0.99 and was instantly surprised that people would actually pay money for it. The retention rate is fairly low, but to date I've made over $600, which isn't bad.

My first attempt at a game was Spades. This turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be, but it was a lot of fun, too. I designed my own card layouts, using variants of the Android mascot as King, Queen, and Jack.

That was a lot of fun.

When I had my first big day of sales, I thought I had it made. Unfortunately, a rival app appeared on the market within the same week. I made another poor decision, releasing a free ad-supported version that was virtually identical to the paid version. Paid sales never got that high again, but I learned some good lessons.

Next came Golf Solitaire, which I split into two apps, free and paid, but was a bit more clever about. The free version has ads, but only the first 9 holes. The full version has all 18 and no ads. People who like the game are willing to pay to double the content. And now the paid version of Golf Solitaire is #1 in paid apps in Cards & Casino.

Last summer was a fairly big gamble. I worked all summer on a project called Relativia, a mobile RPG that required players to physically travel to real-world locations in order enter places like dungeons and markets within the game. The GPS would tell if you were close enough to a dungeon before the game would let you enter. I thought it would be a novel way to monetize apps, by getting sponsorship from business to be featured as in-game locations. I entered the app in the Android Developer Challenge II. It placed in the top 25%, but was not a finalist.

And when I released the app for free on the market, I got a rude awakening. People just about universally hated the idea of having to travel somewhere to unlock game content. Typical comments praised the puzzle combat system and just about every other element of the game except for the mobile aspect. So I pulled it, retooled it, and released it as a non-mobile version called Puzzle Lords, which has a paid and free version. They are both highly-rated, but are not making a whole lot of money. If I put all my efforts into adding content and polishing the game, it could be a hit, but right now it requires more resources than I have. Still, I learned an awful lot working on that game, even if the effort/reward ratio has been much lower than other apps.

Dominoes was the latest big hit. It was fun working on the game due to the challenges faced by laying out dominoes on such a small space. I think I found a good compromise, and lots of users agree. It's still selling 30-50 copies a day and is ranked #5 in Cards & Casino.

Along the way I churned out lots of small utility apps, health and construction-related calculators, the PetBook database for pets, and many others. They don't sell much on their own, but produce a nice long-tail effect, summing to a decent amount each month.

Most recently, I worked with Kenny and Kyle over at In A Day Development to bring Golf Solitaire to the iPhone. Performance so far hasn't been great, but it also isn't a flatline. I'm still optimistic that over time it will find an audience and continue to grow.

I also made a deal with Mobile Stream to bring the paid version of EasyTether to the Android Market, where it's been very successful.

As of this writing, Polyclef Software has 28 apps published on the Android Market:

19 paid, 9 free
9 of those are games, 19 are utilities
2 (Golf Solitaire and Golf Solitaire Free) are ported to the iPhone

Here's a chart of my monthly net revenue over the past year:

This month is projected, and it's looking very good.

Sales are up. Ad revenue is up. And Android is shipping 60,000 phones a day. Polyclef has all kinds of cool stuff in the pipeline, including a whole line of multiplayer games and potentially apps specifically for the emerging tablet market. So stay tuned...this year should be a wild ride.

I leave you with this cool Android cake my girlfriend Laurie made for me for my birthday.

Yes, he is looking into your soul.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Some New Stats

The new year has seen Polyclef breaking some very nice new stats.

Last month the mark for 10,000 apps sold was passed...vaulted over, actually. It's already over 11,000 now.

I started tracking usage stats last September in those apps that require internet access. Recently, both Golf Solitaire Free and Spades Free passed the 1,000,000 sessions mark. That means people have played both of those games over a million times each!

I hope to shatter those and many other records by the end of the year. Thanks to all the people out there who have downloaded and used Polyclef apps!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Use an Android to Android?

This cool article from Wired, about a couple of dudes who built a robot with a G1 as the brains, really got me thinking.

It makes perfect sense to use a mobile phone (at least a fairly open, easily programmable one) as the nerve center of a robot. It's small, powerful, with wi-fi capabilities to communicate with a server if need be, and GPS for localizing.

Cool, huh?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Google Rewards Devs With Free Phones

This was a welcome surprise today.
Due to your contribution to the success of Android Market, we would like to present you with a brand new Android device as part of our developer device seeding program. You are receiving this message because you’re one of the top developers in Android Market with one or more of your applications having a 3.5 star or higher rating and more than 5,000 unique downloads.
That's a snippet from the email sent to qualifying developers today. Did I have a qualifying app? C'mon now. I have 6!

Golf Solitaire Free: 73,605 (4 stars)
JoyBuzz: 17,298 (3.5 stars)
PetBook Free: 9,081 (3.5 stars)
Puzzle Lords Free: 5,957 (4 stars)
Spades Free: 113,727 (3.5 stars)
TippinTime: 11,189 (4.5 stars)

Another week and Dominoes would have also made the list, with 4,836 downloads and a 4-star rating.

Do I get 6 phones? Mmmm...probably not. But I'm happy with the one, and I'd just like to extend a hearty thanks to the folks at Google for this gesture. I'm certainly happy to be developing for Android, and I'm also racking up a pretty nice Android phone collection. I've got my trusty G1, an HTC Tattoo, my Droid, and hopefully soon a shiny new Nexus One. Verizon's service has been nice, but it is a bit more expensive. I'm not locked into a contract, so I may very well head back to T-Mobile with the Nexus One.

Which phone are they sending out? That part is a bit strange. If you're in the US, you randomly either get a Motorola Droid or a Nexus One.

Now, I already own a Droid, so I would very much like a Nexus One. I'm not sure why they didn't just dole out the preferred device on a first-come, first-serve basis. If they have a set number of each they could give devs their preferred device until they ran out, then just give the rest away to those who were the last ones to register. As it is, some devs have already talked of swapping, and someone has already set up a forum to facilitate the swaps. Ah well...a pretty minor quibble with otherwise wonderful news.

How Do You Know When You're Doing Well? When the Competition Sues You!

Gizmodo reports that Apple is suing handset manufacturer HTC (makers of the G1, Nexus One, myTouch, Hero, and Tattoo) for copyright infringement on 20 patents, such as:

The ‘849 Patent, entitled "Unlocking A Device By Performing Gestures On An Unlock Image," was duly and legally issued on February 2, 2010 by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. A copy of the ‘849 Patent is attached hereto as Exhibit C.

As many comments over there have pointed out, the suit looks completely ridiculous, mostly based on the absurdly broad language of the patents. If Apple could show that HTC was engaged in corporate espionage, and snuck into their labs one night and stole a bunch of code and hardware, that would be one thing. But this just looks like a case of "Look! They made a touchscreen smartphone too!"

I would hope that HTC countersues and wins. This kind of practice just seems utterly desperate and frivolous. One the plus side, you can tell that Apple is obviously feeling threatened in the marketplace.

February Recap

Soon I plan to do a recap of my first year selling apps in the Android Market (whew!), but for now I'll just stick to recapping last month...

Unfortunately I'm going to start getting a little vague and cagey about hard numbers. This is because I've started to make deals with other developers, and those deals don't necessarily include publicly disclosing sales and revenue figures.

But I can say that February was Polyclef's best month to date, revenue-wise. The Android Market ranking shuffle didn't have a big impact, keeping my top-performing apps in the top five in their category. Ad revenue has stayed mostly flat, while sales have increased. Historically, ad and sales revenue had been about 50/50, but February saw a shift to over 60% of my revenue coming from sales. I'd prefer that most of my revenue come from apps are a better defense against piracy, and I don't have to worry about finding the best price points, etc. But I'll take the revenue how ever it wants to come.

I'm not doing nearly as well as Edward Kim (see the last post), but I'm getting there. Instead of having a single, high-profile app, I've got a variety of about 20 apps, and I'm using a mixed strategy for revenue. This has led to, and will hopefully continue to lead to, robust, sustained growth.

Stay tuned for the yearly recap, where I'll talk about how far Polyclef has come and what the plans are for the next year...obviously I'm optimistic.

An Android Success Story

Edward Kim has blogged about his experiences with his app Car Locator, after placing 3rd in his category in the ADC2 and being featured in the Android Market.

He says he was making $80-100/day off the app before it was featured. Being featured bumped this up to about $435/day. Now, I'd heard that being featured by Apple in the iTunes store can vault your app into massive numbers, but until now I hadn't heard about any comparable effect in the Android Market. Being featured more than quadrupled his daily revenue, so I'd say that's a pretty nice effect. It does make sense, since the featured apps are the very first thing you see when you open the Android Market app.

None of my apps has been featured by Google, but PetBook did get featured in T-Mobile's Top Picks. Then I only had a free version, and I've struggled with complaints from some users regarding information being saved properly and the photo gallery working right. Here's a graphic of my usage stats for PetBook, and the bump I got from T-Mobile near the end of January (that second bump is from releasing an update).

Around the time of the first peak, I had two $9.00 days from the advertising in PetBook, but within a week I was back down to the norm of about $0.75/day. It would have been interesting to see if I had an active paid version whether that would have translated into some really nice sales, but oh well.

The temporary boost was nice, but apparently nowhere near being featured in the main Android Market. Maybe someday...

Anyway, congrats to Edward. He encourages devs interested in mobile app development to give Android a try. More awareness of success stories is going to lead to much more interest in the platform. I'm generating a very nice income myself...not up to $13K a month, yet, but definitely a self-sustaining income. So it can definitely be done.