Review of Alter v1.0

I released version 1.0 of Alter on August 6th. v1.0 ran for 3 months, with v1.1 being released on November 7th. In this review I’ll look at how the app has performed over the first three months.

I had a few goals for this project, so let’s start with a summary of what I wanted to achieve with the development of Alter[1].

Goals

1. Make the entire product myself.

Although this included the website, video and launch, it was very much an iOS/Cocoa development goal. The apps that James and I have made previously have been a joint effort, but he’s always been the lead developer (he’s considerably better than I am).

I wanted to write all of the code myself, find a solution to every problem, be responsible for refactoring or starting again when it was needed, etc.

2. Make something useful.

I made Alter because a workflow I was experimenting with in another project turned out to be really useful. To me. I wanted an app to do just that workflow – and speculated that others would, too.

Making an app because you want the functionality yourself is reasonable place to start, but I wanted to make something that others would benefit from, too.

3. Make 5$ per day.

This is more of a general goal but Alter is my current development so it applies.

I want to work on an app (or two) that has a tangible user base. An app that people are using, that generates feedback. There’s a reason to develop the next version, to make improvements. And I want those real world problems of balancing user requests with my own design goals.

Something that’s worth continuing.

This is a part-time endeavour for me, something like a hobby. So I also want this app (or two) to be something manageable that I can work on in my spare time, and it’s got be something that interests me.

$5 per day. It might seem like nothing, but that level of sales feels like it might provide the user-base consistency that I’m targeting[2]. This is also unsubstantiated – but I view this as the first milestone. If I can achieve this level of sales, maybe I’ll know enough to work out how to get to the next level.

Something to build on?

Results

1. Development, make the entire product myself.

Result: success.

I completed the project solo, I pushed myself and improved, so that’s a tick. I also really enjoyed it, which is a fundamental part of this hobby-style work.

As I wrote in a previous post, I think design review (or simply, review) is a critical part of product development.

Not only does it (mostly) lead to a better product, it’s a process where others can help you to learn, make you look at things differently, you can be challenged, etc.

I missed that on this project. In this case one of the goals was to do this myself, but in the general case, I think working in a team can be more rewarding.

2. Product, make something useful.

Result: partial-success.

Relative to the number of downloads – the reviews, user feedback and comments and suggestions indicate a level of success here…

I was (pleasantly) surprised by the continued/sustained interest in Alter following the release. A handful of sites wrote reviews [3]. These reviews were then shared, by other sites linking to them and by people, tweeting and re-tweeting the links.

I also had good feedback on the video. The ‘reason to use Alter’ came across well and people acknowledged they could benefit from the app[4].

Again, this statement is relative to the number of downloads: Alter seemed to maintain a level of word-of-mouth spreading, without my involvement.

However, whilst the above might validate the app as interesting, I can’t claim success on making something useful. If the app was truly useful, given the exposure, more people would have downloaded it. And, I speculate, the word-of-mouth would have continued for longer.

Did I undercook v1? With hindsight, probably. I knew I was leaving out some obvious features – and some of the reviews/feedback confirmed this. Alternatively, it might be that the problem solved simply isn’t big enough; the workflow is too niche.

3. Sales, make 5$ per day.

Result: fail.

3 months. 165 sales. $165. Here’s the graph.

Despite the obvious drawback I do find it interesting. If you ignore the y-axis there are similarities between the shape of this chart and that of graphs posted by other developers. Unlike our previous apps, which had a single peak before becoming flat, organic exposure for Alter lasted 3 to 4 weeks and resulted in (small) repeat peaks of sales. That was satisfying.

However, the y-axis does have a value and the numbers are low. To add a bit of context to this consider the cost. From start to finish I spent approximately 35 days working on v1.0 of Alter[5].

How should that factor into this review?

I need to review the goal itself. I’m aiming for small but consistent sales. What were my expectations of the effort that I put in? Did I expect v1.0 of Alter to generate $5 per day?

No.

Honestly, I expected a bigger peak at the start. I thought v1.0 had an interesting approach to a narrow but useful workflow – and I thought that would attract some attention. Alter got more attention than I’d hoped for, yet the number of sales was tiny. It’s either less interesting than I thought or I’m naive about conversion rates.

Either way, I expected (hoped for) a bigger peak. But I didn’t expect consistent sales. I’d already asked and answered this question:

Why should a small, niche app, possibly missing some features, produce a steady stream of sales?

It shouldn’t. It can’t.

I have no means (or strategy) of reaching people. Consistent sales requires consistent exposure. How does that look for Alter?

  • Word of mouth? I think Alter is interesting and it solves a niche problem, but I don’t expect people to be telling their friends they need this app.
  • Internet search? There’s an overview product page for Alter – but I have nothing driving people there.
  • App Store search? I found the keywords for Alter difficult. From my research, those that matched Alter’s capabilities and weren’t hugely competitive, didn’t attract much traffic.
  • App Store feature? The only consistent exposure I could hope for, at this stage, is being featured in one of the App Store lists. But which one? Alter doesn’t compete with the best to-do list and task management apps. ‘Conversion’ apps? Maybe – but it doesn’t wholly fall into that category, it doesn’t have general conversion utility.

I had no expectations of consistent sales for v1.0.

Given that these are side-projects, is my goal of consistent sales feasible? I think yes.

Is Alter the right app for this? I’m not sure.

I definitely wanted to develop Alter, and that part has been a success. No regrets. But is this the application to continue to develop? Do the ideas I have in the backlog solve real world problems? Do people know they have these problems and are they looking for ways to solve them? And, are those people the kind that are willing to pay for software? I’m still thinking this through…


  1. Setting goals. Looking back, this might have been more interesting if I’d written these goals at the start; you’ll have to take my word that they haven’t changed ;).

  2. $5 per day. None of our other apps make close to $5 per day.

  3. Reviews of Alter. CNet wrote a review, AppAdvice wrote a review, and there were reviews from other, smaller sites, such as AddictiveTips and iTopnews

  4. Alter promo video. How important was the video? It felt like the video helped with the launch… I hope to be able to write more about this later.

  5. Development effort. This is a rough estimate: an average of 2 hours per day, Monday to Friday, from January through to the end of July. Call that 5 full time days per month, so a total of 35 days. That includes everything from development, icon, video, website, app store metadata, etc. Note: a more proficient iOS developer could have written the code in less time.

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