Monday, November 7, 2011

Scholarship Winner Korey Lee On the 2011 Business of Software Conference

I sponsored a few Scholarships to the Business of Software Conference this through my business, Moving Average Inc. One of the Scholarship winners. Korey Lee of Sum(All) , was kind enough to write about his experiences at the conference.

Here is what Korey had to say about BOS2011:
Business of Software was engaging, inspiring, and aspirational. Frankly it’s a conference that’s helpful for anyone who does business, even though much of the topical examples are in the technology or startup context. The sheer amount of intelligence, talent, and creativity present was simply stunning. From VCs to internationally renowned high-tech entrepreneurs to old school brick and mortar entrepreneurs, each keynote speaker was clearly hand picked and sequenced day by day with great discernment and care. 
Topics included disruption, people management, hiring, social media, social change, UI/UX design, culture, psychological influence in marketing and many more. Like drinking water from a fire hose, I eagerly wrote as much down as I could in hopes that I could digest everything afterwards.
Josh Linkner’s encouragement of creativity within organizations resonated with me as he spoke to choosing the road less traveled, “playing it safe has become the riskiest move of all.” With technology, the speed of disruption has increased and companies that resist innovation perish. 
Rory Sutherland from Ogilvy provided excellent insight into the human psyche, “attitudes are a post rationalization of our behavior,” alluding to the fact that we change our path of thinking as a justification of our decisions - good and bad.
Aside from the awesome keynotes (which on a sidenote - I never saw anyone doze off in simply because they were so engaging and interesting), this conference was a great opportunity to meet other minds and leaders in the industry. Bouncing off ideas, brainstorming, and getting feedback on product philosophy, market sizing, development strategy, and building company culture was invaluable. As the adage goes, “A smart man learns from his own mistakes, a wise man learns from others mistakes.” I suspect most folks fall somewhere between the two, but I think it’s how we move forward from the mistakes and the learned mistakes of others that makes all the difference.
Through technology, business and software, we all play a part in making the world a better place. At the end of the day, this is not only a noble motivation, but a critical necessity to the improvement of humanity, revitalization of our economy and provides each individual with the realization and fulfillment of visibly contributing to the greater good.
Korey enjoys photography, food & wine, and snowboarding. He is currently building a disruptive technology company in NYC. Be sure to also check out his blog post at Ink Photography.

Thanks Korey!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Impact of Hacker News

When my article about Why Not to Make an iPhone App appeared on the front page of Hacker News, this blog got its largest traffic day ever. In one 24 hour period, there were 6014 visits. It was a lot of fun watching the visitors number explode!

I feel quite fortunate to have gotten that much interest -- especially from Hacker News, one of my favorite news sources. I think many bloggers covet traffic blasts from sources like HN, Reddit, or Tech Crunch. So I thought it would be interesting to look at the analytics of the days before and after my moment in the lime light.

Wow, look at that bump in traffic!

But the interesting metrics here are the average time on site: about 12 seconds overall. About 9 seconds from only. And my bounce rate was around 96%.

It looks like most people never read much of my article at all. It also appears that the majority hit the back button without visiting any other pages on the site - an average of 1.05 pages per visit. 

What About Mobile Devices?

This is interesting. In terms of mobile devices, iPad is the clear winner, followed by Android, and then iPhone. Android above iPhone? Oh yeah, Hacker News. My kind of people. I wouldn't extrapolate this data to the general public.


Out of the top ten traffic sources, Germany had the top average time on site: 21 seconds. The overall leader, however, was Trinidad and Tobago which sourced one visit lasting 17 minutes and 37 seconds.

Thanks Trinidad and Tobago!


Well, based on this one experience, I'd say that the Hacker News traffic isn't very sticky, or terribly interested in my article. I couldn't tell you if the issue was with my content or because of some sort of impedance-mismatch with  Hacker News readers. Perhaps Mobile Apps just aren't their thing.

I also didn't notice any increase in my Twitter followers.

On the other hand, I did get contacted by a few people because of the article, and that's nice. The Hacker News Post also had about 20 comments in it, which I enjoyed reading. You'll notice that my original article had zero comments on it, possibly because nobody made it to the bottom. :)

The final word? Getting featured on Hacker News is a blast. Just don't expect it to magically force people be interested in your writing or your products.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

First Impressions: Zeo Sleep Manager Mobile

I felt quite excited when my Zeo Sleep Manager Mobile arrived in the mail yesterday. I'm definitely not a morning person, and I feel like my sleep sometimes isn't satisfying. The Zeo promises to help these problems by letting you measure sleep quality, and by ringing the alarm at a less jarring point in the sleep cycle. This particular Zeo is a headband which communicates wirelessly to a mobile device.

Since I'm a mobile app developer, I have several different devices to choose from to use as a base station for the Zeo. For my first night with the Zeo, I chose to use my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (Google IO edition, what what!).

Fitting the headband wasn't too hard once I figured out that it could be adjusted with little velcro tabs hidden behind sock-like padding. The instructions in app were not very clear on how that worked. I thought I had an abnormally large head until I figured out the trick.

The first night went well, although I woke to loosen the head band several times to make it more comfortable. The band is comfortable and light once it is adjusted -- at least that is what one night of data tells me.

When I woke in the morning, I found that my Tab's screen was on (but black). I unlocked the device and the Zeo app was showing a nice chart of my sleep.

Oddly the Zeo never seemed to register me being awake at any point in the night -- I distinctly remember adjusting the head band several times. Also, it didn't register that I was awake at the beginning or end of my sleep period.

I tapped the sleep chart hoping to get an enlargement or more detail. Instead of that, the app crashed. I repeated this crash several times. The version 1.0 blues, I suppose. The good news is that I scored a ZW of 94 last night.

Tonight, I have started using the iPad 2 version of the Zeo app. Like the Android app, I was prompted to pair the head band with bluetooth. After succeeding with the pairing, I returned to the Zeo app. The app was unchanged: it still insisted that I pair the headband with my iPad. Huh.

I returned to the settings screen and verified that I was paired. Check. I returned to the Zeo app -- it still gave instructions on pairing. The app offered no buttons to continue, so I killed the Zeo app and restarted. Success! The app now recognized the headband.

Next I decided to sync the iPad app with the service. I entered my credentials, and got a infinitely-long spinny ring for my trouble (note: I didn't actually wait forever). Like before, I killed the app, restarted, and the app seemed to have linked with the service.

Ok, I'm clearly an early adopter here. This thing has tons of issues, but also lots of potential. Here are my suggestions for the Zeo team:

  • Find and squish the crashes and hangs on the Android and iPad. You can rent devices if necessary. I would go through the initial pairing process 100 times per platform at least.
  • Rent a usability lab for a week and have normal people set up a Zeo from box to bed without any guidance. You'll learn a ton -- and everyone will have fun if you do it right.
  • Explain the headband resizing thing with either a ton of photos or a video in the app.
  • Figure out some way to calibrate the Zeo for people who it thinks are never awake. Or maybe that is another bug. Zzzzz.
  • Tell the users that the charger base magnetically attaches to the headband. I was confused (possibly because the magnets are weaker than those used in the magsafe connectors). Photos or videos go a long way.
  • Provide some more real-time feedback in-app when the user is wearing the headband. I want to see my brain doing things!
  • Tell the user a story, or at least walk them down the path of using the app for a week or month. Put it right in the app.
A lot of these suggestions apply to any app or consumer electronics device these days. If you make apps, you can definitely learn from Zeo.

That's all for now. I look forward to trying the Zeo with my iPad 2 tonight. I expect that the Zeo experience will improve a lot once the device has been on the market for more than a few hours.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why Not to Make an iPhone App

When I tell business owners that I make iPhone, iPad, and Android apps, one of the first questions I hear is:

Is it worth it to make an iPhone app for my business?

I've been thinking about it a lot recently, and I think that the answer is usually NO. Your business probably doesn't need an iPhone app.

This sometimes feels a bit awkward. I think many people want an excuse to make an iPhone app, because apps seem clever or high-tech. Lets look at some of the difficulties in creating an app.


You might have a clear vision of what your app would look like, but you also need a clear idea of what your app should do. If you can't explain exactly how the app functions, you probably shouldn't try making one.

All sorts of concepts may or may not work as an app. One way for them to find out is to write a detailed story about what the app would do from a user's perspective.

A sword fighter might write about his app idea:
As the user, I would tap the iFence app and first see a menu titled "I want to..." followed by a list of choices: 
defend myself from bullies, 
impress women, 
attack ships and steal gold, 
extinguish multiple candles impractically but dramatically, 
have a good costume for halloween 
When I tap a choice, a screen will appear which explains whether a sword fighter could help with the situation. In some cases the app will tell me "No, we can't help you with that, that's a bad idea. Please don't try." In other cases, the app will respond "Oh yeah, we can teach you to do that" and then explain how, and provide a way to contact a sword fighter.
After writing down the concept from the user's perspective it's possible to ask questions like "Would it be easy for the user to do this without an app?", or "How likely is it that somebody would look in the app store for a solution to the problem this app solves?"

If you can't do that, or if you can't explain how your app would be different from those apps already in the store, you may not be ready to get an iPhone app developed.


Developing an iPhone app is expensive. Unless you regularly exercise in a swimming pool full of cash, you might find the market rate for contract iOS app development a tad high. I don't have a statistically significant data set, but the rates I've heard are often numbers like $120, $136, $150, or $175 per hour. These are rates for one or two developers working from home or a small office.

If you contract with a team that has an office filling an entire floor of a high-rise and buys lots of ads online and in magazines, expect to pay more. You can find some data about how much it costs to develop an iPhone app here.

More complex iPhone apps typically involve a team of experienced designers and developers working a significant number of hours. Experienced mobile developers are not cheap, and they are often not easy to find or hire. I've personally interviewed several alleged iPhone developers who seemed unfamiliar with basic development practices. Buyer beware.

Also consider design. Although sometimes a developer is a decent designer, it isn't uncommon to have a dedicated designer working on the graphic elements and overall look of an app. Just because your website has graphics doesn't mean they will be suitable for the iPhone; graphics for the iPhone have specific technical requirements and different expected appearances. Mobile designers cost money too.

There are cheaper mobile developers on the low end of the market, but be sure to talk to their clients and see what kind of apps they have in the store. I have heard in one case of a "cheap" shop who failed to deliver a useful product after six months of development and many thousands of dollars of client money spent. The client had to switch developers to get the job done; who knows if they will ever recover money from the developer who failed.*


Expense isn't the only reason an iPhone app might not make business sense. If you have limited resources, you may wish to focus your efforts on a product that will work on PCs, Android devices, ChromeBooks,  MacBooks, and so on -- probably a web app. The market for iPhone apps is large, but web apps have an even larger audience.

Are you really sure that your customers will want to use your service on the go? Will they benefit from the extra features possible in a mobile app? If you already have a web version of your software, what do your analytics tell you about mobile browser usage? Are many of your customers trying to use your app from an iPhone? Are they spending much time on it?

If you already have a customer base and they don't seem to need an iPhone app, be sure that you couldn't better spend your time working on a different project.


iPhone apps have support costs.You may not like getting one star reviews on the app store, or emails from unhappy customers, but it will happen if your app is popular enough. 

iPhone apps will require updates. You will almost certainly change your feature set, and Apple will change their devices. The risk of Apple breaking your app is low, but the risk of you adding a feature or needing an app update is high.

The chances that your users will find a bug in the app is high also. Even fancy, completely competent software developers create apps with flaws. It happens to everybody -- even Apple releases software updates to fix bugs.

Expect to spend some time and money keeping your app up to date. Version one is unlikely to be your last version -- unless your app is a flop.

Market Research

iPhone app market demand is opaque. You might make an app that there is very little demand for. Unfortunately, I know no way of seeing what customers are searching for in the app store. BatTracker Pro might be awesome, but unless someone is searching for bat tracking software, or your app gets featured, you won't make much money.

Online at least, you can research what folks are searching for on google, and you can try Adwords placements without actually having invested much. With the App store, there is some expectation of a nice-looking, well featured app even for version one. An ugly "coming soon" app will almost certainly be rejected by Apple, and will get low scores in the App store.

I have not seen evidence backing this up, but iOS developers seem to believe that releasing a low-rated app initially will hurt your success even after the app has been cleaned up and polished to look and perform like a porsche. I'm not sure if it's true, but it certainly discourages me from releasing an unattractive product for the purpose of market research.

Rejection Risk

Your app might get rejected or banned. Check out the review review guidelines (someone re-published the review guidelines here, but they may not be up to date) Although the app store rules are far more clear than they were in the beginning, there is always a chance that your app might get rejected from the store. You might even be lucky enough to add to the list of banned categories (e.g. fart apps).

Unless your app is cutting-edge from the rules perspective, this is unlikely to keep you out of the app store. Still, it's worth considering the possibility of rejection. Finding apps with similar features to your own is at least some evidence that Apple is likely to accept yours.


I've given you a few reasons why developing an iPhone app might not be as romantic as it initially seems. It mostly boils down to time and money. Or you might call it opportunity cost and expense. Could you spend your limited resources on a project with a higher rate of return?

iPhone apps are no guarantee of financial success; I've had a hand in at least two apps that only bring in tens of dollars per month in revenue. I suspect that better marketing and market research would have helped.

To make money in the App store, good execution and good marketing are a requirement. Just being there won't cut it. In many cases, a "boring" old web app works just as well, if not better, than an iPhone app at generating revenue. This is especially true if you research the demand in advanced of building a product.

Despite these warnings, there are many good reasons you should consider making an iPhone app. As an iPhone, iPad, and Android developer, I'm passionate about mobile apps. I make a living by developing iPhone apps for myself and my clients. There are opportunities to be had in the app stores, but they do require up-front market research and planning to make them a hit. 

*Note that I'm not saying problems can't happen at an expensive contract house. I've head whisperings of work on fixed-price jobs slowly trickled out to too many clients. Think about those construction projects on highways that never seem to have anybody working on them. Software is difficult, and software planning and management is even more difficult. Track records matter.