Developing Apps As An Indie

Jared Sinclair makes some of my favourite apps anywhere – Riposte and Unread. I like how interactions are taken place in the app, like the gestures, the sloppy swiping and the thoughtful design architecture.

If there’s a single word to describe them, it’s fun.

Unread recently hit its first anniversary. How fast time flies, I remember it seemed only a while back that Jared was talking about his intention of making an RSS reader. The initial launch of Unread was generally well-received, with many in the tech sector giving it a thumbs up.

I was attached to Reeder at that time. To my memory, Reeder 2.0 was released not too long ago and I was very pleased with it. It would take a lot to lure me away from such a quality RSS reader. I didn’t expect much from Unread, except to give it a try and see if it sticks with me. I honestly don’t think I will toggle between two different readers, so either Reeder or Unread will warrant a space on my home screen.

The first couple of days were spent getting used to reading on Unread. Whitney as the typeface is terrific, it slows me down and it’s a nice break from the system typeface on Reeder. It pulls the emphasis on getting through the feeds and puts the focus on actually reading the content. And that was what bothered me. I was used to skimming through the feeds, reading the headline and scrolling through the feeds fast. That was my way of absorbing news from many sources. On hindsight, I read (glanced) through a sizeable amount of information but that was just shallow words flowing through my eyes, without me giving them much thought.

It took discipline to be able to properly read the feeds. I did a bit of housekeeping and unsubscribed to blogs I can live without. The excess, the unnecessary are all left behind. It’s not just a new reader, but Unread has me trimming the fats and keeps the body lean and healthy. After a few more days, I have gotten to this diet of unhurried reading style. Though Reeder is still a wonderful app, but it’s now sitting in the folder for the foreseeable future.

Jared Sinclair has always been very open – from the moment he chose to make Unread, to the thinking process behind the Unread iPad app. Recently, he wrote about the sales on Unread. It’s a honest, fully transparent way of revealing his revenues. He talked about the shortfalls of making an app (successful) as an indie developer, and offered many valuable learning experience from his perspective.

The lesson to be learned from Unread is that even if you keep your costs low and your quality high, the immense scale of the App Store — 100 million credit cards — is deceptive. From the outside one might assume that an indie dev with a quality product could “fail” her way to a sustainable paid-up-front app business. The reality is that App Store sales patterns rarely support such a developer. True fans will buy her quality app within the first few days, then never give her any money again. The rest of her time will be spent trying to convince a few more users to become true fans, repeating the same short-lived, one-time purchase.

Loyal users will always be keen to purchase things from their favourite developers. But the question is, is this base of fans big enough? Or is the opportunity cost better spent creating apps on the Mac platform, where they are priced higher, and charge for updates.

Tyler Hall responding:

Well, it’s my experience that you CAN build a sustainable software business selling to consumers as an independent developer. You just can’t do it in the App Store any longer – if you ever could.

You need to start building for the Mac, where you can charge a fair price, sell directly to your customers, and charge for upgrades. Even then, success won’t happen overnight. But it is doable.