Transitioning from Mac to iOS
When Inkist was released last May, I wrote this blog post about its creation which may be worth revisiting. In short, Inkist is how I envisioned drawing on a Cintiq (or other drawing tablet) should be. Of course, there are many people like me who enjoy drawing, but don’t have the money to buy an expensive specialized piece of equipment like that. iPads, however, are commonplace, general purpose devices that are ideal for both amateurs and travelling professionals.
Though it’s usually a terrible idea for a Mac and iPad app to share an interface, the iPad (right) tools are little changed from the original. Since the Mac app was meant for use with pen input, it was already well suited to an iPad stylus. The buttons are based off a larger 50 point grid rather than a 30 point grid due to the fact that fingers and iPad styluses aren’t as accurate devices as Wacom digitizes, but the overall organization is unchanged.
The toolbar is a bit unusual for an iPad app. Drawing apps currently on the App Store try to minimize the screen real estate taken up by the tools in order to dedicate as much space as possible to the drawing itself. As understandable as this is, switching brushes, colors, and layers while drawing is common and needs to be easily accessible. Rather than tapping a button to reach those controls, Inkist keeps them on screen making the process faster. There is some tradeoff with drawing space, but it’s a tradeoff I wish more apps would make. iPhone’s small screen necessitates hiding features behind taps and iPad apps seem to follow suit either without enough consideration as to how much can be displayed, or in attempt to create an uncluttered look without regard to functionality.
As mentioned in my previous blog post, brush feel is of top priority for Inkist. For the most part I’ve been successful in transitioning this to iPad. With standard styluses and finger strokes, brush strokes will have a slight fading in and fading out, using the light and strong brush pressure parameters as guides. Thankfully, several third party manufacturers have begun releasing styluses using bluetooth which can report pressure information. At launch time, Inkist will support the Pogo Connect stylus with support for other pressure sensitive styluses being planned. The feel still isn’t quite as good as a Cintiq, but it’s a pretty good approximation.
Inkist for iPad is nearly ready for release on the App Store. More information on both the Mac and iOS version can be found at http://inki.st/
And the effect of App Store promotion
No matter how good your app is, you need exposure. Reviews in prominent publications and popular blogs mean a lot, some exposure can be bought through advertisements, but nothing kickstarts app sales like some promotion from the App Store itself.
How does one get this promotion? The process is opaque, but since I had no communication with Apple about Gridditor whatsoever before receiving the email requesting art assets, I can only assume that someone checks over new apps for promising candidates. Editor’s Choice/App of the week promotion requires you to send Apple some artwork given their specifications for the banner, usually with a very fast turnaround time. Getting it done in time can be trying, but the excitement of a big feature is more than worth it. “New and Noteworthy” and “What’s Hot” placements on the other hand occur without any communication whatsoever, and are always a pleasant surprise.
Apple updates the App Store features at approximately 3pm (New York) on Thurdays, so the the banner isn't visible for the full day. This is why sales rise on the second day.
My strategy, which I used before with Inkist, was to release at a discount ($0.99) during the feature to prioritize downloads over profits and hopefully get some word out, then to increase the price to the final $1.99 the following week. Does this strategy work? Unfortunately, there are far too many variables for me to know how much of a difference this makes. It’s possible that the vast majority who purchased in the first week at $0.99 would have still purchased at $1.99 and I’ve simply missed out on a large amount of profit. It’s also possible that the best way to launch an app is free, as Filterstorm was, in order to get that critical mass of initial users with which to spread the word.
In fact, launching as free was my initial plan, but Apple advised me to not change the price during the feature. I was too worried about missing out on profit from a full week of banner promotion to go through with it.
Regardless as to which strategy for launch is best, the power of promotion is clear. With the banner promotion I was averaging 2,400 sales a day, in “What’s Hot” that number dropped to 900 (though there was also a price increase), and the week after that went down to 215, a number that would surely be much lower without the reviews and buzz prompted by the initial feature.
Though it sold better than Filterstorm at launch, Gridditor’s sales have since slipped below those of Filterstorm. Several localizations were added to Gridditor (on 2012-10-26), which should provide some help, and I’m planning some advertising, too. It’s still unclear how Gridditor will perform in the long term, but I think there’s a large market for this type of image editor and will keep pushing.
Gridditor’s promotion marks the second app launch in a row for me to get a big banner on the App Store! Thanks Apple! I hope everyone likes Gridditor. If you haven’t purchased it yet, you can buy it here [App Store Link].
Filterstorm is overkill for most people—and it should be. It was meant to be powerful, and though I try to make it as easy to use as I can, power necessitates complexity. Gridditor is the opposite. It’s the app I can tell all my friends to use regardless as to whether or not they know the first thing about photography. It is meant to be fast, easy to understand, and in some respect to teach by forcing people to look at how each filter behaves and interacts with others.
The basic premise is simple: arrange thumbnail previews in a grid, and let the user choose which one looks best (tapping on any thumbnail will bring up a larger preview). Lather, rinse, and repeat until satisfied. To generate the grid of thumbnails, I assign one filter to each cardinal direction. By default, up is contrast, down is vibrance, left is darkening, and right is brightening. If you choose a thumbnail directly to the right from the center you get that one filter, in this case brightness. If you go in two directions—say, up and to the right—then you’ll get both the brightening and the contrast filters. After a choice has been made, four new filters are pulled in at random. If the user doesn’t like the filters chosen, they can be specified manually, or a new group of random filters can be pulled in by selecting the center/unmodified image.
By showing a big grid of choices rather than having the user select a filter and control its strength, more options are shown at once, unexpected possibilities can arise. It also allows for very quick choice and is great for making some minor adjustments to an image before uploading it to wherever it’s headed.
I’m very excited to get Gridditor out onto the app store, and it should be available in the next couple weeks or so. In the mean time you can see the website, including a video of Gridditor in action on iPad at http://gridditor.com
My Experiment With Free
Filterstorm started big. It was a free app at the time of iPad launch, and thanks to an early staff favorites feature, it hit number 11 on the free apps sales chart. The reason I launched it as a free app wasn’t business savvy (though in hindsight I’m glad I did), it was simply that I had developed Filterstorm without access to an iPad and I didn’t trust it to run properly — and at first it didn’t.
Inkist’s launch was a very different story. I set the price where I wanted it to stay, and simply released it hoping again that word of mouth would spread it. Of course, it turns out there are fewer mouths to spread the word when people have to pay $9.99 to get the app. I did have a big banner feature which helped, but not enough.
It seemed I needed something more. My first thought was a demo version, something that expired after 30 days you could get from the Inkist website. I like going through the app store, though, and demo versions don’t work for that. So I decided to go in a different route, by which I mean “shamelessly copy from Autodesk’s strategy with Sketchbook”.
Sketchbook Express is a free version of Sketchbook which flattens the images when they’re saved (there are probably other limitations, but that’s the only one I’m aware of). That seems to me to be a good way to do things, give people a good taste of the abilities of the program but with enough limitation that people will want to upgrade.
I thought about doing the same limitation as Sketchbook Express, but having a flattened image on save would hurt people who start working on an image in Inkist Lite and want to finish it when they upgrade to Inkist. Instead I simply set a limit of 3 layers available to the user. This makes it a powerful enough app that people can get real use from it, and many may want to stick with the lite version, but limited enough that more serious users will all want to upgrade to the full version.
I think there is a danger that I’ve made the limitations too loose and most people will be happy with Inkist Lite, but as Filterstorm is the vast majority of my income, this is a risk I can afford to take. If I’ve played it right, hopefully I’ll see the word spread and sales of the full version will go up, too.
All content © Tai Shimizu unless otherwise indicated.