Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The times they are a-changing

I've started a new blog post multiple times the past week or two, but unfortunately I keep getting distracted by other activities. It has been a very busy couple of weeks. I have several topics I'd like to blog about. Rather than cram them all in here and end up with a 40 page blog post that no one will read I will just be posting a quick overview of what has been happening lately. Then, I'll circle back and dive into more detail about a few topics. Sound good? Great.

Android Market Featured App List
Remember my last post about my sudden traffic spike? It turns out SemiSilent was added to the Featured Apps list in the Android Market. I stayed on the list for a little over two weeks. During those two weeks SemiSilent's growth exploded. It launched from the 1,000-5,000 grouping up to the 50,000-250,000 grouping in the first week. I got a lot of exposure and feedback (helpful and...well not so helpful) and overall I had a lot of fun. I fell off the list because of a mistake that, looking back, is pretty obvious. I'll go into more depth here later. I'm hoping to make it back onto the featured list, but luckily growth hasn't totally stopped. In part because of the exposure I had gotten already, but also because...

SemiSilent was written about on Lifehacker
Yesterday Lifehacker had a nice article describing SemiSilent and talking about how it allows you to pick and choose people from your contact list who are allowed to reach you at all times. First, let me just say getting something of mine talked about on Lifehacker has been a goal I've had for a while, so I was rather excited. It also led to a good chunk of traffic. Several more stories and tweets popped up once people read about my app on Lifehacker. All this led to a lot of attention I wasn't planning on.

Update to SemiSilent
Following feedback from several users I released an update to SemiSilent last weekend. Spoiler alert, this is a big reason I'm no longer on the featured list, but more on that later. The update is a good one. It adds the ability to move SemiSilent to the sd card and the ability to change ringer settings for incoming white listed calls. More updates are in the works, but this one is a solid step forward.

SemiSilent Pro is out
The last big news of the week. I finally released a pro version of SemiSilent (which some people are calling the second biggest news of Sunday night). I had received emails asking for a paid version, either because people didn't like ads or because people wanted to give money towards my app. It's a great feeling when people want to give you money because they like your work. The main difference with SemiSilent Pro is that there are no ads and you get an on/off toggle widget for your homepage. When I started with this I thought the widget would be a nice bonus. Honestly, after using it for a day or two, I don't think I can go back. I think people that use SemiSilent a lot will really appreciate how much it streamlines the app. I know it only saves a click or two, but I really like how it turned out.

In conclusion
That is an overview of all the high points I remember from this past few weeks. It's been a lot of fun getting the traffic spike, and hopefully the growth continues. I have a list of features I'm looking to add in the coming weeks and months. Also, as things stabilize here I'll probably start looking to my next app. That's probably a ways off, but it's never to early to start planning. I'll do my best to post follow-ups or insights for some of the things that occurred that people may find interesting. As always, if you want reach me directly, I can be reached at Josh@Lyote.com.

Monday, April 18, 2011

After a long silence...

First of all, I'm sorry I've been away so long. Life/work has gotten in the way. I just wanted to throw a quick post up here to let you all know that I haven't abandoned this blog.

First of all, I have a new beta build of SemiSilent that is being tested as we speak. It included some deeper changes, so I'm trying to get it tested on as many devices as possible before pushing it out. Since some people actually use SemiSilent I'm very paranoid about pushing something that breaks it for my users. Also, with the current form of the Android Market, a few days worth of bad reviews can really sink an app going forward. With that in mind, I'm hoping to push the release after soon Easter.

Secondly, I've seen some really nice traffic spikes in the downloading/usage of SemiSilent. The first spike I saw started in late March because of a few blog posts, like this one, that said it was an impressive Android app that gives you control over who you talk to and when. There were others out there too, but that's one of my favorites.

The second started today. When I saw the stats at my lunch break I thought it was just a momentary spike, but then it just kept on going. As I watched it grow this evening (I checked every 15 minute, my wife can testify) I kept waiting for it to hit a wall. As of this post, it still isn't slowing down. This is great, but I don't know what is causing it. Google/Twitter have turned up nothing, and yet my numbers continue to climb. It's a great problem to have (one of my friends correctly tagged it #firstclassproblems) but I'm still very curious. Below is a chart for SemiSilent's last month worth of traffic. As you can see, today has blown every other day out of the water. The other amazing thing is the graph is only as of 7pm today. There are 5 more hours until the day is finished, yet the numbers keep climbing!

Please don't think I'm trying to brag. I'm just excited so many people are using something I built and, hopefully, they find it useful. I will get the next update out as soon as I can recruit some more devices for testing. In the mean time, let me know if you have any thoughts, opinions, or feedback. I've received some so far and I really enjoy it. You can reach me at josh@lyote.com

Sunday, February 13, 2011

SemiSlent: Week 2 Recap

SemiSilent's second week in the wild has been better then the first. It was featured on a few blogs, which is exciting. That extra publicity also helped increase the traffic we've been seeing, which is always a good thing. Radio Android wrote up a nice review, calling it "a very useful notification app" and SemiSilent also appeared on 101 Best Android Apps. Also, Radio Android wrote up an article on me for their Developer Soapbox section. It's titled (appropriately) Developer Soapbox [Josh Reed].

The most important thing to me, the quality of the app, is still doing very well. We're currently at a 4.8 star rating in the Android Market. I haven't received any bug reports since the release weekend, and SemiSilent continues to be used by people who download it. Currently, 73% of the people that download SemiSilent have kept it on their phone. Also, I've seen a lot of signals indicating people are actually using SemiSilent fairly regularly. Quality and usefulness, two of the main goals of all of my projects.

Also, I received a comment from a German gentleman in the Android Market (I think it's only visible in Germany). It was probably my favorite comment ever, for a few reasons. First, it was very positive. Second, it was in another language. This meant that I knew it was good, but I still had to look it up using Google Translate. Third, it shows that SemiSilent is being used internationally, which I think is pretty exciting. The comment, for those of you who are wondering, reads "Weltklasse Idee! Umsetzung simpel aber genial!!" and translates to "World-class idea! Implementation of simple but brilliant!".

I have been working on updates. Search has been added, and that release will be pushed out early Monday morning. This is a feature that I didn't think of originally, but was requested by multiple users. I guess it shows how important it is to get your product into the hands of real users. Without their feedback, you may be missing things that they find very useful. Next on the road map is a settings page so that users can control how SemiSilent behaves. This was also requested multiple times, and it seems like it will be very useful to people.

After that, I want to work on a paid version so that users can avoid ads if they want to. I'm also planning on adding one or two extra features for the paid version. The free version will still be perfectly usable (I'm not removing any of those features) but I wanted to give the paying customers a little more bang for their buck.

That is all I have for now. If there is anything you'd like me to talk more about, please let me know. If not, I'll probably post something similar to this next weekend. I'm hoping that we will be near 1,000 downloads by then, but we'll see how that goes.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

SemiSilent: Week 1 Recap

I'd like to start making more posts here, so I am going to try writing more about the progress of my apps (at least while things that are worth posting about are happening).  SemiSilent has been on the market for one week so far, so I thought I'd post how things are going so far.

As of my last download count (which was yesterday) SemiSilent has been downloaded 226 times.  I'm not sure what is standard for an app, but I know the free version of Blurt had about double that by the end of it's first week.  Honestly, the total number of downloads has fallen short of my expectations so far.  What I didn't really consideration is that many more people browse the Games section of the Android Market then they do the Productivity section.  Now that I have thought about it more, it was foolish of me to expect it to have the same number of downloads, especially when I've done very little to market it.

During the first 2 days SemiSilent was available, I received 2 bug reports and an annoyance report.  One bug dealt with certain phone number format causing SemiSilent to not function correctly.  The other dealt with extremely large contact images causing an out of memory error.  Both were edge cases, so I only got one report for each.  Luckily, I was able to resolve them quickly and push out a fix within an hour or two of hearing about them.

The annoyance dealt with the On/Off button.  The On state had a green light on the button to show that it was on, while the Off state didn't have any color.  This caused a little confusion, so I changed the Off state to show a red light on the button.  Again, this was a very quick fix (less than an hour from hearing about it to releasing the update) and it does make the button more obvious.

I've been really happy with the feedback I've gotten so far.  Right now I'm getting a 4.8/5 stars on the Android market.  I've exchanged tweets, emails, and im's with people that have used the app and everyone has had good things to say.  They have also given me good advice for what features to implement in the near future.

Radio Android actually contacted me about doing a developer interview and an official review of SemiSilent, which I was very excited about. The app review came out Friday, and it went really well.  They called it "a very useful notification app" and had really nice things to say about it.  Check out the article if you want to read the full review.

Going forward, I'm trying to figure out the best way to market SemiSilent.  Sometimes being in the Android Market feels like I'm screaming into an empty cave.  I haven't heard of any success advertising with Google or AppBrain (which are the only two sources I've gotten any information on).  I have one or two more people I will contact about spreading the word in the next few weeks, but honestly I'm not sure if that will make a big difference.

For now my best plan is to continue working on new features and hope that people stumble across my app and give it a try.  I'd love to get some more official reviews, but I haven't heard from any of the other blogs I submitted my app too.  I'll also continue looking for any site that posts information on apps and submitting SemiSilent for review.  I think people see the value once they use it, it's just getting people to use it that is giving me trouble.  If you have any experience or thoughts on better ways to market, get in touch with me.  I'd love to hear whatever you have to say.

I think that sums up things so far.  I'll plan on updating in another week or so if something interesting happens.  I'm hoping to release the next update this weekend, which will add search capabilities to the app.  Provided I get a couple hours to work this week, meeting that deadline shouldn't be a problem.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My thoughts on the new Android Market

As I'm sure everyone knows, the new market.android.com launched today.  If you haven't tried it yet, I suggest you take a look.  From what I've seen so far, they did a good job on it.  However, like any product, they still have room for improvement.  While there is a lot to like about the new market, I think they still have missing pieces that can take this tool from good to great.

Things I like:
We can finally browse the market without our phones.
The Android Market app on the phone works fine, but its nice to browse apps from our computers.  While QR codes and whatever else made an app-only market work, I'd much rather browse for apps on my 24 inch monitor than my 3.4 inch monitor.  It makes it much easier to navigate through the market, and lets me browse longer (thus finding and installing more apps).

Wireless installation from browser to phone is seamless and fast.
Adding a single button that wirelessly sends the selected app to my phone, installs it, and has it sitting there ready for me is great.  No syncing apps, no wires.  Just browse the store clicking install and it's there.  The only danger here is my Nexus One running out of memory without me noticing.

One link to rule them all
As a developer, I've struggled deciding what link to use when linking to my apps.  Do I use a market app that only works on phones?  Do I link to the information page I whipped up that includes some QR codes for phones?  Do I link to AppBrain?  This isn't an issue anymore.  One link will work for both phones and computers.  I send it out and, depending on how the user is viewing it, they get what they want.

What I think is still missing:
No analytics  to see how people got to our app.
We finally have "one link to rule them all", but if we're sending all of our traffic to this one link I sure would like to know where they are coming from.  I'd love, as a developer, to have detailed analytics about everyone that visits my app's page in the market.  Did they come from an add? a blog? Google search?  This sort of information would really help with marketing and driving traffic to our apps, which is good for both us and Google.

No app discovery for new/less popular apps.
As with the Android Market app, the only apps that are given any visibility at all are the best sellers or the items on the featured list.  It was my hope that once the web market was launched, smaller and less popular app developers could have new ways to gain visibility in the market place.  I realize that they can't advertise all apps on the market, but giving us more views than featured, top paid, and top free could really help send traffic to apps that don't get publicized very often.

So those are my initial thoughts.  As I use it more, I'm sure new pros and cons will be found.  Hopefully, Google makes it a priority to continuously add new features to the Android Market.  A better market means better apps, and that will lead to a better Android experience for everyone.

What do you guys think?  Let me know what you like and what you still want to see in the comments.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Digging Deeper into the ListView

The ListView is a great tool in Android applications, but it can cause some issues when you are learning to use it. It is very easy to write sub-optimal code that causes big performance issues with larger datasets. Also, there are features that aren't as well known that could be a big help to your application. Rather than retype the lessons I've learned when working with them so far, I thought it would be better to send you right to the source. This video covering the ListView from Google I/O 2010 really helped me get a handle on how to use a ListView correctly.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Blurt Status Update

Once again, I realize that my posting history has been less than stellar. It has been two months since my last update, so I wanted to share how Blurt has been doing and what has gone out in the past few updates.

I've posted three software updates since my last post. Two of them fixed small force close issues that certain phones were experiencing. I wasn't able to reproduce the issue on my own (Nexus One, G1, and the Android emulator) but I had the crash reports to track them down. Only 1-2 reports in each case, but it was still an issue. I updated the trouble spots to avoid the error (both ended up being null pointer exceptions) and I haven't had any error reports since. I'll keep my eyes open for any new crash reports, but if anyone out there has any issues, you can always reach me directly at josh@lyote.com.

The other update was for the game's dictionary. Blurt (the paid version) shipped with just over 1,000 words. This was a great starting point, but as people (hopefully) play Blurt more and more, I don't want them to suffer through repeat words. So, I added another 250 words to the game. Also, the free version of Blurt shipped with 100 words as a trial. People were complaining about only being able to play a few games without repeats (which really was the point of the trial) but I added another 50 words there also. Hopefully this will allow them to play the game a few more times and, if they like it, purchase the full game.

Just for the record, adding new words is the most monotonous part of Blurt. I really enjoy the building/coding of things, but coming up with new words isn't really creative at all. However, I do realize this is probably the biggest thing I can do to improve the game and give it more "replayability". So, with that in mind, I'm planning on releasing at least one dictionary update per month in 2011. Each will probably be 50-100 words, depending on the time I have available. I think several smaller updates will be easier for me to do and allow for a constant stream of new material while not bogging me down to much.

Sales/downloads wise, I'm happy with how things have been progressing. I'm up to 150 copies of Blurt sold, and 8,500 copies of the free version have been downloaded. Christmas and Thanksgiving both showed spikes in downloads for both versions. Also, I'm still at 4.5 stars for the paid version and 4 stars for the free version, so it seems like it is viewed as a quality product. Seeing how Blurt was really just a project I started to get a feel for Android development, I'm quite happy that people are downloading and (for the most part) enjoying the game.

That is all I have for my 2010 wrap-up/update. I have a new app that will be ready as early as next week that I'm excited to release and a few more ideas that are a ways from completion, but will hopefully come to life sometime in 2011.

I hope everyone has a fun New Year's Eve, and if you need any entertainment for your party, you should check out Blurt. I've heard it's a pretty fun game :)