Universal cheapness

Today, I would like to complain about the following two groups of people who are cheap:

  • Developers
  • Users

Ok, not all of them, some of you are quite lovely. But I’ve been noticing a couple of trends of late that I think deserve comment, and a couple of people today really pushed me to the point of anger. If I blame everybody equally, it cancels out, right?

Firstly, universal iPhone / iPad apps, or the lack of same – particularly in the field of games.

When the iPad came out, there was a slew of seperate HD versions of apps with appropriately HD pricing. “No”, said the developers, “we’re not just price gouging because there is a shiny new device out there which we think we can make a vast profit from. Look, we need to create these lovely high resolution assets. That costs real money!”.

And that was, on the whole, entirely true.

Then the iPhone 4 came out, and a lot of iPhone games have been updated recently for free with Retina display support with lovely high resolution assets. Some strangely familiar high resolution assets in some cases.

So, you might now be paying twice for exactly the same game, with exactly the same assets. These games are crying out to be universal apps. By all means charge more money for a universal app, that’s not the problem – I like paying money for good software – but don’t charge me a second time for the same thing.

Now this doesn’t apply to all games, and certainly doesn’t apply to all apps. A complex, well thought out UI on the iPhone doesn’t always scale to the iPad, and vice versa, even if they now have a similar number of pixels. But some games are pretty much identical on both. And those, my friend, should be universal apps.

I think what bothers me most is games that start out on the iPad, and then migrate to the iPhone. They’ve already done the hard work making it look amazing on the iPad, and I gladly paid the HD price for it. But now there’s an iPhone 4 optimised version coming and you want me to pay a second time? That makes me unhappy.

A recent example that did this right was Geometry Wars – they started out as an iPad app and added a universal app in a recent update. This made me feel even happier about my original iPad purchase. Pleased to the point that I’m telling you about the game now. Go buy it, it’s great fun.

Osmos is another really great game I bought for my iPad, and it sounds as if they are about to bring out a separate iPhone version, rather than a universal one. That makes me feel worse about my original purchase. They are both great games from great developers, but making your customers feel happy is an important thing.

Angry Birds is a more complex example – they’ve been great at doing lots of free updates to their iPhone version, and have earned a hell of a lot of customer loyalty from it (and a shedload of money as a result). But they also have a separate “pay again” HD iPad version, which I’m told frequently lags in updates behind the iPhone one. Boo, and boo.

Every time I buy a new game on the app store that isn’t universal, I sigh a little bit more, knowing it’s constrained to one device for reasons which are not always purely technical. I’m informed by the always wise Neil Inglis that universal apps bought in iTunes only count in the iPhone sales charts, and that could account for one reason why developers like having two separate apps. But that seems like it could be easily fixed by Apple. But then, Apple gets 30% of all the extra sales of the other versions… CUE CONSPIRACY THEORY!

Anyway, yes, developers are just after your money. But you know who else is cheap? Users.

This week, I saw a comment about my PCalc which basically said “How come the Mac version is twice the price of the iPhone version? I think all Mac software is overpriced.”

No, no, NO.

PCalc is $19 on the Mac, $9.99 on iOS. Leaving aside the fact that buying the iOS version of PCalc gets you a code which gives you a generous $9 discount on the Mac one, a more correct conclusion that they could have come to is “Perhaps all iPhone software is underpriced, and it might not be a sustainable market in the long term”. Or perhaps “I wonder why people will pay more for something, the bigger a screen it comes on?”.

I expect Apple will bring out an App Store for Mac OS sooner rather than later. I wonder what will happen to pricing then, if it will stay the same, or be more in line with the iOS apps. And I also wonder whether Apple will be able to ask for 30% of all sales. It would be a major shake up for the Mac software market, and I’m willing to bet 59p that it will happen.

Finally, I got an email today from somebody who had been running the Mac version of PCalc for many years, and had been faithfully clicking the “Not Yet” button every time he launched it. He decided he wanted to pay up, but when he finally saw the price, he decided against it, because he only ever really used the widget. For all of the many years he had been running the software without paying for it.

Oh, and the best bit? He was an indie developer as well…

I think I might be too generous with the trial periods in DragThing and PCalc. When the two week trial is over, they both keep working on the whole, requesting politely that you pay, but not being too obnoxious about it. They were both created in a different age, where that approach was normal and expected. Should I change them to stop working completely as soon as the trial period expires? The user in me says no, the developer says yes.

What do you think?

Four Legs Good, Two Legs Better!

“So”, I hear you thinking, “I remember James being very anti-software bundle earlier this year. He had that spat with John Casasanta and everything. Imagine my surprise when I saw this offer in my inbox this morning – both DragThing and PCalc are part of the new MacUpdate Promo Winter Bundle. Is he a just a big capitalist sellout after all?”

Yes.

Ok, let me qualify that slightly.

Way back in June, we took part in the inaugural TheMacBundles.com bundle. The idea was a great one – this was a bundle by developers, for developers, with an equal split of the profits for all who took part. In practice however, it was something of a disappointment. Sales of the bundle were small, not down to the quality of the applications or people involved, but partially because it was going up against the much stronger MacUpdate bundle at the time, and partially because – in my opinion – it didn’t compare particularly favourably to the slick marketing efforts of MacHeist and MacUpdate.

It was mocked at the time by the ever-tactful John Casasanta of MacHeist, who basically said that without a substantial marketing budget, it was doomed. Annoyingly, he was actually right.

A couple of months ago, the MacUpdate people contacted me and asked if I wanted to be part of their winter bundle. What they offered per-bundle-sold wasn’t completely terrible – I’ve been offered a lot worse. Sales of DragThing have slowed a little bit of late since I’ve only done fairly minor updates recently, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to get it back into the public eye. And likewise, PCalc on the Mac has always been a good promotional tool for selling copies of PCalc on the iPhone.

So, fine, let’s give it a try. It’s a good bundle of apps – I fancy getting a few of them myself. I’ve been looking forward to the point-and-click adventure game Machinarium for ages, and I didn’t realise it was already out. Plus I’ve heard good things about Socialite and GarageSale, and many of the others. Path Finder is another veteran app in the bundle, and I know lots of people use that in combination with DragThing.

Will we make more money over the next two weeks than we would have otherwise? Am I damaging future sales of our apps? That remains to be seen. You can see the total number of sales of the bundle on the MUPromo page. I’m legally not allowed to tell you exactly how much of the $49.99 we’re getting, but think of a very small number. Now half it. You’re pretty much there. Feel free to multiply that by the current sales figure.

The bottom line is that our decades-old kitchen is due to be replaced in January, and it would be nice if this deal helped pay for it… Does that make me a capitalist?

Or a culinarist?

Taking A Stand

You might have seen that we have a number of new PCalc releases out today, two for the iPhone, and one more for Mac OS X. On the face of it, these might look like minor upgrades to fix a couple of annoying bugs and nothing more. Let me state here, for the record, that nothing could be closer to the truth.

Given our recent controversial moves regarding calculator word censorship, the more conspiratorially-minded amongst you might think we are using these updates as a mere smokescreen to slip in even more draconian measures. And on the face of it you would be right – PCalc now filters over three times as much profane content as before, with significantly increased detection algorithms. Don’t think you can just throw in a decimal point in the middle of a word now, we’re wise to such tricks. We’ve even added multiple-language support.

But, before you condemn me, I need to get something off my chest.

Personally, I don’t like adding these features any more than you like having your calculating freedoms curtailed, so I’ve decided to take a stand against this censorship and my cruel paymasters at TLA Systems.

In the latest version 1.8.1 for the iPhone and iPod touch, I’ve hidden a secret easter egg that lets you disable this disgraceful “feature” once and for all.

  1. Go into the “Advanced” section of the settings (or just the normal settings section in the Lite version).
  2. Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page.
  3. Turn your phone upside-down.
  4. Still keeping it upside-down, you’ll now be able to scroll slightly further to reveal a brand new option.
  5. Switch censorship to “Off”.

I’ve also managed to sabotage the censorship completely in version 3.5.1 for Mac OS X – even if you turn your laptop or display completely upside down, the profanity filter will still fail to engage.

Needless to say, if word of this got out I could get in serious trouble, so this is just between us, ok?

Going Viral

Well, that was exciting.

So, you probably all saw my little marketing effort for PCalc at the beginning of the month.

Continue reading ‘Going Viral’

PCalc Prevents iPhone Profanity

UPDATE: Yes, this was intended as satire.

Here at TLA Systems, we take our responsibility to protect innocent minds very seriously.

Have you, or somebody close to you, ever turned your calculator upside down and accidentally seen a mildly suggestive word? Have you ever been in a maths class, and had to put up with groups of giggling boys performing elaborate calculations that are not part of the lesson?

Yes, it’s one of the main problems affecting the calculator industry today, the so-called “calculator words”. These otherwise harmless devices can be made to display smut at the press of a few buttons. Added to that, the iPhone App Store is very strict about having inappropriate content in apps. Nobody wants their app to get a 17+ rating, or worse, to be rejected entirely.

Which is why we are happy to announce that the latest version of our PCalc scientific calculator for the iPhone contains a new patent-worthy profanity filter.

Simply enter a number such as “5318008″, turn the calculator upside down, and the offending word will be discreetly censored. Many common calculator words have been included as standard, and we plan to increase this over time via software updates.

This pioneering technology is available in both the full PCalc, as well as in the totally free PCalc Lite. Ideal for classroom settings, and for the very easily offended.

Some people might say that this is just a humourous attempt to drum up some publicity, and we should really be concentrating on the things that make PCalc one of the most popular calculators on the App Store. Like, for example, the intuitive user interface that takes full advantage of the iPhone, the optional RPN mode, or the wealth of powerful features.

Or, these same people might want us to point out that this new version comes with a coupon code that’s worth $9 off the price of PCalc for Mac OS X, effectively making PCalc for the iPhone a mere 99c if you were thinking of buying both.

But we think we know our audience.

You can find out more details at www.pcalc.com and download either of the iPhone applications here.

Twitkitteh, the safe Twitter client

We at TLA Systems are pleased to announce that with Apple’s new App Store policy changes now in effect, Twitkitteh will very soon be the only iPhone Twitter client available to the under-17 market.

Originally aimed at the the mainly feline demographic, our patent-pending “write-only” approach to Twitter – combined with a limited set of fixed tweets – is now well positioned to take advantage of these new rules and expand out into the wider marketplace of puppies and teenagers.

By protecting our users from the horrors of the frequent and intense sexual content and drug use found in those depraved applications like Twitterific and Tweetie (it says so in iTunes, so it must be true), this means we are really now the only family-friendly choice left in the whole store.†

Admittedly, Apple’s own iPhone applications like Safari don’t currently come with any similarly-worded warning notices, but we can only assume that it’s just a matter of time before this insignificant oversight is rectified.

Be assured, we take this new-found responsibility very seriously. And so do all our cats.

† We are also considering expanding Twitkitteh to function as a password management application for cats, because of the disgusting content we heard is present in every copy of Selznick Scientific Software’s PasswordWallet.

How To Make Your iPhone App Launch Faster

So, one of the most common complaints about PCalc before 1.7 is that it took too long to launch – around four seconds on an iPhone 1st Generation. I actually got emails accusing me of having a massive ego because I was making the splash screen stay up for so long. Now, I may have a massive ego anyway, but that’s not why it was happening.

Continue reading ‘How To Make Your iPhone App Launch Faster’

10 is the new 10

I’ve just been reading David Barnard’s “5 is the new 10” post on App Store pricing and how he’s reduced all of the AppCubby apps from $10 to $5. I can see exactly why he did it, but I’m still a little bit disappointed. Not with David, I should hasten to add.

Continue reading ’10 is the new 10′

New iTunes Connect bug?

Update, 01:36am – this bug was just fixed in iTunes Connect, and PCalc has been submitted correctly. Thanks Apple!

Original post:

I’m currently trying to submit an update to PCalc for iPhone, built with the GM iPhone 3.0 SDK, and it’s failing. The “Contact Us” section of iTunes Connect doesn’t actually let you contact anybody, except for very specific problems, so I’m at a loss at how to proceed. I throw myself on the mercy of the crowd.

Continue reading ‘New iTunes Connect bug?’

Bundlewars, The Liveblog.

So, it seems that I’ve annoyed John Casasanta, director of MacHeist, with my discussion about bundles and taking part in the bundle at TheMacBundles.com.

Continue reading ‘Bundlewars, The Liveblog.’