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  • iOS Resolution Quick Reference

    I keep finding myself looking up and figuring out the different resolutions for all the different screen sizes on iPhones and iPads and how they relate to each other. iOS developers now find themselves needing to support 4 different screen resolutions and it can get a bit confusing. I’ve scrawled all the helpful things I need all over index cards and notebooks as I’ve been working but always seem to be missing the bit I need. So I whipped up, a quick visual reference for iOS resolutions. I completely copied the styles from What Time is it There? so I guess now we have a series of “quick visual reference cards”. :)

    Check it out and let me know what you think. All of this is from what I’ve personally discovered and found useful for myself. If anyone thinks this data is incorrect or has something they’d like added just give me a shout. I will say that the jump from iPhone Retina and iPad in the percentages gets a little hairy and they are not exact, they are estimates and are what I’ve found useful.


  • How to Soft Launch your iPad App

    In the first few days of our app, Interactive Alphabet for iPad, being available on the app store it soared up the charts peaking at #2 in Education and #124 Top Overall in just three days. Now, no one can really say what truly contributes to an app’s success in the tumultuous sea that is the app store but we have to think (hope) at least some of it was due to our unique marketing plan and carefully scheduled weeks leading up to the launch. We’ve had a lot of people ask us how we did it so I thought I’d try my best to document and explore our approach to the “soft launch.”

    1. Get a group of beta testers together

    As you’re developing your app you should be testing it constantly, obviously, but what’s even more important than that is to have other people test it. In our case we were developing an app for very young kids so it was even more important to have as many kids as possible try it out to see what made sense to them and what didn’t. The best way to do this is reach out to your friends, family, and the app dev community and get people to try your app. Send out ad hoc versions of your app to as many people are willing and keep open communication with them. It’s very important to get every bit of feedback from them and keep them involved in the development process. If you get some good quotes from your testers, ask them if you can use them in your app description. Keep them updated on everything and make sure they know, and are looking forward to, getting their legit copy of the app for free when it hits the app store.

    2. Pick a date

    As the finish line draws close on your development, it’s time to start thinking about when you’re going to release your app. Many developers just go for as soon as possible but we’ve found that a careful choice can make a big difference. Give yourself about 2-3 weeks of padding from when you think you will be done with your app. When you’ve got a date in mind, research it thoroughly and see if there is anything happening on that event that could take attention away from your app. Is there an Apple event that day? Is a highly anticipated app scheduled to come out? Are kids going back to school? Whatever date you choose, make sure it’s at least 2-3 weeks out from right now. This date is based on our experience with the iPad approval process which takes about 1 week, it may be quite different for the iPhone approval process. Once you’ve got your date, lock it in and center everything around this date.

    3. Submit and Schedule

    When you submit your app make sure the availability date is set to your chosen date or further out. Remember that once your app is approved by Apple you can go in and change the availability to whatever you want so it doesn’t hurt to pad that initial date just in case approval takes longer than expected or some unforeseen factors pop up.

    4. Plan your marketing

    You should’ve been thinking about this long before but now is a good time to really give it some attention. It will help kill the time between being done with development and your app being available. You need to think about four things:

    1. Review sites – Make a list of app bloggers and reviewers, especially in your specific category. There is no shortage of app sites and there are plenty of app sites dedicated to specific topics that are likely related to your app category.
    2. Topic sites. – Also search for sites that write about your category but are not specifically app sites. A lot of sites have a tech slant or like to mention tech and often have large audiences.
    3. Advertising – If you’ve got an advertising budget, look into the sites you found in 1 and 2 and see if they offer advertising and a good audience. Ad networks and sites all have different schedules and price ranges so make sure you know what these are in time to get everything scheduled correctly.
    4. Press releases – Press releases are a good way to get in front of media and get some potential reviews or coverage. They are also proliferated through the internet and listed on a lot of app sites so it’s a good way to get a lot of links to your app and site out. Our personal Press Release service is prMac.

    5. Post-Approval Marketing Madness

    One of the fundamental things we learned that is a huge game changer is:

    If your app is approved by Apple and you’ve scheduled out your availability date, you can give out useable promo codes before your app hits the store.

    As soon as your app is approved it’s game on. Go through your list of sites and contact as many as you can. Send them a promo code and ask if they’d like to do a review and if possible publish it on your specified date. Since they can download your app at that moment they can test it out and write a true review ready for launch day. Also let your contacts know there might be promo codes available for them to do a giveaway for their readers. Also send promo codes out to your beta testers and thank them for the awesome job they did. Don’t underestimate how much time this takes, you will feel like you’re emailing everyone in the world all day long, but it will pay off.

    6.  The Soft Launch

    Now that you’ve got everything coming down on your launch date, make the app available the day before. Now don’t freak out that your app is available and no one knows. Take this day to update your website from “coming soon” to “buy it now”, check all the links in your marketing and make sure everything works correctly. Also take this day to contact your beta testers, friends, and family and tell them the app is on the store and would they please leave an honest* review or rating. What this means now is that a) No snafu’s with your marketing or materials, you’ve checked everything over and b) you’ve got ratings and reviews in the app store ready and waiting for all the new customers instead of that lame “there are no ratings” blank spot. This gives your app some traction while it’s new and getting new potential customers from your marketing efforts.

    *make sure they know they can be honest. One thing we discovered is that too many 5 star ratings plus glowing, marketing speech reviews can make your profile look a little spammy. There’s been a lot of press about fake testimonials lately and you definitely don’t want to arouse suspicion.

    Another caveat, this worked for our app which was for iPad only and in Education. The education category in the iPad app store only gets about an average of 5-6 new apps a day. So on that second day of being in the app store, we were still on the list of newest apps in Education. With the iPhone store I’m sure things move much more quickly and you will likely not get that second day of “newness”. How important that “newness” factor is, I can’t say for sure.

    7. Launch Day

    Now on launch day you can rest easy knowing that everything has been checked over, you’ve got ratings and reviews in the app store, and the marketing machine is in motion. You can focus on watching for your reviews and press releases to show up and you can begin tweeting and facebooking them. Have some fun, obsessively check your rankings, and do some celebrating.

    So there you have it, the Pi’ikea St. patent pending Soft Launch technique. Let us know what you think and if you’ve tried similar or completely different approaches and how they worked.

  • Things to Know About Building an iPad App

    Exactly one week ago, I released my very first foray into the app world with Interactive Alphabet for iPad. Creating it was a long and bumpy road and it taught me many things, some specific to developing apps for the iPad and some about creating things in general. I’d like to share with you some of the more fundamental things I wish I had known going into the project instead of realizing coming out of it.

    Let go

    I get a lot of ideas for projects and I tend to try and hold on to them. I want to remain in control, lest the essence of my idea be lost or maligned. I think this is common for designers, it’s an ongoing lesson to learn how to take critique and really embrace it. With this project, I learned that getting good people involved and letting go of my personal vision created a product that is a million times better than anything I could have conceived on my own.

    It started first with the developer, Matt Smith who is an amazing developer but also just an awesome guy. He balanced my “artist” ways out by asking all the hard questions and keeping me on task with the things I needed to do. He brought a level of management to the project that really wouldn’t have been there if I was in complete control. His involvement really made me take the project more seriously and indeed it made for a more serious product. He drives hard for quality and doesn’t want to settle for anything less than the absolute best we can do and that really helped me to step it up.

    Up until a little over mid-way through the project I had recorded the music for the app on my ukulele. I am not a musician by any means but I was able to find a couple chords on my uke that sounded not bad together and we rolled with it. We were also using random clips we could find on the internet that were free for the sounds effects. Along came Shawn James Seymour aka Lullatone. Both driven by an interest in ukulele, our worlds collided. I got him involved with our music and sound effects and holy crap did he revolutionize the audio quality of the app. I had a certain amount of pride in that I had done the music, but if I had stuck with it we would have had sub-par music and stock sounds.

    Google Everything

    About half way through development on the app and around version two of our feature set we had settled on the name “Alphabot Flash Cards” for the app. We arrived at this title not without a fair amount of deliberation and discussion and even research. It seemed an apt choice with our robot mascot and Alphabet focus. I googled “Alphabot” many times and always found the Canadian Electro band Alphabot!. I thought we were good to go and we didn’t look back. Not until a few days after we had submitted the app did I google the exact phrase “Alphabot Flash Cards” and you know what I found? An iPhone app named exactly “Alphabot Flash Cards” with an almost identical feature set to that version two of our app. I was completely floored. It totally took all the wind out of my sails, it was shocking. We had to reject our app and quickly come up with something else to call it.

    During this rehash we realized something. It seemed this little iphone app was near impossible to find. I had trouble getting it to show up in iTunes searches and it seemed to have hardly any search result presence. It was then when it really sunk in that Descriptive > Abstract. We had moved quite far away from the feature set we had when we came up with Alphabot, and thankfully far away from the features of the “real” Alphabot, and it made total sense to revisit the name. We came up with super descriptive “Interactive Alphabet for iPad” and it seems to have really payed off. We’re now in the top searches for “Alphabet” and “ABCs” in iTunes and even have some good search results for like terms. Bottom line: Google everything you can think of in any configuration you can think of and more. You need to know the waters you’re sailing in and know them well.

    It Will Take Longer Than You Think

    Always go for the ultimate best product you can muster. There are plenty of “ok” and “good enough” apps in the store. Don’t drown in the sea of mediocrity, you’re better than that. Take your time, apply yourself, and achieve something. When we first started this project we thought just maybe we could release around the time the iPad was actually released. Could we have made that date? Possibly, but it would have been one lame app. We constantly asked ourselves “Is this an outstanding app, will we be extremely proud of this when it is released?” The answer was almost always “mmm, maybe not quite” and we would continue to refine and polish. Now looking back at the first few versions of the app I can’t believe how much ground we covered, and I am so much more proud of the app as it is than I would have if we’d released before. Great things take time, lots of it, but it’s totally worth it.

    Stay Aware

    This one I learned quite recently and is tied closely. Despite our best efforts to stay aware of what was going on around our launch date, we failed to think of one thing. Back to School. We launched mid-week with a fantastic welcome. In less than a day and a half we had reached #2 in Education. This was great until Thursday night. Apple started a Back to School apps promotion, filled to the brim with apps in the Education category. Apple wasn’t the only one, a lot of people were into this category as kids were gearing up for school time. This really tanked our rankings since our app is not really for school-age kids and Apple failed to invite us in their little promotion. Now, what could we really have done? If we had thought of this factor we might have tried to avoid the back to school period for a release and tried to launch earlier. It all just comes down to trying to stay abreast of all the factors around you. It’s not enough to think just about your app’s competition, keep a weather eye out for things you wouldn’t necessarily think about.

    These things I learned on the development road and while that is mostly over, the iTunes store game is in full force and is teaching some more lessons. I hope to continue to document this crazy journey. Next I’ll blog about our launch strategy and how we think a “soft-launch” helped us in our crucial first days.

  • Interactive Alphabet for iPad

    It’s been a long long road to the release of my very first iPad app Interactive Alphabet for iPad. It is a super fun app for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and their parents that makes every letter flash card an interactive toy. It has unbelievably awesome music and sound effects and is the ultimate alphabet app for the ipad. But don’t stick around here any longer, check it out on the website:

    I started this project as the first interactive product for my brand of children’s fun things, Pi’ikea St. It was a long road but I got to work with some incredible people and learned SO much. I will be writing more about the development process and a lot of the big ideas I learned, as well as posting updates on how the app is doing. For now, go get Interactive Alphabet for iPad and have fun!

  • Uke Hunt

    Anyone who knows me knows that I am practically in love with the ukulele. In my mind it is the perfect instrument and I think that if everyone picked one up and learned a few chords the world would be a much happier place. The vast ukulele subculture on the internet taught me how to play and I owe some of the first songs I learned to a site called Uke Hunt run by the incomparable Woodshed. The site has since become my favorite for all things uke, so I was blown away when Woodshed himself contacted me about creating a new look for the site.

    Uke Hunt is a bold and irreverent blog for the modern ukulele player so it called for a graphic new look that bucks the infuriating stereotypes of Tikis and Tiny Tim. The new look is bold, simple, and playful. The new logo reinforces the spirit of the blog and, as one reader pointed out, calls to mind the sight of the thousands of ukuleles held high and proud at the performance of Ode to Joy by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

    Aside from the new look the site presented a greater challenge. Over the years Uke Hunt has evolved and branched out into many areas and even different sites. While the blog is focused on tabs and chords and ukulelia in general, there are other resources Woodshed offers like ebooks, lessons and reviews. Many readers, myself included, often didn’t even know about the other offerings and sometimes didn’t even know when we found them that they were attached to Uke Hunt.

    We solved this problem by gathering everything up and giving it the same distinct Uke Hunt look and feel. We also created the Uke Hunt nav bar which allowed some of the separate sites to remain under the Uke Hunt umbrella while still remaining its own site. For these sites we also created unique banners in the new Uke Hunt styling.

    This project was a blast to work on and I’m tremendously grateful to Woodshed for letting me be a part of it.