Appy Text shows how far an app can get with passion and transparency.
At User Camp, we’re advocating for indie software in the Microsoft Store. This is the second in a series of interviews with successful Store developers.
As much as it’s possible to be a big fish in the small pond of Microsoft Store developers, Bardi Golriz fits the bill. His first app, Appy Weather, was a shining example of high-quality, Store-first development back in the days of Windows Phone 8, and has attracted a loyal and growing user base.
Now, he’s deep into his next effort: Appy Text, a beautiful text editor for Windows 10 that gets out of the way and lets your writing shine. Appy Text has been recommended by The Verge, Paul Thurrott, and Brad Sams. It’s an app that shows the level of polish a lone indie developer can deliver by focusing on a single use case.
The latest version of Appy Text is up on Product Hunt as part of our Microsoft Store app submission marathon. Check it out here:
Bardi is also a firm believer in transparency. He’s one of the first Store developers to release uncensored metrics for his app, including how much money it’s made.
I asked Bardi about his vision for his apps, the Store, and the entire Windows ecosystem, and he continued to be an open book for other developers. Read his responses below.
What’s one thing Microsoft could do to help Store developers?
Make the Store better. That brings in more users. And that results in more downloads.
What I’d like to see is for its entire user experience to get a refresh, like by moving away from a traditional directory of apps to something more thoughtfully put together that doesn’t make customers feel like they’re shopping in a bargain basement. They could follow the example set by the Windows Insider program by making the experience personal with more editorial content and curation, having a team of familiar faces regularly updating customers on the Store latest, and working closely with indie developers to help them succeed.
At the moment, if you’re not a big-name app, then you have to work much harder to get noticed on the Store, especially since its ranking algorithm doesn’t appear to consider app quality.
Appy Text was featured in The Verge’s article on how to ‘survive’ the limitations of Windows 10 S. What do you think the impact of 10S will be for developers?
If 10S becomes popular, it has the potential to have a meaningful impact for developers. Essentially, Microsoft forcing its customers to use the Store for all their software needs is a big win for devs.
With Windows 10, I feel the Store is more of a curiosity for people, whereas 10S turns it into a necessity; it turns users who were window shoppers into legitimate customers who’ve entered the Store with the intent to download apps. That’s a pretty big deal.
Having said that, I’m not confident that it will actually gain enough traction to make much of a difference to developers, especially since it’s free to switch to 10 Pro until the end of this year at least. Beyond then, if you’re familiar with its limitations, you’re less likely to buy a 10S machine to begin with. And for those who do, I’m unsure whether the $50 upgrade charge would put them off upgrading to Pro to get all the apps that they depend on, especially because Microsoft (to their credit) makes it so easy to.
Of course, as a developer, I hope I’m completely wrong. So, yes, it will make things better for developers, but I’m unconvinced that it’ll have that much of positive impact that it would, for example, encourage developers waiting on the sidelines to build for the Store.
What was a mistake you made while developing your apps, or something you wish you’d done differently?
I don’t know whether “mistake” is the most accurate term to describe it, but there’s definitely one thing in particular I’d do differently with the benefit of hindsight: realize that although Windows Phone’s ability to offer free trials is great from a customer perspective, it’s not so great for developers.
Even though some customers need no more than a few minutes to be convinced that an app is worth purchasing, others will need much more time to be persuaded. I felt Appy Weather’s three-day trial forced trial users to make a decision before they got a really good feel for the app. Two of the app’s best features were a toast notification warning of imminent rain and its minute-by-minute forecast for the next hour when it had started to rain. If your trial happened to be within three days when there was no rain, then these are features you would have missed entirely.
Because I was paying a weather service provider for their data, I couldn’t afford to offer a longer trial. But there were a couple of things I could have done differently to work around this.
More in-app purchases: I could have made the app free, with one or more in-app purchases to unlock features that not all users require (but those who do will be happy to pay for).
As a Store user myself, I know one of the most difficult challenges as a developer is to simply get someone to download your app in the first place. Being free makes it a much easier sell. Once you’re on the user’s machine, why set an arbitrary amount of time before you ask the user to commit further? It’s better to take it slow, on the user’s terms, and occasionally remind them that their experience could be improved through an in-app purchase.
Introduce advertisements: The other thing I could have done is introduce ads, either in addition to the IAP or instead of it. This would have ensured I’d be making money from all users all the time, rather than from only paid users (and only once). For those who need a weather app, checking the weather is something they probably do multiple times a day. Ads make sense with such an app, especially since Appy Weather’s design allowed for a tasteful and seamless integration of ad units.
I’ve partially taken on board this lesson with Appy Text: the app is free with a Premium in-app purchase that you can try out for 30 days. Although I’m seeing positive results, I still have many free users.
I’ve rejected ads thus far because I know it will spoil the writing experience for free users. When I decided to make the app free with an optional in-app purchase, my aim was for the free version to match the utility of Notepad, and for the IAP to help one-up it. Introducing ads for free users may make it inferior to write in than Notepad. That’s not something I’ve been willing to concede, even though I’m aware it would not only bring in money I would otherwise not have made, it would also incentivize more free users to go Premium.
I expect to do something about this eventually, but I’m taking my time to figure out the least user-hostile approach.
What advice would you offer to a developer starting out in the Windows Store?
Find your niche, keep it really simple by prioritizing one particular feature or use-case for the app to excel in, and release before feature creep happens — but after the app has received enough polish that it’s a pleasure to use immediately.
I know it’s fashionable to encourage devs to put something out early, get feedback, iterate, update, repeat. But you can only make a first impression once. That’s why there’s much more to gain by taking your time and continuing to iterate privately until you start experiencing diminishing returns (that’s the point when the time you’re putting into the app stops making a noticeable difference to users’ experience — you’ll know when that is).
There are now lot of apps in the Windows Store in every app category. However, quality apps are still not that easy to find. Being in the Store is not a big deal. Being a quality app in the Store, though, is.
What’s one thing — a tool, a stroke of luck, a brainwave, a habit, an obsession, etc. — that allowed you to succeed in the Store?
This ties into my last answer. The main reason why both Appy Weather and Appy Text made strong first impressions was because they were released on the backs of lengthy (private) beta programmes that involved plenty of iteration. These programmes refined each app before release; both apps’ small-but-super-smart set of beta testers enabled the apps to be the best v1.0 possible.
One of those beta testers was actually me. During your app’s development, it’s important to regularly swap being its developer for being its user. By doing so, you get a really good feeling for the app: what works, what doesn’t, what’s missing, and what’s unnecessary.
How do you enunciate your app design philosophy?
Less is more. I know that’s clichéd, but it’s a mindset that guides me throughout the dev cycle regardless of the problem size, big or small.
Appy Text was originally intended to be a weekend side-project but ended up taking six months. Yes, a lot of that was due to the work, family, life etc. But sweating over each pixel so that every UX/UI element was the best, simplest version possible also delayed the release.
The problem is that simplicity is most obvious after you encounter complexity — that’s in my experience, anyway. The first ~50% of the dev cycle usually introduces complexity, because it’s really easy to work with a blank canvas with no editor to rein you in. I think it’s at the end of this phase in development when some apps are released.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s when the second half of the dev cycle begins, usually coinciding with a beta release. This is when complexity is identified and either replaced with the best, simplest alternative, or removed entirely because there’s no simple substitute. Sometimes this isn’t easy, but you can’t be too precious about things. It requires an open-mind to accept and courage (yes, that word) to execute.
What keeps you going? Why do you keep developing for the Store and refining your apps?
When you have people who’ve paid to use your app, you’re intrinsically motivated to keep making it better so that they continue to get more value out of the app.
As for my motivation to develop for Windows specifically, that’s because I’m a Windows user whose apps were originally conceived to fulfill my own personal needs. I know I’m not a special person — although my needs may not be mainstream, they can’t be unique either, and so it makes sense to put these apps on the Store for others with similar priorities. And so as long as I continue using Windows, I expect to encounter experiences I’m not happy about that I’ll decide to do something about myself — time being the constraining factor.
Also, I still think there’s an opportunity on the Store to become successful because there’s much less competition than on other platforms when it comes to good apps. If you build something thoughtfully designed on Windows, it’s still newsworthy. For example, I know Appy Text is objectively good, but I’m unsure whether MacOS or iOS users would pay it as much attention considering the number of high quality text editors already available on there.
If you knew when you started Appy Text what you know now about its downloads and sales, what would you do differently?
I’d be much more aggressive when it comes to pushing the Premium upgrade to its users.
When the app launched, I optimized the experience of using the free version at the expense of gaining Premium users, because I considered that a pro-user move. That would have been more understandable if I didn’t offer a free 30-day Premium trial.
But seeing as I did, I don’t think it was smart to restrain myself from encouraging users to try out Premium. (I actually had a one-star review because the user didn’t know how to go Premium.)
It’s actually in the users’ best interest to start the trial and then decide within the 30 days whether Premium is worth it. The lesson learned is to not be afraid/embarrassed to go into sales pitch mode when what you’re selling is something your users will want to at worst know about and at best benefit from.
What’s your dev setup?
My Core i5 Surface Pro 4 with 16GB RAM and a Type Cover. It continues to do the job really well, except for the below-average battery life when I’m working in Visual Studio.
I’ve considered the new Pro but I don’t expect it to have a full day’s battery when coding either, especially since 16GB of memory is now only available on the more resource intensive i7 model that’s out of my budget anyway.
Thanks Bardi! You can find Appy Text in the Microsoft Store, and follow Bardi on Twitter.
Share your own app’s journey
This article is part of series of interviews with successful Microsoft Store developers. You can also read the first of the series, an interview with Timo Partl, developer of Diarium.
If you’d like to share your own journey as a Microsoft Store developer on our blog, contact us and we’ll be in touch.