[Note: On 2010-05-07 I moved this to its new home on my business blog. Comments are enabled on the migrated post.]
Some of you may know that I’ve been developing a couple of applications for Windows Mobile, and selling them through Microsoft’s Windows Mobile Marketplace. A few weeks ago, Edward Kim wrote a very interesting blog post about his sales for his Android app, Car Locator – that information was very useful to me not least because one of my apps is pretty much the same as his, but also because it was the first time I’ve seen a public cashflow disclosure from someone else who had a proper day job too and was doing the mobile apps as a one-man side project. Before we get started, I ought to admit up front that my sales numbers are a darned sight smaller than Edward’s. But hey, who wants to read about other people being successful?
Right now, I have two applications on Marketplace.
The first app I wrote was Carlos. This is a pretty simple app intended to help you keep track of where you parked your car, using either your GPS or some sort of text-based tag you write yourself (in case you parked underground or can’t be bothered waiting for a GPS fix). This app is somewhat behind Edward Kim’s Android app – his can do a good few things that mine can’t (his has a little map, the graphics are nicer, you can take photos and things) but mine can do a couple of things that his can’t (you can ask it to automatically remember your location when your Bluetooth hands-free disconnects or you unplug the power; it makes bona fide jackal howling noises and it keeps a tally of all the total cars it’s ever parked anywhere). One could argue that his features are more useful than mine. Well, hey. Everyone keeps telling me the modern world of mobile apps isn’t a feature race.
I’d say Carlos took around 80 hours of coding, and maybe another 50 hours of speccing/testing/writing Marketplace content/arguing with my friends about it. This was one of my first times coding C#, my first time writing anything significant for Windows Mobile and my first time submitting an app to the Marketplace. I was originally selling it for $0.99 but when I discovered that Edward Kim doubled the price of Car Locator without noticing a drop in sales, I doubled mine to $1.99 – and I didn’t notice a drop in sales either. Mine’s still half the price of his but, well, I refer you to my comment about features.
My second app is Proximity. This is a fairly generic app intended to “do something near a given location”. You give it a destination (or several), a list of things to do and it runs in the background. For any given trip, it records data each time you perform it and uses that data to make steadily more and more accurate estimates of the time. I originally envisaged it to be for waking people up before they slept past their train stations but subsequently myself and my users have found all sorts of things to do with it. Some people use it to remind them to buy milk just as they’re walking past the newsagent; one guy has it email his wife five minutes after he left the office and another uses it to text all his kid’s friends when he’s arriving to pick them up from sports practice. I used it last weekend to text the wife each time I was ten minutes away from the bottom of a particular ski run, so we could coordinate meeting up. Anyway, I digress. This wasn’t intended to be an advertisement.
Proximity is a much more complicated app, especially the trip-learning heuristics part. I think this one took around 80 hours of coding with maybe 25 hours of ancilliary work – I was a great deal more efficient the second time through development, so this time represents quite a bit more dev work. I also spent $120 on minor portions that I farmed out via Rentacoder.com, and $160 on some icons. I priced this app at $3.99. This was a number I picked largely off the top of my head.
Both of these apps are available in both touch-screen (“Smartphone”) and non-touch-screen (“Pocket PC”) variants. I’ve also made them work on the great majority of Windows Mobile screen resolutions (please don’t start me on that one). My intent was always to make some money out of these – I’m too old to go about the place programming for fun. So let’s see if I did.
Reporting using the Windows Mobile Marketplace is not very easy. If anyone’s interested, I’ll write another post about how I got these numbers. Here’s how both of my apps have sold, across all platforms (both touch-screen and non-touch screen) and markets.
To save you doing the math here – Microsoft take a 30% cut of the purchase price, so I’m left with 70%. This means that for Carlos I’ve made a total of around $280 since the end of January, and for Proximity I’ve made about $350 since mid-March. It’s hovering somewhere around the $10/day mark for each app now – around $500/month in total, although it’s obviously somewhat early to start giving out per-month figures. You can see easily from the chart that Edward was quite right – doubling the price of the app makes no obvious difference to sales. Edward is making $13,000 a month – for my equivalent app, I’m making more like $250. Edward is winning.
Some Half-Baked Analysis
Is this the sort of money I expected? If I’m honest with myself, it might be a little on the high side. Of course, while I was writing the apps, I lay awake at night thinking I’d make a million, but realistically I think this beats my expectations. Would I have made more on Android or iPhone? This is an interesting question. I ought to admit here that my day job is at Microsoft, but that’s not the main reason I opted for Windows Mobile. There are many apps on iPhone that do exactly what both my apps do, so I would have a lot more competition. You can only develop on a Mac, which I don’t have, and you have to write Objective C, a language nobody in their right mind is familiar with. And then Apple can pull your apps if they don’t like the cut of your jib. Android is a little more tempting, but I’d have to learn Java and the ratio of apps to handsets out there is really quite extraordinarily high. And, hey, I have a Windows Mobile phone anyway. My wife regards these money-making ploys as complete nonsense anyway, so I can just envisage the conversation that goes “you’re buying a what?! You already HAVE a phone!”. The largest problem with developing on Windows Mobile 6 has been the announcement of Windows Phone 7 Series, and the fact that Windows Mobile 6 apps won’t run on it. As a shareholder I have to say I’m pleased with this radical diversion, but as a developer it’s something I’ll have to think about.
If people are interested in this sort of thing, I’ll try to give further updates as time goes on. Edward Kim’s first few weeks of sales were pretty quiet too… who knows, maybe he and I will be buying a boat together this summer. If nothing else, we’ll at least be pretty darned sure where we left it.