Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dublin OH School Uses Speed Bones in A&P Class.

I'm always excited to see my games used in innovative educational contexts such as in this "iPod Lab" created by a forward-looking Dublin OH high school teacher.

He even has a write-up about the whole experience where he mentions
"Using a tool like the one that was chosen, can allow the effort and time you put into learning more meaningful, accessible and trackable. You can pull a ipod or smartphone out and study anywhere with a device that you carry with you almost all the time. Unlike a paper test or study guide, you had instant feedback, which once again saved time and effort. Many students had 200-300% gains in their scores over the course of 1 period. "

Mobile OS devices have great potential to be used in schools. Portability, easy maintainability and user interface simplicity along with apps that are often low cost may be the ingredients that finally make computers manageable in class and powerful learning tools that make learning more fun and interactive for students.

Monday, October 18, 2010

iPhone vs Android App Sales Numbers

This is a numbers post comparing my experience of selling the same apps on iOS devices and on Android.

A few weeks ago, the Android Market merchant accounts were opened to Canadians and I was finally able to publish the pay versions of my Android apps. I had been waiting for this for almost two years. I made the first prototype of Speed Bones on Android before the iPhone version since I didn't realize Canadians were not allowed to sell in the Android Market. When I learned this fact, I bought a mac mini on eBay and ported the game to iPhone OS thinking I would publish the Android version later when Google updated their store. My apps had relatively good success on Apple's App Store staying in the top 10 apps of the medical section of the app store for more than 6 months.

About five and a half months ago, tired of waiting for Google, I released Speed Anatomy for free on Android supported by an Adsense banner. I would release the more advanced versions, Speed Bones MD and Speed Muscles MD when Google opened it's store to me. To my surprise, the game was much more downloaded on Android devices than on iOS devices at more than twice the rate.

Speed Anatomy, Android (ad supported): avg. 2600 per day

Speed Anatomy Lite, iOS (ad supported): avg. 1100 per day

Now this is not a direct comparison since on Android I give the full version of Speed Anatomy for free (with ads), while for iOS devices I give a Lite version with a little less content, and a full version without ads. One of the reasons for this was that I was initially getting very good CPM on Adsense when it was in private beta (see previous blog post) so I was moving towards monetizing my apps this way instead of selling them. I had planned to do the same for the iOS versions. Unfortunately, the high CPM didn't last when Adsense for mobile was opened to more people. It's now probably less than a fifth of what it used to be.

Part of the strategy in releasing the free version early was to create a user base for Speed Anatomy so that when I released the MD versions, I had some traction and the rankings of the new pay apps would be pushed up from all the users upgrading at the same time (Somehow I hadn't I thought of this strategy before I was basically forced to it by Google). I was enthusiastic about this because I was regularly receiving e-mails from fans who wanted the MD versions released on Android.

I was excited a few weeks ago when the pay side of the Android Market was finally opened to Canadians. I quickly finished the Android versions of Speed Bones MD and Speed Muscles MD and published them. At the same time I pushed an update of Speed Anatomy with a link to the two new versions. Android makes this really easy by allowing links to the Android Market that lead to a list of all apps from a particular developer. Another plus for the Android Market is that updates are instantaneously available, that is, mere seconds after I upload an binary through the web site, I can download it on my phone.

Even though by that point in time I had more than 400 000 downloads of the free version, a fairly big user base with the number of banner clicks higher in the free Android version than in the free iOS versions, sales of the MD versions have been somewhat disappointing. It has only been a few days but combined revenues or the two apps are less than half what I get through Apple.

I'm not sure how to explain the difference. It doesn't seem to be a problem of visibility since the free version is doing well.

If you look at other pay apps in the Android Market you will observe that in general they do not seem to be doing very well on Android. The top app in the health category has between 5000-10000 downloads total since it was released in March. That is an average of less than 45 downloads per day (download numbers ranges are available for every apps in the Android Market).

One issue that might explain the problem, and is annoying to deal with regardless, is that the Android Market app is buggy. Everyday I receive at least one support e-mail from users that have tried to install one of my apps but got it stuck on an 'installing' state. There is a solution that requires clearing the cache of the Market app which seems to fix the problem however I wonder how many people simply give up instead of sending me mail.

Another hypothesis is that I might still be disadvantaged by being Canadian. For example yesterday I received a support e-mail for someone who is usually able to purchase apps with his credit card but wasn't able to pay for my apps. The Google Checkout support site states: "The types of cards accepted through Google Checkout are based on the seller's location.". This is bad because the reduced sales numbers lower my rankings and result in even lower sales numbers.

I get a few e-mails per day about failed credit card transactions. It's possible that this happens with Apple also and that they simply hide it from us but it's worrisome nonetheless. All of this also amounts to an annoying level of e-mails and considerable amount of time spent answering support mail for stuck installations.

Some people blame piracy. I didn't use Googles new copy protection scheme on the apps. I'm not very fond of DRM and believe piracy shouldn't be as much of an issue with 99c software. I's possible I'm wrong. Maybe people will still steal to save a few pennies.

Another annoying aspect of Android Market is that it doesn't take care of levying sales taxes. I'll have to work with my accountant at the end of the year to figure out how much I owe.

In brief, for me, the Android Market compared to Apple's App Store generates double the downloads on the free versions, less than half the downloads on pay versions, requires more support, is a little spammy with my inbox and leaves sales tax accounting to me. Plus it seems like I may still be disadvantaged being Canadian. Given the ad revenues on the free version and the fact that porting an app is less work than doing one from scratch, Android is still not a bad business for me. It provides a nice amount of extra revenues on top of my iOS sales. All sources of revenues included, it probably generates almost 50% of what I get from iOS versions.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The New App Stores Economy. Resuscitation of the American Dream on a Global Scale.

One of the interesting aspect of being part of the new mobile apps business is that the business model is not just an evolution of standard global business practices but a whole new kind of economy. App stores and markets take creators and consumers, two parties that have traditionally been separated by layers of cubicle based work and make them closer than they have ever been. This creates an exciting new cyberland of opportunity for consumers, engineers, artists and creators in general.

Large global media businesses are being replaced with smaller ones that rely on a thin layer of web based automated business processes. This results in smaller more efficient teams and more cozy relationships all around even to the point where consumers have access to leaders inside the businesses through online commenting, forums, blogs, twitter and e-mail. It's the friendly family outlet on a global scale.

Just the other day, I was setting up an account. I was having a bit of trouble getting it to recognize Canadian banks so I clicked on the live online help button. Twenty seconds later, I was chatting away with Jessica Mah founder and CEO of the company.

This is not the most novel part of this new economy. Web technologies have enabled incredible changes in the ways everyone communicates for the past 10 years. What mobile app stores bring in addition to that is the use of these same web technologies to streamline not just communications but the whole task of doing international business. A lot of business support personnel and middlemen are being replaced with technology.

From the perspective of us creators, things are simplified a lot. The marketing and the accounting tasks of selling creations are reduced significantly such that we can manage it ourselves with very little help. This means, for example, that a 14 year old kid with a knack at coding stuff up can sell his work in the same stores as the big multinational companies and if he is good, it might have as much visibility and sell just as well. Very little capital and no investors are required to do a startup. Creators simply need to build great products. In my experience, the stores' mechanisms give a fair amount of visibility at a price much lower than anything available through traditional marketing mediums.

The smallness of the teams can be extreme. As an iPhone and Android developer, I am the engineer, the designer and artist for my products. I don't need a CEO, I don't need a conventional marketing department, I don't need a finance department. Everything is automated. There is no manual work to do transactions even internationally. If I was to employ another body, it would probably be another creator, not a business support person.

On top of all this, if creators need more help, they can use the same kind of low overhead online stores that they use to sell their creations for hiring employees that will gladly implement the more tedious parts of their vision. It's very easy to start relationships with artists, developers or assistants from lower cost countries such as Russia, Eastern Europe, India or the Philippines through sites such as Elance.

From the perspective of the consumer, it's good too. The first obvious benefit is lower prices, e.g. $.99 apps. Since overhead is very low, pricing can be lower. This effect is multiplied by the fact that markets are international and profits come from huge volumes on small markups. They also get a more personal and personalized products because of the cozy customer-creator relationship.

Another benefit is the reduced reliance on advertisement for visibility. Instead of learning about new apps trough ads, potential customers go to the store which will suggest the most popular and the newest apps and even make recommendations based on their own profile and past purchases. These recommendations will more likely match what they want instead of what advertisers are trying to push on them.

Of course, there are downsides for those who used to profit from inefficiencies in the legacy system. It's probably not a good time to have a pure business background in the tech sector. A lot of these skills are being commoditized and replaced by technology.

From the customer's perspective, the downside might be that the downward pressure on price and risk can prevent the more capital intensive projects from happening or else these projects are designed to constantly squeeze out money from them through things like in app purchases.

Tens to hundreds of millions of dollars are sometimes spent on creating console games, no one in their right mind would spend that kind of money if they didn't know they had the insider knowledge and contacts to have visibility and a good spot in the distribution channels or if they couldn't get the necessary margins to pay for huge marketing campaigns.

I don't think most developers want to spend millions when they have to compete for their spot in the app stores with $.99 apps that can cost less than twenty grands to make. The more grandiose projects may be at a disadvantage. If this is what you prefer as a customer, you might be disappointed in the selection in this new economy. In the new apps stores, we see that a lot of the apps that would be more costly to develop are actually remakes of old classics that are cheaper to make and likely to sell well.

There is cultural aspects to all this. Humans are social animals. People want to listen to the same music, play the same games and watch the same screen shows as their friends. Things that become culture are natural monopolies. They can be tautologically popular, popular because they are popular. People often won't even admit they like something if it's not popular enough. Large media companies used to make sure that when they spent huge amounts to create something, they could fill the distribution channels enough for cultural movements to form around their products. When this status was reached, it wouldn't matter if there were more enjoyable or less costly competitors out there. This is why control of the distribution channels by a few big players was important. As anyone who has witnessed the effect of being featured in a store, it's not the inherent value in the good being sold that carries the highest monetary value, it's having the most visible spot. The book you see going into a book store is the one that's going to sell even if there is a better one hidden in the back.

With the new app stores, creators are playing in a more democratic playground where algorithms often decide who wins. This means more control to the people. People actually chose who wins, but it also means that big original projects may never come to be.

Overall I think this new economy is positive as it brings more diversity, more choices, more opportunities at lower costs. There is tremendous business efficiency in this system. There's less waste, barrier to entry is diminished, old is replaced by new more quickly and there is less opportunity for monopolies to form. In a way, it's capitalism at its best an I'm excited to be part of it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Speed Geography Lite Released!

The free Speed Geography Lite for iPad is now available on the App Store.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Speed Geography for iPad released!


I am excited to announce that Speed Geography was just released on the app store. It is based on the same game engine as Speed Anatomy. When you play Speed Geography you will have to find countries like Papua New Guinea in Ocanea and capitals like Canberra of Australia (who knew?). Plus you get additional info from wikipedia!

App store link: itms://


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Milestone Alert: 1 000 000 downloads.

The Speed Anatomy apps have generated more than 1 000 000 downloads as of today after about a year and 5 months since first launch. Of course most of these downloads are from the free version. Notably, the free ad supported Android version has been doing better than expected with more than 300 000 downloads in a little more than 4 months.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Speed Anatomy now Available for Android FREE!

Speed Anatomy is now available for Android 1.5 and up in a free ad supported version!

As I have mentioned before, because I'm a Linux kind of guy, the Speed Anatomy engine was originally developed for Android more than a year ago. However, after development of the first prototype, I found out Google did not let Canadian paid apps on their Android Market. I ended up making and releasing an iPhone version instead. My plan was to release the Android version once Google opened the Android Market to Canadian sellers.

This never happened so last month I decided to go the ad supported route and release Speed Anatomy for free. The iPhone version had evolved a lot since the Android protoype and I was not sure I could achieve the same performance including the newer features and graphics on Android especially on the older 1.5 release. However, I and am very pleased with the results. The application runs flawlessly on my Android 1.5 test device (an LG Eve).

Coming soon: Practice mode and translations into other languages. Also Speed Bones MD, Speed Muscles MD and Speed Angiology MD will be made available for Android when Google allows us Canadians to sell on the Marketplace.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Speed Anatomy Free for the day!

As of this week, after a year on the app store, the Speed Anatomy apps have been downloaded more than half a million times.

To celebrate this achievement, I am giving away Speed Anatomy full version today. Go ahead and grab a copy!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why the Next Bill Gates Won't be Canadian an Open Letter to our Political Leaders

During the past two years, the technology sector has been making a big shift towards mobile computing. A tsunami is sweeping the whole field. Mobile operating systems are quickly becoming prominent and even moving towards replacing traditional Desktop OSs. At the same time, two polar opposite business models are competing. A closed proprietary system in which Apple controls every hardware, software and revenue streams and a competing system based on open source technologies mainly managed by Google along with a coalition of hardware and software companies and an open source community. This ecosystem is open to a huge population to compete and sell their creations. Canadians however, are forbidden.

About a year ago, in the height of the financial crisis, I was temporarily laid off and I started developing a software product for the open source Android platform which I intended to sell in the Android Market an alternate source of revenue. After doing a first prototype, I discovered that not only were Canadian users of the Android platform shut out of the Android Market, the main store where users can download applications. Canadians could not purchase any apps, but also Canadian developers and businesses were not allowed to sell on this store.

I thought to myself that this was a temporary situation resulting from Google and the Android platform being in its infancy. In the mean time, I ported my app to Apple's iPhone/iPod touch platforms and became relatively successful selling educational software that help students learn anatomy. Even as an independent developer working alone, my apps dominated the medical section of the app store for more than 6 months. At the same time, I was waiting for Google's platform to open to my apps so that I could have a presence and compete there too.

It has been more than a year and the open Android platform is quickly gaining popularity. Canadians can now buy apps in the Android marketplace but Canadian developers and businesses are still shut out of this market.

A year is an eternity in the tech sector and the big players are starting to establish themselves as leading mobile software businesses before Canadians even have access to this market. We are in a situation where Canadian developers are not even able to sell the fruit of their labors to their compatriots who are free to buy apps in Google's store none of which are allowed to be from Canada. Canadians are not able to participate in one of the more rapidly growing and most lucrative facet of this technology. We are left out.

The new mobile devices allow us to communicate, email, tweet, talk and work. In the coming years, they may well become the main computing platform. Canadians are used to be pushed out of leading edge web music and video mediums which often become available years after everyone else in Canada but this time it is preventing our businesses to participate in the greatest innovation in technology since personal computers.

It is very difficult to achieve success when international competitors get a two years head start. Currently countries allowed to sell on the Android store include Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.

The window of opportunity is very small for these kinds of technological revolutions and the current climate risks driving the next Canadian Bill Gates out of business.

Benoit Essiambre

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Speed Anatomy Lite released!

Speed Anatomy Lite offers the same experience as the full version in 12 great levels.

How fast can you point to your liver or gall bladder? Do you know the difference between, the sacrum and the manubrium? Speed Anatomy is an addictive game that tests your speed and challenges your knowledge of human anatomy!

"This game is a blast! If you are at all fascinated with the way the human body works, Speed Anatomy is a must!" -

Impress your doctor with your cunning intellect on your next visit after playing Speed Anatomy!

-Earn points for precision and speed.

-Compare high scores with your facebook friends using OpenFeint.

-A magnifying glass appears when holding your finger on an image allowing you to achieve more precision and higher scores.

This games is fun for everyone and it makes life easy for those tackling anatomy for high school, university or medical school. Practice mode allows you to learn specific regions without doing all the previous levels. Review mode lets you replay all the mistakes you made in the last game.

*If you enjoy this game, please rate it in the app store. I greatly appreciate your support!*

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

iKleinBlue Rejected!

"We've reviewed your application iKB 1.0 and we have determined that this application contains minimal user functionality and will not be appropriate for the App Store."

I thought this might happen because of the unusual nature of iKB, an app based on Yves Klein's art and the color he developed: International Klein Blue.

I can see that this sort of post modern, new realism experiment would easily be dismissed by reviewers. The app basically consists a screen filled with blue (for a similar experience try this web site).

After the rejection, I wrote to the reviewer and urged them to reconsider taking into account the historical and artistic context of the app, the numerous websites dedicated to Yves Klein's art, the philosophy of the real and the unreal, the emphasis on a raw material and a on a unique and pure color and even the impressive market value collectors attributed to his paintings (one sold for $21,000,000 in 1962), all despite the fact that they were basically simple blue rectangles. iKB was priced at the bargain price of free! I also asked that they take into account the explanation I gave on the app's web site, the research I did to get the closest representation possible of Klein's color on an iPhone including aquisition of real ultramarine pigment which I then used to make the artwork for the app's icon.

One of the reason I did this app was that I thought Apple's platform was well suited as a medium to reintroduce Klein's work. Apple's design philosophy has many parallels with Klein's art. Listen, for example, to Jony Ive in the new imac promotional video "... just display and then no display." and then listen to Klein's monotone symphony, a note and then no note.

I did try to stretch the arguments and mentioned to the reviewer that if they really require more functionality they should notice the slight gradient in the blue color giving the appearance of a matt texture. It's even animated to the accelerometer using drawing functions only available in OS3 which makes the app incompatible with iPhone OS2.

In a nutshell, I asked that they don't reject the app for its immediate simplicity but that they look at the greater context.

I got a second e-mail saying I should add more functionality and resubmit. After a reply rejecting this idea, they called me on the phone to tell me I should do a gallery showing multiple Klein artworks and descriptions.

But this all goes against Kleins philosophy. And regardless, art shouldn't be explained, it should be experienced. Plus all the information and descriptions one could want is already available on the iPhone to any one who can be bothered to type "Yves Klein" in the web browser.

The point of the app was to make a direct impact and introduce Yves Klein through a transposition of his ideas to today's technology and media. Maybe you could call it a new virtual realism.

In the end it was another interesting experiment in what can get through to the app store. Maybe recognizing an art experiments is above what can be expected from a large scale review operation responsible for judging the level of parental control that should be applied to toilet humor apps and softcore pornography.

I certainly don't regret the time I have spent even if it didn't result in a virtual lineup of people waiting to download my app like when Klein presented "Le Vide" (The Void) exhibition consisting of an empty all white gallery.

Plus, I now have an artwork and an interesting conversation piece in my living room allowing me to introduce Klein and his awesome color to guests and visitors.