The App Store and I: a look at Sim Ahmed's first month in the Apple App Store

I launched my first app on the Apple App Store towards the beginning of May. It's a Newsstand magazine app called Aucklandia, which shows some of my street photography work and little stories about each photo. I coded it over three weekends using HTML5 (which I mostly understand), Objective-C (which is black magic I decrypt through tutorials) and coffee (which one can never have too much of). It's not massively innovative, I won't be winning a Webby for it, but it was a labour of love which taught me new skills and has given me a better appreciation for what app developers have to go through.

I thought I'd take the opportunity to share with you what I've learned in my first month of being a bona fide app developer.

1. Analytics is your friend (and your worst enemy)

Since kicking off in May, Aucklandia has been downloaded 2,419 times. I know this because I use an app analytics service called App Annie (which is mostly free). These figures are also available for free from Apple's developer portal, which is a black hole of awfulness at the best of times. 

App Annie also comes with a ranking chart which shows how your app compares to others in market using Apple's own chart system. At its peak, Aucklandia was sitting at number six in New Zealand on the overall Newsstand chart for iPad and is numero uno for the photography and arts sub-category.

What's surprised me most is the number of people who've signed up for a free subscription (just over 100) because of how ambiguous I was about the magazine's regularity. Also, this probably means I can't turn Aucklandia into a paid for subscription without a bit of difficulty.

For some reason my brand of street photography is popular in China, which is my number one market. This is followed by Australia and then finally New Zealand. My assumption here is people are searching for tourism information about Auckland and end up on my app. Which tells me there's real opportunity for tourism players in Newsstand.

At one point I became so obsessed by the analytics I subscribed to an app ranking monitor with hourly updates. There's no practical reason for me to check my ranking every hour other than self-satisfaction or self-infected harm to my ego. Now I've consolidated this report into a daily email and even this I'll be lowering to something on a weekly basis. I now get daily email reports about how many people are downloading the app, for the past week this has been hovering around 40 downloads per day.

2. Marketing

Being the poor Ramen-fuelled Millennial that I am, I don't have the money or patience to promote an app properly. The majority of my marketing work was on Twitter. "Hey look at my app", "Oh cool my app has been downloaded X times" ,  and "Hey why haven't you looked at my app yet?".

I did pay Facebook $25 to boost a post announcing Aucklandia on its Facebook page, which reached more than 4,000 people. Unfortunately, that $25 only brought me six conversions – which is essentially paying about $4 per person to give away my free app. Funnily enough, the same words copied and pasted into Tumblr (for free) brought me around four times as many conversions.

Admittedly, the link I used went to a landing page on my site instead of directly to the download link for the app. I think I could have had significantly higher figures if I removed that one step in between.

3. Apple is the livegiver

The two largest spikes in Aucklandia downloads came the day after launching it, when I told every person on the street I could find about it; and the day Apple put it in the New & Noteworthy section of Newsstand.

Judging by the download figures, interest in Aucklandia from fans, online connections, friends and my more invested enemies was dying down within the first two weeks. Apple's editorial pick gave it a boost and it's now stabilised around 40 downloads per day. Other developers I've spoken to have said similar things – the Apple glow is often the difference between success and abject failure.