Year in review

2011 has been a great year to be an app developer. These are the highlights in chronological order.

Here is to a great 2012!

The myth of the Christmas sales spike

There seems to be a belief that there is a spike in downloads and purchases of apps on Christmas, due to people receiving devices as gifts. However the data fails to back up this theory. Downloads shot up for free games, but there was no change at all for paid games, or any other apps. After selling apps for a few years now I expected this, but now I have the charts to prove it.

First downloads for the free game Pixelated in December 2010, and 2011 are charted below. While downloads do shoot up on Christmas day, the increase doesn’t actually exceed where the download rate happened to be earlier in the month. Additionally in both years, the peak actually comes on the day after Christmas.

Despite this small increase there is no corresponding increase in purchases of Pixelated Plus. Neither is there any significant increase in the number of launches of the game. The next chart shows the requests to the ad server each day in December. This value continues to be as steady as ever.

Next looking at my other popular apps, there is still no spike in sales. The free date tracking/sharing app Twinkle shows no increase at all. In fact downloads hit their monthly low on Christmas day.

Downloads of Xploding Boxes follow a similar pattern as we saw with Pixelated. In short there is a modest spike in downloads, and no corresponding increase in purchases of the full version of the game.

So while Christmas day may be slightly above average in terms of downloads, it certainly is not as off the charts crazy as it is sometimes made out to be.

Forget advertising, RIM needs to buy shelf space

I pretty much never go a physical store in order to buy things (especially electronics), but it is important to remember that this is the way that most people actually do shop. RIM is planning on significantly increasing their advertising next quarter, but this won’t do any good unless it is easy to buy BlackBerrys once people get to the store.

Out anyways for some last minute Christmas shopping I peaked a look at the phones being sold on retail shelves, and found the BlackBerry selection to be pretty lacking.

At the Verizon store in the mall, there were strictly Android devices everywhere. Maybe three dumb phones near the door, and two iPhones hidden in the corner, and everything other model on display was running Android.

At Best Buy, again it was mostly Android phones while the iPhone had its two models in a little display off to the side. Representing BlackBerry was the new Torch slider, and both the 2011 and 2010 versions of the BlackBerry Curve. Meaning that BlackBerry was only represented on the low end.

While it is possible that I missed an all-touch Torch in the sea of similar looking Android phones, I can say with certainty that BlackBerry’s flagship model the Bold was not on the shelves in either of these stores. And that is a problem. Specifically a problem that television advertising alone will not help with. Without better representation by RIM it will be hard for the average consumer to walk out of one of these stores with anything besides an Android phone.

PlayBook Browser rapidly improving

RIM has been rapidly improving the browser in the PlayBook. The recent update of the beta to continues this trend.

Based on the html5 test the new beta scores a 308 while OS scores only a 257. This continued progress is good to see, and shows that RIM has a solid commitment to offering the best browser possible. Now all RIM has to do is finally get around to shipping this update.

As a point of comparison BlackBerry 7 scores a 260, BlackBerry 6 scored a 241, iOS 5 scores a 296, and Android 4.0 scores a surprisingly low 230. Windows Phone (as you might expect) scores a terrible 140.

Xploding Boxes on the Nook

Xploding Boxes is now available for through the Barnes and Noble Nook Bookstore for the Nook Color, and the Nook Tablet. This offers the same 240 levels as the BlackBerry version of the game does, and supports both English and Spanish.

About Xploding Boxes

Xploding Boxes is a strategy game for BlackBerry and Nook devices where the goal of the game is to start a chain reaction that will explode all of the boxes on the screen. Each level gives you a different number of touches, and requires a different strategy to solve. The current version of the game offers 240 levels.

Unfortunately the Nook Bookstore does not offer in-app purchasing so we are unable to offer the first few levels for free as we do on BlackBerry.

Links & Information

PlayBook on the Shopping Channel

A few days ago in RIM was selling the BlackBerry PlayBook on the Shopping Channel in Canada. While this is not something that I expected, I am endlessly fascinated by the concept.

This was first brought to my attention by former director of developer relations Mike Kirkup in a Twitter post. CrackBerry then linked to a video. Best guess is that they sold over 2,200 PlayBook bundles over the course of the day at $400 each.

First of all they were not just selling the base model PlayBook. Instead they were selling the 32GB PlayBook with the rapid charger, a case, and a HDMI cable. I understand the bundled items. Markup on things like cables and cases is much higher then it is for electronics so including these allowed RIM to get better margins, and to bump up the retail price of the package (which the sale price is compared to). But why the 32GB version? If RIM wanted to wow with low prices, they could have gone with the 16GB version. If RIM wanted to get the best margins they could have gone with the 64GB version. Instead they took an odd hybrid route. (Maybe they have a greater amount of spare inventory at the 32GB level).

The bill of materials (BOM) on the 32GB PlayBook is estimated to be around $330. Assuming a BOM of about $40 for the accessories, and another $10 for shipping costs RIM probably made a (small) profit on each one of these units. Which is far better then the money they were losing on their black friday sales. And the actual unit sales were significant. 2200 sold in one day is impressive once you consider that in early November (prior to the price drop) the PlayBook was only selling around 3300 units per day.

And then there are the demographics. As someone whose livelihood is based on selling apps the question is what does this demographic think of buying apps? I have no idea. Hopefully people willing to spend $400 to impulsively buy something off the TV won’t think twice about spending $3 to download a game. But really I have no idea.

Thoughts on AdvancedUI for Java

While it has been available for awhile now, RIM has recently open sourced their AdvancedUI for Java classes and added them to github. If you have not downloaded these classes before, you should do so.

I first found out about these classes in early 2010, and have pretty much used at least one of them in every release since then. For an example the menu on top of the statistics pages in Pixelated (as seen to the right) is done with the Pillbox Class from this collection.

The JustifiedVerticalFieldManager is another favorite, which makes many good looking designs much easier to create.

The bigger question is why these were have not been included in the OS for awhile now. Publicly posting these classes again is nice for giving them some added visibility, but nothing compares to simply adding them to the OS. While doing so now would be kind of pointless (is anyone ever going to make an app that requires a minimum of OS 7.1?) all indications are that they could have done so a few years ago. The copy in github has had its metadata updated, but when these classes were first released they were dated as having been created in 2008. Even if you allow for the fact that they may not have been ready for the launch of OS 4.7.0 I have no idea why they were not included in OS 5.0 when it was released in late 2009. Today OS 5.0 is the minimum threshold for most developers, and it would be nice to simply have these features baked in.

But far more importantly then the convenience for me, is the fact that these classes should be far more readily available for all developers. My guess is that there are many devs making BlackBerry Java apps without any clue that these classes exist. And that doesn’t help anyone.

While it may be too late for these classes to get the visibility that they deserve, lets hope that RIM doesn’t repeat this mistake with their BBX tools. Although on a related note, the WebWorks getting started page does not include any links to bbUI.js, perhaps that could be a start.

Pixelated Plus on the Nook

Pixelated Plus in now available on the Nook Color, and the Nook Tablet. This offers all of the same options as the BlackBerry version of the game does.

The app supports seven color schemes, three grid sizes, and multiple difficulty levels. The game fully supports English, Spanish, Dutch, French, and Portuguese.

About Pixelated Plus

Pixelated Plus is an addicting puzzle based strategy game that requires a mixture of skill and luck in order to accomplish. The object of the game is to change the colour of the squares until the entire screen is a single solid colour. Starting with the square in the upper left corner you can change the colour of the blocks in order to match that of the surrounding squares. This is done repeatedly until the entire screen is a single colour. The object of the game is to clear the screen in as few moves as possible. Under the default settings you must do so in under 22 moves in order to win.

Links & Information

Twinkle updated to version 3.3

Twinkle has been updated to version 3.3 in BlackBerry AppWorld. This new version adds the ability to import Birthdays from contacts, additional ways to share events, random color selection, some stability improvements, and improvements to bulk importing of existing events.

Importing Birthdays from Contacts

You can now select a friend from your contacts, and if you already have their birthday included in their info, you can select “Add Birthday to Twinkle” from the menu, the contacts birthday will automatically show up in Twinkle.

Share events through Facebook and Twitter

Users with running OS 7.0 or higher now have additional options for sharing events. In addition to sharing events over BBM as before, you can now also share events over Facebook, Twitter, and E-mail.

While BBM is still the preferred way to share events, those looking to post things more widely will appreciate the ability to post an event as a status update to one of these social networking sites.

Random colors

Also new in this version of Twinkle is the ability to set the default color to random on the options screen. The result of this is that any new event you create, or import to Twinkle will be given a random color. If you don’t like the color that was selected, you can also change the color by editing the event. The colors of events that are already in Twinkle will not be affected.

Import all from Calendar improvements

Version 3.2 added the ability to bulk import events from the calendar. This update refines the options some, by asking if you want to import all events, or just events from the future, or just from the past. As before you will be asked to confirm the number of events that you are adding to Twinkle, so you don’t accidentally import far more events then you intended to.

About Twinkle

Twinkle is a simple application that allows you to set and keep track of upcoming and past events, and (optionally) share them your friends. Twinkle will tell you how far away an event is, and allows you to send events to and from your BlackBerry’s native calendar, or to your friends on BBM. Twinkle gives you the ability to add and edit events, lets you keep track of how soon something is, or how long it has been since an event, and to search for all of these events through BlackBerry’s universal search. In recognition of this deep integration with the device, Twinkle was named a Regional Selections Winner in the 2010 BlackBerry Super Apps Challenge.

Links & Information

The benefits of BBM connected apps

Twinkle is an app that allows you to set and keep track of upcoming and past events, and share them with your friends. The app is free and contains a small advertisement that can be removed through an in-app purchase.

Because fetching the advertisement requires a request to a server, we can look at ad requests in order to get a look at approximate how often Twinkle is being used. While the app was released about a year and a half ago, the last few months worth of ad requests are shown in the chart below.

Version 3.0 of Twinkle added the ability to share events with your friends over BBM. Based on the above graph can you see when this update was released?

The existence of the BBM API has fundamentally changed the nature of this app. It has gone from a simple date tracker with calendar integration, to a complete social experience. While you can still choose to not make use of the app’s social features, it appears that most people are. Version 3.3 of Twinkle (coming soon) will expand these social features ever further with OS7 devices also able to share Twinkle events over Twitter, FaceBook, and Email. The typical usage of this app has completely changed from just five months ago.

PlayBook Sales chart

I have been estimating BlackBerry PlayBook sales for a while now based off of downloads of Pixelated. However because Pixelated was updated to version 3.0 at the same time that the PlayBook went on sale for $199 the data for the last half month is a bit muddled.

However the end of November was also the end of RIM’s quarter, and we do know that they have shipped 850,000 PlayBooks so far. Given that the PlayBook is universally out of stock everywhere at the turn of the month we can conclude that they have sold through the vast majority of what was shipped, so about 840,000 so far.

This plus the existing monthly data gives us the chart shown above for monthly PlayBook sales. In short it shows that the sale price has resulted in many more PlayBook’s being sold, but not astronomically high numbers either. It will be interesting to see where the PlayBook’s sales (and price) are in the coming months.