Jiva DeVoe is a software developer with experience going way back to learning BASIC on the Commodore VIC-20. iZen Garden was an launch day title and staff favorite on the App Store at launch. With over a million downloads under his belt, we send a few questions his way.
148Apps: How has the App Store changed your professional life?
Jiva DeVoe, Founder of Random Ideas Software: The App Store has changed everything about my life. I had dreamt of having my own software business for nearly 20 years. I started working towards that goal 10 years ago, but it wasn't until the App Store that my business really started to take off. Now, thanks to the success of my apps, I'm an entrepreneur and author, and am able to work on projects I enjoy while still working from home and being available for my family.
148Apps: You were on the App Store very early. What was it like developing
for the App Store back then?
Jiva DeVoe: I was extraordinarily fortunate because I was one of the first people who was accepted into the iOS SDK program. I received my acceptance on April 1, 2008. I recognized immediately how lucky I was, and told myself that I had to take advantage of this opportunity and build something. Even if it was going to be small and silly, I still needed to have something in the App Store on day one.
The early versions of the SDK were pretty bad. There was no interface builder support and the documentation was a bit spotty. Fortunately, because I had already been working in Objective-C and Cocoa for a number of years, it was really easy for me to transition into it.
I was still working my day job at the time, so I would work all day at my day job and then I would work on my iOS projects at night. I remember specifically there was at least one night when I had brought my laptop to bed with me, and I was continuing to code in bed in the dark on my lap at 2 o'clock in the morning. My wife, who had been asleep, was woken by the light of the screen. She lifted her head up and blearily said "You are a machine..." and then rolled over and went back to sleep.
Tiles was a silly sliding tile game that I made mainly because I just wanted to build a game. iZen Garden was a portable zen garden for your iPhone. Of the two, iZen Garden was the most important to me, because I felt like it showcased more of my personal tastes than Tiles.
I had previously shown both apps at my local CocoaHeads meeting. Most of the developers in that group didn't "get" iZen Garden. This made me a little bit nervous, but I think that it's eventual success speaks to the universality of the App Store and it's reach into demographic groups beyond just geeks.
When launch day came, my wife and I nervously looked on the App Store, and we were thrilled to see them there. IIRC, it was priced at $7.99, but as soon as I saw some of the other apps prices, I dropped the price to $4.99. Back then, for those first couple of days, the App Store listings actually showed how many times a given application had been downloaded right on the app store itself. I forget exactly how many downloads I had that first day, but I do remember that it was a lot. I remember thinking "this must be a fluke, it must just be because it's opening day."
The fact that my app was selling at all was really exciting, but the thing that really made my heart leap is when I got a text message from my wife, "Did you see that iZen Garden is a 'Staff Favorite'?"
I looked, and sure enough, iZen Garden was among the list of the first staff favorites. I literally teared up with joy and pride. To think that Apple thought that my application, out of the thousand or so in the App Store at the time, was one of the best, was positively the best possible outcome I could have had.
Apple removed the ability to see how many downloads an application had received a day or so after the App Store launch. Furthermore, they did not provide us with sales reports until another month or so later. However, I hosted my help file on my web server. Because of the fact that I knew how many downloads there had been on the first day, I was able to estimate how many downloads I was receiving for the rest of the month based on looking at the number of hits to my help file. I surmised that the ratio of downloads to help file accesses should remain relatively constant.
Based on this data, it looked to me like the application was going to be tremendously successful. In fact, I estimated that during that first month I would actually make 2 times what I was making from my monthly salary from my day job!
This was it! Just like when I said to myself that I needed to take advantage of the opportunity that was given to me by having early access to the SDK, I knew that I needed to take advantage of this momentum as well. I contacted a friend of mine who had many years of experience running businesses and coaching entrepreneurs on how to grow their businesses, Francine Hardaway.
I asked her who I should contact for PR about my application. I told her it looked like this thing was going to be pretty big and I wanted to make sure that I was doing whatever I could to make it a success. She told me, point blank:
"Don't bother, no one is going to make money off iPhone apps."
Needless to say, I ignored her, and decided I was going to give it my best shot no matter what.
Sure enough, when those first sales reports rolled around that first month it even exceeded my expectations. I told my wife: "If the sales stay like this for the next 6 months... I will quit my day job."
6 months later, I was indie.
(Editor note: Francine Hardaway's take is available on Fast Company.)
148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has gone through considerable changes. The number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps has stabilized way lower than many expected, free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. If, knowing what you know about the App Store now, you could go back and influence your path five years ago, what would you say?
Jiva DeVoe: I have learned so much since the launch of the App Store that it would be difficult to narrow the advice down to just a few things. I've experimented with a variety of promotional ideas, product ideas, and so on. Some of them have worked out, and some of them have not. I would love to be able to go back and tell my former self which ones were which. It would save me a tremendous amount of time. I would also tell myself to be prepared for the Retina display devices better. Those surprised me. ;)
148Apps: What have you seen on the App Store, outside of apps you were involved in that has surprised you most?
Jiva DeVoe: If you mean in terms of apps, apps like Word Lens and Glasses.com have really pushed the envelope in terms of cool things that you can do with these devices. I think that we really only scratched the surface in terms of finding out what iOS is capable of. We have Star Trek level technology in our pockets today. That's the amazing part to me.
148Apps: Any predictions on what the App Store will be like five years from now?
Jiva DeVoe: I'm horrible when it comes to predictions. I can tell you what I would like to see, but whether or not that comes to fruition depends mostly on Apple.
I would love to see a Siri API that allows applications to better integrate with voice commands. The ability to set an application to handle particular commands, like a To Do list application besides Reminders handling To-Dos, seems like the culmination of what the promise of Siri represents. Apple can't do everything, and it's through enabling third-party applications that the real success of the platform springs.
I would love to see paid upgrades in the App Store. This is a question that I would have liked to have seen answered by now, but still it's a big question mark.
One thing is for certain, we will continue to see tremendous innovation on mobile platforms, and the center of that innovation, I think, will continue to be iOS.
Many thanks to Jiva DeVoe for his time.