What I learnt building a gimmicky app for Windows Phone…

Before taking the startup route with Mendzapp and subsequent development of Foundbite, it was really just a professional front for my Windows Phone app development. The first few apps I developed, Travelnapp and YuleTile, I knew weren’t going to make me rich in the very early days of Windows Phone, but I won’t deny hoping for at least a bit of money, I was a lowly student after-all. YuleTile made some money for myself and the Railway Children charity but we’re only talking a couple of hundred pounds really.

Browsing the api site, Programmable Web, I came across Face.com – a company that ran a service that analysed photos, recognised faces and even went as far as guessing how old they were. It was pretty impressive stuff and I immediately came up with a concept for an app that I though could really be quite good.

I remembered an app called Fit or Fugly that had been demonstrated to me on the iPhone by a friend. The app, which told you how fit or fugly you or your friends were, was able to judge the degree of unfortunate looks by working out the distance ratios between your nose and eyes. It was a fairly polished app but there wasn’t actually anything that clever (technically) about it. You snapped a picture of a friend’s face and simply dragged and dropped markers on their face where their mouth, nose and eyes were. The app then made a big show of processing the data and gave you a percentage score (I’ve since conveniently forgotten my score).

Gimmicky yes, but at the time people were really liking these fart style apps and the developer, Ed Nash, went on to do amazingly well from it with over 2 million downloads worldwide according to the app description. At £0.69, that’s quite a lot of money!

I saw how much he’d made from something so basic and got the dollar signs in my eyes and set about making VizAge for Windows Phone. Even though Windows Phone has far less users I figured I could still make a pretty penny.

Alas, my thoughts of earning a quick buck were not to be.

It didn’t come down to the app really, it was given some strong praise by Richard at WPCentral, was featured on the marketplace, got about 4.4/5 stars on average, 11,000 downloads and took a slightly fun and odd take to metro design.

I think the real problem was the different ways users behave on Windows Phone compared to iOS when it comes to buying apps due to the lack of trial mode. In the case of Fit of Fugly, this meant that people who were shown the app by a friend and wanted to try it on their phone just shelled out the inconsequential £0.69 for the app without batting an eyelid (iPhone users are younger an wealthier don’t you know).

On Windows Phone the trial mode makes the experience far better for users, less money wasted on apps that don’t do what they say, but for makers of gimmicky apps like myself at the time, it meant that people might try it for a bit and then decide it’s fun but not worth the money and never buy the full app.

For the trial mode in VizAge, I allowed the user to take and get the results for 3 images before they were then prompted to upgrade if they wanted to take more or compare themselves to some famous faces. In all honesty, it probably wasn’t a good enough value proposition for most and about 7% decided to go ahead and upgrade.

Don’t get me wrong, the app was by no means a failure (surprising given its power to offend if it got the ages wrong) as I recouped my investment (before the Face.com API was shut down by Facebook, – booo!) and I learnt a hell of a lot. However, it was clear to me that unlike the stories you read about in the paper of people getting rich “overnight” with their “hit” fart app it really isn’t all that easy and the apps gold rush where people will buy anything from a virtual pint to a lightsaber are truly over.

I figured I should concentrate on developing something more meaningful that won’t make me an app millionaire overnight and that is something far more useful and enjoyable for users to be a part of and for me to develop. With that in my mind, I started developing Foundbite.

If you disagree or had similar experiences, I’d love to hear from you: jamesmundy@mendzapp.com.

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