You learn some lessons the hard way. It seems painfully obvious now but if you plan to release a paid App, always check the App store before you start coding to see if there are several popular free Apps available that do the same thing. (Note: this article is part of a series. Click here to read the introduction.)
Graph of Paid Android App Total Installs
Take a look at the graph of total paid Android App installs below and see if you can guess which of the paid Apps competes with several free alternatives?
Follow Up Question
For bonus points, which App was made based on a request from an Android user on an Android forum?
The answer to the first question is A, also known as Eco Trip, a gas mileage calculator. The answer to the second question is C, also known as Email Sign Up, an App that collects email addresses. For completeness, B is Eggspense, an App to track costs associated with keeping chickens.
As it turns out, making a paid App that people want is non trivial. The best way I have found is to do research with the goal of making something that people are already asking for. Chances are that if one person on an Android forum is requesting the App, there are other people who are likely to want it as well.
Eco Trip Back Story
Eco Trip was the first App that I made. I had to pick something to build as a first App. I chose to make a mileage calculator because I keep a paper mileage log in my car. I am good at writing down the mileage each time I fill up the tank, but I rarely bother to calculate the actual miles per gallon.
I thought, why not make an App that would log the mileage and automatically calculate the miles per gallon? Eco Trip was an App that I knew I would use. Once I had decided to build the app, I focused on building the first version. As development of the App was coming to completion, I decided to check to see if there were any other similar Apps already on the App store.
I was disappointed to see that there were a few free alternatives already available. I pushed through this set back to complete Eco Trip. The App has received very few downloads and I quickly lost interest in adding features to it.
Email Sign Up Back Story
Email Sign Up is designed to replace paper email sign up forms. The idea came from the following forum post (source).
I run a college club. We go to events and people sign up for our mailing list. When I get home, I add them to the club email account, and I have to throw out half of them because people can’t write worth a damn.
All I want is an app with two fields, Name and Email, and one button that says “Add Me.”
People enter their name. They enter their email address. They press “Add Me”. Their name and email address are dumped into a text file. The text file would have the date for a name, and anyone logged that day would be added to the end of the text file.
I’d still want to import them manually so the occasional moron trying to be funny won’t clutter up our email address book.
It would also be nice if you could customize the background for your organization.
This would literally take someone a half hour to make. I just don’t know anyone who knows how to do it.
The first version of Email Sign Up matched this description almost exactly. Check out a screen shot from an early version of the App below.
I added emphasis to the poster’s time estimate. Estimating how long a software project will take is incredibly difficult (books have been written on the topic). It is even harder for non software people. It took quite a few late nights spread across a couple of weeks to complete the first version of the App.
The main challenge of making Email Sign Up was allowing users to choose an image file. The heap on Android devices can be as low as 16 MB. When allocating space to hold an entire high resolution image, you can quickly run out of space. When this happens Android will force close the App. Not a good user experience. The solution is to scale the image. The image doesn’t need to be any larger than the devices screen resolution.