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The App Graveyard - The Depressing side of App Development

App development is great. People do it for fun, people do it for work and people do it for both. The barriers of entry to creating your own app (especially Android) are so low you can literally publish an app in a few hours and the statistics available let you track your apps progress in almost real time. The thrill of watching an app soar in terms of downloads and rank is amazing, and only rivalled by watching the money you make from an app soar. That is the justification for starting this blog - to document lessons learned and to share the joy I gain from writing apps. However, this first blog post focusses on another side of app development I've just discovered for the first time - the massive lows after the initial thrills.

My story starts in September 2012 when I published my first ever app. I started developing apps as a way to keep my technical skills up to date. I have a Masters in Computer Science and had a full time job as a Software Developer, but was transitioning to become a Software Development Manager and I knew my opportunity of writing of code would slowly decrease as the years went on. Writing apps was a fun way of developing my skills and keeping current. So I created an app and thought why not just publish it on Google Play and see what happens? I took the leap, and 2 years later that first app has had an astonishing (sarcasm) 4997 installs, of which less than a fifth still have the app installed.

Current installs by device for my first application. Whilst this is a nice linear graph, the fact there is less than 1000 current users for a free app means it will never be a good money maker.

When I started out, I never thought anyone would install my app so there was the thrill of the first time the app was installed. There was the thrill of the first day I hit 10 installs in one day, and then the thrill of my highest ever installs per day for that app of 28! Seeing this app grow at a rate I never expected led me to think - can I monetize this app? I quickly setup AdMob within my app and started to watch the result. My first month I made nothing, the next month I made an incredible 10 cents. Over it's lifetime the app has gained me £65 which is approximately $103. So why am I saying this is depressing?

The depression comes in the fact you look at your first app, and you see it grow. Quickly expectations rise, and the instant feedback every morning of your numbers of installs the previous day become important. You wake up and it's an instant low when you see you had less installs yesterday than the day before. Your earnings have gone down. You then start making more apps. Some apps take off, and others just don't. At time of writing I have published 36 different apps. The majority of them have never taken off. Three have broken 50,000 installs, the rest are all less than 10,000 installs, the majority between 0 and 100. What's worse is that you know within a few days whether the app is going to take off - if you haven broken 10 installs within the first week it's fair to say your app has been consigned to the "App Graveyard" - never to be featured in the top charts, never to be updated again as the initial feedback from the market is that the app is a waste of time.

The apps which take off are thrilling however and offer a completely different experience. These apps offer large volumes of installs per day (into the thousands for me) and if you monetise the apps you can start to get real rewards for your hobby. They key word here is hobby, as every cent or pound earned is seen as a bonus. However the earnings may get to the stage where you start to believe that this could become a business which could really take off. You may earn 30%-40% of your current full time job and think that this is an opportunity to break off on your own. You start making plans, you build more and more apps but it's difficult to get off the ground. This is the point I hit in the last few months - making plans for a business using apps.

The apps which take off have an even crueller experience which you can only experience after a period of prolonged success in an app - it's descent from a top app in the store back to the App Graveyard. You initially notice a drop in installs or earnings, and you see it as a blip. But that continues for a month or so and you start to panic. You start making new updates to your app to try and resuscitate them but it's too late. They are out the top charts and the snowball drop affect has unbelievable momentum you can't stop. My earnings dropped almost 60%  in the space of 2 months, and your dream of going solo with your app business are dashed.
This is my most successful app but you can see it is currently in decline - the nice linear graph has started to tail off to the point I'm getting more uninstalls per day than installs. The descent to the App Graveyard begins.
This is the earnings graph for that successful app - you can see that the earnings drop is even more severe than the apps total installs.

This takes me to today, where my next step is to start this blog, and re-adjust my thinking back to apps being a hobby and every cent earned being a bonus. It's a refreshing change of direction which I feel is going to change my experience back in the right direction. I'm going to create new apps, some of which will take off and some which wont and will just sit in the App Graveyard. Then it will all happen again - one app will show promise and it will move away from being a hobby again, and this cyclical experience of fun to hope to despair will just begin again!


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