Lessons Learned: Code Journal Early Release

As you may know Code Journal had its early release last week and it has been a pretty good experience so far. I got lots of great feedback from users and have already been able to update the application based on that feedback.  The purpose of this post is to share some of the lessons I have learned and create a discussion around independant software development and distribution. I could enumerate all the nice things that have been e-mailed or otherwise communicated to me re Code Journal, but I believe that there is more to be learned from criticism than praise, therefore, I am going to discuss some of  the application’s critiques.

Critique #1: Mountain Lion Only!?!?
Yup, I heard this one a lot. I decided to develop the application for Mountain Lion, because I thought a few 10.8 specific features were essential and that most of the application’s users would quickly upgrade to the new OS. Turns out that even though Apple reported record adoption of Mountain Lion (OS X 10.8), a large set of Code Journal’s potential users are running older systems: mostly Lion (OS X 10.7). The good news is that despite my miscalculation, I was able to rectify the situation quickly; I have already updated the app to support 10.7+ and I am happy to say that the updated version has been live for several days now.

Critique #2: No Pasting Passwords?
This one caught me a little off guard but really it shouldn’t have looking back. You see I have this odd habit of memorising long passwords, so typing them out is a pretty routine task. Most sane people, however, are using something like LastPass or a similar tool. I am happy to report that I have an update to Code Journal in testing that does allow the pasting in passwords and, unless any issues are found, that version will be pushed live early this coming week.

Critique #3: No App Store Version?
If you are a Coder Radio listener (and you should be), you will know that I am doing something of an experiment with Code Journal. Basically, I have not released it on the Mac App Store intentionally to see how that would affect sales and what (if any) feedback I would get regarding its distrobution. Before I mention what feedback I got I should say that this was the single most common critique of the app. In short, a lot of people have a strong preference to get all of their apps from the Mac App Store and do not want to purchase apps from a website. This is good news for Apple, but bad news for devs; I still hold that there is significant value in having a direct relationship to the users of your apps and the delays caused by Apple review process (22 days for Code Journal’s first binary) can be incredibly damaging if your strategy is to build and iterate rapidly. Assuming that the feedback I received is representative of the greater Mac user ecosystem, it seems that the Mac App Store will soon be the only feasible portal via which to sell apps; barring games that might do well in Steam.

Critique #4: What is Gumroad and Why Isn’t It PayPal?
This is another one that really surprised me, but it seems that there a lot of users who are not really comfortable entering their credit card data into Gumroad. Taking a high level look at my data I have x sales but x * 30 sales have ended right at the checkout screen. Think about that for a minute. The vast majority of people who like the info page enough to click “buy now” got all the way through the checkout process and turned back at the final checkout screen. The data aside, I have heard from several people that they or others close to them were not comfortable with entering the credit cards into Gumroad and would strongly prefer that I switch to PayPal. So why Gumroad at all? Well, they do a lot for me for the same cost as PayPal including verifying receipts, sending app updates to users, and a number of other small things that I would have to implement myself with PayPal. I am still considering how to handle this issue.

Bottom Line
In many ways I feel direct distribution has been incredibly successful, mainly because it allowed me to react quickly to user feature requests (back porting to Lion etc), however, the Mac App Store issue is a troubling one; if the percentage of Mac users who strongly prefer to purchase apps via the Mac App Store continues to grow, developers will have little choice but to conform to the somewhat draconian sand-boxing policies of the Mac App Store. Having said that, I am not against distributing Code Journal via the Mac App Store. In fact, if the numbers continue as they have (numerous users declining to purchase until an a version is on the store), then I probably am not going to have much of choice.

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