I was lured into PlayBook app development last winter by the offer of a free PlayBook. My motivations weren’t at all to make any money. To the contrary, I was firm in my belief that the app landscape consisted of big winners like Angry Birds who made back their investment 10,000 fold, and hundreds of thousands of apps that made < $200, making them not worth a developer’s time. (and not even close) I have a full time job which pays well, so my mobile app development is more about learning something new, and being a creative outlet that allows me to use a variety of skills, not just coding.
My first app, Baby Names for PlayBook, fits the trend of apps that make little or nothing, bringing in about 30 cents per day on average, for a total of $62 over six months. So far that equates to compensation of $4.50/hour.
But this is where it gets interesting: Purely as a learning exercise, I decided to implement Baby Names for BlackBerry phones, again not expecting much ROI. To my amazement, it has earned $1150 at a rate of $8/day, which translates to a compensation of $88/hour. And that is only the first five months of sales. If the sales rate continues at even half that rate for the next two years, the compensation rate might rise to > $300/hour. Clearly worth a developer’s time in that case.
Another financially positive experience was collaborating with my friend Graham Huber on a PlayBook app named Solicit. The idea was to make a polished looking app whereby you’d hand your PlayBook to someone you met so they could type in their contact information. That app has brought in $2/day for compensation of around $26/hour, and could rise to > $80/hour if sales continue at half the current rate for the next couple of years. (We are about to submit an update that allows you to upload contacts to Google Contacts)
For the sake of learning opportunity since then, I have implemented Baby Names on Android, which has compensated me $6/hour, on iPhone, which has compensated me $1/hour, Windows Phone, at $3.50/hour, and Chrome Web Store, at $0.25/hour. So there has been quite the disparity between my experiences developing for BlackBerry phones and these other platforms. (Which should be emphasized in this day and age of people claiming that developing for BlackBerry doesn’t make sense)
In terms of pure enjoyment, developing for PlayBook is where it’s at for me. It’s a beautiful piece of hardware (I do own an iPad as well), there is a need for apps, and the development experience for me with Flash has been far more enjoyable than Objective C. (I am fond of learning new programming languages, but yuck, I haven’t enjoyed my Objective C experiences so far) Because of this, most of my creative efforts since my first apps have been on the PlayBook, even though compensation hasn’t been anywhere close to my lone BB phone app.
I created Baby Paint, an app that allows a little person to swipe their finger around a cartoon drawing and have the correct color be placed under their finger’s path, kind of like those painting books I had as a kid that came pre-inked with the right colors. It has brought in $92 for compensation of $18/hour, not too bad if sales continue, but not great. A sports edition of that app, even a featured PlayBook app a few weeks ago, has earned $41, for compensation of $20/hour.
I collaborated with a friend Matt Langeman to create Learn Africa which has earned $25 for compensation of about $1/hour. (We can at least pump out apps for the other continents with little additional work, but it is not clear whether that would be worth it from a financial perspective)
A bit of a time sink was creating an app called Slideshow that would run alongside Voice Chat and allow you to start a slideshow, having the pictures display on both your screen and on the other person’s screen, in top quality, and be able to flip through your photos so that you can narrate your latest adventures with friends and family. It took a lot of hours to work out the kinks, 50 hours, and has so far compensated me a pretty rough $0.50/hour. I think it’s a compelling use case for the PlayBook, but one must realize that even ideas that we are fond of don’t necessarily generate a lot of interest. Perhaps if it was marketed well, it would have some legs.
More recently I have created Picasa Sync, which was the first app to be covered by a blog. That was a real treat. One of the most rewarding things for me as a developer is feeling like my creative efforts are appreciated, and blog coverage definitely has this affect. That app was only released last week, so it’s too early to tell what the compensation rate will look like. So far is has brought in $78, which is a good start for an app that took 7 hours to create. I have since created “Smug Sync”, an identical app for users of SmugMug, which is in the process of being approved.
So what conclusions do I make from my experiences? The most notable observation is that my first BlackBerry phone app has compensated me extremely well, much to my surprise, and so it would be interesting to make a few more phone apps to see whether that trend continues at all. On the PlayBook side, compensation rates have been much lower, but in a couple of cases they have been high enough that if sales continue it could be argued that my efforts will have compensated me well. All that said, I must conclude that the reason I develop for PlayBook is that I enjoy it. It’s fun to see a need and to try and fill it, to use both creative skills and technical programming skills, and to interact with and get feedback from users.
Future apps that I am considering: (feel free to sound off in the comments as to which of these if any you would find compelling)
- A way to, with one click from your PlayBook, sync music wirelessly from iTunes to your PlayBook over WiFi. Ability to make the sync smarter so that it grabs a good mix of your music rather than all of it if you do not want all of your music.
- A photo sharing app whereby you select a photo or group of photos and can share it via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Flickr, Picasa Web Albums, SmugMug, Email, or FTP location by checking boxes and then clicking “Share”.
- A smart slideshow app that goes and gets recent starred photos from Picasa, Facebook, Smug Mug, Flickr, etc, downloads them to your PlayBook, and shows those new photos more often than your old photos. Combined with the rapid charger stand (which I purchased) this turns the PlayBook into a beautiful (and smart) digital picture frame. We have a digital picture frame, but it is painful to keep it updated with recent photos.
- A smart and pretty alarm clock that ties in with your Google Calendar, weather reports, birthdays from Facebook, and uses the music you have on your PlayBook. The option to have it speak to you this information as your alarm with the rather impressive voices from http://www.expressivo.com/. Another nice use of the rapid charger stand.
Can I just say that, if I could go back in time, back to December 2010, I would have created a beautiful native email app for the PlayBook. That likely would have compensated very well, you might agree.
An interesting idea I’ve had is to create a site or even a forum post that proposes a number of useful PlayBook app ideas, and then users could vote which one they’d like the best. I would then implement the winning app. Encouraging this dialog between users and developers seems like a constructive thing, beneficial to both. At the end of the day, interacting with real people and having the satisfaction of meeting their needs is where it’s at for many of us developers. So in that spirit, let me know which of the above app ideas would be most useful to you, and I will implement the winning app and put it up for sale for 99 cents.