August 31, 2010

How To: Watermelon Popsicles (3 Months in the Making)

As summer winds down, we decided it was finally time to pick our lone watermelon from its vine. Despite spreading over 20 feet of our garden (and through the fence and into our neighbors yard), the plant only produced a single watermelon. After some serious discussion about how to enjoy it, Mae Mae suggested watermelon popsicles. Everyone agreed this was a special way to enjoy our modest harvest.

As you can imagine, this is probably the simplest of all children's cooking activities. It requires only a watermelon, a bowl, big mixing spoons and popsicle molds. We found some popsicle molds at Ikea last year that have held up surprisingly well (not like the uber desk we bought in the same trip). I also have to recommend bathing suits, because it gets uber messy. So some "smash, smash, pour, smash, cry, share, time out, smash, lick" time later we had our tasty treat.

I threw them in the freezer and then turned the hose on the kids. Once we were all sufficiently soaked, and hot and tired, the popsicles were ready.

So, after 3 months on meticulous gardening, watering, weeding, and cultivating Ava concluded, "We like the other ones better." The other ones being the long, skinny, plastic sleeved Flav-o-Ices. Yep, the $1.00 for a box of 100 popsicles that they sell at gas stations. To which Mae agreed, "Next year, lets plant those."

August 30, 2010

Using Elephonics to Upgrade to an iPhone 4

BabyBinks is excited to announce the first major update of Elephonics. Based on user feedback, we fixed a couple of bugs and cleaned up some of the audio. We also introduced a new feature: the stampede. Every minute, a stampede of elephants will run across the screen and jumble the letters. You'll need to fix them to move on to the next level. You can also start the stampede by shaking your device.

In addition, all of the images have been updated to take advantage of the new higher resolution displays in the iPhone 4. If you don't have an iPhone 4 you'll just have to squint your eyes or ask a friend to hold it between 5-10 feet away from your face. If you really want an iPhone 4, but you significant other doesn't understand why you need to get rid of your perfectly functioning iPhone 3G and could care less that, since you upgraded to iOS 4, it takes 4 minutes to check your Twitter status, then follow these simple instructions:
  1. Download Elephonics telling your significant other that its a great app to teach your children to read
  2. Give you kid a bag of potato chips. None of that expensive, baked stuff from the organic aisle. The greasier the better (and usually better tasting).
  3. Show your kid how to active the new "Stampede" feature in Elephonics by shaking the iPhone.
  4. Backup your iPhone and hand it over to your kid.
  5. Go into the next room to talk with your significant other about going out of town this weekend to visit her parents.
  6. Listen for the crash...and act surprised.

In the best case scenario, you're off to the Apple Store. In the worst case scenario, you're off to the Apple store on your way out of town to visit your in-laws. Either way, you've got an iPhone 4 to play with on the car ride.

For more compelling reasons to get Elephonics, watch the new commercial.

August 27, 2010

Look What the Stork Dropped: A Year in the App Store

The first year being a developer in the App store has been a fun and educational experience. First off, it was probably only fun because I am not relying on income from my app to support my family. I have a day job that I like and don't plan on leaving to become a full-time developer. It is a hobby, the result of late nights and lunch hours, but I take great pride in my app Stork Drop. Also, I have never had any unrealistic expectations about becoming an overnight millionaire. I do, however, strongly believe that I created a software product of value that could be sold.

The App Store Is The Revolution, Not the iPhone
If I might digress, I believe the App Store is a revolution unto itself. I have studied business and entrepreneurship and never has the barrier of entry to a market been so low where the stakes were so high. Is there any doubt that competition in the App Store is so fierce? Apple has created a platform, environment and level playing field for designers, programmers and marketers to compete against each other solely on the merit and implementation of their ideas.

The App Store may be the first instance of an actual Global Marketplace. Where else could a developer in the Midwest United States wake up and find out that, while he rocking a crying baby to sleep at 3:30 in the morning, he sold his product in 11 countries (two of which he has never heard of and six of which he doesn't even know what their currency is). As far as I'm concerned, the App Store has rewritten all the rules of entrepreneurship.

A Brief History of Stork Drop
The idea for Stork Drop was conceived when I tried to find a baby naming app in the App Store when my wife was pregnant. There were plenty of apps, but they were all boring lists. None of then took advantage of the capabilities of the iPhone...or were any fun. After a brainstorming session with my 3-year old, Stork Drop was conceived. Yes, that's a pregnancy joke.

When I first starting out to work on a baby naming app for the iPhone, my wife was in her second trimester. By the time it was approved in the App Store, Oscar was two months old. During the first six moths, Stork Drop was a Paid app, with the price ranging from $.99 to $2.99 to coincide with random promotions. After fighting a saturated market with many free, albeit inferior, offerings, I moved to two versions: Stork Drop Free with advertising and Stork Drop Premium, ad-free at $2.99. Here is more detailed post about going Free.

Going Ga-Ga for Google
After a month shuffling AdMob, Greystripe and Mobclix, I was ecstatic when I was contacted by Google (yes, someone actually called me) and invited to participate in the AdSense for Mobile Content Beta. My traffic was significantly lower than they required, but I had an offering with a very lucrative demographic that they were anxious to get some ads in front of.

The great thing about Google ads is that they are served from keywords you set. This way the ads are targeted and you don't end up with random ad spam (e.g. Get Ripped Quick, Loose Weight Today, Meet Local Singles) which had been defacing my app with the other networks. Now the ads being served were all relevant to parents and babies...that meant clicks.

Blah, Blah, Blah Get to the Income
Bottom line, I made twice as much the first week from AdSense than I did in two months from the other ad networks. The page eCPM fluctuates dramatically from day to day, but on a weekly basis the income is pretty consistent. There are a couple of nice spikes that seem to coincide with holidays.

Through some rudimentary analytics I implemented with Google App Engine, it was very clear sales of Stork Drop Premium did not correlate to price changes or Stork Drop Free downloads. The conversion rate of Free to Premium was 0.2%. My best guess is that some people probably just can not stand in app advertising or they saw the Premium version in the App Store first.

Regardless of our pricing strategy or offering, we are proud to say that we have been a fixture in the top 10 ranked baby naming app in the store. This translates to between 100-200 downloads of the free version a day. Overall, we have cracked the 100,000 download mark. And just so all you game developers don't feel like your the only ones getting screwed, there is cracked version of the Stork Drop Premium circulating the Internet. Either software piracy can not just be attributed to teenage hackers or those teenage hackers don't know when to pull out. Of course, that assumes that they're getting laid.

Enough Already, How Much Did You Make?
Here is plot of the income generated from Stork Drop Free (red) and Stork Drop Premium (blue) since the implementation of AdSense. The Y-axis has been purposefully removed but it should be apparent that I am not one of the overnight millionaires you have begrudgingly read about. The Google AdSense Beta program explicitly forbids disclosing the financial details, and the last thing I want to do is get on their bad side. Its not the AdSense income I'm worried about losing; its that Google knows so much about me by now and the last thing I want is my kids finding out that I made an "independent" film back in college.

In Midwest, suburban father terms, I made enough income to make half a year of car payments on a Toyota Sienna minivan and take my family on a nice Disney World Vacation without sweating profusely over paying $20.00 for a 8x10" of my daughter and Cinderella (despite the fact I took the same picture with my digital camera).

The Future
I am optimistic about the future of App development, especially for those of us "second shift" developers. For the most part, all it costs me is time, and that's time that I probably would have just been sleeping anyway. As a rule, I have never taken time away that could be spend with my family to work on any app. I have however, extensively involved them in brainstorming and beta testing. BabyBinks has just recently released a new app, Elephonics, that I developed alongside my 4-year old daughter to help develop early reading skills. Her input was invaluable as I remember she said in response to the prototype, "It's not very fun".

As far as Stork Drop is concerned, I have a major upgrade in the works that will transform it from a just a baby naming app to a complete pregnancy tracking app. It's the most requested feature from customers and it will give me a chance to try out the In-App-Purchasing model.

Of course, just like a few other successful apps out there, I have also been busy shopping around a script for "Stork Drop: The Movie". The bad news is that my old director friend from college has picked up the option on it. The good news is that the nudity is very tasteful.

August 25, 2010

On Kindergarten and Uncommissioned Frescos

Today was the first day of Kindergarten in our school district.  Despite every effort, we were not able to send Ava to school this morning.  Ava's birthday falls 3 weeks past the cutoff date and our school district is unsympathetic to any variance.

We tried everything, short of Photoshopping her birth certificate, to get her into school.  We tried private, Catholic, new-age, any accredited school program in our area, but they all subscribe to the state recommended cutoff.  One of the school hinted that this was a condition of accepting state funds, so its easy to see why no one was willing to budge.

For awhile, we were devastated that she would have to go back to daycare for another year, when she was clearly ready for school.  She was the youngest in her class, but she was on par with everyone in her class.  Tonight, she read Margret "Green Eggs and Ham" cover-to-cover for her bedtime story.  I would say that should have qualified her for Kindergarten.

But, thats not all she did tonight.  While we were putting Mae and Oscar to bed, Ava showed off her artistic ability by creating a fresco on the den wall.  It was actually quite complex, three hearts representing the children, clouds, a rainbow and even the requisite angel.  These are, in fact, many of the elements of early Renaissance frescos.  The difference, those grace the ceilings of church cathedrals, this is on our den wall.

I was surprised that Margret and I both had the same reaction to it.  We both loved it and could have cared less that someday, we will have to repaint it.  Only time will tell if we are in the midst of an inspired artist, or just a rambunctious, defiant little girl who wanted to draw on the wall.

Maybe she is ready for Kindergaten or maybe she isn't, but either way, we are both glad to have our little girl for one more year.

August 24, 2010

Can I Tell You Something Funny About My Poop?


Ava: Mom. Can I tell you something funny about my poop?
Mom: Um. Ok.
Ava: I made a long skinny one and a little short one across the top. It looks like a "T".
Mom: Yeah. Now can you flush it?
Mae: I want to see it.

Mae: Cool.
Ava: Mom do you want to see it?
Mom: No thanks. Just go ahead and flush it.
Ava: No Mom, you really need to see it. It's so cool.
Mom: It's wonderful.
Ava: Dad go get the camera.
Mom: That's enough.