Guest Post - My Experience with Paid Apps
My goal with writing apps for Pebble has never been to make tons of money. Despite Snowy's success, I'm not going to go quitting my job and moving to an exotic island any time soon. However, it has been absolutely awesome making some money off my hobby. Most importantly, having paid users validates my efforts as a developer and proves that what I'm building is not just something that users want, but something that they're willing to pay for.
It's that easy!
Getting Paid, Part 1 - Setting Up Payments
It turns out, I was correct. But at the time, I faced a serious question. How do I get people to pay for my app? There were two problems: one technical, and one systemic.
The technical problem was how to accept payments, the established way of doing this for Pebble apps is typically to write a companion app for iOS and/or Android. But there was a tiny issue: I don't know how to write iOS and/or Android apps, and even if I did, Apple and Google take a big cut of your potential revenue stream.
This is where KiezelPay comes into the picture. For those of you unfamiliar with the platform, KiezelPay is a third-party library that you integrate into your code. It checks whether the user has purchased a license, and if they haven’t, a notification pops up on the watch with a 5 digit code and prompts the user to visit the KiezelPay website. There, the user enters the code, which launches a payment flow through PayPal.
It’s easy to implement, and they take less of a cut than Google or Apple.
Holy Profitable Pebble Programming, Batman!
license check and payment prompt is as easy as adding a single line of code to
You can easily customize the user experience if you want, to show custom payment prompts (which Snowy does), or to allow a trial period (which Snowy does not - more on that shortly).
Getting Paid, Part 2 - Getting Users to Pay
Now that the technical side was taken care of, I still needed to address the systemic issue: almost all apps in the Pebble appstore are free. This creates a very unusual set of expectations for an app “marketplace” - namely, that any new app is expected to be free since almost all other apps are free.
KiezelPay does offer the option for a free trial period; however, I felt confident that Snowy wouldn’t need one. The success of the app would speak for itself. Additionally, post-launch, I released a short demo video. This satisfied many users who had complained about not having a trial. They (understandably) wanted to see the app in action before buying a license. The time I saved not integrating the trial was spent creating marketing material that would support the app.
This material consisted of a simple website where users could look up information on how to use Snowy and see answers to frequently asked questions. Not only did this spare my inbox of most (but not all) basic functionality questions, but I believe it added a legitimacy to the product that wouldn’t have been there if I just had published a PBW and hoped for the best.
MyDogSnowy.com Homepage Banner
The next step was to promote Snowy in channels where I expected solid conversion. This included the Pebble Forums, Twitter, and Reddit (r/pebble). The response on Reddit was the most significant, early adopters began sharing their positive reviews, and soon more casual Pebblers were downloading Snowy.
And there were definitely some people opposed, not to Snowy in particular, but to paid apps in general. Some demanded a free trial. But the opinions of those in the increasingly small minority who insisted on a trial or refused to pay for a Pebble app mattered less and less as more and more users purchased licenses.
So what are my biggest takeaways from this experience? First and foremost, be thorough in your documentation. Whether that’s a highly-detailed appstore description or a simple WordPress site, you want users to be comfortable giving you their money in exchange for your work. It should also reduce support emails, which leads me to my second point.
Check your support emails frequently after each release. I try to respond in a timely fashion to emails for all of my apps, but there’s an increased sense of urgency if someone paid for one. Aim for a high level of professionalism, even when responding to angry users or those who want a refund. It'll be better for your long term credibility and success.
Also important, be highly visible in your pricing. This may seem counter- intuitive, but if users think you're trying to hide the price, there will be strong backlash. Be up front and honest about the price, and most will accept that.
Banner design (courtesy of Juan Sanchez) makes the price look like an integrated part of the Pebble appstore user interface.
However, some users very explicitly won’t accept paid apps, and you need to accept that. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you can’t please all your users all the time. There will be users that actively hate some detail or feature and they won’t hesitate to let you know about it via that convenient “Email Developer for Support” email link in the appstore. Sometimes, you’ll get valuable feedback that way. More often than not, you’ll just need to remind yourself that for every angry email, there are dozens, if not hundreds of perfectly happy people using and loving your watchface or app every day.
Finally, my mantra for paid apps is this: “Charge money only for apps worth paying for.” Asking a user to pay real money for an app is asking them to have faith in the quality of your work. Users will lose faith in paid apps as a whole if the Pebble appstore is suddenly flooded with low-quality paid apps. The flip side of this is; if you do have an app that you believe is “worth paying for”, you’re going to stand out in the crowd. Putting a pricetag on your app will indicate to users that you believe it's worth something, and they should too.
As for me, I’m content to continue working on supporting and updating Snowy at this point. However, I’m excited to see more widespread adoption of KiezelPay, and a new generation of paid apps in the Pebble appstore.
Note: KiezelPay is still in beta, but is accepting applications for early access now. To apply, sign up at https://www.kiezelpay.com.
- Getting Paid, Part 1 - Setting Up Payments
- Getting Paid, Part 2 - Getting Users to Pay
- Key Takeaways
- All Posts
- At the Pub
- Beautiful Code
- Down the Rabbit Hole
- Freshly Baked