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Vesper Lessons To Learn (@daringfireball)

A candid retrospective by John Gruber on shutting down Vesper, the note-taking app for iOS that he, Brent Simmons, and Dave Wiskus created. There are lessons to be learned here for anyone thinking of jumping into the iOS app or Mac app business:

If I could do it all over again, here is what I would do differently. I would start the exact same way, with Dave and me designing Vesper for iPhone. But then, before Brent wrote a single line of code, we would immediately design Vesper for Mac. And that’s the product we’d have built and shipped first. There is downward pressure on pricing for Mac apps, but the market is still there for quality apps that cost $20–100 (or more). The plan would have looked like this:

  1. Build Vesper for Mac. Sell it for around $20.
  2. Build a sync system.
  3. Build Vesper for iPhone.
  4. Build Vesper for iPad.
  5. Maybe build a web version.

This seems like good advice for developers looking to build a sustainable business. An iOS app alone is a long-shot way to attempt it, but starting with a Mac app and building a companion iOS app, if applicable, could be a better way to do this successfully. Productivity and other types of apps that are convenient to use on different devices and can share and sync data make sense for this type of business model. Games or other types of apps that only make sense on iOS would not apply.

Another good point (and not novel – it’s “mobile-first”) is in the footnotes:

The reason I think we were correct to design Vesper for iPhone first, before designing the Mac version, is because mobile is more limited. There are technical constraints and screen real estate constraints. A Mac app can do anything an iOS app can do; the opposite is not true. By designing the iPhone app first, we’d be far more likely to avoid the mistake of adding features in the Mac version that were difficult or impossible to do on iOS. Any app you intend to bring to mobile should be designed for mobile first.

Anyway, I think there is a lot of good insight in this long piece by Gruber and it’s well-worth reading if the app business might be your game.

Update Another data point from David Smith about how his apps have generated revenue over time. Summary: it’s mostly from in-app advertising now. And as Gruber again notes (today):

There’s still a strong market for paid-up-front Mac apps, but with mobile apps, you really have to treat them more like websites: free to use, with either advertising, paid extras, or both.

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