Oz Weather Xmas Sales – Is the App Store Broken?

You may already have heard from some other sources that iPhone app sales were very strong over the Christmas period, possibly enhanced by many new iPod Touch devices being delivered from Santa’s sleigh.

I can certainly confirm that it was a strong sales period for Oz Weather – although the picture is complicated by the fact that I temporarily dropped the price for the Christmas period. Here are the daily sales figures to date – from 1st November to 29th December.

salesgraph_2008_12

The red and yellow colors show units sold at the normal price of AUD$2.49 (US$1.99). The purple and orange colors show units sold at the discounted price of AUD$1.19 (US$0.99) – a sale which started on 24th December (day 54) and finished on 28th December (day 58).

Key Points

  • The break-even point for the Oz Weather project was reached on 19th December (day 49) – ie. cumulative net revenue of AUD$15,500 (US$10,850).
  • After ranking as high as #2 in Paid Apps category of the Australian app store from 5th to 9th December, ranking fell gradually to #9 on 23rd December. Hence my decision to run a price sale over the Christmas period.
  • Christmas Day had the highest ever sales of 451 units – followed by similar levels on 26th and 27th December. The app ranking rose to #2 again. This is the celebratory part of this article. 🙂
  • The last item on the graph (item 59 = 29th December) shows daily sales of just 17 units. This is not an error, and not just a partial day’s sales. It was the actual full day’s sales! Ranking has fallen to less than #10 – but to exactly what level is not possible to ascertain, due to problems in the app store. This is the disappointing part of this article. 😦

Major App Store Technical Problems

Did people suddenly stop wanting to buy Oz Weather because the price discount had ended? Did Oz Weather suddenly become unpopular? Did a competitor suddenly release a much better app?

The answer to all these question is no. Many people are still wanting to buy Oz Weather, but are unable to do so, due to problems in the app store. On the 29th and 30th December I received 7 emails from potential customers wanting to know why they couldn’t purchase it. This is very likely the tip of the iceberg. The vast majority of customers simply wouldn’t bother trying to contact the app publisher when they receive a message like the following (sent to me by a customer).

itunesna

So what is going on here, Apple? I have tried contacting Apple support, and so far have only managed to get an automated reply saying:

Please plan for a delayed response time from the iTunes Connect Support team from December 23rd through January 5th as we will be short-staffed over the holiday break.

It is apparent that the app store problems go beyond just the Oz Weather app. The Australian store paid app rankings were “stuck” for several days, and showed widely different results depending on exactly where you look at the rankings.

  • iTunes home page – showed Oz Weather #6 – this morning dropped off the table
  • iTunes app store main page – showed Oz Weather #4 – this morning dropped off the table
  • iTunes top 100 paid app rankings – showed Oz Weather #2 this morning – this afternoon had dropped to #23
  • iPhone top 25 rankings – showed Oz Weather #6 – still now at #6

I am not generally one to jump on the hindsight bandwagon – but in this case I am very tempted to say to Apple that “you should have realised that Christmas was going to be your busiest period, and employed extra staff instead of sending them all on vacation”. Now I am in a position where, due to this Apple glitch, I am probably losing several hundred dollars per day in sales, and my app ranking has artificially fallen from #2 to way off the radar – and I can’t find any way to get any response from Apple.

My questions to other app developers

  • Am I the only one having such serious app store problems?
  • If not, then do these problems affect only apps which are undergoing price changes?
  • Do these problems affect only the Australian app store?
In the absence of any way to get immediate support from Apple, I’m really hoping that someone who reads this blog can provide some useful feedback!

Late Addition (31 Dec): The following link to a PCWorld article which indicates that there have also been other app store/iTunes problems this Xmas.

Late Addition (1 Jan): I am not alone. The app store IS broken. See the comment from VPool.

How To Estimate App Sales from iTunes Ranking

Oz Weather has now been selling for long enough, and over a large enough range of iTunes app store rankings to enable me to get a good handle on what level of sales you need to achieve a particular ranking – or conversely, what ranking you would achieve from a given level of sales.

sales vs rankings

Points to Note

  • This analysis is specific to the Australian iTunes app store – US and other stores will likely have much higher sales levels for similar rankings, as a consequence of having a much larger iPhone ownership base.
  • The rankings are for Paid Apps only – Free apps are likely to have much higher download levels for similar rankings.
  • The rankings are overall app store rankings ie. across all app categories. Rankings within individual categories would obviously have smaller sales figure, although given the dominance of games in overall rankings, these results probably would also apply quite well to the games category on its own.
  • This analysis relates to sales over a 7 week period from 1st Nov 2008 to 19th Dec 2008 – The nature of the relationship may well vary with time as i) the total number of iPhone owners keeps rising, and ii) the total number of apps available in the app store keeps rising.
  • The curve is a best fit to the actual data points using a logarithmic formula.

Some Key Conclusions

  • To get top ranking in the Australian app store, you need to make more than 300 sales per day
  • To get into the top 10, you need to make more than 100 sales per day
  • To get into the top 20, you need to make more than 50 sales per day

Applying the Findings

So now you can get a good a pretty good estimate of how much money your favourite (paid) apps are making in the Australian app store. The following example is for “Pull My Finger“, which is currently ranked 5th in the Australian app store. (BTW I’m not saying this is actually my favourite. Its not! This is just for illustration.)

  1. Get the overall rank of the app ie. 5th
  2. Find the corresponding daily sales from the graph ie. about 200
  3. Multiply by the app’s price ie. 200 x AUD$1.19 = AUD$238 per day
  4. Deduct 1/11 for Australian Goods and Services Tax = AUD$216 per day
  5. Deduct 30% Apple’s share = AUD$150 (US$100) per day

Of course this app is selling worldwide, and this is just the Australian component of sales. I’m not sure of its rankings in the US or elsewhere, but one can probably reasonably assume that it might be selling, say,  20 30 times more worldwide than it sells in Australia alone. So taking this one step further, one arrives at a rough estimate of AUD$4500 (US$3000) per day worldwide.

Stop Press

Daniel Bradby (see comments) has provided an excellent link showing a similar graph for worldwide app sales – although supported by much sparser data. It appears to show that worldwide app sales are around 30 times more than those in Australia, rather than my initial estimate of 20 times. I have updated this article accordingly.

NB – There is now a more recent article with updated data and more detailed estimates of world-wide sales/rankings ratios.

Oz Weather v1.2 Released

An update to Oz Weatherv1.2 – has just been approved by Apple and released to the app store.

This update provides many new options to cater for special interests and patterns of usage – for example nautical users can now have windspeeds in knots, and observation mavens (like myself) can now get the app to open showing the observations page first. Fortunately this has all been possible without interfering with the simple and clear user interface. 🙂

This update was submitted on 11th December, so approval took 5 days (including a weekend).

Summary of Changes

  • New options which may be set via the iPhone’s home page under Settings / OzWeather
  • – selectable units for temperature, windspeed, rainfall, pressure (metric, imperial, nautical)
    – starting city option (last city / top city / list of cities)
    – starting weather page option (forecast / observations)
    – preload radar data (on / off)
    – remember radar location changes (on / off)
  • Addition of Marburg radar (west of Brisbane)
  • Several other minor fixes and enhancements

Explanation of New Options

To make changes to these options go to your iPhone’s Home Page and select the Settings icon. Then scroll down until you find the entry for “OzWeather“.

Oz Weather v1.2 Options

Startup Options

Open with

  • Last selected city – this option (the default setting) was always in effect in previous versions. It causes the app to always re-open showing data for the same city you had last been viewing.
  • City at top of list – when you edit the list of cities you can drag any selected city to the top, and typically you would put your home city there. The advantage of this option over the “last selected city” option is when you sometimes want to view weather in other cities than your own, but make sure it always start on your own
  • List of cities – if you often look at weather in different cities, then you might prefer to have a quicker startup which takes you to the list of cities, ready for you to select one.

First View

  • Forecast – this option (the default setting) was always in effect in previous versions. It shows you the forecast page first when the first city is selected/opened.
  • Observations – this shows you the current observations page when the first city is selected/opened.

NB – This option only affects the first city weather view during an application session. For any subsequent cities you choose, the application remembers which type of view you  last used.

Radar preloading

  • On (faster) – this option (the default setting) was always in effect in previous versions. It causes radar images to load at the same time as the forecast and observations data, so that when you view the radar image, is has typically already finished loading. Unless you have very limited data download allowance, this is generally the preferred option.
  • Off (less data) – this prevents radar images from loading until you actually choose to view them. This reduces your data download requirement, but introduces a delay before the images become available. This option might be useful if you don’t often view radar images and/or want to minimise the app data usage.

NB – A typical set of radar images for a city ranges from about 10kB to 40kB depending on how much rain activity is occurring.

Units

  • Temperature – you can choose between Celsius (C) and Fahrenheit (F)
  • Pressure – you can choose between hectoPascals (hPa) and inches of Mercury
  • Rainfall – you can choose between millimeteres (mm) and inches
  • Windspeed – you can choose kilometres per hour (km/h), metres per second (m/s), knots, miles per hour (mph)

NB – Sailors and others with nautical interests should choose knots for windspeed.

Radar Location

Remember changes

  • ON – this option was always in effect in previous versions. When you change the radar location, that changed location is remembered by the app next time you select the radar for the same city. This is useful is when you want to make a permanent change to which radar to use for the a city.
  • OFF – this is the new default option. It allows you to change radar locations without affecting the standard radar location for the current city, so next time you view weather for that city, the radar location won’t have changed.

NB – This option does not affect the radar range – only the radar location. Any changes you make to radar range are remembered for next time you view the radar for the same city.

Oz Weather Stats Update

In an earlier post I ranked Australian cities according to their degree of weather obsession. This was based on data from the original Oz Weather web application, which was receiving a few hundreds hits per day.

I am now in a position to provide a second opinion – this time based on a much greater volume of data from the Oz Weather native application, which currently receives around 10 to 15,000 queries per day. And again, Canberra is the clear winner.

The following list shows the ratio of unique weather queries to Oz Weather per head of population, indexed on Canberra’s data, for the last month (older web app rankings in parentheses).

* Canberra – 100% (100%)
* Darwin – 72% (59%)
* Brisbane – 72% (25%)
* Hobart – 65% (75%)
* Melbourne – 64% (68%)
* Sydney – 56% (29%)
* Adelaide – 34% (41%)
* Perth – 32% (30%)

The biggest single change is for Brisbane (up from 25% lowest ranked to 72% equal 2nd ranked). This probably reflects some of the recent spectacular weather they have had ie.  several outbreaks of severe storms.

The other overall change is the elevation of tropical and semi-tropical cities to the upper end of ranking at the expense of the more temperate cities. This may reflect that the weather in the more tropical cities is relatively benign in winter, but more prone to extreme conditions in summer, whereas the opposite tends to be more true of more temperate locations.

Given that local weather events and seasonal effects seem to have such an impact, it will probably require a much longer period of time of analysis to even these out – perhaps a full year. However, given that Canberra has been a clear leader in both analyses so far, it seem safe to allow it to maintain its status of most-weather obsessed city in Australia.

Oz Weather Apponomics – Part 2

Following on from my initial report after the first two weeks of sales, we’ve now had one full month of sales. Here are the daily sales for the month of November 2008.

salesgraph_2008_112

Summary of Sales & Revenue

  • Total units sold: 5,238
  • Estimated revenue: AUD$8,300 (US$5,250)
  • Estimated break-even point: 2 months or less

Daily unit sales jumped substantially around 22nd Nov, which coincided with an outbreak of extreme storms on parts of Australia’s east coast. There were a lot of great radar images to look at! Of course this also increased app usage and demand on the server, as a result of which I had to upgrade the server capacity. I guess that is one of the problems of success.

Usage Statistics

  • Total weather queries: 140,000
  • Avg weather queries per app per day: 2.2
  • Total data delivery: 6.08GB
  • Avg data delivery per app per day: 94kB

A “weather query” is one request by the app for one city’s weather data. Although a typical request requires only several kB of data in itself, the 94kB is explained by the fact that radar images are downloaded simultaneously to the weather request to ensure that the image is likely already there should the user actually want to look at it.

Upgrade Statistics

  • Total units v1.0 sold: 2,400
  • Total upgrades to v1.1 by month end: 1,860
  • Upgrade ratio: 77.5%

This seems to be contrary to other reports I had heard which indicated that the typical upgrade ratio for an iPhone app was low. Here are two reasons to explain why this case might be different.

  • The app was only 3 weeks old when the update came out, and many had purchased it only within the week prior. Hence they were probably still actively exploring new apps and would notice upgrades promptly.
  • In general this app is one you would use on a daily basis – as distinct from games or novelty apps where you tend to forget about them not long after first acquiring them. (Yes, I’ve got some too.)

Other Thoughts

Those of you who read the comments on my last blog may have seen an entry from one of the Pocket Weather developers. He very graciously posted their own sales trends, which so far look very different from my own, despite the closely aligned basic purpose and functionality of our apps. I also note that Pocket Weather will soon have an update to their app, and it will be very interesting for us both to see how that affects our relative sales levels. Stay tuned!