Oz Weather Plus – Why I’m releasing it as a new app

The Oz Weather iPhone app was first released on 20th Nov 2008 – yes that’s more than 5 years ago!!! By all accounts, it’s been a highly successful app. Notably, in January 2009, it reached #1 ranking for paid apps in the Australian app store and stayed there for about 10 days, during the period of an intense heatwave, and deadly bush-fires. And over the entire 5 year period, the app has been installed onto hundreds of thousands of devices.

There have also been more than 30 free app updates released during that period, and also an attempt to use in-app purchase to provide new, advanced features, which were much appreciated by a number of users. This also attracted a lot of very negative and vocal feedback from users who thought they should be getting it all for free, and as a result I eventually re-integrated those features into the app and removed the in-app purchase. But the damage was done, and with a competitor who crowed loudly that their own app’s updates would be free forever (they’ve since reneged of course), Oz Weather lost its lead in the app store to them.

And here’s how Oz Weather sales have gone, over the last few years…

Sales_2010_2013

So as you see, despite the many app updates (seen as comments bubbles in the above graphic) new sales have trailed off considerably. There are a number of reasons for this. The biggest one is that competition has increased a lot over the years. In fact it seems that my own openness in posting my app’s sales figures during those early years probably encouraged quite a few other developers to try their hand at it. And then there were the bigger players in the Australian weather field, such as “WeatherZone” and “Elders Weather”, who had just been slow to get into the app store, and eventually figured out how to make their apps more appealing. Some of those competitors innovated with new types of features that I didn’t think would be as appealing to users as they actually turned out to be. More recently still, it seems to have become something of a trend amongst app developers to use weather apps as a kind of test playground for new app design paradigms. And there have indeed been some really nicely-designed weather apps coming out, especially with iOS7 style interfaces.

And it is indeed the iOS7 operating system update that finally prompted me to consider starting afresh. And with this impetus, suddenly there was a surge of new enthusiasm to create several innovative new features, some of which had been floating around in the back of my head for years, but not seen the light of day due to lack of motivation stemming from the various issues described above.

The big issue was, of course, whether or not this could or should be offered as a (necessarily free) update to the existing Oz Weather app, as opposed to creating a brand new app. I’m sure readers of this post will be well aware of the many precedents for creating new apps as opposed to providing free updates – the first big one of which was Tweetie – and they got some really bad reactions, although over time there has been greater and greater acceptance that this is pretty much a necessary way to go in order for app developers to survive, in particular given the shortcomings of in-app purchases, and the fact that they simply aren’t workable in many types of non-game category apps.

A key metric to consider in my own case is that I’ve spent around 1000hrs building the new app and its associated server code. Even if I were to value my time with only a modest hourly rate, at the current rate of app sales, it would take much more than a year of ongoing income, in fact maybe several years, to pay for the time I’ve invested in it. Obviously that would not be a sustainable way to work or run a business.

Also, many of the existing Oz Weather users bought the app more than 3 years ago – most of them paid around $2.49 for it, although it’s since gone down to $1.99 due to Apple changed pricing tiers, combined with ongoing downward price pressure from the competitors. Further, many users do continue to use the app on a daily basis – so it would be hard for them to argue that they haven’t got good value for money.

Then, of course there are those users – a much smaller number – who bought the app more recently – and it will probably feel less fair to them not to be getting a free upgrade. However, I am not intending to stop providing data feeds to the existing app, at least for the foreseeable future. (I don’t want to make any rash promises that I might not be able to honour – it might be necessary to drop the feed at some point down the line.) So those users will continue to have a fully-featured, working app – the same features that were advertised to them in the app store, and which they paid for. I do know it will suck a little bit more for those who bought it only really recently. So if you really feel that badly about paying for the upgrade, and are financially stressed by it, what the hell, why not send me an email, via the app’s About / Email us button, and if you really make a good case, I’ll see if I can help out.

There it is – that is why I’m releasing the new version of Oz Weather as a new app. For better or for worse. So may god help me. Amen. 😉

Oz Weather HD Update

Oz Weather HD for iPad has just had an update approved by Apple (4 days waiting for review, 3 days in review). [iTunes link]

The app reached #2 ranking in the Australian app store for paid iPad apps for two days last week. Since then it has drifted down to about #8. But I suspect that all we need is a really good dose of “bad” weather in a few capital cities to send it back up. 😉

The enhancements are mainly things that will appeal to “high-end” users ie. weather geeks like myself.

Firstly the weather warnings have now all been color coded, so that important and relevant warnings stand out much more clearly than before. Typically most warnings are for coastal and ocean winds, which are only relevant to sailors and coastal dwellers. These marine are now shown in blue, whereas those relevant to land are shown in yellow, or red for severe warnings, storms and cyclones.

Secondly the Local Stations map view now has a new “Synoptic” view which shows traditional station wind arrows indicating wind direction and speed, as well as temperature and humidity where those data items are available. This really helps to get a sense of what winds are doing in the local area – especially helpful for people who do water-based sports, for example.

  • Each weather wind arrows has a circle as its head, showing the actual location of the observation on the map, and a tail with feathers on it.
  • The tail is drawn towards the direction from which the wind is coming, so that the arrow effectively points in the direction in which the wind is blowing.
  • Therefore, if the wind is northerly (coming from the north), the tail is drawn on the northerly side of the location circle.
  • The feathers on the tail indicate the wind speed. A long tick indicates 10 units of windspeed, and a short tick indicates 5. A filled triangle indicates 50 units.
  • The units used depends on your choice of windspeed units in the app settings. For example, if you have chosen kmh, then two large and one small feather ticks would indicate 25kmh.

Thirdly there is a new “State Temperatures” map view. Although it is intended mainly for viewing the latest regional or state temperatures, in fact it displays all recent temperatures around Australia as a whole. The temperature labels are color-coded by temperature on a sliding scale, so wide-scale temperature patterns are easily visible at a glance. Check out the chilly alpine weather in the following screen-shot showing Melbourne, eastern Victoria and southern NSW (10:30am, 18th July 2010)!

Oz Weather HD

Oz Weather HD is an iPad only version of Oz Weather. I’m delighted to announce its approval and release by Apple today, after an impatient 8 day waiting period.

It contains all of Oz Weather’s features including the pro level ones, in a much more accessible way than is possible on the iPhone’s limited screen size. The larger screen size has also made it possible to present many of those features more attractively than on the iPhone as well.

This app has been a long time coming – I would have liked to get it out there much sooner, but was earlier pre-occupied with updating other apps (Sun Seeker and See Breeze) to work as universal binaries (ie. on iPhone and iPad), not to mention also releasing a brand new iPhone app called Moon Seeker, which is a lunar calendar, compass, and augmented reality position finder.

After much agonizing over the design of Oz Weather HD, and several false starts, I’m really pleased with the way it has finally turned out. My criterion for a good design is one that I get a warm feeling every time I run the app and this is certainly true of this one. I can only hope that lots of others get the same buzz out of it! The crux of this design is the inclusion of some of my favourite cloud & weather photos as backdrops.

Here are a few screen shot thumbnails:

Plotting a Cold Change

Saturday 23rd January 2010 saw a classic heatwave/cold front event occurring up the eastern coast of New South Wales Australia, and I observed from Sydney, watching things progress during the day via the internet, as well as from my own home, where I have a view across parts of Sydney.

Oz Weather v2.1 introduced graphing of weather history as a new feature, and the graphs from that day show the change very clearly indeed. The following graph is a composite of the different ones available in Oz Weather, although I have overlaid a transparent bar indicating the time when the main changed occurred.

A summary of the changes:

  • Temperature dropped from about 41°C to 22°C.
  • Humidity jumped from 10% to 85%
  • Wind jumped from 30km/h to 65km/h with gusts to over 95km/h just as the change came through, and the direction shifted from NW to S.
  • Interestingly, the pressure started to rise an hour or so before the main change, and there was a little rain from some thunder cells that developed following the change.

The Doppler (wind) radar also showed the approach of the wind change very clearly. Unfortunately I didn’t save a graphic from when the change was passing right through Sydney, but an earlier shot shows the change passing through Stanwell Park, to the south of Sydney.

The key point here is to note that blue indicates wind towards the radar location (centre of crosshairs) and yellow indicates wind away from the radar location. So this is showing strong NorthWest winds (blowing offshore) over the Sydney region, but from the South at Stanwell Park and below. This picture was a lot more striking as the change passed through Sydney itself, but I’ll have to wait for another event to show that off better!

Oz Weather Apponomics – Birthday Edition

This is the latest installment tracking the progress of the Oz Weather iPhone app in the iTunes app store. (Part 7 installment here.)

Oz Weather v1.0 arrived in the app store on 1st November 2008 (now at v1.7.1), so I now have a full years of stats to share with you.

  • Total paid app downloads: 64,500 (176 per day on average)
  • Net app revenue: AUD$99,600 (US$89,700) – net of 30% Apple share and 10% Australian GST
  • Average User Rating: 4 stars – from 1187 ratings of all versions
  • Average ranking: 17.5 – in Australian app store

[Stop Press – AUD$100k sales were reached on 3rd Nov 2009]

The following graph shows a complete history of one year’s worth of daily sales records.

SalesGraph_2009_10

The associated Australian overall paid apps ranking is as follows:

RankGraphAus_2009_10

So there have been a number of peaks and troughs. The single biggest factor causing those peaks and troughs appears to have been Apple promotions in the Hot / New / Staff Pick lists. But this has worked both ways – the biggest troughs have occurred when Apple has promoted competing apps.

The second biggest factor has been the weather itself. In Australia it seems that people are more interested in summer weather than they are in winter weather, hence causing an underlying annual cycle which peaks in summer (Dec/Jan/Feb) and troughs in winter (Jun/Jul/Aug).

Some individual weather events (eg. extreme heat waves, major rainfall events) seem to account for much shorter term peaks – especially noticeable around Feb 2009 when a major app update was also released.

Its also worth noting that during the course of the year the number of competitors has grown substantially. No doubt other developers have noticed how well weather apps seem to do in the app store ecosystem, and I would guess that my blogging about such attractive sales figures has probably encouraged some of the new ones into the game too. 😉  However, most of the newer competitors have failed to get any significant visibility, at least so far, and overall I don’t regret my decision to be transparent and open with my sales figures. I am always delighted to read about the inside stories of other app developers’ successes and failures, and hope that my own story has been interesting and useful to others too.

Estimated Total Value of App Store Market

AdMob has just issued a report with some very interesting data on the app store, and one of their claims is that the app store market is worth about US$200M per month.

This is disputed as being an unreasonably high estimate by some commentators. However, with data I have gathered from my own app sales, I am in a position to make my own estimate too. So what is it? Well there are four steps.

Step 1 – Sales Versus Rankings

In an earlier post I showed a graph of sales versus rankings for Oz Weather in the Australian app store during the first few months of 2009. Below is an updated graph covering the sales period July/August 2009.

Oz Weather Paid Rankings

Although Oz Weather hasn’t ranked highly enough to provide data points within the top 10, it does still allow a good estimate of the curve as a whole ie.

Daily Sales = 1800 * Ranking ^ -0.8

Note that this curve is substantially higher than the 6 month-old estimate, showing a large increase in the overall number of app sales per day – of the order of a factor of  2 or more.

Step 2 – Find area under the curve to give total daily app sales

The area under this curve is the integral of the curve formula. With some high-school calculus, we might know that this is:

Area under curve = 1800 * (Ranking^0.2 / 0.2)

Solving this for the range 0 to 50,000 apps (the approximate number of paid apps available) gives the result:

52,000 app sales per day in the Australian app store

Step 3 – Multiply by average app price

Assuming an average app price of US$1.80 (AUD$2.25) the total daily revenue for the Australian app store alone is

  • AUD$120k per day
  • AUD$3.6M per month
  • AUD $42.7M per year

Step 4 – Expand to whole Globe

I have previously estimated the Australian market to be about 1/30th of the global market size. However, the AdMob report indicates about 45M iPhone/iPod Touch devices worldwide, and previous research has implied about 1.1 million in Australia, implying a ratio of about 1/40. In that case, the corresponding global sales figures would be

  • US$3.9M per day
  • US$115M per month
  • US$1,370M per year

Conclusion

Although there are a number of estimates and assumptions involved in these calculations, the final monthly number of US$115M per month, although less than AdMob’s estimate, only differs by a factor of a 0.6.

A more accurate estimate would be possible with a wider range of app versus ranking data – especially from the larger app stores like the US. However, I did previously collate some data like this, and it also supported a rankings/sales tail off with a power factor close to -0.8.

I conclude that my own app’s sales figures imply that AdMob’s estimates are very plausible, and certainly likely to be in the correct ballpark.

Oz Weather Apponomics – Part 7

This is the latest installment tracking the progress of the Oz Weather iPhone app in the iTunes app store. (Part 6 installment here.)

The latest stats, to 4th August 2009:

* Total app downloads: 48,600
* Net app revenue: AUD$73,800 (US$59,000) – net of 30% Apple share and 10% Australian GST
* Average User Rating: 4 stars – from 885 ratings of all versions

The following graph shows a complete history of more than 8 months of daily sales records, since launch on Nov 1st 2008.

SalesGraph_2009_07

The associated Australian overall paid apps ranking is as follows:

RankGraphAus_2009_07

I already explained the cause of the great sales dip in June in the previous post, but the other feature that stands out here is how the ranking in the latter half of the graph has been declining despite a fairly constant average base level of sales (excepting June). The obvious explanation for this divergence is that the total number of all apps being bought is gradually increasing with time as the number of iPhones/iPods in Australia has increased. Recent estimates by AdMob put the total number of iPhones in Australia at around 750,000 and iPod Touch at 350,000 – making a combined total of 1.1 million devices on which Oz Weather could be installed. This would mean that Oz Weather has been purchased by about 4.4% of Australian device owners.

This might seem to leave room for plenty more sales, but others have suggested that 3% is a high ownership rate for other popular apps such as “Flight Control”, so maybe we’re already pushing the boundaries!