It is done.

by Oliver -


It is done!

All our Mac Apps are now approved for the Mac App Store.

Shortly after Apple announced the Mac App Store back on October 20th, 2010 we decided that there was little choice but bringing our products to this new distribution channel. But we also decided that we would not go all-in but keep our existing channels and keep the prices in the App Store at the same level as in our other channels.

Unsure about what the published "Submission Guidelines" would mean exactly for our apps, we also decided to try it on one app first before investing the time and money to bring the rest of the apps to the table.

We quickly discovered that the work that needed to be done was primarily factored into our base frameworks, the part of the code that is shared between our apps and that it would be easy to transfer this across our apps. The product causing us most headaches was FotoMagico Pro.

There were two issues with FotoMagico Pro that seemed very difficult to resolve:

PhotoPresenter and FotoMagico

Outside the app store it comes bundled with PhotoPresenter. The reason for this is dated a couple of years back. We have 3 products that focus on slideshows: PhotoPresenter, which is a template based slide show app, FotoMagico Home which gives users the freedom to design the flow or story of the slide show for birthdays or other family events and FotoMagico Pro which helps professional photographers to create additional revenue from the photos they've already sold. In 2008, customers had come to see the products in a linear order based on their pricing: PhotoPresenter -> FotoMagico Home -> FotoMagico Pro.

To drive home the point that PhotoPresenter and FotoMagico Home are equal products and both useful to the same user, we adjusted the pricing so that PhotoPresenter and FotoMagico Home were priced the same and included PhotoPresenter with FotoMagico Pro.

Since then, the market has changed and the Mac App Store does not allow bundles, so we decided to change strategies and make PhotoPresenter independent again. So, beginning next monday, PhotoPresenter 4.1 will be available at the Mac App Store for just US$9.99. FotoMagico Pro on the app store will not be bundled with PhotoPresenter and sell for US$139.99.

Our non-Mac App Store channels will continue to bundle FotoMagico Pro with PhotoPresenter at the current price of US$149.

FotoMagico Pro Plugins

The other major issue are the two plugins we ship with FotoMagico Pro. The plugin for Aperture allows you to collect images in Aperture and open a pre-populated slideshow in FotoMagico. You can then fine tune the story in FotoMagico. The plugin for Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Express, After Effects and Motion allows you to more easily use a FotoMagico slideshow in those host applications.

The thing preventing FotoMagico Pro from getting approved was, that, on the first application launch, FotoMagico Pro would look for Aperture and Final Cut and install the plugins at the appropriate places. In order for FotoMagico Pro to get approved, we changed this: FotoMagico Pro users can now download a separate installer for the plugins from a webpage. This solution, while being a less pleasant experience, works for now.

FotoMagico Pro was the last app approved on Feb. 22nd, 2011, almost 4 months after we started to work on the Mac App Store project.

How did the Mac App Store perform?

Interestingly, the very first app to be approved and for sale was FotoMagico Home. It was featured on the Mac App Store at launch and occupied the top right spot in "New and noteworthy":

This lead to massive sales on the launch weekend (Jan through 8th.). In fact, in the first 5 days we sold half as many licenses of FotoMagico Home as we had in all of 2010.

The other interesting thing was, that our existing sales channels also seemed to get a boost in sales during that time. In fact, the sales through Kagi and our other partners are as strong or better than the same period in 2010.

While the sales on the Mac App Store initially were additional sales, I fully expect this to slowly change over the course of the next couple of months due to a couple of factors.

What did we learn so far?

Keeping the channels in sync is a massive endeavor. Differences in licensing models, release cycles, user experience and more are bound to cause confusion among customers. For example, many people expected to be able to update a FotoMagico Home they purchased on the Mac App Store to FotoMagico Pro by buying an update through Kagi.

There are also problems with pricing. The App Store does not allow for arbitrary pricing but ties a developer to "tiers". This means you can not have "$49" but need to go for "$49.99". The tiers space out more the more expensive an app is, so you can't have "$152" or "$319". Luckily, there are tiers that match our current pricing very closely. We always maintained that having "xxx.99" was kind of silly, but the guy who decided the pricing tiers at the app store obviously thinks it is a great idea. Over time, we will adapt our other channels to match the prices exactly.

The more serious pricing issue, however, is the fact that Apple has different fixed pricing tiers for some currencies like the Euro and that those tiers have deviated quite substantially from the currency exchange rates in the time that has passed since they have been fixed. This is the reason why our products on the Mac App Store are substantially cheaper in Europe compared to Kagi and substantially more expensive in Japan. Action on our part will also be required here since it is unlikely that Apple will fix it.

We also learned that in the app store, having different application "levels" like Home, Express and Pro is more confusing to the customer. Since they can not easily upgrade from Home to Express, the decision of what flavor to go for is actually a barrier to purchase rather than making the purchase decision easier by offering a lower point of entry. I hope that Apple is going to introduce in-app purchase soon. Then, we might be able to change the model and have only one product on the store with add-ons to purchase that take the user to the next level.

I think these factors, combined with the marketing drive from Apple will make the App Store more and more attractive to customers, eventually drawing them away from our traditional distribution channels.

Bottom Line

The review process was (and still is) very inefficient. What took almost 4 months could have been accomplished in just one if the reviewers, instead of looking for the first reason to reject an app on every app we submitted, had done a thorough review with us on one app pointing out all the issues at once.

But, so far, the Mac App Store has been good to us. FotoMagico Home was featured at the launch which brought a big spike in sales, I was quoted in the official press release and we found out that the Mac App Store reviewers are real people who give their best. Apple has done a tremendous job getting the App Store up and running in less than 3 months after the announcement.

BTW, if you are interested in how we manage the build process with all the different products for the various sales channels, our engineering is preparing an article which is about to be published soon.