Today I'm releasing the first update to Dark Noise bringing new iOS 13 features and adding a few new sounds. With Dark Noise 1.2 I've brought 3 main feature improvements:
Dark Noise already has multiple themes, including a pure black mode, but I still wanted to take advantage of the new system-wide dark mode in iOS 13. In Dark Noise 1.2 you can now select a separate theme to use for the system dark and light modes.
This will allow you to quickly switch to a darker theme by hitting the switch in control center, or automatically switch themes based on the time of day using the new system appearance scheduler.
In iOS 13 Apple added a new feature to Shortcuts that allows users to set parameters for actions provided by apps. For Dark Noise, this means that you can now create a shortcut action that sets a timer with a user specified time set directly in the shortcuts app.
There's a few unfortunate caveats that I need to address however. Shortcuts with parameters cannot run audio without opening up the app first (unless you're Apple Music 😒) so any of the new shortcuts will not be able to run in the background.
For this reason, I'm also including the old style shortcuts that will allow you to run the audio in the background. The old style shortcuts all begin with the word "Play" and have a toggle for "Show When Run". Unfortunately there is a new bug (feature?) in iOS 13 that only allows me to add 10 of these so you will see the most recently played noises as options in the shortcuts app.
On top of this there is also now a "Play Pause Noise" shortcut that will pause the currently playing noise. This will work even if the "Mix Audio" setting is turned on which prevents the system level "Play/Pause" action from working.
Dark Noise is now integrated with Siri in iOS 13! This means that without setting anything up ahead of time you can say "Hey Siri, play distant thunder in Dark Noise" and Siri will start the sound.
In the current version of iOS 13, Siri integration is still a bit rough around the edges. It frequently gets the noise name wrong and will fail to play. It's also not currently working on the HomePod since, as of the time of this writing, the HomePod software still hasn't updated from iOS 12. These issues should improve as Apple releases updates throughout the year, but I wanted to make sure I called them out.
Last but not least, Dark Noise 1.2 has 4 new sounds, each with custom animated icons of course! This first batch was based on the most highly requested sounds since launch, but I've been collecting all of your suggestions and will keep adding more over time so don't worry if your request isn't included.
Here's the new sounds for Dark Noise 1.2:
By far the most highly requested feature since launch is the ability to mix multiple sounds together to create your own personal soundscape. Now that my iOS 13 update is out of the way, this is my top priority.
I'm a slow, deliberate developer and this is not my full time job (currently 😏) so it will take some time to do this right. I've already started playing around with the design and I would love to hear any feedback or ideas from you all through Twitter, Reddit, or Email.
You can find the app (as well as a spiffy new app video preview) on the App Store today!
It's been 1 month since I released my app Dark Noise in the App Store. The release went very well, and I've had quite a few people ask how I marketed the app. I wanted to post this right away, but first I wanted to let the launch stats settle down so you can get a better picture of what the actual results are.
Let's start with some quick 1st month stats.
📈 4,545 Downloads
💰 $19K Sales
💵 $12.6K Proceeds (after Apple cut)
⭐️ 212 ratings with a 4.8 avg
📝 43 reviews
I'm really happy with these numbers, but they definitely don't paint the entire picture. Let's look at a graph of unit sales over the first month.
Metrics from App Store Connect
I think launch week went exceptionally well for a first time developer, but sales have settled down to averaging around the 20-30 downloads a day range. I'm sharing this to give some context around what the marketing of Dark Noise produced.
Alright, now that the context is out of the way, let's get to the goods. Don't think of this as advice as much as it's a document detailing everything I did to help market Dark Noise.
Once I had a usable app that could successfully play a few white noise sounds and I was confident enough that I was actually going to release the app, I enrolled in the Apple Developer Program and opened up a private beta through TestFlight.
Initially I targeted a single user, my sister, and made sure it had a sound I knew she listened to at night. Her first request was for a timer, and almost immediately it was helpful talking to a real person using the app.
Over time I slowly added people to the beta, collecting feedback and bug reports. It was surprisingly difficult to show people the app at this early rough stage, but I cannot express how valuable it was.
Getting early feedback allowed me to make some design changes before I went too deep in one direction. Just as importantly, it helped me squash a lot of little embarrassing bugs before opening the beta to a wider audience.
There was also a higher level of engagement per user at this stage, since everybody was either a person I knew, or someone who had to explicitly ask for an invite through Twitter.
Once I had the app in a state I felt was worthy to really start showing off, I opened the beta to the public. I sort of treated this stage like a soft launch of the app. I had a lot of work I wanted to do, but I treated these users as if they were customers and I created an app Twitter account to tweet out updates and respond to user feedback. I launched the beta on July 9th, so about a month and a half before the actual launch.
Opening the beta to the public early was definitely one of the best decisions I made. The feedback from users was invaluable, and I built up an excited audience, who was invested in the app by launch. This really helped build up some pre-launch hype, and I received a lot of reviews and tweets on launch day from people that started with "I've been on the beta for a while...". I believe this lent an air of credibility that I wouldn't have had otherwise as a brand new developer.
The last note I'd like to make on the public beta is that I really tried to show beta testers how much I appreciated their help. I tried to respond to emails quickly, but also conversationally. If they sent me an idea I didn't plan on implementing, I tried to explain why. And when people sent bugs or features I used, I tried to express how thankful I was both in my response, and also by adding a little personalized thank you in the beta release notes.
Probably the biggest contributing factor to the successful launch of Dark Noise was the excitement I built leading up to the launch through Twitter.
While working a feature I'd usually tweet about the progress and hype up the next beta release if there was something coming. Frequently people would chime in with feedback or suggestions that I could incorporate immediately. This both made the app better and also gave those who engaged on Twitter a little slice of ownership in the app. This is one of those things that only an indie app can pull off, and I think it's part of what makes people love them so much.
One feature that really blew up was the custom app icons.
Earlier this year I saw David Smith add a tribute to Myke Hurley in his app CalZones by creating a theme called #MykeWasRight (the name of his old Tumblr blog) as a thank you for some help in the early stages of the app. I love Myke's podcast Cortex that he hosts with CGP Grey so I thought it might be fun to add a similar tribute to my app in the form of a custom icon.
This idea really excited me and I ended up running with it and creating a bunch of custom app icons for a lot of tech podcasts I really like. When I tweeted about it, it seemed to really strike a chord with my fellow Apple tech nerd followers and generated a little buzz, enough so that it even came across the radar of Federico Viticci, Founder and Editor-In-Chief of the incredible MacStories. I don't actually know this for sure, but I suspect that this is what led to Ryan Christoffel finding the app and eventually writing up a review on MacStories.
I'm not sure what the lesson here is. In my case using social media to build up an audience and hype up new features really paid off. I think attempting to fish for "influencers" attention is something that will almost certainly backfire, but if you're excited about what you're making and you talk about it enough in a genuine way, you might eventually get the attention of someone who can really make a difference.
I don't have a whole lot to say about this. I made a press kit. You can check it out here. I don't know if it's a good one, or a bad one. I do know that it was helpful for a few people who ended up writing a day one post about Dark Noise, specifically the screenshots and hero images.
I also made this little promo video. To be honest, this was an indulgence for me as I love motion graphics and needed a break one evening. I didn't really make it for marketing purposes, but I did end up using it in my "official" announcement tweets for the Dark Noise Twitter account and pinned that tweet. I've gotten a few comments from people that it lends a credibility to the app since it looks pretty professional.
I also should add this to the top of my website, but I still haven't gotten around to that. 😬
I don't think I did the best job with reaching out to the press, but I did end up getting a few articles written about Dark Noise. Here's a quick list of launch articles from both traditional tech websites and some personal tech blogs:
One thing I haven't mentioned yet is that I selected a release date about a month beforehand. Not only did this help me with forcing myself to stop adding features and drive towards polishing up what I had, but it also allowed me to give the press a hard target for when to expect the app to come out.
Once I had the app in a state I felt wasn't embarrassing, and I set up my press kit and website, I started contacting the press. Basically I just went to a bunch of websites I like, and found the emails of writers there that had covered apps before. I started doing this about 3-4 weeks before releasing that app, but continued pretty much up to launch day as I thought of different publications to reach out to. I emailed them with a short pitch of the app, a release date, and a link to the press kit.
Here's an example of an email that I sent out to the press.
I received a few "thanks I'll check it out" responses, but that was basically it. I believe pretty much all of the press I received on launch day was due to attention and relationships I made during the months of development through Twitter and the public beta.
While writing this article I reached out to a few members of the press and asked them if they had any advice for app developers. The main takeaway seems to be that you should make your pitch short but clear, and then include relevant information like price, release date, and a link to your press kit with all the assets and images a writer would need to make your app look as good as possible if they do a write-up (specifically high resolution app icon was called out more than once). This quote from Victor Marks really sums it up well:
Basically, I need 650 chars to 400 words telling me who it’s for, what it does better, and images and icon to work from with a link to your site and the App Store. Write like we’re friends or you want to be friends, not “professional pr voice”. For the love of god, tell me whose problem you're solving and why it wasn’t adequately solved before.
Looking back at my emails I don't think I articulated my sales pitch very well, and that may have contributed to the lack of interest. Talking to other devs, this seems to be a pretty common outcome, so don't get discouraged if you never hear anything back.
About a week before launch day I submitted the app to the App Store and once it was approved, I released it for pre-order. My thinking was that I would build up a list of day one purchasers which might help boost my ranking in the store. I'm still not clear on whether pre-orders actually helps your ranking though.
You can also still submit a new version while pre-orders are open, so I actually made a few updates after I released for pre-order and submitted a new version before the real release day.
One interesting thing to note about pre-orders is that they release around midnight in the users local time. So customers who pre-ordered in New Zealand will have the app released to them the day before everyone in the United States. For me it was actually kind of fun watching the app make it's way around the globe through users on Twitter, but it's something you'll want to be aware of.
This may sound cheesy, but launch day for Dark Noise is a day I'll never forget. It was kind of a whirlwind but so much fun. I took the day off of work not really sure what to expect, and I'm really glad I did.
First thing in the morning I posted an article on my blog about the release and made announcement posts on Twitter and Facebook. Once the press coverage started coming in user feedback and questions on Twitter really picked up. I spent the majority of the day retweeting positive comments and answering questions on Twitter. I tried to do my best to make it feel like a big splash, so anybody who followed the app account or me would see a lot of activity on that one day.
Aside from responding to people and generally trying to make the launch as noisy as possible, launch day was mostly just watching. I kept waiting for some embarrassing bug to come up that I'd have to scramble to put a release out for, but it never came. And since Dark Noise is currently completely offline, I didn't need to watch over any servers.
Podcasts and Blog Posts
Everything I've talked about so far has pertained to marketing Dark Noise specifically, but there is actually another piece to this. Since I'm completely new to the iOS dev scene, I wanted to establish myself with this community. The bulk of that was done through engagement on Twitter, but I also guested on multiple podcasts and wrote up a few blog posts like this one.
I didn't really do much active work to get on the podcasts, just tweeted out that I was available and accepted basically any invitation I got. 😆 I'm not sure how effective these were at promoting Dark Noise specifically, but I still think it was worth it for the relationships it helped build and (hopefully) helping establish my voice in the community.
Odds & Ends
I tried out App Store Search Ads, but personally I didn't find them very effective. I'm just using the "Basic" ads, so I'm not really doing much work to make them effective, but just want to call that out.
I also posted to /r/Apple on Reddit which did very well and drove a lot of sales. They (currently) allow developers to post about new apps on Saturdays, but definitely read their rules before posting.
With regards to feedback, I've tried to respond to people as quickly as possible whether through Twitter, the Dark Noise subreddit, or email. I've gotten a number of 5 star reviews that specifically call this out, so I think it's paid off.
Hopefully this is helpful for some of you. I think I've captured most of the marketing efforts I made for Dark Noise, but I may update this post if I remember something else.
If you have thoughts on anything I talked about here, or marketing ideas that have worked for your app, please reach out to me on Twitter at @chuckyc17. I love talking about this stuff!
Week 1 of Dark Noise is in the bag! Here's some quick stats of how the week went:
📈 3,192 Downloads
💰 $13.5K Sales
💵 $8.99K Proceeds (after Apple cut)
⭐️ 69 ratings with a 4.86 avg
📝 24 reviews
In ranks Dark Noise peaked at:
2nd in Health & Fitness on iPad
5th in Health & Fitness on iPhone
77th in Top Apps
162nd in Top Overall (includes games)
I just wanted to give a brief breakdown of some of the metrics gathered from the first week of Dark Noise being released in the store, and some of my (very amateur) thoughts. Hopefully if you have an app release incoming, this might be helpful in setting expectations or at the very least be interesting 😅. This is mostly just me sharing my experience rather than giving advice, so take any theories I have with a heavy grain of salt.
Metrics from App Store Connect
The app launched on August 27th, but notice I have a few sales from the 26th? That's because I used Apple's pre-order feature, which it turns out will release the app around 12:00am the morning of release date in local time, presumably based on which regional App Store the pre-order was made from.
Since App Store connect appears to update metrics based on midnight California time, anybody who pre-ordered or downloaded the app right away from east of the US such as New Zealand or the UK, will show up on the 26th.
Anyway, let's look at the numbers. Day 1 was easily my biggest sales day. I believe this was mostly made up from the small community I had built up through the beta testing period and some press I received including a wonderful review on MacStories. So let's look at the sources!
Sources for App Store page views
Sources for App Store page views that lead to units sold
I think the combination of App Store Search and Web Referer lines up with people following direct links from reviews and social media, as well as people searching directly for Dark Noise after seeing it somewhere else.
At first, there seemed to be a pretty strong correlation between page views and units sold, but as the week progressed, App Store Browse page views started climbing, but didn't seem to have much of an impact on sales. I believed this might be linked to the App Store ranking. So let's take a look at the rankings!
I was wrong! Ranking actually seems to be pretty correlated with unit sales instead. So I have no idea why my App Store Browse page views started climbing so much to seemingly no effect 🤷♂️. Dark Noise was just added to the top of the Apps We Love Right Now list on the US app store but that was after the week 1 date range we're looking at here.
Now let's talk about that second spike on Saturday. That was the day I posted about Dark Noise to /r/Apple on Reddit.
That subreddit is huge, and they allow app devs to post announcements about their apps on Saturdays. I read about this a while ago, set a reminder on my phone for the Saturday after I was planning to launch, and promptly forgot about it until my phone reminded me Saturday morning.
The post ended up going to the front page pretty quickly gathering 1,500 upvotes and hundreds of comments which had a pretty clear impact on sales. If you've got an app coming soon, I cannot recommend this enough. You can see the results right here!
I don't have much more analysis, but here are some other metrics that you might find interesting. And as always feel free to reach out on Twitter if you have any questions or metrics you're interested in seeing. I like sharing and comparing this data as it really helps me understand the market better, especially as a newcomer.
Today I want to talk about the process I used for designing my new app Dark Noise. It's an app for playing different ambient noises to help with sleep or focus. I'm not a designer by trade, and this is the first app I've made for iOS, so this is more of a brain dump of everything I did and less of a proposal on how design should be done.
Before I placed a pixel in any design tool, I first figured out what the guiding principles for the app were, and what features I wanted to include. I detailed this step in a separate post, but the end result was:
Targeting pro users who want as many options and hooks to work the app into their workflow as possible
Opening app to playing sound should be as fast as possible with no compromise since this is the 99% use case
Keep it dark (expect fat fingers)
Most users will probably be using this in a dark environment, possibly without their glasses on or half asleep. Keep that in mind.
I have a little bit of experience playing around with Adobe XD, so I decided to use that to build out my mockups. I ended up loving XD so I'd highly recommend it. It's even free! 1
The first thing I built was a player page based on the 3rd principle: Keep it dark (expect fat fingers)
In case you doubted my lack of design pedigree, this was full design, not a wireframe 😅
Once you get passed the blandness, you can pretty much see the bones of the app from the beginning. An easy to hit play button, a name, and a way to get to the other sounds.
The "Create Noise" page was based on my original idea of generating the different color noises on the fly, and building a little color picker style control to let you mix your own noise. For technical/scope reasons I ended up not going this direction at all, but I do anticipate implementing a "Create Noise" feature at some point in the future.
I also had the main swiping gesture for minimizing the player there from the beginning. One cool thing about Adobe XD is that you can quickly setup prototypes with swiping gestures for animations, and then demo them interactively on the phone. So I could quickly play around with different ideas and get a sense of how they felt.
Recorded on my iPhone previewing the XD prototype. I toyed around with having the player minimize to the top, but the rapid prototyping with XD quickly showed me that didn't feel right
The "Charcoal Dreams" name has an interesting back story. From the beginning I knew I wanted to add some sort of fun whimsical feel to the app. I thought it might be fun to give each noise an obnoxiously whimsical name, and if you 3D touched the name you'd get a silly description along the lines of "earthy notes with a hint of cinnamon" or something.
Since I switched strategies to using audio recordings, this didn't make as much sense, but I didn't give up on that goal of having something fun.
First video I could find of a working version of the app. This was in May, so about 4-5 months in.
This first design wasn't pretty, but the structural bones were pretty good. It gave me a direction to go on as I built out the first version of the app.
At this stage I actually had a functional app that had a lot of the features I wanted, but it just looked... bleh. I am not a designer by trade, so I didn't really know what to do to make this look better. A designer friend at work pointed me to Mobbin. It's a simple website that allows you to view screenshots of hundreds of different well designed apps, with a pretty good search functionality.
Here I'm searching for "Audio Playback" patterns in apps under the "Music" category on Mobbin
Mobbin helped point me at what elements make up a good looking mobile app, and after iterating on a couple ideas in XD, I landed on a design that will start to look familiar if you've used the app.
This should look familiar.
There are two interesting design details I'd like to call out.
Select Noise Arrow
I really liked the idea of the initial view you see of the app being a super simple page with a big play button, but that meant I had to hide the other sound options behind the second screen. I ended up with a slightly unusual design that treated the first page you see as a maximized player that you have to swipe down to reveal the rest of the app.
I was worried it wouldn't be immediately clear how you're supposed to proceed from that page if you wanted to change your noise, so I borrowed a design element from my first MacBook Pro and gave the down arrow a little "breathing" animation. I'm hoping the gentle bounce and opacity change will draw a new users eye enough to guide them through the app, but also not be an annoying distraction in the future.
One thing I really like about some other audio apps is when it's visually clear when audio is playing so if your speakers are muted you have an indication that sound should be coming out. For example, in Overcast, a darker tint color bounces on the pause button along with the audio that's playing to let you know that there is sound being played.
I came up with a few ideas in After Effects, but I either couldn't figure out how to implement it properly, or it just didn't feel right once I implemented it into the app.
A couple play / pause ideas I tried out.
One idea I had pretty early on was to make a looping animation for each of the static noise icons I was already building. This sounded fun for me, but I was afraid it would take a long time and not really be worth the time it would take me.
At one point I finally decided to try it out and see how it felt. I made the animation for the White Noise icon and added it to the app, and it just felt awesome.
Some of the icons I created for Dark Noise
This solved my "playing indicator" problem, but even more importantly I found the fun I was looking for that I could use to stamp the app with my personality.
There are other small touches throughout the app, but I think this touches on the biggest ones. Like I said, I'm not a designer by trade, this is just to outline my thought process while I still remember it. Hopefully this is helpful to somebody out there.
If you have any other questions about my process or design choices, definitely reach out to me on Twitter I love talking about this stuff.
I actually do have a Creative Cloud subscription, but I believe all that gets you with XD is more storage space and access to their fonts.
Yesterday's release of Dark Noise exceeded my wildest expectations. According to my stats from Apple, the app sold 990 copies which brought in $4,190 in sales for a take home of $2,780 after Apple's 30% cut.1
Statistics from App Store Connect
And the reaction from the community has been unbelievable. Friends and strangers alike have said so many kind words on Twitter, personal blogs, podcasts, and even a YouTube video! And to top that all off, one of my favorite websites, MacStories, wrote up an amazing review.
A few people have asked me how I got the coverage that I did considering I had essentially zero following and zero connections a few months ago, and my honest feeling is that I didn't do anything special and simply got lucky. But I think that's kind of a cop-out answer.
In a recent podcast, Myke Hurley mentioned that he's stopped saying he got "lucky" in achieving the success he's had with his company Relay FM and started using the term "fortunate" instead. As usual, I think #MykeWasRight.
The truth is, I did work really hard and tried a lot of different things. I have no idea what really worked and what didn't, but I can at least share what I did and explain my mindset.
I'm going to try to write up as much as I can over the next few weeks while this is fresh on my mind, so keep your eyes on this feed if you're curious. If you have particular questions or topics you'd like me to cover, please reach out to me on Twitter.
I'm sharing this all in the spirit of openness. I really hope this doesn't come across as bragging and please let me know if it does