Nov 14 AT 2:13 PM Clark Wimberly 18 Comments

Launching an app is totally as fun as it looks, from beta to 20k downloads in two weeks


In case you hadn’t heard, I launched an app this month. A few of our friends were nice enough to write about it already, but I was hesitant to do so just yet, for fear that my app would be a big, stinky flop. Well, the initial numbers are in and it seems like you guys enjoy Photobooth, so I figured a tale of blogger-turned-app-designer was in order.

It all started at a tech conference

Well, a few conferences really. First, was Google I/O in 2009. It was the first big conference that Taylor and I attended. Being big shot bloggers (ha) we had scored a few extra passes to the event. One of those went to Justin Shapcott. We hung out for a few days, kept in touch on Android matters, and eventually he built the first version of the Android and Me RSS widget. We worked well together so I started to dream up some ideas for my new-found Android muscle.

The other tech conferences are a blur (I’m sure the other bloggers here can relate), but at either the following CTIA or CES I stumbled upon the problem of trying to tweet multiple photos at once. I’d snap a handful of pictures at a party, er, the show floor and found it difficult to tweet them with a single URL. I ran the idea of a dead-simple photo stitching utility past Justin and Photobooth was born.

A long, slow road

Like many app publishers we’ve talked to, Justin and I both have “real” jobs that often get in the way of our Android pursuits, so we took our sweet ass time. I registered the domain, back in March of 2010. I made my first post about the initial UI design over 8 months ago.

In all fairness, what took so long was getting Market-ready. Justin had a demo build for internal use ready in just a few days. Over the next few months, I used the app and took notes about sore spots in the UI/UX. While we continued to refine the app itself, I went about starting the marketing campaign.

I launched a site. Then I updated it. At launch time, I updated it again. While we slowly moved forward, I tried to keep interest up online by posting on Forrst and Twitter. I tweeted a bunch of photos made with Photobooth. The sites collected emails of interested visitors into a Mailchimp list. Our development progressed at a comfortable pace until last month, when we emerged with a build ready for public eyes.

A beta emerges (again)

About two weeks ago, Justin sent me the public beta. It was a complete rebuild of the app we’d been using internally for months, and we seemed to have all the kinks worked out. I took the build to a private forum I frequent and asked for volunteers. I sent out the APK to a number of trusted friends there and on Twitter.

We spent the next few days collecting crash reports from people and fixing holes in our game. I even had a few friends install it and test it out while I watched (I tried to not be too annoying peering over their shoulders). I saw some people tap areas I’d not expected. I saw some people pause at certain steps I’d thought were smooth enough. We made another round of small (but important) user interaction tweaks like making larger clickable areas, changed a lot of labels and verbiage, and added automatic crash reporting to catch any more errors. We decided we were ready for the Market.

Finally in the Market

After a year in the stew pot, Photobooth rolled into the Market in the early morning hours of November 3, 2011. I’d been up for almost 30 hours straight (working on other projects, that’s just how I roll) but I couldn’t help constantly watching the Market for reviews to trickle in. The first few were from friends, then more and more from the random mass of the internet.

One thing was clear, most people liked Photobooth, but not everyone wanted to share the photostrip on every single use. Folks wanted a save to SD option. Much to our chagrin, we already had the functionality in place, but hadn’t really called it out specifically in the interface. Users didn’t know that the photostrips were automatically being saved, so we got complaints. Lots of them.

In a day or two, I found a spot for and styled the save button, then Justin added it and we got an update into the Market. We started with about a 3.8 rating after launch day, but after adding the save to SD button, it’s slowly climbed to 4.1. We’ve even got more 5 star ratings than all others put together (something that wasn’t true for a while).

The comments in the Market contained plenty of suggestions, lots of which we’re currently working on. Continuing to refine the app has been just as much fun as the initial creation. I’m still posting progress shots and new UI over at Forrst. We’re also working on a Pro version, unlockable with an in-app purchase. We’re hoping to have that ready in the next few weeks, but the feature set we’ve currently got in the Market will always be free.

So where do we stand?

I guess I sort of gave it away in the post title, but Photobooth has been downloaded over 20,000 times, a number we are more than happy with. Justin and I enjoyed the project so much we are already kicking around ideas for followup apps. The entire ordeal has been an extremely enjoyable one and I guess I really wrote this article to encourage anyone sitting on the fringes to go ahead and give it a shot. Even without touching a line of code I feel I played a huge role in bringing the app to Market, something I wasn’t sure I was capable of.

A lot of users and friends played a big role too, through testing and ideas, and I’d like for that to continue here. If you haven’t tried Photobooth yet, check out the Market details or video below. If you already have, leave a comment and let us know what you think. We’re still working hard on improving our baby and need all the help we can get.

Do you have a similar story of taking an app to Market? We’d love to hear it! Leave us a comment below telling your app’s entire life story, we’re all ears.


Clark is a developer living in Austin, Texas. He runs ClarkLab, a small web firm with his wife, Angie. He's a big fan of usability, standards, and clean design.

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