Lovely Charts iPad Edition now available on the App Store!



What’s so evil about iAPs?

4 April 2012

I’ve been in a couple discussions recently, on Twitter, IM, IRL, about the (ab)use of In-App Purchases by Paper, a pretty cool iPad sketching app that made the buzz last week.
Most people I’ve been discussing with, pretty much have the opinion that iAPs are, in Paper’s case at least, a slightly sleazy, dishonest way to market an app, making it appear as free, where as in reality it will cost you 8$ for full access.
MacDrifter just posted a review of the Paper app, using pretty much the same argument, supporting the case with a screenshot showing Paper ranking as #4 in the Top Grossing chart, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be free.

To be honest, the consumer in me has mixed feelings about this… I understand the argument, and I personally prefer obvious, transparent pricing too.
But on the other hand, are the developers really to blame here?

  • In Paper’s case, they do provide a working sketching app (with the Ink tool) for free. When I buy a Moleskine and a pen, I don’t necessarily expect to get bundled pencils, markers, and watercolors for free.
  • I only bought pencils, so the app cost me 2$ so far, not 8$. I’ll probably never buy watercolors.
  • There are tons of sketching apps out there. I’ve bought a couple, and I don’t use any. If Paper hadn’t been free, I wouldn’t have bothered, period.
  • IAP is the new Freemium. You get to use something for free, you like it, you get hooked, you want more, you pay. I don’t think this is such a bad model, is it?
  • What’s wrong with developers trying to make money out of their app? The growing popularity of IAPs is a consequence of how the App Store works. Blame Apple, not the devs.

Think about it.

You have a great app at a decent price but in a crowded market.
You know Top Free charts get you A LOT more exposure.
You can’t offer proper trials.
You want to put your app in as many hands as possible, because you know people will like it.
What would you do?

Jérôme

About that “tablets market”…

21 March 2012

Since I released Lovely Charts for iPad, there’s a question I get asked *a lot*: “do you have any plans to port the app on Android?”

Well, the short answer is NO.
Note that I’m not saying that it’ll never happen, just that I don’t have any plans for it at the moment. Why not?

  • First and foremost, I don’t think there is any such thing as a “tablet market” yet. Look at what happened last weekend: Apple sold in 2 days a quarter of ALL Android tablets activated TO DATE. Sure, this could change, Windows tablets are around the corner, etc etc, but fwiw, we could also very well all die at the end of the year if the Mayans were right ^^
  • The Android ecosystem is severely fragmented. Different devices, customized operating systems, and a TERRIBLE update adoption rate. Look at the numbers: iOS 5.1 is 2 WEEKS old, and it’s already approaching 50% adoption, while iOS 5+ as a whole is now well over 80%… Ice Cream Sandwich (Android’s latest update) is 6 MONTHS old and still stuck at under 1%, ouch.
    From a developer’s perspective, this makes iOS extremely appealing.
  • As a guy who’ve developed and maintained a multi platform app for years now, I can tell you it’s very very hard to deliver a best of its class experience across multiple platforms. In the past, I’ve bought into the “develop once run everywhere” concept, but I came to realize that moving forward, I’d rather focus on trying to deliver the very best experience on one platform, than to try to address everyone’s needs with an average solution. The iOS market size makes this even more reasonable I think :).
  • Finally, and I’m ready to admit that’s personal and subjective, I think the iPad is just the best tablet out there, period. As a UX lover, I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to develop for a device that performs that well, where everything is smooth and reactive (especially after being a Flash developer for over 10 years, huhu).

Edit: Just to be clear: it’s not my intention to start a platform war, dismiss Android devices or anything like that, just trying to explain MY reasons/rationale for not porting MY product on other platforms.

Jérôme

Undo, Kangaroos, Revenues, Waiting for Review

16 March 2012

Apologies for that silly title, it’s friday afternoon :)

I’m very happy to announce I’ve just submitted update 1.3 to Apple, now Waiting for Review.
1.3 is a relatively minor update feature wise, but nonetheless important since it adds the #1 most requested feature of all time: UNDO.

It’s an obvious feature, and based on reviews, I know it’s been missed by a LOT of users. Sorry about that, but trust me, despite it’s obviousness, it’s not trivial to implement, and it requires a lot of testing.
But anyway, it’s there now, and it seems to be working just fine. Please let me know if you encounter any issues with it.

Besides Undo, I’ve also tweaked the auto-saving mechanism, to make it save more often, making the whole app a lot more reliable, preventing data loss if ever it were to crash or close unexpectedly.
I’ve also added an “Arrange” option at the top right of the screen that lets you perform all the classical Z-ordering operations: Bring to Front, Send to Back, etc. A cool nice to have.
And last but not least, I’ve changed the behaviour of the Create & Connect gesture (the 2 fingers dragging), so that the created symbols now inherit all styles and properties from their “parent”.

Now, why the Kangaroos?
Well, before I explain, let me show you what my revenue chart since the launch looks like (iPad edition only):

Revenue chart after 3 months

It seems this is a rather typical App Store chart: a big spike at launch, occasional spikes upon promotions, reviews, featuring and/or updates, and a generally flat aspect, with a tendency to decline in my case ;(….
Good, so what’s that big spike towards the end (that’s this week)? Actually, that was a big nice surprise coming right from Australia: Lovely Charts was part of a “25 best iPad apps” list that was published in a major national newspaper (thanks Anthony !), calledthe age.
In comparison, that bump you can see in february is when I ran a promotion, the app was reviewed by Mac Stories, and mentioned by a couple of major digerati such as Jason Fried, leading to a couple hundred thousands(!) impressions on Twitter!

This, to me, comes as another confirmation (as if it was needed) that A. the iPad definitely is a consumer device, B. the App Store is not one big global store like the WWW, but rather a collection of local stores.
Not that this is really news, but it was nevertheless an eye opener for me that I thought was worth sharing.

Talking about sharing, the nice guys from Techbrew invited me last week on their podcast, to share both a bit of beer, and a bit of my experience with running Lovely Charts. A cool concept, great hosts, interesting discussions, good beer, it’s all over there.

Thanks for reading !

Jérôme

Just in time!

31 January 2012

Don’t take this for a formal commitment, but one of my new year’s resolutions this year was to get at least one Lovely Charts update out every month.
This one took a wee bit longer than expected, but eventually worked out: I’ve just submitted Lovely Charts for iPad 1.2 to Apple for review!

So, what’s in this update?

Bug fixes, bug fixes, bug fixes

Despite the globally satisfactory rating (3.7/5 over 32 reviews), reading reviews and support emails, I know the Lovely Charts for iPad experience hasn’t been so lovely for some people, who’ve notably reported numerous crashes.
Believe me: I hate this more than anyone.
I’ve developed this the best I could, and tested it rather extensively, myself but also with the help of a bunch of awesome beta testers. During beta testing, many many bugs were uncovered, and fixed, but unfortunately this didn’t prevent other bugs to sneak in unnoticed.
Believe me again, as a developer, there’s very few things more frustrating than seeing crash reports that you didn’t notice, or worse, that you’re completely unable to reproduce despite hours of testing.
Now, thanks to crash logs and even more extensive testing, I’ve finally been able to track down a bunch of those nasty bugs, and believe this 1.2 update is pretty stable . No leaks show up in Instruments or when analyzing code, and I’m completely unable to crash the app myself even if I try very hard.

Formatting options

Formatting options
This has been the #1 feature request since the very first release. You can now style your diagrams with a bunch of options:

  • Set text font, size, color, attributes (bold/italic)
  • Set the stroke color for both symbols and links
  • Add drop shadows to symbols

And as an extra, all those options can be saved into styles presets, that you can then apply to other items, either individually (select item > tap on desired style), or globally, ie “make all symbols pink with a blue, bold label” (select any item > double tap on desired style) .
Style presets can subsequently be deleted using a simple, standard swipe gesture on the style you wish to remove.

Focus mode

Initially, I envisioned Lovely Charts for iPad as a very simple app. A tool with limited options, that you’d use to quickly brainstorm or draft diagrams during meetings etc. This lead me to design a rather minimal, “as chromeless as possible” interface, favoring natural, intuitive gestures over buttons and typical UI artefacts.
Now, as the app matures, and additional features make their way into the app, preserving the elegant simplicity of the UI is only going to get more and more challenging.
So, how do I plan to address this? Well, first and foremost, by opposing a strong resistance to the temptation of too quickly adding too many features, and second, by introducing a new, pretty cool, “Focus Mode”, similar to what iA Writer offers.

Want to focus on your content, get maximum screen estate, and zero distraction? Simply swipe up near the top of the screen to get rid of both navigation and status bars.
Feel like changing some colors, formatting some text? Swipe down in that same zone, and recover access to everything you need.

I personally really like this new feature a lot. Offering a completely chromeless drawing experience is something I’ve been willing to do since the very beginning, so I’m happy !
What do you think?

Contextual actions

Last but not least, I’ve added a couple of action buttons at the bottom of the popover that shows up when you touch & hold and element: Delete, and Duplicate (symbols only). Delete first because it’s true that sometimes drawing a “Z” over a single element can be complicated, and Duplicate because it’s rather handy, especially when in “Focus Mode”, when you don’t have a direct access to formatting options.

Jérôme

Lovely Charts for iPad Week 2 & 3

3 January 2012

My original intention was to keep this blog updated with weekly updates on how things were going. Cool, I failed after week 1 :)
That being said, I guess that everyone’s been busy enough over the last couple of weeks to not be too disappointed by the absence of report number 2… Happy new year everyone !

So, after a pretty cool week 1, how have week 2 and 3 been going?
Well, not too bad, considering Christmas is probably not the best period for productivity apps anyway…

Summary

Here are weekly sales numbers for december 2011:
December 2011 Weekly sales

What gives, a little under 1500 units sold in 3 weeks.
Numbers where pretty low during Christmas (normal), but went back up right before New Year’s Eve, essentially thanks to the Japan store (see below).
The good news is numbers for week 4 (starting on 1/1/12) are already higher, despite the fact that we’re only tuesday.
Key take way from this first “month” is probably that almost a third of the sales happened on the launch day, confirming what everyone says, maximizing your launch’s impact is important. That being said, the way I see it, having a “soft” launch is a relatively good thing, giving me a window to fix stuff and improve the product without it being too much the center of attention.

Arigato, Japan

The last surprise of 2011 (besides spending NYE in the ER because my daughter’s attraction to coffee tables ^^) came from Japan, where most of my sales since the 30th have happened. Why?

Because the app got nicely reviewed by AppBank, an apps review site that’s apparently relatively popular in Japan. Lessons learned, again:

  • Press matters. I had witnessed that with the German app store during week 1, this only confirms it.
  • The App Store world is a local world. Thinking about it, it’s all logical, but this actually came a bit as a surprise to me, the world is not flat :). Your app can be scoring high in a specific store (Lovely Charts climbed to #9 Paid Productivity in the Japan App Store last week), and not even appearing in the top 300 for other stores. I should better get started with that french localization :)
  • Twitter is hot in Japan. Actually no, I don’t really know about that, but something struck me when that AppBank’s review appeared: it got retweeted quite a bit, but most importantly, most of the japanese accounts that retweeted the info had a substantial followers count, many above 2K. Is this a known phenomenon?
  • No one from AppBank asked me for a promo code. Don’t know if that’s usual, but anyway, thanks A LOT egaku, I definitely owe you a beer (at least) :)

What about updates?

Obviously, the last couple of weeks have been a bit slow, but I’ve nevertheless managed to find some time to make some progress with the upcoming update. Really happy with how it’s turning out! If my daughter stops falling sick and falling on tables, I should be able to push this update out quite soon, crossing fingers ! :)

Getting back to it now, so thanks again all for the amazing support and feedback, have a lovely 2012 !

Jérôme

What a week!

16 December 2011

Lovely Charts for iPad has now been out for a week.
Since this is the very first app I’ve ever released on the app store, I pretty much had no idea what to expect.
After a week, I won’t pretend I know much about the app store economics/rules, but I do know what happened with my app last week, and because a lot of people have been asking, I think others could be interested in learning how an app like Lovely Charts can do in the App Store
So here’s a quick update on how things are going, what I’ve learned so far, and what the plans are for the upcoming weeks/months.

App update

First things first, you’ll be happy to learn I’ve just submitted an update of the app, fixing a couple bugs here and there, and most importantly, adding an export to PDF option!
There will definitely be more updates in 2012, but I really wanted to get the first update out before the end of the year, mission accomplished (if it gets approved in time by Apple that is :)!

Sales

Yeah yeah, I know that’s all you curious bunch care about :)
So, here are the sales numbers for the Lovely Charts’ first week in the App Store:

Lovely Charts for iPad Sales - Week 1

872 sales in total.
As I said above, I pretty much had no idea what to expect, so I’m rather happy with how this turned out, thanks everyone :)
I have to admit the biggest surprise for me was to see how quickly sales dropped. I knew that was going to happen, but I guess I kind of hoped this would be a smoother fall :)
The App store is a cruel world, if you don’t make it to the top, be prepared to dive quickly in the abyss and stay there in the dark for a while…

Personally, I think that’s reasonable, and see this as an opportunity to fine tune and polish my app without being in the spotlights, overwhelmed by support requests etc. We’ll see later if and how swimming back up to the surface can be done :)

Small stores don’t count.

Before last week, I knew the US App store was definitely the most important, but I didn’t have any clue how that translated in sales.
When I saw Lovely Charts climbing to #5 Paid Productivity Apps in the Belgian store, just behind the usual Pages, Keynote and Numbers, I admit I got a bit excited :)…. But how many sales does that translate into? 21, doh.
In comparison, I sold 85 copies that day on the US app store, and that only took Lovely Charts to #29 in the Paid Productivity Apps charts.

Press matters

My biggest sales until now have been in the German App Store. Why?
Because it’s one of the biggest european stores
Because the launch happened at a “european time”, ie 11AM CET, which is the middle of the night for the US.
Because of that it essentially got retweeted by european twitter users.
Because then the app got reviewed by a bunch of german sites (danke!), and that brought Lovely Charts into the top 10 of the german app store.

Lessons learned: german people are awesome, launch when the US are awake, and focus on getting the US’ attention.

Reviews require thick skin and cold blood.

To be fair, I kind of like the App Store’s review system.
It’s often criticized because it’s pretty much a one way channel. You can’t respond to reviews, argue with commenters, defend yourself, and that is indeed a bit frustrating when facing unfair reviews.
On the other hand, it adds a certain distance and objectivity. Your app is out there on its own, and it has to speak for itself. That’s tough but that’s ok.

But it’s not perfect, and seeing one or two star reviews based on missing features that you don’t even pretend your app offers is indeed unpleasant :)
I have no problem admitting my app has flaws, and that there are features that are missing. It’s very true, it’s 1.0 (1.1 soon, PDF Export, check !), and it doesn’t pretend to be solving everyone’s problems.
But blaming it for not having features it doesn’t claim to have? That’s not fair.

The good news though, is that even the reviewers that left poor reviews seem to agree that the app works as intended, and that’s pretty much the most important to me.
Here’s a sample of what people who left poor (1) to average (3) reviews had to say: “It works as advertised“, “Drawing shapes is easy and works“, “Gestures are great. they make excellent shapes.”
I can live with “bad” reviews like that :)
Average is now at 3.5, with 8 out of 13 reviews scoring 4 or 5 stars, thanks everyone !

What’s next?

That all being said, there are indeed tons of things to improve/add/enhance, and I’m really really pumped up with motivation to transform what I consider a great start into a truly awesome app.

As I said above, PDF export is coming your way.
After that, I’m not going to commit to anything or tell you yet what will be next, but for your information, here are the most requested items on my list:

  • More libraries
  • Font control (size, color etc)
  • Undo/redo

I’ll see what I can do :)… Looking forward to 2012 with great plans for the app, I wish you all with a bit of advance an awesome christmas and happy new year!

Jérôme

Announcing Lovely Charts for iPad !

8 December 2011

I’ve been very quiet this year, for various reasons. So quiet some even expressed doubts about Lovely Charts’ future, and I can’t blame them.
That being said, despite the lack of public announcements and updates to the site and blog, I’ve kept working on Lovely Charts, notably on customer support, as well as on a new product I’ve been quietly working on since a couple months now…

That product, is Lovely Charts for iPad, and it’s with a great pleasure that I’m announcing to the world today.

I’m really, really, really excited about this new app.
Despite its apparent simplicity, this product probably embodies the best the original vision I had for Lovely Charts: “making it super easy to create good looking diagrams”.

Check the video above, try the app if you like what you see, then please let me know what you think :)

Jérôme

Best wishes!

29 December 2010

Serious things first: I’ve just released an update to the Desktop app, that fixes the rather buggy undo/redo mechanism. I’ve tested it quite intensively, but obviously I’ve probably missed some edge scenarios that might cause problems, so please fee free to let me know if you encounter any issue.
Update should be automatic and should happen the next time you start the app. If it doesn’t, just click on the install badge on this page, everything should happen automatically.

Now, this is very probably the last release of 2010, so I’d like to use the opportunity of this blog post to wish you all, in the name of the entire Lovely Charts team (yes, all 3 of us, see below) the very best for the upcoming year!

Happy new year!

Jérôme

Extending Libraries - 1

30 November 2010

One of, if not THE biggest new feature of Lovely Charts V2 (only available as a Desktop app for now), is its extensibility, ie the ability to let you add//create/share/remove not only images nor symbols, but complete libraries!

In the Online Edition, you could import images, JPG or PNG.
In the Desktop app, you can import images, JPG or PNG, either from your filesystem (File > Import… or by drag&drop) or from Iconfinder, but also vector symbols (SWF), meaning those can be resized as needed without ever loosing any quality.
The libraries you create by importing external assets can subsequently be exported as independent files (.lcl), which you can then share among your teams, friends and colleagues.

Because examples are worth a lot more than words, here are a couple libraries you can add today to your installed copy of Lovely Charts:

1. Webalys GUI Library

Webalys GUI Library

This awesome set of GUI vector elements was originally created by Vincent Le Moign of Webalys.com, as an Illustrator library: User Interface Design Framework.
Vincent was kind enough to allow me to convert his library to Lovely Charts, so that’s what I did ^^
If you like it, make sure you pay a visit to Vincent’s website, on top of being the (very) nice guy who designed this lib, he’s also a great freelance UI designer and the author of this absolutely fabulous Icon Library, which I think you should all buy :).

> Download User Interface Design Framework. Once downloaded, simply drag&drop it onto Lovely Charts to install it, or use the File > Import menu option.

2. CISCO Network Topology Icons

CISCO Network Topology Icons

I’ll be the first to admit I know pretty much nothing about computer networks, so I guess it’s only normal that the default Network Diagrams library that comes with Lovely Charts is rather incomplete, to say the least.
Never mind, CISCO provides an exhaustive and “official” symbols library for drawing network topologies, which I took the liberty of converting to Lovely Charts Library format. Cool, no?

> Download CISCO Network Icons. Once downloaded, simply drag&drop it onto Lovely Charts to install it, or use the File > Import menu option.

Creating your own

Now, how do you create your own vector libraries? I’ll dive into the details in a later post, but here’s a quick breakdown:

  • A Lovely Charts symbol is just a Flash library symbol, except it’s been “exported” (ie given a class name) so that it’s accessible from Lovely Charts.
  • Knowing that, the easiest way to create a new library is to 1. create a new Flash file, 2. create your symbols, 3. make sure those symbols get class names (see below), and 4. publish your SWF file
  • The published Flash file must be AS3
  • If you wish to create advanced symbols, using the drawing API, or implementing some custom logic in their own classes, please get in touch, and I’ll provide you with some material to get started, before I find the time to write a proper tutorial.
  • Don’t try to access global properties such as stage or methods of the parenting app, as this will throw errors

Lovely Charts currently allows you to import images (JPG, PNG, or GIF) and SWF files. To import, use the File > Import menu option, or simply drag&drop the file(s) you wish to import onto the app. A dialog will open, where you’ll be able to review and check the list of symbols you will import.
Unchecking a symbol means it won’t be made visible in the library.
When you select a symbol in the list, you can define some options for it, such as its name, and the relative position of the label it’ll get in Lovely Charts.
Once you’re done reviewing, give your new library a name, or import the assets into an existing lib, and press OK!

Jérôme

It’s alive!

26 November 2010

So I know some thought this day would never come, and to be honest, I’ve had my doubts as well… But on wednesdayay afternoon, I made the leap, and pushed live both an updated website, and the long overdue Lovely Charts Desktop Edition, AKA V2.
And you know what? Of course I’m happy, proud, anxious etc but overall the feeling that prevails is relief :).

If you’d rather not read, just click here and watch the video, it does its job quite well, me thinks^^.

Anyway, what’s in this new version? Tons, probably too much to list without boring everyone.
To summarize, I like to think about this release as the grown-up version of V1 (which btw still powers the online app).
I’ve always said my core intention with Lovely Charts was to make it easy for people to communicate visually, with diagrams that look good even if you don’t have the slightest design skill… So, how does this translate in new features?

  • Automatic layouts. Need an org.chart, or a sitemap, with all items properly, pixel-perfectly aligned? One-click of a button
  • Import from text files. You’d rather draft out the structure in a text file first, THEN worry about drawing a sitemap? Easy.
  • Iconfinder integration. Need some fancy icon but you don’t know where to find one? Simply hit Ctrl (Cmd on Mac) + F, and instantly access a repository of over 185,000 great looking icons, ready to grab and insert in your own diagrams.
  • Pick your own fonts.
  • Enhanced connections: now pixel-perfect, and controllable via, well, control points.
  • Drawing guides. Align and regularly space symbols without thinking about it. It just snaps.
  • Import images AND vector symbols
  • Create & Share your own libraries. More on this in an upcoming blog post

I could go on for hours, but I think the video, and above all the FREE demo, both do a way better job at giving you a sense of what’s in this new version, so please do me a favor, go ahead and try it out!

Jérôme