Thursday, April 30, 2009

Android Update

I've been busy with school and continuing Android app development on the side.

Since the last time I blogged, I released Hearts, a paid version and a free version with ads, and an app called Billable, which logs billable hours and lets you email a summary of the activity. Unfortunately, they've all pretty much been flops. I got early bad reviews on both sets of apps, and though the ratings have gone up since then, I think there's a huge influence of the first 1-3 reviewers on your app. Hearts is especially disappointing, since I think both the interface and the AI are better than Spades.

One big difference is that I was the first to publish a version of Spades on the Android Market, while there was already a version of Hearts there when I published mine. I think being first to market is a pretty big advantage.

Some good news is that Spades Free keeps chugging along, still at #3 in Card & Casino Games, with 32,432 downloads (Hearts Free, by comparison, has had 781). But unfortunately, the click rate on my ads keeps steadily declining. I was hoping it would level out at around 0.1% per day, but it just keeps on sliding. Yesterday was the first day I'd made less than $10 from combined ad and sales, which really stinks.

It will be interesting to see how the market changes as it expands, but right now it seems to be pretty difficult to do consistently well.

For my next few apps, I'm going to focus on trying to convert directly into sales, rather than relying on ad revenue, by releasing less functional versions for free and fully-functional paid versions. My next app is a game, a version of golf solitaire with a golf theme. A while back I played Fairway Solitaire, which is a great golf-themed version of golf solitaire. I highly recommend it; it's one of the best casual games I've played. I think the general idea is a lot of fun, so I did my own riff on it, massively scaled-down, of course.

Here are some screenies of my game:

It should be ready for release in another week or so. I'm probably going to release a free version that just let's you play 2 holes, and another that lets you play the full 18. We'll see how that works. I think it could be a popular app, but you never know.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Android Market Update

Well, a lot has happened with my Android app development in the past couple of weeks. In the first few days of release, my paid Spades version ($2.99) was selling about 40 copies a day. That slacked off to 22 the 4th day, and then 15 the 5th. I had considered releasing a free version with ads, hoping that would bring in a little ad revenue, but mostly lead to conversions to the paid version (for people who find ads annoying). So about a week ago I released a free version with Admob ads displaying in dialog boxes between each hand.

Apparently people would rather click away an ad between each hand than pay a couple of bucks. Sales for the paid version flatlined to 0-2 sales per day after the release of the free version. The good news is that the free version has risen to #3 on the Most Popular Card and Casino games ranking, and #27 in games overall. As of today I've had 12,374 downloads of the game, with 10,464 active installs (84% retention rate). I'm averaging about 1,500 new installations per day.

Here are the Admob stats:

4/3 ads shown: 44,198 clicks: 239 ctr (click-through rate): 0.54%
4/4 ads shown: 76,896 clicks: 318 ctr: 0.41%
4/5 ads shown: 102,529 clicks: 343 ctr: 0.33%
4/6 ads shown: 126,582 clicks: 409 ctr: 0.32%
4/7 ads shown: 171,409 clicks: 509 ctr: 0.29%
4/8 ads shown: 177,829 clicks: 393 ctr: 0.22%
4/9 ads shown: 184,770 clicks: 409 ctr: 0.22%

For now, this is earning me about $20/day. Looking at the numbers, what it looks like is that the click-through rate is falling, probably due to people getting used to automatically dismissing the ad. It would be nice if the numbers continued to climb, so that even with low ctrs I'd still be able to generate a fair amount of ad revenue.

I'll probably be releasing Hearts next week, and I'm thinking of simultaneously releasing an ad version and a $0.99 version. There's already a Hearts app on the market for $1.99 (and the same company released Spades for $1.99 last week, which probably didn't help my paid app sales). I'm debating on whether or not to continue with Admob, or try Google Adsense. I figured out how to embed Adsense ads into my games using a webview. It displays as a banner either at the top or bottom of the screen, and is present at all times. I could have both forms of ads, but that would probably be overdoing it. Although, I haven't gotten a single complaint about the ads in Spades Free yet. I'll decide what to do when the app gets closer to being finished.

Wolfram's New Non-Search Search Engine

Next month Stephen Wolfram is apparently going to launch WolframAlpha, which he says in a new blog post is not a search engine, but a new way to perform computations on existing information on the internet.

But what about all the actual knowledge that we as humans have accumulated?

A lot of it is now on the web—in billions of pages of text. And with search engines, we can very efficiently search for specific terms and phrases in that text.

But we can’t compute from that. And in effect, we can only answer questions that have been literally asked before. We can look things up, but we can’t figure anything new out.

So how can we deal with that? Well, some people have thought the way forward must be to somehow automatically understand the natural language that exists on the web. Perhaps getting the web semantically tagged to make that easier.

But armed with Mathematica and NKS I realized there’s another way: explicitly implement methods and models, as algorithms, and explicitly curate all data so that it is immediately computable.

Got that? Neither do I.

I am quite interested to see what sorts of answers this thing spits out. Like playing with AI chatbots, I'm sure it will be entertaining as a novelty, but I'm not holding my breath that it will figure out anything new that's not entirely trivial. If I want to know how to make a risotto, I Google "risotto" and find plenty of recipes. For this thing to come up with a new recipe, or a new method for doing something, like building a better mousetrap or folding proteins, it's going to have to have real-world context. This sounds like the old, old claims of AI just dressed up in new clothing. I stand by the claim that a disembodied computer can't meaningfully parse what a dog is purely on the basis of analyzing words and their relations to one another. To handle semantics, something can't just deal with symbols, it has to have access to representations of the referents of those symbols, in other words, sights, sounds, and other sensory input that makes up all the things that the word actually refers to.

Still, it will be fun asking this thing how to cure cancer and see what it comes up with.