Bill Reiss is a Windows Platform Development MVP and a Senior Consultant for AgileThought

Reading Lens, Next App Star, and Windows Phone Strategies

First of all, a shameless plug. My Reading Lens app for Windows Phone 8, an app that helps you read small text or text in dark places like restaurants, was selected as one of the top 64 apps out of 9000 submitted in the Windows Phone Next App Star contest. Tomorrow March 22 is the last day of voting in the first round, and I’m currently losing my head to head battle so I can really use your help. You can vote here:

Click Here for Next App Star Voting

This is a great initiative by Microsoft to increase visibility for quality apps that may or may not have achieved success on their own. There are hardware prizes, but I think the most important thing is that they will feature these 64 apps on the Windows Phone Store in the near future.

What I really wanted to talk about though was the Reading Lens app itself. It’s a great example of how I think you should approach Windows Phone (or any mobile development) if you haven’t already, or even if you have, how you might want to change your approach.

First of all, it’s an app I really needed. Think of something that you would want on your own phone and that’s a great start to coming up with an idea other people might need. It doesn’t have to be something you need specifically but I think it helps and there are good odds other people might need it too. I kept forgetting my reading glasses when I was in the grocery store or restaurants but I always had my phone with me.

Second, try to come up with an idea you can implement with relatively little effort. Reading Lens was based on my Windows Phone 7 app Reading Glasses. Reading Glasses was written in less than 15 hours. Reading Lens took a bit longer, but still less than 40 hours. After the success of Reading Glasses, I felt it made sense to spend a bit more time and integrate with Windows Phone 8’s Lens feature. Contrast this amount of effort with the amount of effort it took me to bring Popper 2 to Windows Phone. I spent hundreds of hours on this game and while it’s been well rated I’ve probably made a dollar or 2 an hour on it. That time would have been better spent creating a dozen or more apps like Reading Lens.

Finally, think about monetization. Reading Glasses was a free app with advertising, but people aren’t in the app long enough to really get a lot of ad impressions, and users complained that the ad took up valuable screen real estate and they said they would pay to be able to see the whole screen. I decided to make Reading Lens a paid app, and made it free for the first couple of months and now charge $.99 for it. There is a large button on the screen that asks users to pay for the app, and if they pay the button goes away. Besides that the app is fully functional.

My revenue so far is nothing amazing but it is far larger than the ad revenue from Reading Glasses. If I had it to do all over again, I would have made it a free app with an in-app purchase to remove the button and see the whole screen. Why in-app purchase instead of free with trial? Well when I switched from free to paid, my downloads dropped by a factor of 10. If I kept it free with in app purchase, my downloads would have remained the same as before and I’m certain my income would be at least 3 to 5 times higher than what I’m getting now.

I hope this peek into my experiences helps you with your own, and I’ll be happy to answer any more questions in the comments.