I recently met up with Andy Weekes, company director of iCandiApps and creator of The Night Sky app. Here's his amazing story...
"My two passions in life are music and technology. Four years ago I was teaching music as my day job, coming home and building apps until 3 or 4 in the morning and then getting up 8am the next day to go to work.
The idea of building apps had grabbed me with the launch of the iPhone and the first app store, something inside me wanted to build and publish an app! I never claimed to be an amazing computer programmer, but I was motivated and excited by the idea of building something that anyone in the world could download and use. My first app was iPet Photo - tap to select a specially created sound to attract the attention of your pet and voila! You get a good picture of your prized pet. It was very simple!
I developed about 30 apps, and about month before getting the idea for The Night Sky I went part-time to focus on building iCandi Apps as a business. One evening last October I was online, messing around with a piece of open source code, which was mapping stars on a planetary sphere. I added in augmented reality, some news feeds about activities and what you can see in the sky at that time of the month and various other features. The idea came within about 3 or 4 hours, I did some research and checked the name and domain were free, and took it from there. It took about 2 weeks to build on the iOS platform from start to finish. As soon as it was approved I started getting listed on the charts, and hadn't done any particular promotion, which was really exciting.
There are some similar apps out there but they've not done as well as mine - what I did that was different to those companies from a marketing point of view was that while they are very scientific in the jargon they use in their marketing materials, I approached it as if it was a magical Disney-like app, aka 'hold your phone up to the sky an prepare to be amazed!' That approach has really worked for me - the app entered the reference charts almost immediately and got to No.1 in the UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand. Then in January this year it got to No.1 paid app in the UK and N0. 3 in the US. That was a really amazing feeling.
The pinnacle so far was that after using a Disney-inspired angle for marketing the app, The Night Sky actually knocked the Disney app off the No.3 store in the US! For me and a few devs working over the web to build something that achieved that level of success was a dream come true. I've stopped teaching now - I miss some aspects but change is good, I love what I'm doing now.
The app is also on the Mac platform as a desktop version, which got to No.1 in the reference charts and has been featured by Apple in their promotional materials. I ported the app to the Android platform in January and then came across the Windows 8 platform. As someone who had been completely focused on iOS, initially I didn't know a huge amount about Windows 8. My first question was 'What distribution channel have you got?' - if it was just on a website I wasn't interested, but as soon as I heard about the Windows Store I wanted to be there, to be part of it, there's such a huge market I knew I had to get my app on Windows 8.
It was a complete re-write of the app because The Night Sky uses Open GL - we had to re-write it in Direct X for Windows 8, so this was a big project. I thought we might struggle on the development side because I had no experience with Microsoft technology. To my surprise, however, my development team, who are predominantly in Russia, all knew .NET as they'd worked with it before, so it all came together quite smoothly.
Based on the development environment I found the Windows platform very similar to X-Code - so to any iOS devs out there who are unsure as to whether to build or port their app on Windows, give it a go, you'll be surprised at how easy it is! I used Visual Studio for the very first time and I was very impressed with it - the great thing about the Microsoft dev environment is that it's all in-built, it's very streamlined an the simulators are great.
I'm so pleased with the Windows 8 version of The Night Sky - it's got some great features that build on Windows 8, that the iOS and Android versions don't have. Windows gives me a completely new market and I love features like the Live Tiles - it's fantastic for The Night Sky as people can pin the tile to their start screen and get live data letting them know what events and activity is happening that month they may want to look out for. The information is instantly available and visible to them. The way sharing is integrated is great, it's something we'll be building on over the next few months. Semantic zoom is great - there are specific Windows 8 features that have helped tailor the app and add special elements the other versions just haven't got.
From a business perspective the sheer size of the Windows market of 500 million installations is incredible, I don't want to miss that opportunity to reach a new audience. Another plus point is the OEM's - I've spoken with OEM's and attended Microsoft networking events - there's the opportunity to scale quite quickly working with Partners. The Microsoft experience has been very different to what I've experienced before, I've actually met people rather than just sending the app off and hoping for the best with little or no dialogue. With Microsoft I've been to meet the team and it's a really collaborative experience, which is fantastic and makes a lot of sense - since Microsoft gets some of the profits, they're very hands on which is good. It's in both of our interests to make it work. As the 'paid for' price structure has been so successful on iOS this is what we decided to replicate on Windows 8. However on the Windows 8 version of the app we're including the 'Sky Information Pack' add on for free, rather than having it as an add on. This is because the app is $1.49 on the Windows Store rather than $0.99 on iOS, so to keep a consistent price structure across all platforms we decided to build the 'Sky Information Pack' right into the app so everybody has it as standard on Windows 8. A great reason to buy The Night Sky on the Windows 8 platform
Try not to be nervous about publishing your first app - the first one I did isn't the best looking app on the planet, but the opportunity for app developers is so huge, just do it, get your app out there and then refine it. I base the majority of my updates on customer feedback, so if a few customers pick up on the same things then that fix or change is taken into consideration for the next update. Your first release will never be perfect, but that's the whole point of development. Just looking at the stats gets me excited, I'd tell my friends and family when I could see that four people had downloaded my app in the US, it was so exciting. Your app can be really simple, you just need a good idea.
When you've got a successful app you want to refine it, invest in it and make it even better, so next I'm focused on releasing updates and adding new features to The Night Sky. Windows Phone 8 is one of the next avenues I'm looking into for The Night Sky so it'll be coming to a Windows Phone near you soon. I've also got a few more apps in the pipeline but I'm not prepared to divulge, you'll have to wait and see!"