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Tales of an Also-Ran Part 3

I wrote Part 1 of this series almost a year ago. Then, as now, I was talking about our app Couplett. I'm returning to it now because the concept of the dual-camera app is making news and I'm a little bitter. You know the saying "a day latge and a dollar short"? Well apparently, we were a day early and... something short? Or possibly long. I'm not exactly sure.

Anyway, on March 14th Samsung announced the Galaxy 4 with something called "Couplett mode" (I'm kidding, they call it dual shot). So it seems we weren't completely off in thinking this idea had legs. Being a hardware company, samsung has designed the hardware in such a way that you can actually have both cameras active at the same time (the hardware in the iPhone/iPad can't do this unfortunatley). They've also built the dual shot functionality right into the included camera app (it even does dual video as well).

In a rare stroke of luck, Samsung made this announcement the exact same day that we relaunched Couplett in Fremium and Premium versions. Thanks to some eagle-eyed Facebook friends, I was notified of this new Galaxy phone and feature within minutes. The next morning, I waited with much anticipation to see what effect (if any) this would have on our sales. We also lucked out that the two Couplett versions were the 1st and 2nd results in a search for "dual camera" (samsung's choice of words) in both iPhone and iPad categories.

See that crazy spike? Well there you have it. Couplett seemed to be suffering from the fact that for a long time, people didn't know they wanted it. The concept being thrust into the public eye, they were now searching for it and finding it and we were reaping some benefit. I am left to assume this is when Apple also decided that dual cameras are a kinda neat idea.

How (not) to get featured on the App Store

I have to assume something like the following converstaion took place at Apple the next day:

Jeff: "Hey Bob, you see this Galaxy Phone? It takes pictures from both cameras at once."

Bob: "What? Really? Do we have any apps that do that?"

Jeff: "Lemme see." (searches for some term other than 'dual camera')

Jeff: "Yeah, there's only one. It's called DBLCAM. It's not great but it definitely takes two pictures at once. Let's feature them."

Bob: "That's enough due diligence for me, make it happen!"

They then reached out to the makers of DBLCAM to request artwork for the ZOMG ENORMOUS BANNER! that would grace the top of the photo and video page for at least a week. (I'm told this is what happens when you are going to be featured. I wouldn't actually know personally.)

I know they didn't seach for 'dual camera' because DBLCAM doesn't even come up in that list. The alternative is that someone on the review team remembered the app as it was only just released on March 1st (more than a year after Couplett).

So granting the benefit of the doubt to the feature team, let's imagine a scenario where they actually looked at both Couplett and DBLCAM as well as the handful of other apps that have sprung up in the last year (Doubleshot Photo, DuoCam, 2side Cam and Double Camera come to mind). Why would DBLCAM pop out of the pack to become the "Apple Blessed" double camera app?

We obsessed over every detail with Couplett. How can our app compliment the built-in camera app? What would the typical iPhone user expect? Couplett takes several pages from Apple's own apps like iMovie and iPhoto's slideshows with it's concepts of "themes". With just a tap take your two photos, then pinch-to-zoom the inner photo to resize it if you want, one more tap to slap a theme on it (or just stick with the default) and then save or share. After one or two versions and some feedback and iteration, we landed on what we thought was the best mix of steps and creative freedom.

At it's best, when we're not spending money to advertise, the free version of Couplett drives between 100 and 150 downloads a day with a 1-2% attach rate of purchased theme packs. Total revenue of maybe $5 a day average. Interest in the concept thanks to Samsung increased that by 200% for a couple days before it settled back down to it's previous levels (some of the bump also comes from being in the "What's New" section of the App Store whenever you release a new binary).

On the flip side, DBLCAM is in version 1.0.1 (an updated logo screen!) and performs the same function, with less control, fewer features and WAY less design. "So less is more in this case, maybe take a lesson from that," you say. Sorry, I don't buy it. By "less design" I mean stuff like using standard controls incorrectly and actions resulting in confusing results. A table view having options that open text messages, pop share sheets or kick out to other apps as well as the expected result, presenting a more specific drill down list, is sloppy.

The one thing DBLCAM seems to have going for it over Couplett is that the photos it makes are square and therefore easily Insta-sharable. And sure, I don't discount that this is a big one. Instagram is huge. But the takeaway here is being new and hipster is a better choice than being careful and Apple-like in your execution.

What's most frustrating about it is that the "Featured" area should showcase examples of good app design. Sure, show what's popular, but I've actively counseled clients not to go one way or another based on the fact that "Apple won't even consider featuring an app that does X". Apparently, I've been wrong about that. 

I used to say "It's not the idea, it's the execution," in response to people saying "you have to be first". Well in this case, they were not first, and they didn't even nail the execution. So I guess my biggest question just becomes -

Now what?