December 31, 2022
Indie Dev Diaries #3: Was 2022 my best indie year yet?

2022 marks the ninth year I’ve had my own apps on the App Store. I first started developing apps in my final year of high school as an alternative to studying; I’d create quiz apps for my classes and upload them to the App Store. I made no money from those apps, and they’re not available anymore, but that’s where my passion for indie app development was born.

Fast forward to 2022 and an eventful year in my personal indie development world. I’ve tried to keep the following in chronological order to give you an idea of how things unfolded over the year, but there may be the odd thing or two that’s out of place!

Launch of Classifier

The year started with a bang: I launched Classifier. Those that have been following me on social media for a while may remember I used to have an app called Plate-It, an app for tracking license plate collections (another passion of mine - maybe I’ll explain another day!). That app was fairly popular in the plate collecting community, and at its peak, had just short of 50 active subscribers.

Long story short, Plate-It’s backend all came crashing down in September 2021. Again, this is definitely worthy of a dedicated post, but I’d say the blame lies 40% with me, 60% with AWS. 😉

I’d had plenty of people ask me “Can you make a Plate-It for ?”, and this new void in my life was all I needed to push to make an app that can be used to track any kind of collection. The last 3 months of 2021 were spent building Classifier - many UI elements were reused from Plate-It, which is partially why I was able to spin the app up so quickly.

This time the app was backed by Core Data and CloudKit, without any need for authentication. This meant that user data is stored privately in their own cloud, and there was no need for authentication. (Tip: avoid authentication in your app if you can - I lost so many potential users in my apps because I required them to register for an account!).

January 2022 was the month of public launch. The launch went fairly well, but my problem was that I was unable to build up the excitement beforehand. The developers of incredible indie apps that launched this year such as Up Ahead and Fair Weather Friends did a much better job at building up a solid user base even before the app launched. From the outside looking in, it looks easy to do, but I know Dan and Tim both put a tremendous amount of effort in the run-up to their respective app launches.

However, the main thing was that people were downloading the app, and folks were purchasing a mix of quarterly/yearly subscriptions and lifetime purchases. A trickle of income was rolling in!

IndieDevMonday Feature

I hadn’t been featured before by anybody, and I was honestly kind of envious that what felt like every other indie developer was getting featured by all the websites and newsletters. Luckily enough, Chris (who was standing in for Josh at the time) was able to fit me in, and I was jointly-featured in issue 90!

Being featured gave me the opportunity to talk about my indie journey and the apps I’m working on. If you’re an indie developer, I highly recommend checking out the newsletter and applying to be featured in the weekly newsletter!

All the Icons!

I’m very much a developer who has some moderate UI/UX design experience, but I couldn’t create a good icon even if you paid me. I’ll admit that I submitted the app icons I had designed for both Classifier and Ceramispace to Michael Flarup's App Icon Book, but to the surprise of absolutely nobody, neither icon made the cut. I got serious FOMO when I saw many of my indie developer friends have their icons featured, but this was all the motivation I needed to put my app’s icons in the hands of somebody who knows what they’re doing.

After asking around on social media for recommendations, I ended up commissioning Yannick Lung, who has an impressive portfolio of app icons that he’s designed on his website.

I first asked him to work on a new icon for Ceramispace, to coincide with the app’s v2 launch. Not knowing what to expect, the result was absolutely incredible. I’ll let you judge the icon redesign for yourself, but when Sketch (yes, the best UI design app out there) says they can see the icon being in their living room, well you know he did an amazing job! Following on from this, I then tasked Yannick with designing Classifier’s new icon. If you thought Ceramispace’s new icon looked good, wait until you see what he created for Classifier! If there’s anything I learned from this, it’s that paying a designer to create your app’s icon (especially when you lack the design skills, like me) is definitely worth it. The app icon is the first thing most potential users see. If they see an icon that looks like it’s been crafted with love and care, they’re much more likely to check out that app.

Another Feature!

At some point in the past I’d sent an email to iMore write Oliver Haslam, asking him to check out my app Classifier. Given the amount of time that had passed, I’d just assumed that my app had been passed over, but that was not the case!

I woke up one morning to see a spike in the number of installs for Classifier. It took me some time to figure out why that was, until I noticed I’d been tagged in a tweet for an article on iMore. Classifier was one of 3 apps featured as ‘one to try today’!

Ceramispace v2

Ceramispace had been on the App Store for just over a year, but it wasn’t making much headway. Like Plate-It, Ceramispace’s data and authentication was all handled by AWS.

I wanted Ceramispace to be an essential part of every potter’s toolkit. This required a lot of rethinking about the app, including which features were essential and worth maintaining, how I was going to get new users, and how I could retain those users.

Alongside the new app icon, I gave Ceramispace a complete UI makeover. I also moved all of the data to Core Data + CloudKit (the same setup as Classifier), and removed the need for authentication inside the app. This involved writing a lot of code that would migrate the user’s data the next time they launched the app, but despite all of the anxiety, this worked a treat! I also removed the ability to explore new glaze recipes, as the analytics had proven that users simply weren’t using these features. I also made use of Mac Catalyst to make Ceramispace available on the Mac for the first time. The update launched in July 2022. In the 6 months since launch, compared to the 6 months before launch, Ceramispace has seen:

  • A 101% increase in the number of App Store product page views
  • A 69% increase in the number of downloads
  • A 469% (!!!!) increase in proceeds
  • A 100% decrease in the number of crashes 🚀

The metrics speak for themselves - the new icon as well as the new update have been huge for Ceramispace. This is all without paying for ads - I’ve spent $0 on marketing!

As of writing, we’re now at version 2.4 of Ceramispace. In those 4 minor releases, I launched several key new features (many requested by users), including the ability to create your own Trello-style project boards, allowing ceramists to manage their ongoing projects and commissions.

Classifier v2

Yeah, one v2 for this year wasn’t enough!

Classifier’s update coincided with the release of iOS 16 (but not iPadOS 16, because well, Apple). The update wasn’t as drastic as that of Ceramispace’s, but it did include the new icon mentioned earlier, and some UI/UX improvements. Classifier also came to the Mac for the first time, again thanks to Mac Catalyst.

Two Milestones in a Month

I have a widget on my iPhone’s home screen that shows my app’s current MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue). It always brings me tremendous joy to see that number slowly increase as the days and weeks go by.

In November, I hit $50 MRR for the first time across both of my apps. And not even a month later, I hit $75 MRR. As of writing I’m not at $100, but we’re not too far away from hitting that milestone too. I also hit 100 active subscribers across both apps since Christmas, another milestone worth celebrating.

Indie App Santa

I wrote about this in my last post, so I recommend checking that out to learn more about how that went!

Successful year? You bet

Yep, 2022 was my most successful year. A large part of that was down to the icons I commissioned, and the subsequent v2 launches of both of my apps in the second half of the year. Given what I was able to achieve in this time period, I’m itching to see what I can do in 2023!

To break it down, here’s a summary of how 2022 went:

  • 63% increase in proceeds in 2022 compared to 2021
  • 975% increase in downloads in 2022 compared to 2021 (if you take Indie App Santa out of the picture, that figure is roughly 490%)
  • One app launch, two major app redesigns
  • Two new app icons
  • Four online features

What did you achieve in 2022? You can toot me (is that how you say it?!) and let me know!

Looking ahead to 2023

That’s the title of my next post. Make sure you subscribe so you can be among the first to read about my plans, goals, and all the other fun stuff for 2023!

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