Notebooks is a fabulous app, it allows you to conveniently write, capture and organize your ideas, notes, reminders, journals, diaries or details of life that you want to keep close at hand. We are currently reviewing this app but we also wanted to find out more background information such as how it came to be developed, the design details, production and planning and of course what the future holds. We interviewed Alfons Schmid the developer behind Notebooks to find out more. Read this exclusive interview below…
1 Please explain how your app was originally thought of and what were your thoughts behind the marketplace, specifically?
I should start by saying that writing and keeping my documents organized has always been important to me. I have constantly been looking for the "right" application. When the iPhone came out I hoped that this device would be the perfect tool for me, because it is pocketable, always available, and it can hold all of my notes and documents. However, it turned out that the App Store did not offer a single app that would fit my needs.
When Apple published the iPhone SDK in 2008, I was curious what it was all about and wanted to dig into it a bit, and the best way of doing so is by creating an application. The question which app that should be was quickly answered. So, Notebooks was originally designed to meet my own requirements.
A few months later, Notebooks was still my private project, I used it to write my travel diary on a several weeks trip, and the more I used it the more I felt that this might be useful for others as well. So I decided to add what I thought was missing, tried to take off any rough edges and sent Notebooks 1.0 to the App Store. This was four months after writing the first line of code. Today, 30 months later, Notebooks has become a different, much more capable app.
2 Explain the design, how you came up with the colors and themes.
From my own experience I knew that an application needs to feel right; the best set of functions hardly compensates poor design, and nobody likes to work or write in an unpleasant environment. It was obvious that Notebooks needed to be unobtrusive and non distracting, but still had to have a certain something (it is up to the users to decide how well we succeeded).
We tried to avoid any resemblance with a database or a file system, which always have a certain tech-touch, and thought that the "book" metaphor might better fit.
The size and shape of the iPhone reminds of classic Moleskine® notebooks, and we tried to go after that, as far as copyrights allowed. This is where the default paper colors come from. Not everyone likes beige paper, though, which is why we have added a selection of popular colors and patterns, and I am sure that users will tell us if there is anything they are missing.
3 Who do you see as the main target market for this app in terms of age, genre and expenditure?
From the very beginning, Notebooks has been appreciated by users of all ages and across all genres. Students use Notebooks for their school projects, managers use Notebooks to file documents, write meeting minutes and manage tasks, pilots to store guidelines and checklists, writers to work on their books, and elderly people type their journals or file their reference documents. These are just a few random examples. "Writing" and "organizing" are ubiquitous and fundamental needs for many people, so an app like Notebooks can be useful for everyone.
Notebooks costs less than even the smallest Moleskine® notebook, can hold an unlimited number of entries and replace all paper based books one might have, it never gets bulky and does not get dog-eared. It is the one and only notebook you need. I think everyone can afford it 😉
4 How long did it take from the original planning to the production process of this app?
This was an evolutionary process. From the first idea to actually starting the project it took about two months. The basic requirements were quickly defined and it was mainly about finding the right time to start. As I said before, Notebooks was originally planned to be a private project, without a target audience or even any revenue targets…
5 How do you predict sales to be, is there a good solid market for this style of app?
Yes, there clearly is a solid market, just as there is still a market for all types of paper based notebooks. Of course, a writing app is not attractive by itself, it is just like an empty book. It gains its value over time, and the more you use Notebooks and the more documents you put into it, the more important it gets. For many of our users Notebooks has become indispensable, because it holds so much personal or business related information, and for some it has even changed they way they user their iPhones or iPads.
While there clearly is a market, the most difficult part is to inform people about Notebooks and about how to find it on the App Store (this is where TheAppWhisperer is very helpful). Once they find it, they usually like it.
6 What has been the hardest obstacle you have had to overcome regarding this app development?
Seemingly arbitrary limitations of the development environment; the lack of options that are obvious on other platforms (formatted text, for example); changes between iOS versions that require us to work around bugs and issues. But I guess this is true for all environments.
The most difficult part I would say was bringing Notebooks to the iPad; this is by far not as simple as advertised, but on the other hand, Notebooks on the iPad was worth the effort because it gives the users “room to breathe”, due to the larger display.
Third Party Development
7 Would you consider developing apps for third parties?
Currently: no. Notebooks has not yet reached it final level and still requires a lot of care, which is why I rejected half a dozen of offers over the past few months.
Generally: maybe. Working on your own project if very different from working on someone else’s as far as commitment, influence, fun and motivation are concerned…
8 What have you learnt from the App Store?
The App Store is a great tool, because it is a direct connection to all our potential customers, but it is becoming more and more difficult to position your app because of the huge amount of apps and the limited categorization.
A few things we have learned are:
– Be among the to 50 of your category, this is where users immediately find you.
– Localization is important, it does make a difference.
– You need to have good reviews. This is something you can hardly influence, but a thorough and honest review from an independent source is much more credible than the best marketing message.
9 Have Apple supported you well with your App development?
Well, they give us the development environment, iOS framework, extensive documentation and discussion forum, which is a lot. Apart from that, your are very much left alone, but fortunately, the community is very active and supportive.
10 What next, are you developing another app, would you go for the same genre again, if not which?
Next is the desktop version of Notebooks, which is the missing link in the daily workflow. I feel it is more important to bring Notebooks to the next level than to go after the next app. And then there is still Android …
When thinking about the next iOS app, I would try to identify a common problem to solve rather than defining a genre. If the problem falls into the same genre that would be ok.
11 What do you think about TheAppWhisperer.com? Have we helped you? Would you recommend us? Have we been supportive?
Our experience with TheAppWhisperer is only positive. Joanne is very helpful, the cooperation efficient, straightforward and pleasant. Yes, we would definitively recommend TheAppWhisperer!