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Repeat Timer Pro iPhone App Design and Marketing Strategy

A behind-the-scenes look at the ideas and processes that went into the utility app - from concept and design to the marketing strategy and its results.
UPDATED FEB 19, 2012

iPhone App Design and Marketing example

iPhone App Designer

Artem Lapitski

My name is Artem Lapitski and I am the founder of ROQ – a mobile app and interface design agency in New York. Graphic design has been a passion of mine since my first Commercial Art class in high school where I first got my hands on Photoshop. I discovered it as a tool to express myself creatively and took home two design awards that year. I have been involved in this ever-evolving field for nearly 10 years.

The most valuable experince for me has been working at Fi New York where I learned a great deal collaborating with trully world-class designers. Having left the agency in 2010, I now work independently on client and personal projects.

iPhone App Idea

Idea for Repeat Time Pro iPhone App

The idea for Repeat Timer Pro came out of a personal need. Working at Fi, the day often ended with my eyes strained and tired from looking at the screen for the entire day. I wanted a reminder to briefly look away from the monitor every 30 minutes. I first turned to the App Store, but the only repeating timer app available was not great, so I resorted to a Chrome extension.

However, in my search for a solution, I found that many others were also looking for a repeating timer for various applications. I saw this unfulfilled demand as a reason to create my own iPhone app - something I have been wanting to do for a while.

iPhone App Wireframing

Repeat Timer Pro iPhone App Concept

I started by trying out existing timer apps and analyzing their user reviews in order to uncover the needs not met effectively by available products. I then made a list of all features and possible uses for a timer app to help me determine the funcationality thought after by the majority of users; I didn't want to complicate the app with specialized options for the sake of rare applications. Afterwards, I planned the UI components that would make those functions intuitive and easily accessible in an app.

Design of Repeat Timer Pro iPhone App

After creating rough wires of just a couple of the app screens on paper, I jumped into Photoshop, eager to recreate the interface I envisioned in my mind.

Art direction
In establishing the look and feel of the app, I wanted to create something with universal appeal that both genders would find attractive. It was also important to maintain high contrast to ensure the interface was easy to interpret at a glance. I went with color palette you see in the app today: a dark bluish-grey metal background and lime green accented key interface elements.
Simplicity is key
Having reviewed other timer apps with often complicated functionality and long screens full of seemingly unnecessary options, I wanted my app to be extremely simple to use. My initial idea was to eliminate the settings panel altogether and put all controls on the main screen.

In this second version of the design, I attempted to simplify the interface by combining certain elements together and replacing text labels with icons.
INSIGHT: The initial concept included a schedule function to let users pick the days and hours of the day the timers should run. I wanted the timer to run during office hours, for example, so I could set M-F, 9:00 to 18:00 and the timer would run on repeat during those times. I left this out due to the complexity the feature added to the app and the relative low number of users who would use it. This was also the reason I eliminated the delay function for starting the timer.
Being flexible
Not being happy with how cluttered the screen was becoming, I decided to include a separate settings screen and move the rarely-accessed controls there. This allowed me to make the main timer screen elements
bigger and achieve a balanced
layout. With a new screen
dedicated to timer settings,
I came up with additional
toggles to make the app
more versatile.
INSIGHT: I considered an alternative light design but returned to the original dark style that looked more interesting and appealing.

iPhone App Design

Working at Fi, I learned that attention to detail is one of the key components in creating really great designs that look professional and polished. I made sure to make every part of the interface looked clean and fit well within the overall look and feel of the app.

Repeat Timer Pro iPhone App Development

With complete designs ready, I needed to prepare assets for development. I first wrote a specification document describing the app concept and detailing it's functionality. I then created a screen breakdown image with basic notes about the UI components on each of the app's screens, how they would animate and how users would interact with them (part of it shown to the right). I bundled these with the original master PSD containing all screens and a style guide with isolated interactive elements and their alternate states.

The next step was to find a developer or team to build this out. I first got in touch with my friends at Fueled - an excellent design and development shop in New York. Although there would be no doubts about the quality of the app coming out of Fueled, I also posted the project on eLance to see how the cost of outsourcing elsewhere would compare. I ended up choosing a development company in Novosibirsk and working with a bright young developer that had previosly built an app that won an Apple Design Award. The cost, timeline, communication and adherence to the set budget have all been great. I am very happy with my choice.
INSIGHT: It took over 130 development hours to build the first version of the app. Updating it with 3 independent timers and custom labels for v1.1 took another 80.

Repeat Timer Pro iPhone App Marketing Strategy

There are many great apps at the App Store that never get the attention they deserve. This is often due to lack of a solid marketing strategy or its poor execution. Any new app released to the App Store starts at the bottom and it takes careful planning and effort to make it float up among the other half a million products and get the exposure needed to be successful. I find the business aspects of any project to be as creative and interesting as designing the product itself so I was looking forward to marketing and promoting the app.

iPhone App Marketing example

Pre-launch Promotion
As soon as I sent off all files for development, I created a Twitter account and a Facebook page and set up a splash page inviting users to follow the app on these networks for a chance to get a copy of the paid app free. I also promoted this on my Dribbble, Kontain and personal Facebook page. This was mainly meant to create some buzz about the upcoming release but also to recruit a few users that would try the app immediately after launch and hopefully generate some reviews (reviews help the app rank higher at the App Store). Creating the website early was also important in order to get indexed by search engines and establish the basis for ranking.

Spreading the Word
Repeat Timer Pro is my first app, so even though I scoured the net for insights into successful promotion tactics, getting the word out about my addition to the App Store in an effective way was mostly trial and error. Some things that I spent significant resources on yielded poor results while others had a welcome effect on app sales. Keeping in mind that certain initiatives don't boost sales right away but help in the long run, this is what I learned so far as to what works and what doesn't:
A WORD ON KEYWORDS: Aside from sales surrounding paid promotional initiatives, it is important that potential users can find the app online and at the App Store. Therefore, selecting the best keywords and optimizing website's and app's meta data is vital. After doing research online and at the App Store, I found that "repeat timer" and "repeating timer" would be the best keywords to use in terms of what potential users would search for as well as in relation to competing offerings. I optimized the app title and website for these and included secondary keywords such as "interval timer", "yoga timer", "workout timer" and a few others in the app's meta data.
INDUSTRY PR DISTRIBUTION: PRMac is a press release distribution service focused on news in the Mac world. I have sent out two releases through them so far - one at the release of the app and one to announce the v1.1 update - and both yielded great results: nearly 12,000 views on PRMac.com (with more on the 30+ sites that published the press release) and a sizable spike in app sales. The cost was $20 per extended release.
GENERIC PR DISTRIBUTION: A couple of days before I discovered PRMac, I distributed the first press release via 24-7PressRelease.com. The announcement received 4,210 views but had virtually no impact on app sales because it went out to a generic, untargeted audience. Definitely the worst marketing expenditure so far, $155.
PAID REVIEWS: There are many websites that review and demo apps - some charge for their services and the exposure you app gets, others are free. I went after both. I spent a good deal of time filling out app review request forms on the free sites and emailing site editors to get them to introduce my app to their readers, but most never responded. I also purchased a few paid reviews - The iPhone App Review, Crazy Mike's Apps and Daily App Show. None of these yielded the results I hoped for and the marginal boost in sales did not justify the cost (over $100 on average), at least in the short term.
FREE PUBLICITY/REVIEWS: Free publicity is obviously good, but it's still takes time and effort to get. Aside from submitting my app for review via website forms, I reached out to writers and editors of app publications directly via Twitter. I offered promo codes to try my app and asked if they thought their readers would like to find out about it. Christine at AppAdvice liked my app and helped me spread the word with a review and an update announcement with an awesome giveaway - both of which lead to a welcome boost in sales and some great exposure. Jared at MacGasm also thought the app was cool and included it in a weekly post. Big thanks to both of them! This publicity is the most gratifying not because it was free but because it shows that my product is useful to people.

Update Feb 19: I since got reviews at PCMag and Cult of Mac by reaching out to their editors via Twitter. Thanks @jeffreylwilson and @gilest!
POORLY TARGETED PAID ADVERTISING: After the app was out for about a month, I decided to try paid advertising. Browsing BuySellAds.com, iDesigniPhone (an iPhone wallpaper site) looked like a good value - $60/mo for a front page 125x125 ad with over a 1M estimated impressions - so I bought the space. Judging by the ad numbers over a month, it was worth it (1.1M impressions, 429 clicks = 0.04% CTR) but looking at Google Analytics, I saw that the average time on site was only 6 seconds, which means that barely anyone stuck around to learn about the app and consider getting it. Seeing this, I did not renew the ad.
TARGETED PAID ADVERTISING: In early December, I discovered Overlapps - a really cool app rating website with an interesting concept and clean design. Despite poor results from advertising on iPhoneiDesign, I bought a couple ad spaces on Overlapps (also via BuySellAds.com) - I really liked the site and the audience coming to site to discover cool apps would be more likely to check out mine...plus it was quite cheap. I am currently running two ads there - on the homepage and on the Top 25 page - both at $33 a month. They don't get the huge number of impressions but the CTR on the two pages is high (0.90% and 4.32%) and those that click spend over 4 times longer on the app website, so I imagine the sales I get more than cover the expense. I have no plans to cancel these ads.
WORD OF MOUTH: This one is obvious, but it's always great to receive positive feedback to the app and hear that the user downloaded it from a recommendation. In my opinion, the is the most sustainable way to grow sales given the product trully helps users and carries value.
In support of the points above, here is the profit vs. time graph of app sales in the first two months following the Nov 22nd launch. In deciding which marketing initiatives to pursue, I found it hard to find any actual results or testimonials of what others have done, so I am happy to share this insight with fellow developers:

Repeat Timer Pro iPhone App Sales Graph

Final Words on iPhone App Promotion

I really enjoyed this app project from the start and I am excited to see that so many people find it useful and use it daily. I will continue improving the app following user suggestions I receive and look forward to introducing it to others.

Feel free to email me and leave your comments below. Follow the app on Twitter and Facebook below to get notified of future updates and get in touch with us at ROQ to design and launch your next mobile app!

Thanks for visiting!
Repeat Timer Pro
Copyright © 2012 Artem Lapitski. All rights reserved.