Jan 10

Keeping The App Alive – Scope Nights Astronomy Weather

I recently updated Scope Nights: Astronomy Weather Reports to version 2.0 because the iOS7 release by Apple included a massive user interface change, and for the app to be fully compliant with new Apple devices it had to undergo a lot of changes. User Interface changes take a lot of time for mobile app developers due to the large amount of devices and device orientations that need to be supported. Scope Nights also required some improvements and bug fixes, so this was an ideal time to add these as well.

Mobile apps sell for next to nothing these days, and there is very little money to be made in such a saturated marketplace where exposure is very limited, unless of course your app goes viral, but that’s akin to trying to win the lottery.

For those indie app developers like myself who try to make a living from selling apps, there are only a few ways currently available to sustainably develop mobile apps. This is either by including advertisements, In-App-Purchases (IAP), or constantly re-marketing major app versions because Apple doesn’t provide a paid app upgrade path.

For Scope Nights the only realistic way was to add IAP as I didn’t want to ruin the app experience with annoying adverts, and it would be physically impossible for me to re-market a portfolio of apps every year to maintain sales. In hindsight IAP should have been included when the app was first developed, but this is my first app and I didn’t have the luxury of hindsight two years ago.

With my choice limited to adding paid upgrades to Scope Nights, it became clear that this would only be possible by making use of existing features whilst also adding some new features at the same time. I didn’t have up-front funding or time to create enough new features to improve sales quickly.

Scope Nights is a niche product and and unless it could be turned around to create more funds for development then the project would die. This hard decision meant those who weren’t happy to fund further development were annoyed that they suddenly had to pay a little bit more, and I apologise to those people. But unfortunately Apple has changed the rules and iOS7 encourages people to automatically update apps and encourages developers to add IAP or adverts to cover development costs.

The convention for major software revisions is normally a paid upgrade, this is how software businesses have previously survived as apps don’t write themselves. Well not yet anyway! Apple currently forces developers to sell software as a service, using advertising or subscriptions to maintain sales, rather than offering a choice to sustain sales through paid updates.

For those who are unhappy about paying more for Scope Nights 2.0 for iOS 7.0, the previous version of Scope Nights 1.6 for iOS 6.1 is still accessible via the App Store. Please refer to the App Store instructions for installing the latest compatible version of an app: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5919 (Please note: I do not support old versions of the app)

If version 2.0 receives good reviews and ratings, the proceeds from the new in-app upgrades will be used to continue developing Scope Nights to cover more countries and add more professional features. But it’s fate is ultimately in the hands of the amateur astronomy community and whether people are willing to pay for a dedicated astronomy weather service?

New Features

• Full iOS7 compatibility with new look & feel
• Improved forecasts using cloud cover and precipitation probability
• Moon phase threshold slider
• Wind speed gust sensitivity switch
• List of IDA international dark sky parks
• Clear period notifications
• General bug fixes & improvements

Apart from helping keep the app alive, the main benefit of paying for the upgrades in version 2.0 is the improvements in the algorithm used to create the stargazing ratings, resulting in more accurate ratings. For showery or thundery forecasts, the app was previously too pessimistic. So version 2.0 uses the cloud cover forecast in the rating algorithm and should be give a more realistic rating. The UK & US forecasts in version 2.0 also use precipitation probability in the ratings algorithm, so should be more accurate again.

Other new features include a completely revamped UI for iOS7 and the addition of a moon phase threshold and gust sensitivity switch in the settings. Moon altitude threshold will also be added soon. Clear period notifications and an official list of International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) dark sky parks have also been added. The IDA dark sky park list is set to grow rapidly and it’s planned to add observatory locations in upcoming app updates.

Best regards & clear skies!

If you find Scope Nights useful and would like to see continued support and development, please leave a good rating on the app store.