Monday, April 16, 2012

Monkey Write on Kindle and NOOK

Monkey Write works on both phones and tablets, but because it's targeted to children, the user experience on tablet screens is quite a bit better. Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble NOOK are both 7-inch Android e-readers, and since reading and writing goes hand in hand, I thought their users will enjoy Monkey Write. They each have their own marketplace, so I needed to resubmit my app.

Kindle Fire

I started the application for both the Kindle and the NOOK around the same time, but the NOOK process was so tedious that the Kindle version went live a few weeks earlier. Amazon Appstore has an approval process, with an average turn around time of a day per submission.

I cut a few corners when I launched the first version of Monkey Write, and the Amazon folks caught them pretty quickly. One shortcut I took was to fix the device orientation: portrait for phones, landscape for tablets. That way I don't have to save state when Android destroys and re-create your activity upon orientation change. That caused my app to have a problem on Kindle Fire. According to the review message, "the ink disappears upon entering and exiting hibernation". I had to file a ticket to understand that hibernation is the lock screen. So it seems like the Kindle Fire, the activity is destroyed and re-created when the screen is locked. Once I found out that problem I just patched the app and resubmitted.

Besides the orientation change, I needed to make another patch. I direct the user to the appropriate marketplace to download workbooks. On the Kindle it goes the Amazon Appstore. Otherwise it goes to Google Play. But I did not consider the situation when the Amazon Appstore is installed on a phone. Amazon stipulates that all downloads go through their appstore even when Google Play is also available, but my code preferred Google Play. The fix was fairly easy, unlike the orientation change fix which took quite some time.

Overall the approval process was pretty good. My only complaint is that I only get notified when my app is approved for the general Amazon Appstore, and it needs a second approval specifically for the Kindle Fire. That's fine, but I don't get notified when the second approval comes along, meaning I have to resort to checking on the website obsessively.

Here is how to verify if your app is approved for the Kindle:

  1. Search for your app. In my case, Monkey Write
  2. Look on the left sidebar. Check the count for "Available on Kindle Fire".
  3. If the count is smaller than expected, click the checkbox to see the subset that is approved for the Kindle Fire.

Barnes and Noble NOOK

Getting into the Amazon Appstore was smooth sailing compared to the NOOK store. I already had quite an adventure when I submitted Puzzle Pal to the NOOK store. I had to go through the whole process again because I wanted to publish Monkey Write under a business account instead of a personal account.

I wanted to launch simultaneously on Google Play and NOOK, so I applied for a business account right before I was publishing to the Google Play store. Well, that got me rejected because they only accept developers who has already published apps in other app stores. Which is a bit silly, given that I have published Puzzle Pal on their own store!

I was really busy preparing the launch, so I just waited until the app was published in Google Play to retry. Second time I was rejected again, with a copy-and-pasted message:

  1. You are a commercial company submitting the request.
  2. You have a US Bank Account and Tax ID.
  3. You have developed a commercial application and/or have deployed an application already to an existing marketplace or application store.
  4. Your company, vision or applications are aligned to a reading centric audience who are using the NOOK Color in the US market.
  5. You are committed to assign the necessary resources and have firm plans to deliver your apps now for NOOK Color.

At this time your submission to us did not have evidence of one or several of the requirements listed above and therefore we regret that we are not able to progress your current request at this time.

We do however encourage you to resubmit based upon this criteria.

To be honest I had no idea what they wanted. I had my bank account number and tax ID ready to go, but there was no where to put it in the approval form. Point 3 was OK since I have already published Monkey Write to Google Play. Now, is a writing app aligned with a reading centric audience? I think so. Am I committed? Oh yeah, but how do I show that?

This is the time when I'm very glad that I already got through the process with Puzzle Pal, because I ended up filing a ticket under my personal account requesting help for my business account to be approved. You see, before you get approved as a developer you don't have access to their ticket system, so you don't really have a recourse. The rep on the other side was really helpful, and approved my business account right away. Phew!

Freemium not allowed

Once I got my account setup I uploaded the main app, plus additional apps for the workbooks. My main app went through the metadata-then-apk approval process uneventfully, but it took 10 days to go live because they only push apps once a week. The metadata for the workbooks all got rejected, though. Essentially they don't allow module downloads, breaking my freemium business model. I filed a ticket to complain. The rep was actually pretty funny. He said he knows I won't like his answer, but they don't allow freemium business model. He even told me that he knows the pain I went through to get a developer account, and he assured me that if I rebundle my app to trial/paid model it will work really well.

And that's what I did. I put all the workbooks into a single app, give it a price tag of $19.99, and put it on the NOOK store: I am providing lifetime updates as new workbooks get published, so I thought $19.99 is a pretty good deal. Very happy to know that the NOOK users agree with me, because a few of them have bought Monkey Write already!

In the end I am glad that the NOOK store forced me to try a different business model. Their trial mode is pretty nice: users get to keep their score while they update, which is a much smoother experience than the Google Play Store, where you need a different package name. For Monkey Write, I provide a "upgrade" button on the bookshelf:


The Amazon Appstore is much more mature than the NOOK store, and the approval process is much smoother. The flip side is that the NOOK store does not have as many apps, so there is less competition in terms of app discovery, resulting in more downloads. Both of them required patches, but in my case it was worth the extra work to reach a brand new set of tablet users.

Have you published Android apps? Where? What is your experience? I would love to hear your stories!

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