Live Tracking for iOS Sales

Posted on 12 March, 2011


In this week’s post I will detail an idea for a small tool that tracks iOS sales as they happen. We are about to build such a tool and toyed with the idea to turn it into a service for other developers.

The Problem

Sales reports for iOS apps are provided by Apple. These are simple text files containing data about purchases, updates and refunds. The problem with these reports is that they are always provided a day later as they happen. Given the huge mass of App Store transactions this is understandable. However, the specific time for a purchase is not only a nice to have but can provide valuable insight.
Knowing from our own experience and hearing from other devs too, visibility is the usual problem in the App Store. Since there is no surefire way to improve it, we can tackle things that can be directly improved. Like finding the right target audience. If you build an app you should first find out who is your target audience. This way you can improve your app and adapt it to their needs. But finding the right target audience is very hard. Without studies, field tests, consumer reports it is guesswork at best. And these studies are hard to come by – especially when you just want to get to building this awesome app already
It is not too late to adjust your app to its users even after releasing it. And here is the crunch. You’ll want to have as much info about your users without compromising their privacy. Sure you could use something like Flurry. But their stats are not realtime – and I think that’s the valuable information you need.


We have thought about a tool that would provide anonymized realtime purchase stats for iOS apps. This tool would consist of a small library that needs to be added to your app as well as a web application. After starting the app for the first time right after the purchase, it gathers data and sends it to the remote web application. The code would only run on the first start (saving this info to NSUserDefaults is trivial). The data that is sent over is displayed in a useful manner that leads to valuable insights.
But what do you gain if you know when your app was purchased? Knowing the time alone, won’t do much good but combined with other stats it starts to become useful. After all as a developer you will want to know as much as possible about your users. This knowledge will help you shape your app for your target audience making it more useful for them. This ultimately leads to more app sales – if act on your insights.

Imagine the following scenario:
User X buys your system administration related app at 3am. Timezone is set to Europe/Berlin. Geoip lookup reveals that his purchase originated from Germany on a DE-CIX line. He has the latest available iOS firmware installed and his device and locale is set to EN. He also uses the latest iPhone model.
This is what I deduce from this info:

  • User bought the app fairly late and as such he was probably looking for a specific solution (maybe an urgent problem)
  • Since the ip originated from a backbone provider in Germany the user might be an admin who is working late from the server housing centre
  • The latest firmware version and the latest iPhone model suggest that he is technically inclined
  • Having the language set differently to his current location could mean that he is not a native speaker and/or (taking the other assumptions into account) used to English as the main lingo for tech content

So if you know that (many) stressed admins buy your app fairly late while working on a remote location – this ia a really good hint for the further development of your app. (like bumping up the price  – just kidding)

Besides useful insights about your users, there is some serious nerd potential in there. Just some ideas:

  • Hook up a new purchase with push notifications that notify you, the developer, every time a purchase has been made (of course featuring a classy “cha ching” sound
  • Build a “purchase-o-meter” on your site indicating the (crazy) amount of new sales due to a marketing event
  • Build something similar to the “app wall” that Apple showcased on the last WWDC
  • Change your desktop wallpaper dynamically depending on the amount of new sales (happy, sad, crazy…)
  • Hook it up with your Twitter account

Conclusion and Request

I really like this idea and I am definitely looking forward to see it materialize. And here is my request. What do you think? Is it useful? Would you use it?Would you even pay for such a service? I am not talking big bucks since I don’t expect to strike it rich with such a service… It would be nice to know if others might find it useful so please comment.

This is our last post for #iDevBlogADay for now (Miguel changed the rules for the better and added a rotation system). We will be on the waiting list again but this doesn’t mean that we’ll stop blogging. Grab the RSS feed to stay in touch.

See you.

Comments are closed.