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May/10

12

Lottotopia’s first week on iTunes

After Lottotopia’s first week on iTunes I thought I would celebrate by sharing a few thoughts on the whole process that lead me to writing Lottotopia and getting it published on iTunes.

I started thinking about the whole idea of building a Lottery Results & Ticket Checking App for iPhone sometime after I lost my job at a cash-starved start-up company in December of 2009.  I wanted to teach myself something new, and I figured why not something hot like iPhone Development.  I figured it would at least keep my tech job skills fresh while I waited to find my next full-time job.

I chose to do a Lottery App primarily because I thought I could build a better app than the ones that were currently available.  In the reviews I read for those other iPhone lottery apps, the users kept asking for the ability to enter in their own lottery ticket numbers so the app could help them check their tickets.  Since the other app developers weren’t stepping up to the plate and providing this feature, I thought I should.

So I decided I would build a better mousetrap, or iPhone Lottery App that is, and give those users the features they had been asking for.  I figured, heck there has got to be a lot of iPhone owners who play the lotto, and with 50 million iPhone users out there, if only 10% play the lotto, that’s still 5 million potential customers for my App!  At least it seemed like pretty sound reasoning to me at the time.

Even if I sold my app at the lowest “tier 1” iTunes price of .99 cents, my 70% cut of the sales could make it worth my while.  So giddy with the excitement that comes from multiplying .99 x .7 x 5,000,000, I got on the Internet and started shopping for a Mac & iPod Touch that I would use to develop the App.  In the end I settled on a Mac-Mini and 32GB Touch.  MacConnection took $913.73 of my hard earned dollars away and shipped me my new Apple Products.

My original Mac Mini and iPod Touch

This would be the first Apple products I had purchased since my Apple ][ Plus days back when I was developing video games in 6502 assembly language.  After a long career I guess it was finally time for me to come back to my Apple roots.

When the boxes arrived I immediately unpacked my new toys and plugged everything in.  The next step was to sign-up for the Apple developer program and download the XCode development environment.  Another $99 dollars to Apple and I would be ready to enter the ranks of the Registered iPhone Developers capable of selling their own Apps on iTunes.

With all of the formalities out of the way, I started the process of teaching myself how to program for the iPhone.  This wouldn’t be all that new for me since I had taught myself how to program computers in assembly language when I was a teenager, and had learned new technologies on my own throughout my career.  Once a nerd, always a nerd.

My First Apple!

So I opened up Firefox, went to Google and found some course material from the CS193P Stanford iPhone Application Development class:

http://www.stanford.edu/class/cs193p/cgi-bin/drupal/downloads-2010-winter

After about 5 days of greatly accelerated CS193P lab exercises, my eyes glazed over, I decided I had learned about as much as I could stand to learn from the Stanford course material and moved on to coding a real App.  At my advanced age (at any age?), cramming in book knowledge and rote memorization is of little use as it tends to fade from memory pretty quickly if unused.  So using my new found iPhone knowledge in an actual application was the best way to make sure anything I had learned during the Stanford lab exercises actually stuck.

During the design phase, I decided that I would build a Lottery Results Server to aggregate the lottery results from around the country.  The server would collect the results and make them available to Lottotopia users as quickly as possible.  For a while I debated the pros & cons of Java vs. .NET on the server, and Linux vs. Windows, but I finally settled on C#, .NET and SQL for my server side code that would serve up JSON web services for the iPhone to consume.  I had just finished building a new document management system on these technologies, so they were as fresh as anything I had in my nerd skills arsenal.  So in the end Apple would be talking to Microsoft, and both would coexist harmoniously…  (Yes Steve Jobs & Bill Gates are both so proud of me for bringing these two computing giants together once again)

16K Microsoft RAM Card in my Apple ][

So off I went, designing & building the client side iPhone Lottery App and the server side Lottery Results Server.  Along the way, much was learned, and much sleep was lost.  I interviewed for new jobs, I coded into the wee hours.  A few interruptions and several months later, I finally had a product that I thought might be about ready for the App store.

I had about 10 of the biggest lottery states supported, and  I thought that should be enough for the first release.  Quite a few iPhone Lottery Apps only support a single game, and Lottotopia already had support for 4 Multi-State games (Mega Millions, Powerball, Hot Lotto and Win 4 Life) and the local games in those first 10 or so states.

Next I enlisted the help of a couple of friends who helped Beta test the Lottotopia application on their iPhone & iPod Touch.  While my server logs tell me they were not exactly the biggest lottery players in the state, they did give me two thumbs up that the code looked pretty solid and had not shown them any bad behaviors that would get the App rejected by Apple.  So after about a week, in Beta, I made my first release candidate build and sent it to Apple for review.

With the explosive popularity of the iPhone and all of the Apps for it, it’s not surprising that it takes Apple some time to review each App submission.  Their estimates said that about 94% of the apps get reviewed in 7 days, so I was hopeful that my App would get looked at in about a week.  Not bad considering there is something like 200,000 iPhone Apps out there with new versions being released all the time.

In the mean time, I started to work on a new website for my product (Lottotopia) and my new company (AppAde).  So off to Google I went again.  I downloaded a copy of WordPress that I would use for the AppAde.com site and a copy of Simple Machine Forums that I would use for my user community support forum.  During the week my App was in review, I created and configured these two sites, and setup new twitter & facebook pages to support the app.   I also created a demo video of the product… It all seems like a bit of a blur now…  After exactly one week, I got the good news that Lottotopia had been accepted by Apple and would be for sale on iTunes in less than 24 hours!

While that was an exciting moment, after a week on iTunes, I can tell you I’ve still got quite a way to go on a lot of things:

  1. Lottotopia is currently buried in the results on iTunes when you search for Lotto or Lottery in the App Store.  While it might be the best iPhone Lottery App available, if no one knows about it, they won’t download it.  So I’ve got to figure out how to get the word out to those users who were asking for its features in the first place.
  2. My website while basically functional, looks more than a bit like an out-of-the-box WordPress site.  I’ve tried to focus on getting a pretty polished product out, but I haven’t had as much time as I would like to make a polished website to help market it.  I have much more to do here.
  3. As such, there aren’t many links to my site website, so it doesn’t rank highly on a Google search when someone searches for something like “iphone lottery app”.  I need to do some article marketing and start blogging more frequently… but where does one lone developer find the time for all this?
  4. I need to add support for additional state lottery games.  Adding data feeds for additional games has been very time consuming.  I thoroughly underestimated the effort involved creating the server side when I started this whole Lottery Results Adventure.  There is a lot more variability in lottery games than you would imagine and the quality and organization of each state’s lottery website varies greatly.

All-in-all, it’s been a great learning experience during the down economy and I hope I can figure out how to at least make back the initial investment if not turn an eventual profit.  So I’ll be holding on to my iPhone dreams and working to make Lottotopia live up to the title of best iPhone Lottery App.

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1 comment

  • CJ · December 17, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    Loved your story. I’m buying your app right now. Good luck

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