During Nokia World 2010 in London I had a possibility to sit down with Jan Ole Suhr, developer of Gravity social networking client, one of the most popular and successful Symbian apps.
Jan is currently at the sort of the crossroads with the development of the Gravity app, as it comes to porting it to QT. His problem, and the problem many of the current Symbian developers face? Whether to further develop for Symbian or switch to Android or iOS. The reason is QT – a new development environment for Symbian, which he has to learn from scratch. And the learning curve is not that much different from learning to develop for Android. So Nokia/Symbian has to convince Jan and many other independent developers, that they will be better off staying, rather then moving to Android.
The good news is that Nokia still has some time, and now, with Symbian^3 and new devices, also the means to do so. S^3 is still backwards compatible with Symbian^1, and most applications for the older version of OS will work with new Symbian after only some minor tweaks. So Jan is in no hurry to port Gravity to QT just yet, and says that he has some time to make the decision while Nokia ships those 50 million Symbian^3 devices. The early signs are very encouraging – according to him – the conversion rates for Gravity on Nokia N8 are higher then on any other Nokia phone before.
When talking about direct competition from Nokia – the new Nokia phones will come with Nokia’s own Twitter and Facebook social networking clients built-in, Jan calls it “a reality check for him”.
But from our chat I got the impression that he’s not too worried about Nokia competition today. He was worried at first, when Nokia started releasing their own social networking apps, and even stopped developing planned new features for the Facebook client part of Gravity, after Nokia Facebook client came out. But now, looking at the things Nokia is doing, and also checking with other platforms – e.g Twitter’ own clients vs third party clients on iOS and Android, Jan feels pretty confident that he’ll be OK.
Actually he sees Nokia forays into social networking as an opportunity for new people to learn about Twitter and Facebook, and when they start looking for something better, they’ll find Gravity. Jan will just keep making Gravity better, so they are not disappointed with it. In fact, the next big feature upgrade in Gravity, will be a significant update for Facebook client part. Updates to Twitter client, Foursqure and also deeper integration between those services, are coming too.
Last year Jan was quoted saying that only ~10% of Gravity downloads were coming from OVI store, and the rest were direct downloads from his site. This year, the situation has improved a bit. But Jan still gets 80% of revenue through direct sales from his site and only 20% from OVI Store. Since he gets to keep 100% of revenue from direct sales, the actual download statistics are a bit better for Nokia, with a split of 60/40% between direct downloads and OVI Store. But Jan’s situation is a bit unique. Those little lines in Twitter clients, telling us that tweet was posted “…via Gravity”, brings a lot of viral traffic to his website. And such viral marketing option might not be available to other developers.
Overall Jan is pretty happy with how things with Gravity have turned out, and was actually surprised with how popular and commercially successful it became. Sales have been pretty high and constant day in day out for 18 months, and are now even starting to increase. When asked about the actual numbers, Jan said that when he reads about other developers in Wired and other sites, there’s a big temptation to release his own numbers. But so far Jan is resisting it, because he doesn’t see much point, except of blatant self promotion, in doing it. When pressed, Jan will only say that sales are good, he can make a living off Gravity, and that he never had to reduce price or do other any promotions to boost sales.
When asked about how he got the idea to develop Gravity, Jan named a few reasons. The the main one being… boredom.
After 5+ years of developing Remote for Symbian app, he was “fed up with it and needed to do something”… so he decided to have a fun project, to start something that people were looking for at the time. His wife, a professional journalist, was using Twitter a lot at the time and needed a Twitter client for her Nokia E71. A few online friends also chimed in and asked for a Twitter client from Jan, and thus Gravity was born.
It took Jan ~10 weeks to develop Gravity, but he re-used a lot of code he had written for other apps, so making an app like Gravity from scratch might take longer.
At first Jan thought about Gravity as a fun side project, and didn’t think it can be a commercial success. He even planned giving Gravity away for free, just to attract people to his website – mobileways.de, where his paid apps were. But some friends convinced him otherwise.
And despite how big Gravity got, Jan is still a single person company. Doing all the development, programming, support and admin stuff by himself. Is it very time consuming? Not really, Jan now spends on average 3 days a week working on Gravity, with the rest of the time taken up by his position as a full time stay at home dad…
You can watch the full interview below. Sorry for the background noise/poor audio quality, it was a pretty noisy venue
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