Weathrman on holiday...

Let me start by saying I’m really happy with the app.  I still see amazing images, and I still hear lots of really positive things from users.

The problem is, there are a lot of them these days.  I took the App Store approach of making the app free for a while, to get more users, and more reviews, and figure out how many users I can handle without needing to pay too much for the AppEngine cost that backs the app is.

Unfortunately for me, I made it free.  When you do that on the Android Market, you can never charge for your app again.

There’s no point raging at my cow orkers, I’m sure they’ve got reasons for why it’s impossible for me to make the app paid again.  I’m sure it has something to do with some awful decision someone made at some point along the way that means I can never go back to a charging model.

It also means I have to be really careful about what I do - because the intention of being paid in the Android Market isn’t to make money - it’s to throttle new user signup and to offset the cost of running the service.

Effectively, this means I won’t be updating the app until they fix this.  I’ve halted all of the ad campaigns I was running, which were mostly for experimentation anyways, because I really *don’t* want new users now.  Usage has just fallen back into the ‘free’ zone, and so I’m out of pocket… oh, nearly 500 quid so far.  Which I don’t mind, don’t get me wrong - but I don’t want to be in a position to deny anyone service for the app I’ve built.

Now, I could do lots of retooling to make the whole experience faster.  I could remember where you are, and automatically perform searches against all locations that have queried within the last 72 hours so that your search is only over local data.  I could keep a thumbs-up/thumbs-down count, and apply some machine learning so you don’t get things that you don’t like.  I could do all kinds of stuff.

But it’s not safe for me, or my pocketbook, to do so.  This is, after all, a 5% hobby, not a job.  I’ve spent… oh, I’d guess about ten days of development time, spread across a few months, and could easily drop another 10 into just the server.  Once the server supported a more instantaneous search response, I could cache multiple images on the client and implement transitions.  Or just change it each time the screen powered.  And then there’s that all-important set of client-side preferences that I’d want every time I’m on holiday and only want it to fetch images over wifi - because while I’m willing to pay roaming charges for Google Maps, I’m not really interested in paying mobile carriers so that I can change my backdrop.

All this stuff I’d be doing, if only Android Market wasn’t making my life suck.  I apologise if that suckage spills over into your user experience; for those who paid their<50p to £1, depending on where in the throttle you ended up>, I hope you’ve gotten your money’s worth; it could be a while before you see an update.  For those getting a free ride, enjoy.

I’m not willing to follow the Market suggestions of changing the app name and uploading a different APK at a charging rate, because then I’m screwing the people who *did* pay out of an upgrade they deserve.  I think what we’re doing at Google is the wrong thing for the user.  Note I said ‘we’: I work here.  I just don’t work on a team in a position to fix this, and have too many 20% projects already to take on one more.

Someday, this will get fixed.  When it does, I’ve got ideas; I look forward to Weathrman backdrops on my Google TV, for example.  When there’s an SDK.  And a home screen that supports live wallpaper.  And a reimplementation of the client in RenderScript.  And client-controlled size restrictions to let users choose their resolution ‘window’.  And support for the new large image size at Flickr.   And…  And….  And…

My twelve step program is over.  I’ve gone through anger, and remorse, and all of the others, and am left with acceptance.