This week, nearly 6 months after it was launched, our our first app designed for the classroom “Futaba” [Link] peaked at number 27 in the Education category. Around 50,000 people have downloaded and installed the app. Most people seem to love it;

As Kevin Foley writes, “Futaba is a fantastic app for language learning. We love the fact that we can easily customize it by creating games based on our son’s weekly spelling lists. He can play by himself against the clock or we can join in the game and “compete” against him. It makes learning that much fun for him and less of a headache for us.”

While it’s great that people are using the application, the problem is that In the last 6 months, it’s made less $1200 in sales, and about the same in advertising (which ideally we would never want to put on a children’s app). Here’s why…

When we first launched the product with a price tag, no one bought it. We tried selling it for less ($1.99) and still, no one could find it, and we made about $3 a week and after about 2 months we had 93 customers. The app was buried under a pile of free apps, and other “educational” titles (10% of them you might download).

What to do?

A strategy that worked in the past for us (with our Flashcards application) was to provide a ‘lite’ and a full version. The free version allowed users to upgrade and enhance their experience, while the full version provided all the bell and whistles with one download. To date the free version has generated twice the revenue of the full version and has six times as many downloads.

Apple has since put an end to this practice, and it’s probably a good decision for the most part to cut down on Appstore clutter. We’re hoping though that we can maintain our existing “demo” products because we would have a lot of very sore and very angry customers if we couldn’t (which is probably why you can still download a “free” version of Angry Birds).

After some discussion, we decided to try and launch a “lite” and free Futaba that would link to the full version of the app (or the option to upgrade from an in-app purchase). It had worked for our other products, so it would work here too (we’ll at least that’s what we thought). The app was promptly rejected:

“We’ve completed the review of your app, but cannot post this version to the App Store because it did not comply with the App Store Review Guidelines, as detailed below: 2.9: Apps that are “beta”, “demo”, “trial” or “test” versions will be rejected”.

Back to the drawing board. Our only other option was to make the current paid version free and ALSO introduce an in-app purchase for “extra features” (at the risk of launching a “demo” version). By this stage, we had 93 paying customers who were going to be very angry. They’d be upgrading their existing app they’d paid money for, in exchange for a version with half the features (2 players, and no option to add your own content). It had ads on it as well.

Luckily only 15 or so people made the effort to upgrade the app, and they weren’t as peaved as we thought they might be. Our app was now free, and floating well in China, Taiwan and other countries we had never thought it would be found (at present there are no localizations, unlike our Flashcards App which is available in 5 different languages). We still weren’t making any paid sales in our English speaking markets.

Futaba was big in China

Over the next few weeks, and months, we started to receive a bunch of emails from potential customers (mostly teachers) that would read something like this (this one is word for word, name withheld):

Hey there,

This is a wonderful concept for an app! My teachers are ALWAYS looking for multiplayer games (4 players or more) and the ability to customize is fantastic! I just downloaded and purchased the in-app version of Futaba to test for my teachers. I love it and would like to purchase it for each of my teachers, but I’m not able to purchase on EACH iPad with our school account. We have a Volume App Purchasing account that we’re supposed to go through, but I notice that Futaba is not listed. How would you recommend purchasing this app for all of my iPads?

Futaba in the top 30 Education apps, but no one can buy it

App Store volume purchases

Many schools have a budget allocated to app purchases, and almost no budget for in-app purchases, which we’ve found are typically disabled across all devices managed by each school as part of a broader IT policy.

This means it’s impossible for people to buy our application, or they are now stuck with a 2 player version with ads on it. Our users are not even able to experiment with ways that they can use the iPad in the classroom. We don’t really have any options left apart from making the entire application free, or trying to sell the app again (losing our “free app ranking”), which means no one will find it (unless it’s featured by Apple). Changing the way which charge for the app, and it’s components, would also create a range of database conflicts for existing users, and a swarm of negative feedback in the Appstore. Short of relaunching and re-branding the app, I’m not sure if there’s anything we can do.

A recent article in Computer World notes that many businesses now are moving towards “private app stores” where they can create and deploy their own content using a combination of tools like App Services Environment from Apperian and iPad Carts. It would be a pity if schools had to resort to private app stores because they simply can’t find the content they are looking for.

In the same article, it describes the way in which The Morris School District in Morristown, N.J.,” began deploying iPads among high schools and middle schools about a year and a half ago and is using about 200 of the devices, with plans to increase the number considerably in the coming months.”The district issues a purchase order to Apple Education to buy Voucher Cards, teachers are issued cards that can be used to purchase apps for however many devices they need. The teacher physically downloads the app to a “primary” computer in his homeroom, from which he can load the app onto the designated number of iPads (we are still unsure if you can use Education Voucher Cards for in-app purchases, but we’re guessing that you can’t).

Indeed, under the FAQ page for App Store Volume Purchase page the following information is provided – How are free apps handled? End users can download and use free apps from the App Store just as they normally do.If your institution syncs apps to multiple devices as described above, Program Facilitators should read and agree to the terms that permit you to use a single code to sync an app to multiple devices. These terms apply to both paid and free apps.

There is no mention of in-app purchases.

If you are planning to make an educational game for the classroom, try and sell your app from the outset, relying on methods outside of the app store for people to find it.