Friday, September 17, 2010

Why you don't want to make an Universal App

We have released two apps, both universal - meaning that they both run on iPhone and iPad. Eventually, we now think that it is not good for business to create universal apps, the best choice being to create an app for iPad or one for iPhone/iPod Touch.

From a business point of view, we noted the following issues:

  • You don't know if you sell your app to iPad or iPhone owners as the reports issued by Apple don't mention if the product was bought on iPhone or iPad. These figures are important to make decisions regarding your future products, know your audience, etc.
  • App Store reviews and ratings are not separated. On the App Store, you can't  - and neither can potential buyers - distinguish between ratings and reviews for the iPhone or the iPad version. This is especially a problem if your app is very good on iPad but not so good on iPhone, or vice-versa. Again, you cannot use these reviews to make informed decisions for your future products. We found this impossibility to interpret accurately the reviews and ratings a major issue.
  • If you have an app that is not universal, and you update it to make it universal, it will not be listed as a new app for the new supported device! Indeed, there is only one release date, so your app is not considered as new, even though it should, as it was not previouly available on the new supported device. As all developers know, the first day your app is released is of key importance, as being listed in the "new app" listing, which is easily accessible on the App Store, gives it great visibility. When we updated our Montessori Crosswords to make it iPhone compliant, that came as a really unpleasant surprise...
  • You cannot set two different prices. The iPad market is different from the iPhone market, and prices are slightly higher. If you want to lower your app price to be competitive on the iPhone market, you must also lower your price for the iPad.... 

The good points are:

  • It's best for users - although I would bet that it does not have a great influence on the decision to buy the app.
  • If you have an app that is not universal and you update it to make it universal, you retain your previous reviews/ratings, which is good if you had good reviews. But from our point of view, the drawback of not being listed as new on the new supported device is such a problem that keeping the reviews does not seem worth it in the end. 

I checked the App Store to look how others developers deal with universal version, and most of the time they choose to do two versions (eg Uzu and little Uzu, Let's Create Pottery and Let's Create Pottery HD,...), and I understand that!

Anyway, now we are thinking of doing an iPhone only version of Montessori Crosswords (it is currently an universal app) so that we can set a different price for the iPhone and the iPad version. The current version will stay universal but will be a little bit pricer. I don't know if Apple will be OK with this, and it will complexify our offer but we've made a little mistake, so let's try to move on!


EDIT(1/3/2011): So we tested a HD version universal (running on both iphone and ipad) and a cheaper version on iPhone for the french version of Montessori Crosswords, and we discovered an issue : the iphone ranking - of course since you've got two apps your apps rank lower. Eventually, the HD version is selling better on the iPhone market (surely also due to blog posts  that mentioned only the HD version) So this is not a good solution as well. The best for users is definitively a HD version at an iphone price - but it's not good for your business unless your reach the top of the charts.


  1. Our first apps were universal and you are right, the biggest challenge is knowing your market. iPad prices to seem to be creeping up while we haven't seen much change in iPhone pricing. Bottom line - we agree!!

  2. Hi Pierre and Jon,

    I see your points and we had to think long and hard about Universal or no Universal...
    For iLiveMath we decided Universal...

    Some other advantages for Universal are:

    1. The user doesn't have to purchase another app... they can synch a single app to all their iDevices and it automatically runs appropriately to take advantage of the screen size... who knows what Apple will come out with next... and the Universal logic will hopefully take that into account. This we hope is the value they are purchasing in our apps and we preferred the teacher, parent did not have to purchase another app just to run it on another device.

    2. The developer only maintains a single code base. It definitely reduces headaches when fixing bugs and adding enhancements to not have to worry about two code basis and only make 1 update. For iLiveMath we maintain several different themes where the content of word problems and photos are very very different and going Universal has reduced the number of apps that need to be maintained.

    We do see the advantages of going non-Universal and are debating what we should do with MathSpin... this app is currently non Universal and we do not have an iPad version out. The 2x magnification is actually a nice feature on the iPad for this app.

    Thanks for starting this blog and we look forward to more collaboration!


  3. Andy,
    we went to universal for the first point you mentionned. So iPad users are happy (because i think that most of them have an iphone). But are iPhone only users happy ? No because the app is not cheap as it should be for the iPhone market. Is your business happy ? no because you don't have the flexbility you want, and perhaps you may sell much more in iPhone market.

    Perhaps a solution is to make an universal version for iPad users, and an iphone only version. But as I've said it creates a more complex offer for the users since two apps are listed for the iphone...And I am still wondering if Apple is ok with that..I will keep you up to date

    About your second point, I imagine that it may depends on the apps. In my case, I just added a new target in Xcode with iphone support only, and added a flag for this version so that my isPad() method returns always false...And it works pretty well.


  4. I agree our iPhone and iPod Touch business is probably reduced because of the Universal App.

    I like the idea of a new target for iPhone support only.

    Hmmm... so an iPhone/iPod Touch version only version is launched at a lower price point...


    A Universal App version for the iPad users. Very interesting. And if the buyer has an iPod Touch/iPhone and plans to buy an iPad in the future they can always pre-purchase the Universal version at the higher price.

    Good idea... need to think through this as I'm also thinking of a limited lite version... i.e.: only Level 1.

  5. So what would you name the apps differently?

    Say you have an app named "ABC"...

    There is:

    ABC Lite
    ABC Universal (not sure if this gets too long)
    ABC iPhone and iPod only?


  6. Pierre,
    Very interesting points, I hadn't thought of any of these so will take some of these into account for our future apps. Thanks for posting your thoughts!

  7. Pierre: "Perhaps a solution is to make an universal version for iPad users, and an iphone only version. But as I've said it creates a more complex offer for the users since two apps are listed for the iphone...And I am still wondering if Apple is ok with that..I will keep you up to date."

    That'd be nice!
    Great post, thank yout!

    Irina Gorina

  8. Great points regarding universal or not... it is such a steep learning curve as technology is changing at lightning speed!
    Jayne Clare

  9. With these kinds of things, I always try to think what would create the most customer satisfaction and loyalty? Because, I believe long-term that's what matters.

    Not showing up as a new app for iPad when you make your app universal does seem unfair (it felt unfair when it happened to me with abc PocketPhonics). But I try to say to myself that it's my responsibility to make my app sell, and not rely on Apple's occasional blessings. I try to see them as bonuses not to be relied upon as a foundation for a business. I've still a huge amount to learn though about making this business work...

  10. @iHomeEducator yes naming is problem (as I've said it creates a complex offer) I would go for ABC ,ABC HD, ABC Lite (ABC is the iphone only version)

    @jmf yes i agree but customers with a iphone only may be happy to have a cheaper version. They don't want to pay for something they don't need (ipad version).So if you can offer them a cheaper price, it's better for customer satisfaction.

    On another forum, someone suggested to do only one free universal version with in-app purchase (IAP) inside. It seems an interesting solution (but a little risky no ?). I wonder if sales would go up or down with this kind of offering.. On the forum a guy also said that apple has refused a lite version for its book on ipad and said to him that they prefer to have IAP for books.

  11. As a parent and a consumer my thoughts are if you are going to do 2 separate apps then if at some point an iphone/touch user buys or receives an ipad they may not want buy another app but instead would rather pay a fee to unlock the features for ipad.


  12. Thanks Carol for this consumer point of view - as developers we really need this kind of feedback. But the problem is that, as far as I know, Apple doesn't authorize this : your app must be for iPhone, for iPad or for iPad and iPhone. So I don't see how to include an in app purchase to upgrade to iPad version from an iphone only version.
    The only way to do this is perhaps to have only a free universal (iPad and iPhone version) with in app purchase and to allow users to unlock the full version for iphone or for ipad, and if an user has already unlocked the iphone version, he can unlock the full version for ipad for a small fee. But again this solution seems complex, and I don't think complexity is good for users and business as well

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  14. I would argue for universal due to the impact it can have on total downloads and the impact those downloads have on search placements.

    I have seen my ranks in keyword searches in lists and am fairly convinced that I appear prominently in the iPad ranks because of my iPhone downloads.

    Match a Photo is a much better game on the iPad and when it gets retina display it will be even better. I think as two separate apps I would be lost under the competition on the iPad side of the store.

  15. @ebelandBU
    in the App Store FAQ ( You can read that that When a Universal app is purchased on the iPad, it is counted towards the iPad chart. If a Universal app is purchased on iPhone, it counts towards the iPhone chart. If a Universal app is purchased on a Mac + PC, it counts towards the iPhone chart
    So iI don't know how the search result list are done but if it uses the ranking, it is not true that iphone download influences ipad ranking (and vice-versa)
    note: My app is ranked #54 for the keywords "education" on iPad and it is not on the first result page for iphone. So I don't know how apps are ranked in the search result but it does not seem that good score on ipad influence iphone results

  16. You make some great points, something to think about. I have been told off by Apple for not combining two apps, but they do not always notice this though, so you can get away with it.

    If you add stats to your phone, you can measure the percentage of users you get, using each platform.

  17. Hi.. Im finishing my second game in these days.. The biggest choice is coming :). Uni or not. My first game has 2 different apps. Woozzle for iPhones/iPods and Woozzle HD for iPads. Now I have much more universal concept. So I can make uni app easily. But my opinion as owner of both devices is:

    When I buy a universal game I play it only on one device. Because of game progress. And I wouldn't like to play again on the second device. So some of my uni app I play on the iPhone and second one not. This is why I thing uni app losing sense. This is pretty good reason why you can build your app separately. The solution for this is iCloud and synchronization system across all devices. I make points on iPhone game and this points is have in iPad too. After this feature has sense to build uni app.

    What do you think? Is my idea good?