It takes decent talent to make a fancypants mobile game decked out with all the bells and whistles look great. It takes outstanding talent to make a simple, functional utility app look great.
For anyone who’s never tried designing a tool to be both effortlessly functional and visually appealing, I have two words for you: IT’S HARD. Like that John Medea quote, “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.” That’s not something you can bang out in an afternoon.
In that vein, I’ll unreservedly proclaim that the Today Calendar app is one of the very best utility apps on the market. It’s the one I’ve always relied on across all my Android devices over the years, and the constant updates have just made it sleeker and more efficient. I’m not the only one who feels this way; Today Calendar had a whopping 7,989 5-star reviews on the Play Store at the time of publication.
I interviewed dev Jack Underwood about Today Calendar’s long-term success, including the recent Natural Language Processing update, the material design in collaboration with Liam Spradlin, ASO tools, and smart revenue models.
Appszoom: Tell me about the recent natural language update. How did you identify that as a user need? What advantages will it offer over standard calendar apps? When can users expect to see it?
Jack Underwood: The Natural Language Processing update is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’d actually got the idea from a calendar app on iOS/Mac, Fantastical 2.
Inputing an event using voice, or by typing it out in natural language, is much faster than the standard input, so I think it’s essential for providing a complete and productive calendar experience. Providing it’s reliable enough, which I hope Today’s is!
AZ: You’ve got an overwhelming number of five star reviews on the Play Store. What’s the secret to getting happy users to leave positive feedback?
JU: I’m really proud of the rating Today Calendar has got on the store! I try very hard to offer users the features they really need to get the most out the calendar. It can be hard sometimes to find a good balance between satisfying users requirements without falling victim to feature creep, so sometimes you have to break it (carefully) to the user that you’re not going to be able to implement it.
Aside from features, reliability is a huge factor to preventing bad ratings. One bad update can single handily bring your apps rating down from 4.7 -> 4.5. Once it’s down, it’s very hard to recover.
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AZ: Today Calendar has a super smart material design. What principles did you (and Liam Spradlin) follow when considering the overall feel of the app?
JU: Liam and I have iterated Today’s design continuously since we started the “Material Redesign.” We tried to follow the guidelines closely, but would always try to prioritize functionality over design. Productivity, in my opinion, is by far the most important aspect of a calendar app.
AZ: How did you decide on the revenue model for Today Calendar?
JU: Before Today launched officially, it launched on the Play Store in beta form. It got a fair amount of press (much more than I was expecting), so I decided instead of removing the beta app and launching an official, I’d just change the name and make it a trial, in order keep the links alive.
Instead, I decided to launch a paid version on the Play Store which would offer the exact same feature set, but for an unlimited amount of time. IAP’s were available back then, but they wasn’t so accepted by the community. Also, by having both a paid and free listing, it meant I could potentially rank in both the Top Paid and Top Free lists for my category.
AZ: What kind of marketing has been most successful for Today Calendar?
JU: I’ve tried lots of different marketing techniques for Today.
Paid stuff (cpa/cpc/cpm) has never worked too well for me. What I’ve found works best is to go back to basics and fix a problem that the community would appreciate.
For example, I created a material design month (with text) widget that even users of other calendar apps could use because Google wouldn’t provide one. I also collaborated with Nova Launcher to allow Today’s icon to match the current date if you use both apps. Both of these brought with them free press, which brought downloads, which brought higher rankings, which in turn brought even more downloads.
AZ: Have you ever used any kind of ASO tool to optimize your keywords?
JU: I use App Annie to keep track of my performance, and I highly recommend it to anyone that isn’t currently using it. It’s free and provides much more information about how your apps are doing than Google’s developer dashboard does. App Annie offers a way to keep track of rankings for search terms too.
I don’t use any tools to help optimize my keywords; I just do a little old school trial and error and see what works best for me.
AZ: What apps have you been digging lately?
JU: Anything designed by Liam usually ends up installed on my phone, Nova Launcher and Focus are always installed. Aside from that, I always use Cabinet by Aidan Follestad as my default file manager, and when I get a new device or for when I’m tweaking I’ve always got System Monitor installed by Christian Göllner too.