Every iOS Developer dreams of having one of their apps do well on the Apple App Store. However, sometimes the most successful apps comes from the most unlikely ideas. Case in point, for our Head iOS Instructor Sam Meech-Ward, this dream became a reality with the release of his Burp and Fart Piano. Born from the mind of an 18-year old in 2010, the app has now seen six iterations and over 1.43 million downloads. We recently chatted with him to discuss the success of the app and some of the biggest lessons learned from the creation and upkeep of it.
What was your first successful app?
The first app I found success with was the Burp and Fart Piano. It’s an app that plays burp and fart noises to corresponding notes on a virtual piano. It was built primarily for iOS but I’ve created Mac, Android and Web versions for it as well.
How did you come up with the idea?
The idea for the app was not as fun as you might think. It was 2010 and I was 18 years old. I had been teaching myself how to code iOS apps for about seven months and already had three or four apps in the Apple App store. I wasn’t making much money but I thought that it would be amazing if I could make a career out of this. I remember the iPad had just come out and my mom bought me one to support me in this professional path. I spent around two weeks downloading and playing around with every app that I could get my hands on. One thing I became fascinated with was the piano apps. I downloaded every single one on the app store and realized that there was a piano app for almost everything, except for burps. There was a fart piano but it had a terrible UI and didn’t work well at all. So I decided that the first app I wanted to make for both iPads and iPhones was a Burp and Fart Piano.
How did you build Version 1 of the Burp and Fart Piano?
In all the other apps I had released up until that point, I had programmed buttons into them that triggered different pre-recorded noises, so I knew that it wouldn’t be too hard to make an app like this. The first step I did was collect a variety of burp and fart sounds and then put them in Garageband. Using Garageband, I was able to change the pitch of the sounds to fit the proper notes on a piano. For the code, I just started to read more books on Objective-C to learn about a few of the more advanced things that needed to be done for this app to be completed. Combined with using Google to troubleshoot anything I had problems with, I was able to complete the app in under a week.
What was the most difficult part of building V1 of your app?
The thing that took me the longest time was actually something that never made it into V1 of the app. For most iOS apps, any on screen button can only be triggered by one touch of the screen. To trigger it again, or to trigger another button, you have to remove your finger from the screen and then press down again. Which meant that hitting multiple notes or doing any slides on the piano was not possible. I worked for days on a workaround for this but was not able to. However, it is important to remember that my coding level at the time was probably below the level of any one who had finished a prep course for Lighthouse Labs. All my learning came from Googling things and reading books. It wasn’t until I got more training on iOS that I was actually able to put this feature in during V4 of the app.
As for the most time consuming thing that actually made it into V1, it was actually collecting the burp and fart sounds. I will spare you all the details but I actually tried to collect the real sounds. That ended up being very difficult so I ended up sorting through quite a few real or pre-recorded sounds through the internet before I found one burp and one fart sound that worked.
Did you do any promotion for this app and how did it do in the first month?
I didn’t. After I finished the app, I put it on the App Store. I got just over a thousand downloads in the first day and then it shot up to almost three thousand on the second and third day. It eventually died down a bit but overall, considering that I had been programming for under a year, I was pretty satisfied with it. I had over 40,000 downloads in the first month. It was exciting to me because there seemed to be more promise on this app then the other ones I had on the app store.
It was, and still is, a free app. However, from V1 I had paid advertisements within it and that was one thing that actually provided a pretty good secondary income for me once the popularity of the app started to pick up a bit.
App downloads in the first few months.
You are now seven years and on six versions into the app. What are some lessons learned and things that you wish you could’ve done differently?
In V4, I introduced some new audio programming functionality to the back-end using a low level C framework called Core Audio. I had some big plans for what I wanted to do with it including allowing people to record their own sounds and change them based on what notes they were playing on the piano. Also, most iOS apps won’t play sounds if the silence switch is on, which was an issue for my app because a lot of people would download my app and then think the app was not working because their silent switch was on and no sound was coming out. So I wanted to override that using Core Audio. It took me over a month of pretty intense learning to figure out how to use it, including things like programming sound pitches based on sine waves. The sad part was very little of the things I learned actually ended up in the app. It was too difficult for me to remove all the pre-recorded audio I had already put into the app and integrate a new system that allowed sounds to be processed in app. The only thing that actually made it in the app was the override of the silent switch but I could’ve accomplished that by Googling for a few hours instead of a month of learning. Implementing Core Audio was a great opportunity for my own learning for but it definitely didn’t do a lot for the app.
Another thing that I spent a lot of time on was making a songbook and including recording functions for the app. The song book teaches people how to use the Burp and Fart Piano and will guide them through simple songs like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Users can also now record their songs within the app and post it directly to Soundcloud. These two ideas were both functions that I was really excited about and spent a significant amount of time on. However, neither of them ended up being used much. Out of 1.43 million total downloads of the app, only 10,700 people got the paid version of the songbook and almost no one uses the Soundcloud integration. In hindsight, looking at a small bit of user experience data would have told me that neither of these functions would be popular. Many people that use my app only do so for a short amount of time, either to play around with it or to show their friends. It was probably an oversight for me to think that they would have an interest in actually learning how to play it or make recordings. Having worked in iOS development for a few years now, I actually see this as a trap that many companies fall into: not fully thinking ideas through before pouring a lot of resources into it.
Were there any features that you were particularly proud of?
Financially, the most important thing I ever did was localize the app for different markets. I worked with multiple groups to translate my app into different languages and it paid immediate dividends. It suddenly opened the app up to many new users and the downloads started skyrocketing. Italy has become one of the most popular places for the app and recently downloads have been increasing in China and different parts of East Asia as well. The year and a half between the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2014 was the peak for this app’s popularity and much of that was due to the fact that I localized it. In that time period, we were getting over 10,000 downloads a week.
However, the thing I’m most proud of is that people are still using the app today. Through the six iterations, I have added more sounds and new functionality but the core of the app has remained unchanged. The fact that people are still using it and enjoying it is pretty gratifying. If you Youtube “Burp and Fart Piano”, you’ll find quite a few videos of people recording themselves playing with my app. With over 1.43 million downloads, it’s actually a bit hard to believe.
Interested in learning how to make your own iOS apps or how to become an iOS Developer? Our next Part-Time Intro to iOS course starts in Vancouver and Toronto on September 19th. The next iOS Development Bootcamp for people looking to become iOS Developers starts in October in both campuses as well.