November 7, 2012
Tiny Piano sales quadruple due to Apple commercial

Summary: Tiny Piano reached its 3 millionth download thanks to the iPad mini launch. Sales spiked over the weekend, bringing in $10K revenues over 3 days.

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Last weekend, Apple released the iPad mini and launched a commercial featuring Heart & Soul played on the GarageBand piano.


Thanks to this TV ad, a large number of people logged onto the App Store to look for “piano” apps. By Monday morning, 7 of the top 10 iPad free music apps were piano apps. Luckily, Tiny Piano was one of them.

Here is Tiny Piano at #5 in the iPad Free Music category:


Tiny Piano is not even the top piano app! Nevertheless, we got a huge jump in downloads and revenue. Here’s a graph of the two weeks leading up to the iPad mini ad campaign:


The graph shows 56,447 downloads on Sunday. This was about 4x the number of downloads that we got the week before.

Tiny Piano generates revenues through advertising (iAds & AdMob) and in-app purchases ($0.99 song packs and a $2.99 “unlock everything” option). From Friday to Sunday, revenues totaled $8852.91. Thanks, Apple!

Below is a graph of my revenue from iAds. The AdMob graph has the same shape. It’s pretty clear that the iPad mini commercial had a huge impact.


Here are some lessons that I’ve learned:

No matter how hard you work, it always helps to get really really lucky. :-) When I launched Tiny Piano in February 2012, I could never have predicted that Apple would make a commercial featuring a piano, and drive lots of people to download my app from the App Store.

It might take a while. I left my full-time job as a software developer in May 2010 to create a company specializing in fun educational apps. It took me two years to earn enough monthly revenue to cover my rent. Before I made the jump, I had about 2.5 years of runway, so luckily things turned around before my savings ran dry.

Start small and keep improving. When I first shipped Tiny Piano in February, it had 16 simple songs (e.g., Yankee Doodle), and only supported the iPhone. It was a free app, with no ads or in-app purchases. After getting some favorable customer reviews, I decided it was worthwhile to continue working on the app. In April, I shipped v1.1, which included three song packs and iPad support (as a universal binary). I continued to add new song packs in May and June, and added a new $2.99 option for unlocking all five song packs at once.

Here’s a graph of the daily active users. It started with 1 user (myself) in February 2012 and reached a peak of 154K this last Sunday.


Make sure you ship! My guess is that the average indie developer never finishes his or her game. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on an iOS or Android game. You must ship! In my case, if I had never shipped Tiny Piano, I would have never benefited from Apple’s iPad mini campaign.

Experience matters. Tiny Piano was the sixth app that I worked on, and the fifth that I released to the App Store. You haven’t heard of the others, because they are commercial failures. I spent way too long on my first app (Galactic Guitar) because I’m a perfectionist. When I finally shipped, I learned that it was too confusing for most users to understand. :-( It was painful, but I learned a lot from shipping a dud. Even Rovio shipped 51 duds before finding success with Angry Birds. We can’t all be awesome like Andreas Illiger.

As Paul Graham says, “startups rarely die in mid keystroke.”

So I’ll keep typing.

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Here’s a link to the Hacker News discussion.

Here are a few articles about indie development:

Have a question? Leave a comment below or contact me at!

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