Super Speller: The Beginning

It occurs to me I haven’t really talked about my little indie app over here on my personal blog. We released a new version today so I thought I might talk about how it came to be and some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

I haven’t done anything that could be considered indie development for a long time. That is, not anything that I considered charging for anyway. I’ve worked on the occasional open source project and I have tons of code laying around that never saw the light of day. Stuff that I poked around at for my own enjoyment, but was never made fit for human consumption. The last time I created something myself that I asked people to pay for was probably ClipFiler (1995-1998 RIP).

I’ve had several app ideas since the iPhone was opened up to development but, apart from those that I developed at work, never got around to doing anything in my spare time for myself. I’m not sure why that is. I think I convinced myself that I did enough development at my day job, why would I want to come home and do more work during my free time? Maybe somewhere along the way I must have decided that because I get paid to write software that subconsciously I decided all development must be work. I’m not sure, but when my wife came to me with a suggestion for an app to help our son practice his spelling my initial response was to tell her that there are a bazillion apps on the app store and I’m sure one that would help with this particular problem. And then I stopped. Here was a real world problem my son was facing and I had the capability to make something to help my son and my wife out. In addition it might be a chance to involve the whole family in creating an application. Maybe that could be fun!?

First the problem: several times a week, my wife and son sat down to practice for the weekly spelling tests at school. She would say each spelling word and sometimes use it in a sentence and Aaron would write it down. If it was wrong she would gently guide him and help him figure out where he’d gotten it wrong. If he got it wrong several times he would eventually grow frustrated occasionally to the point that he would nearly have a little miniature Hulk rampage. Part of the problem, I think, is that Aaron doesn’t like it when people point out that he’s wrong. No clue where the boy got that.


Anyway, what Susie was thinking about was an app that would let her record his spelling words and then play them back and allow him to enter each on the iPad. I think that was it. She was going to then look over each and see which he got right and which were wrong. I figured it would be pretty easy to add the ability to check to make sure each was spelled correctly and then it just grew from there.

As I started putting the app together I kept coming back to Aaron: does this make sense? What if it did this? Do you like this better or is this way better? Susie also had her opinions too. She was after all the one who spends most of the time with him going over his homework so she had a lot of ideas that she wanted to see as well. Of course I had my own ideas too. For example, smiley hints were my idea. I was thinking about how Susie gave Aaron his practice tests and the expressions she would use when he looked to her to see if was spelling correctly. She didn’t come right out say whether a word was wrong or exactly how to spell it, but he could from her expression if he was on the right track, so I added a little smiley face guy to the app that you can enable which will occasionally glance down as you’re typing a word. His expression changes based on your spelling. Even our daughter had some guidance for me (sorry I haven’t yet added exploding confetti, Alex).

As the app came together and Aaron started using it, it didn’t take long to realize that this was going to be a big help. In fact the first week he used the app, he got a 100 on his spelling test. And again the next week. And the week after that. Actually he’s gotten a 100 (or better) on every spelling test since he started using it. Seeing how much it had helped Aaron, Susie and I started talking about putting it on the App Store and all that goes along with that. We made a deal that I would just be the coding guy and she’d handle support and marketing stuff. And somewhere along the way I learned that just because I do this for a living doesn’t mean that I have to treat it as a job. Sure it was a lot of work, but it was also family affair and something we all got to spend time creating. I also got to find out what it would be like to guide all the development and marketing direction personally. All in all it’s been a very rewarding experience.

When everything was ready, I tried to make sure we kept our expectations in check. I’ve been around the App Store for a long time and know that for every Angry Birds there are thousands of apps that are just making a few dollars a day. Our hope was that we could make enough annually to cover the cost of the developer program, web hosting, business license, etc., and if we were lucky, maybe have enough left over to pay for a vacation or something.

After some additional testing with friends and family, we submitted Super Speller to the App Store in late November 2011. And then we waited. And waited. And then! Super Speller v1.0 was approved and released on December 7, 2011.

Then we waited to see what the rest of the world thought of our creation…

This ran a bit longer than I intended, so I think I’ll stop there for now. I’ll try to follow up soon with what happened after the release. Maybe charts and figures and such. I’ll have to think on that. In the meantime if you want, you can check out Super Speller on the App Store or, for a few more details, visit the Quiet Spark web site.