When to Send a Press Release – Are Embargoes Useful?

That’s a question I’ve been asking myself ever since I started releasing software to the public.

Googling “When to send a press release”, I get articles talking about on what specific weekday to send it or at what time of day.
Or “send a press release when you have something newsworthy”.

Although that is good advice – never send anything not newsworthy, you’ll just alienate people – that’s not the subject of this blog post.

What I mean by ‘When’ is: should I send a press release a couple of days before I release an app or on the same day?
And yes, it is an “either – or” kind of situation. I’ve been told by journalists I asked if it’s cool to follow up a week after (or send the press release again) – definitely don’t do that.

Non-Embargoed Press Releases

To issue press releases the same day I release the app itself always felt natural to me. I’ve been doing it for as long as I’ve released software.
No advance notice, no follow up – just “send it and forget it”. I want to get the news out when it’s fresh and hot and when it’s available for everyone to download.

Control Is An Illusion

Front and foremost, it gives me this feeling of ‘control’. When sending out a press release the day of, I feel like I’m on the mind of the journalist and like they’re more inclined to write about my app since it is “fresh off the press” and just happened. And there might be some truth to that as I’ve seen good results with that approach. But you never have any control to speak of. That’s an illusion.

Secondly, there’s the App Store Review process. It takes time. So once the review is done and the app has been approved, I’m usually very eager to get the app out the door as soon as possible and not have to wait around a couple of days more to be able to send out press releases ahead of time.
I also don’t want to send out a press release while the app is still in review – that’s got ‘catastrophe’ written all over it.
If you send out a press release with an embargo only to have your app rejected some time later, you’ll have to issue a redaction and that’s just hideously tedious. It’s a one-way-ticket onto the journalist’s blacklist.
Even though there are apps for checking the average review times for the iOS and Mac App Stores, it’s just too uncertain in my opinion.

Forget me not

It’s not fun to spend hours writing a decent press release, send it out early to members of the media just to find out they forgot about it come the actual date of the app release. This is probably not much of an issue with bigger news sites and blogs that have systems in place for embargoed press releases, but smaller blogs run by independent reviewers might do all this by hand, so things might slip their minds.

Sending press releases with an embargo also has the risk of of the news leaking.
You send out your news with an embargo of one week, but that doesn’t mean that every member of the media is going to respect that – they might publish early to break the news first (a problem I assume only bigger companies face who’s news appeals to a broader audience than mine, a small indie developer’s press release; but nonetheless, it’s still something to be wary of).
I hear that embargoes aren’t legally binding, so be wary of that as well. 

Embargoed Press Releases

With everything you’ve read by now, you might think sending a press release beforehand might not be a good idea. And you’re right, a lot of it speaks against it (although it depends heavily on each individual case).

But there is one thing about it that appeals to me more and more the longer I ponder it – with a press release you send early, you give your potential reviewers time.

Time for Preparation

Imagine being a journalist, getting a couple dozen press releases each day (or more) and some of them are to be released on the same day. There’s simply no way you could check out all those apps and publish on the same day. Pressed for time, a journalist might be inclined to just post the entire or edited press release, publish late or not post about it at all. But a full review is out of the question, that’s for sure.

If you issue that press release a week early, though, you’re helping out not only the journalists you’re addressing, but also yourself.
You give the greatest gift there is: time.

Time to check out your app in detail, less in a hurry to get to the next press release, because they do pile up, I’m sure.
Time to use the app for a few days, should they decide to cover it and get a deeper look at how the app works and feels.
Time to experience details about the app that make it stand out over its competitors.
Time to get more details about the app, e.g. check out the app’s Press Kit; ask you for more details if something isn’t clear or if they have any questions in general.

I believe that is invaluable for all parties involved.

Testing Embargoed Press Releases

To put this to a test, for the release of Transloader 2.1, I sent out the press release one week ahead of the release and the result has been way better than I thought. As I wrote before, I sent out PR with the bad aftertaste of thinking it would be forgotten on the actual day of the release.

But that was not the case. Quite the contrary, actually.

After sending out an embargoed PR, I pretty soon received requests for promo codes to an extent I have not experienced before. That might be attributed to the extended time frame they had for reviews, given the embargo. I imagine journalists don’t bother asking for promo codes if they don’t have the time to really look at the app anyway.

The embargo itself worked very well, not one site posted early. I used the following wording (in bold print) right before the press release body

Embargo: Please do not publish before March 10th, 2015

I think I will take out the “Embargo:” part, though, it sounds kind of demanding.

Among others, MacNNc|net and the german site MacGadget posted favorable reviews of Transloader and @MacTrast called it their iOS App of the Day.

All in all, it went very well and I’m very satisfied with how it turned out.

Conclusion

I will be moving to embargoed press releases from now on. The benefits of giving journalists some time to check out your app by far outweighs the disadvantages listed above and I think it engaged journalists more.

And that’s what press releases are all about.

—-

My name is Matt, I’m the developer of Eternal Storms Software. If you’d like to comment, you can catch me on twitter here: or by eMail.

Transloader 2.1 Released – Action Extension, Today Widget, Push Notifications

Transloader 2.1 Icon

I’m happy to announce today the immediate availability of Transloader 2.1, a significant and important update to the app that lets you start downloads on your Mac remotely from your iPhone or iPad.

Transloader Explanation

I’ve also prepared an App Preview Video for the occasion:

Easier and more straight forward to use

Transloader 2.1 features an Action Extension so you can add links directly from a website you’re browsing – here a short video of the Action Extension in, well, action ;)

The update also comes with a Today Widget, which offers you a quick look at the state of your downloads right from within Notification Center.

Transloader's Notification Center Today Widget

Improved Feedback

Transloader 2.1 on the Mac will send your iOS devices push notifications when downloads finish or fail so you are always in the know about the state of your downloads.
The Mac app also got a UI overhaul and now fits in perfectly with OS X Yosemite.

On Sale – 65% off!

As part of Two Dollar Tuesday, Transloader is on sale today (March 10zh, 2015) for just $1.99 instead of $5.99 – over 65% off. Head on over and check out the other cool apps as well ;)

System Requirements

For full functionality, iOS 8 or newer and OS X Yosemite or newer are required. An iCloud account is necessary for Transloader to work.

Links

Transloader on the Mac App Store ($1.99; 65% off)
Transloader on the iOS App Store (free)

Transloader Website
Transloader Press Kit (direct download)

I hope you enjoy the update – if you have any feedback or questions, please be sure to get in touch via mail or twitter! I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

—-
My name is Matt, I’m the developer of Eternal Storms Software. If you’d like to comment, you can catch me on twitter here: or by eMail.

Making ZEN (Part 2)

First Concept of ZENFirst concept of ZEN

After last week’s guest blog post by my cousin Sebastian about how he came up with the idea of the iOS game ZEN, the design and conception process behind it and the soundtrack, today it’s my turn to talk about putting it in code and making it all come to life.

The Premise

Like a lot of developers I know, I became intrigued with programming because of games. As a kid, I always wanted to develop games for a living, make the next Diablo. So of course I jumped at the idea of creating a game when my cousin asked me if I was interested.

I had never actually programmed a game before, so when Sebastian approached me about developing a game with him, I was already seeing myself having to learn OpenGL and everything that comes with it.

Luckily, it soon became clear that it would be a 2D game, almost 8-bit-ish, like an old Super Mario Bros game. So my fears of having to learn something new* were put to rest and the more he told me about the game, the more I realized that Core Animation would be the perfect fit for this project.

The game is about a cube with random numbers on it. Your goal is to reach ten with these numbers by turning the cube and selecting the appropriate sides within ten seconds.

ZEN Cube Animation

*just kidding, I love learning new stuff, but for a side-project having to learn OpenGL would have been a little much, especially with all my other apps that need constant attention

Core Animation actually was pretty much made for this kind of stuff. Even if the game had had some 3D effects (for example, some sort of perspective distortion when turning the cube, etc), it would have been fairly easy to implement.

First Blood

The first thing I did in the process of developing ZEN was to prototype the cube itself. I began by mapping out the cube because a) I didn’t have one handy and b) to get a visual on each side:

Mapping out the cube

Because I was using Core Animation and it was all in 2D space, I had to figure out what side would go where when the cube was turned from left to right, right to left, from the top or the bottom, so that the numbers would stay on the same side and not end up any place they shouldn’t be. I went so far to write down which side would go where once the cube was turned in any direction

Mapping out which cube side would go whereWhich side goes where when turning the cube?

To make the animation possible, I would have to use at least two CALayers that changed in shape and color, and would have to be kept up to date in terms of data (which side holds which number).

One layer would always be hidden, the layer to turn to, so to speak, the other layer would always be visible. They would alternate in doing that.
For example:

Layer 1 is visible with the front number of the cube.
You turn the cube right and layer 2 (still hidden) gets the number of the left side of the cube.
Layer 1 is animated to fold to the right
Layer 2 shows and animates to the full size of the front cube side.
Layer 1 is hidden

Turning Cube Down on PaperTurning the cube from the top on paper

With that done, I had the cube – of course, there were some kinks to be worked out (for example, sometimes the hidden layer would suddenly be visible with a completely wrong size), but basically, the cube was working.
In code, turning the cube upwards looks like this:

- (void)turnUp
{
ESSCubeSide *oldUp = self.topSide;
ESSCubeSide *oldFront = self.frontSide;
ESSCubeSide *oldDown = self.bottomSide;
ESSCubeSide *oldBack = self.backSide;
self._cubeDict[ESSCUBE_FRONT] = oldDown;
self._cubeDict[ESSCUBE_TOP] = oldFront;
self._cubeDict[ESSCUBE_BACK] = oldUp;
self._cubeDict[ESSCUBE_BOTTOM] = oldBack;
}

This is only the data model, of course. The view code just the two layers – resizing them in unison, hiding one layer and showing the other, etc.

Random Numbers

The next thing that had to be done was to fill the cube with random numbers, some of which would add up to ten.

I chose to do the following:

  1. Decide how many sides it takes to solve the current cube (a number between 2 and 6); let’s say it’s 3 – 3 sides to solve the cube.
  2. Loop while we create 3 random numbers between 1 and 9 that add up to ten.
  3. Fill the rest of the cube (3 more sides) with random numbers between 1 and 9.
  4. Shuffle the resulting array of six numbers so the solving sides aren’t always on the same sides
The same principle works for the minus mode, where there are positive and negative integers that you need to select to add up to ten.

Interface

The first interface concept, as you can see in the first screenshot of this blog post, was pretty simple. The title and three buttons. There was no mention of animations!

As it always happens, things change during the development process, you iterate on everything, and the interface gets overhauled as well. This new one was, in my opinion, much nicer as it demonstrates the “cube-y” nature of the game very nicely.

ZEN Line animation

But it took me some time to get there. I was hoping that Sebastian could define the animations in svg or gif or something like that and I could just load them in and display them.
However, I could not do that – apparently iOS doesn’t support svgs or gifs out of the box (and I didn’t want to rely on 3rd party libraries to do the job). After googling around for a couple of days (because, you know, you want to be thorough), I tried doing it in a web view, because these animations would work in the browser. However, I wouldn’t have that amount of control over them as I did with the final approach I took – code it in Core Animation as well.

So I have one view class that, depending on the width and height of the bounds of the view either expands horizontally or vertically. That was the easy part.

The hard part was creating all the views in Xcode’s Interface Builder with the proper dimensions and positioning them so they would define the buttons and letters. I’m just glad the Help – view is not animated ;) :

Help ViewThe Help View – thankfully for me, not animated

Creating ZEN was a very exciting experience and I learned a lot during the process. As I usually work alone, working within a team on this project (even if it’s just two people) was a breath of fresh air and is a lot of fun, bouncing ideas off of each other, inspiring each other – there’s a whole lot of energy there.
While I do have a few dear friends with whom I can exchange ideas over the internet for my own projects, it’s quite different when you’re one on one, face to face.

It’s been  a lot of fun.

—-
My name is Matt, I’m the developer of Eternal Storms Software. If you’d like to comment, you can catch me on twitter here: or by eMail.