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iControlMIDIDesign Ends iOS Development

iControlMIDIDesign have been making apps designed to expose additional MIDI functions in hardware synths for over a year. Ironically I didn't think it was worth reporting on any of them, but here I am reporting on their demise.

Due to insufficient sales, we have to terminate this project.

So, what does it mean?
• We will not be releasing any new Apps
• We are leaving our Apps on the App Store for maintenance purposes only (updates, bug fixes, etc…)
• Apple will automatically remove all our Apps from the App Store in 01/2013 as we will not renew our iOS License Agreement
• If you are an iControlMIDI licensee you are most likely safe with our Apps (which runs fine on iOS 4.2, 4.3, 5.0, 5.1 and 5.1.1); the only risk our Apps fail is Apple updating iOS and breaking our Apps. This will not happen if you are an iPad 1 owner as iOS 6 will not run on that device (we are not saying here that our Apps will not run on iOS 6!). It seems that Apple will be dropping older hardware support so we are entering into a firmware scenario and safe for years to come. However, this depends on Apple, not on us, so we cannot guarantee it.

Thanks for your interest in iControlMIDI, thanks for your business.

I'm a little shocked by this. They have been at it for a while, so this seems sudden. Although I haven't made use of any of their apps it has always been nice to know they are out there if I should ever buy a cheap DX7 off Craigslist. These apps aren't pretty, but they are really helpful for hardware synths with poor patch design interfaces.

Given that their stated reason for ending development was a lack of sales, I contacted the developer to ask if he had considered lowering the price on the apps. Each individual app is listed at $30-50! That seems prohibitively expensive. If they aren't selling at $50, maybe they will sell at $5?

This turns out to be exactly the wrong thing to ask...

Tim: I know a lot of people are using the iPad and custom MIDI designers like TouchOSC to get more use out of their old hardware. There definitely seems to be a market here. Have you considered drastically reducing the prices on your apps, just to see how that goes?

Michael: Thank you for the advice (I already received a tons of emails with the same brilliant idea); so I'm going to give the same in-your-face answer. Who are you? Do we know each other? Are the the CFO of a Fortune-100 software editor? Are you a Partner a KPMG? Do you have a MBA from Harward? What I'm reading here is as good as what I can read in the 'free press' while riding the subway to work in the morning which ends up in the subway trash when I arrive to work! Now I'm going to give a VALUABLE piece of advice. If you do not like our Apps or its pricing; download XCode and develop an App of your own with the pricing you want.

Our conversation dissolved from there into Nietzschean concepts on the revaluation of values, and finally the Alamo. Never forget!

Reader Comments 29

wow, i guess you'll have to look for friends elsewhere.

July 30, 2012  | person_outline Anonymouse

Loved the email exchange Tim, thanks for the insight. If you stare to deep into the abyss, it stares back in to you eh?

July 30, 2012  | person_outline planetfrog

Sounds like a charming guy! I'd rather buy apps from developers with better attitudes. Can you imagine emailing this guy with a support question about one of his apps? I bet his response would be a far cry from the positive interactions I've had with Matt/Blip Interactive, Wooji Juice, Retronyms, Intua, One Red Dog, Harmonicdog, etc.

July 30, 2012  | person_outline Hypersleep

And ironically if you are a licensee of some icontrolmididesign you bought for 30 or 50 bucks, you are at the risk of losing the functionality of your pricey purchase in the near future.

July 30, 2012  | person_outline John smith

These products were a good idea, but the dev underestimated what users expect for $30 in the iOS market. May also have spread himself too thin, trying to cover too many different products before his interface was mature. (The UI on these products is ugly, compared with other apps in this category, and doesn't make any special use of the touchscreen.)

July 30, 2012  | person_outline dswo

Great response to your email! An angry man indeed. Perhaps this could become a regular weekly section on the web site "lets make a developer angry with a simple question!"? I think it works.

July 30, 2012  | person_outline Invisiblesupermonkey

wonder if the part of the statement "...apple will be dropping older hardware support..." relates to this:
dunno what all the pins do now, but presumably the change could affect software developers as much as hardware/accessory makers.

July 30, 2012  | person_outline a1

Gee whiz, what a douche! But then again, I have deduced that for quite a while now.

And what, selling your iOS apps on eBay (!) didn't work, either??? Just pathetic and probably a violation of Apple's developer T&C, maybe somebody reported him.


So, $30 or $50 for one ugly-ass MIDI controller after another. Sure, each app is just another selection of MIDI CC#'s that took 5 minutes to enter into a shit-template, but let's make vintage synth owners pay through the nose for each separate one, as they have lots of money to spare if they own a Jupiter-8... If only this guy DID talk to a cfo, maybe his venture wouldn't have failed so spectacularly.

Good riddance.

July 30, 2012  | person_outline coldsteelrail

Wow. I happen to have a PhD in computer science, undergraduate degrees in math, an extensive research track record, and I also develop apps, so maybe I'm qualified to provide advice.

Income = #units * $perUnit

I hope I didn't lose anyone there with the complex math. Everyone still with me? This would be easier with a blackboard. Here comes the hard part.

You might be able to increase #units through a decrease in $perUnit, resulting in a net increase in Income.

I've spoken with colleagues in economics and behavioral psychology (the best man at my wedding is a PhD behavioral psychologist who has done consulting for the Vegas casinos), and there's a sweet spot on the curve. It can be worthwhile to investigate different $perUnit values, to find the one that maximizes Income.

Wait, what's that? My suggestion is the same one that Tim and everyone else had? Wow, I guess the whole freakin' world is wrong. (cue Nirvana's Heart-Shaped Box, forever in debt to your priceless advice...)

July 30, 2012  | person_outline Fessaboy

Wow - sounds like he went to the Underpants Gnomes' school of Business... good riddance.

Fail is as fail does.

July 30, 2012  | person_outline Ronzlo

Something tells me he's not the sorta fella that would open source his abandonware. A shame, really. I'd love to play with the matrix-6 editor but at that price and as finicky as the M6 is with external control, I wasn't up to take a shot at it.

If I'd done all that work and it flopped, I'd probably be grumpy too. It's too bad though, I can't see why he wouldn't at least attempt a lower price for completed software.

July 30, 2012  | person_outline Will

Perhaps they were not charging enough for software clearly coded in gold, platinum, and other precious minerals. It can be risky to set the price too low when you are marketing a luxury product. I picked that up in business school, along with a number of other handy tips.

It reminds me when Animoog was $.99, no one downloaded the app, and Moog went out of business. A cautionary tale.

July 30, 2012  | person_outline brysmi

Gee.......I personally think he should have went the other way. Raise the price and give it an image of being really valuable. If he didn't think slashing it would increase his revenue stream, then heck.......just shoot for the moon and see how far BS could get him. After all, he has a high proced degree in BS if he's telling the truth.

July 31, 2012  | person_outline zabbah

This is the exact problem with music technology and the US business scene in general.

NAMM businesses think they have the right to your future business even when they poorly support today’s product.

And the fact is that NO PERSON with a Harvard MBA would buy a product like this with the kind of support attitude like that and generally Harvard educated people are smarter with their money than to spend 30-50 bucks for a mono-tasker app that doesn’t even do different synths like Galaxy did so many years back. If someone he graduated alongside isn’t going to buy it and he has no respect for those “below” him, why is anyone surprised he’s going broke like he deserves?

I have seen Harvard’s electronic music studio. It was nothing as good as Berklee or Brown. But even I know that Midi apps with minimalist interfaces like this are nothing to set up. I’ve done them as slider macros for Performer and Vision on a macplus. Maybe you have to look up a little Hex code and do some counting on your fingers. Big Deal.

But also this attitude that because you were one of the luck suckers to get to a good school on legacy, you deserve success without adversity AND deserve to sell to only high end clients is so amazingly apparent that this comes out as stupidly counter intuitive against any of Adam Smith’s principals from the Wealth of Nations and laughable. High-end customers deserve service with some humility.

It is the kind of thinking that will get you laughed at by Capitalists and consumers the world over.

As a personal note, If it was one of the people from the company who came to the AHNE 2011 Synth get together in Lowell, MA, I can definitely see why the product didn’t sell that day. The person there to demonstrate this product was not a good salesperson and their presentation left something to be desired. So either an MBA from Harvard teaches you nothing about how to deal with people while selling or it teaches nothing about dealing with people when you are hiring.

July 31, 2012  | person_outline SonofWadcore

I think I'd be pretty pissed too if someone came up to me and started suggesting obvious strategies to help me keep my app in business, when they

and therefore,
no matter,

you seem to think software development and sales is a walk in the park, CONSIDERING ALL OF THE CRITICISM YOU GIVE THE PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY DO IT. if it's so easy then, go ahead, make an app yourself and get it to sell better than icontrolmidi. THEN i think you'll have the right to advise developers.

yaya, it's overpriced, they're ripping us off, it's bs that they're shutting down because someone might have just bought the app and might not be able to use it for as long bla bla bla.. that very well may be the case, and with apps like MIDI designer, you don't really need these, but you're not a developer, so you don't really know what you're talking about, do ya? and if you contact any developer with "Have you considered drastically reducing the prices on your apps, just to see how that goes?" they're gonna get pissed off.

"Never forget!"

July 31, 2012  | person_outline joesynthsynth

Joeysynthsynth, you are this guy? ;)

The guy is free to do as he pleases, dont think anyone has disputed that. Being rude and aggressive after little provocation would appear to be the issue. And the idea that you need to be an ios developer to understand a simple sales technique employed to varying degrees of success all over the world is a little like saying you need to understand brain surgery to sell headache tablets. Programming skills do not equal good business or sales skills. This chap, his app and his attitude could be considered exhibit a.

Little point here: consumers opinion drives sales. Ignore that at your peril.

July 31, 2012  | person_outline Invisiblesupermonkey


So you also think people shouldn't vote because they're not politicians?

July 31, 2012  | person_outline J.C

@Joesynthsynth -- there are many folks here who develop and sell apps. Yeah, we *do* understand the situation. And whether we're developers or not, pretty much everyone agrees that the price point for the apps is way out of line compared to the functionality (we're talking Auria range pricing here -- Auria is really really really slick, and they're taking some heat for the pricing). Tim runs the blog and interacts with a lot of developers; he's got a decent idea of how the sales game is played.

July 31, 2012  | person_outline Fessaboy

This person's apps would pop up on searches and I'd wonder about how big his market could possibly be.

Of course, short of a Harvard degree or MBA, one could hit the library up for a marketing textbook and learn from it that the formula is:

how big is the market at what price

Sour grapes cast with some fury at people of good will, all because his dreams didn't come true?! He's not the first entrepreneur to combine ignorance about marketing with a really bad attitude. I sense his disappointment after--no doubt--a big programming effort.

My own broader take on IOS audio app pricing is that the sweet point is a sale price that drives the cost of trying something out below $10 at 50% savings. The main driver for me is the lack of demo opportunities.

July 31, 2012  | person_outline kamelmauz@gmail.com


July 31, 2012  | person_outline Orange Octane

@joesynthsynth, i am actually sympathetic to your situation. i can't say that i have never responded like that to users asking that same question. mobile users are a different animal. they expect infinitesimal prices because surely you can make it up in infinite volume. mobile apps are the realm of toys where visuals mean more than functionality, and learning curves of any kind are not tolerated. at least piracy on ios is somewhat under control; but yeah, the price pressures will squeeze out anybody making a tool with an audience that is limited in size. what people are willing to pay as a maximum on principle is kind of absurd actually, but you will never change the psychology of mobile users. they would have a heart-attack to learn that at guitar-center, even the aorst stompbox effect is $50. but there are too many ios hobbyists losing money hand over fist, and good apps abandoned as free, for prices to go up. desktop users still pay reasonable prices, and of course working for IT departments pays. this is an interesting cautionary tale. i thought about porting my korg karma specific controller at $20, and can see that it will be a waste of time no matter how good it turns out. part of mobile user psychology seems to be berating people that have high prices to hold on to the wonderfully underpriced system we now have. i say they are underpriced because of the developer response to going to Adware, in-app purchases to weedle users into spend even more than they thought, etc. mobile games devs like zynga look like a sort of skinner-box malware to me. but this is the mobile user's world.

July 31, 2012  | person_outline Rob Fielding

Come on. An IOS app is not a stompbox which you own forever. It is not a peice pc software which remains useable for as long as you need it. The market is different - there seems to be a nice swell of ios "musicians" enjoying making music on the device and proper marketing (sorry, yes includes pricing strategy at times to lure people in to provide positive reviews) can earn rewards. However, it is more than that - good support, efforts to build a community, not being a dick to those consumers giving you money for your work. Perhaps it is a labour of love -I take my hat off to those who manage it, but to those who ain't got he staying power the advice is simply stay away. My opinion.

Produce something of value and that fills a need and it will sell. Don't come moaning and throwig toys out of pram if it turns out not to be of need. Rule 1 of marketing - having a product other people want/need?

July 31, 2012  | person_outline Invisiblesupermonkey

@rob You may be able to get $20 for your Karma controller! Make a good one. I think 19.99 is a mental breaking point for a lot of people.

Obviously, his pricing model is broken. This isn't meant as a dig on him personally. He's absolutely right: his company, his work, he can charge what he wants! I think he had a great idea, business wise: Lots of people want to control old synths with crappy hardware UIs. Make the same app 30 times, change the data for each and charge individually for each. Not a damn thing wrong with that - a great way to keep costs down and margins up. But, people will pay up to what they'll pay and that's it.

I do think mobile app purchasers are generally insane when it comes to price:value. That said, it's shortsighted to not recognize how much more software is being purchased via the app store than was ever ever purchased via traditional pc/mac means. Ask McDonalds or Walmart or whomever: scale counts. Hell, ask apple. It's the only way the macbook air or the ipad can come in at the cost it's at - scale. If you really have that much more market potential, you can sell your french fries for a dollar. Sure, it's $0.03 margin but you sold 40,000 of them this week.

Here's the thing I'm failing miserably in getting to: the time/overhead he saved on the 2nd, 3rd...25th iteration of his product is value he could pass on to (or share with) his customers - making it a better deal for them and increasing his revenue. If his cost is actually $30-50 per app, something is terribly wrong. See plenty of equations above to illustrate a way out of this. Additionally, were it my company, I'd actually consider making a single app and then doing in app purchases. Any marketer/salesperson will tell you how much easier it is to sell to an existing customer.

Sad truth: looks matter. Ask anyone who makes anything for a living. Breakfast, bicycles, drills, yo yos, apps, whatever. The iControlMidi apps aren't terribly attractive. Maybe in the plumbing tools industry you can get away with it (you can't) but most people buy ios devices because they're attractive. Say what you want but if you're in business, know your market.

I'm not sure why I care but for some reason, I do. It seems a shame to abandon all that work without at least testing the market a little more. That might be presumptuous as he may have already tried and I just missed it. If he's already worked through these scenarios, it'd be interesting to hear about how he came to his decision.

July 31, 2012  | person_outline Will

@Will, I guess the point that I am making, that all commenters seem to verify is that this is mostly outrage that any app can have a high price; as if it's a crime that must be stopped before it spreads. Nobody seems to have the app and be unhappy with it. Everybody seems to simultaneously be kicking him in the butt out the door with a "good riddance" while also ironically lamenting that if in theory they had bought it, that this turn of events means that this developer is now gone. If this is the sort of app that only makes sense given that you have a DX7 or something similar, then it's only natural that there is an upper bound on sales that no price drop will fix. Your comments about the UI are true. So that adds another ironic twist in pricing. It takes a *tremendous* effort to put in all the UI doodads to attract huge numbers of users. So smaller efforts that *only* focus on functionality start more expensive, and can only drop prices with a huge effort to also make it appeal to large numbers of users. The other irony is that as soon as you start going crazy with UI issues that don't have anything to do with functionality, they usually do actually make the app less useful to somebody that knows what he's doing; because making the app usable for a larger audience always means dumbing things down. But that's the road to selling your $5 app to a very large audience. Large Audiences, think AutoRap/IAmT-Pain. Now, let's see what happens when you start making tools... If you require basic musicianship then divide audience by 4. If you don't pick scales for users, cut in half again. Need to understand how MIDI actually works, divide by ten. Need a CCK, divide by 2, etc... The price keeps climbing as a result, but we are making tools to solve specific problems; especially problems that we ourselves have. I'm all the way down at the deep-end of making microtonal capable instruments, simply because I need them for myself, and they are generally impossible to get anywhere at all.

I can't say because I don't know his apps, but the problem may not be that his prices are "high". It may be that there are enough potential users in the world at any price to make this app profitable; which means that the number of users that *do* exist won't pay a high enough price to make it profitable.

One other thing... MIDI can be an amazing White Elephant when it comes to support. An example of history with Wizdom (I worked on Geo with them): Morphwiz came out without MIDI. MorphwizMIDI was demoed but not released. Then when I worked with them and I put in MIDI out support into Geo, it was a hugely controversial thing to do. At that same time it was decided to put MIDI in support into SampleWiz. Then Tachyon comes out; no MIDI again. Why? Probably because everything that can go wrong is now only in that one (tested) app, or perhaps in audio sessions of background apps. If you are making anything other than a piano-like interface with a single pitch wheel; all the support requests versus devices you don't end will end up killing you. If his app makes really deep use of MIDI then he should actually remove all these apps from the store to avoid the support hassles.

July 31, 2012  | person_outline Rob Fielding

Charging more to keep support costs lower did cross my mind. I babbled about it and deleted it because my blather was too long already. :) I can't say I blame him if that's his motivation. If so, it's looks like it's working too well.

Obviously, his potential market isn't tpain's but I'd venture to say there's a reasonably sized cross section of dudes in their 40s that can afford ipads and still have digitally controlled synths they'd like to get more out of. Not that I have any frame of reference here.

re: UI. I wasn't really talking about adding tons of glitter to the UI or reinventing UI paradigms the way you guys have (successfully) done. I mean that the apps are just unpleasant to look at and much more importantly devoid of physical comparison to the synths they're aiming to control. In other words, putting OSC stuff together, filter stuff together... in some sort of spatially meaningful or signal-flow-relevant way, not adding fake wood panels and skeuomorphic knobs.

I think most people commenting are commenting based on his snarky email reply to a fairly benign question that we now know was labeled 'press inquiry'. Discussions of price seem mostly constructive (if a little snarky) to me, not outrage based. Maybe I'm reading those through my own filter of 'wait, what?' at the notion of closing shop without testing lower prices. Like tim mentioned in the original post, I like the idea of these apps being around.

Would be cool to hear from anyone who bought any of these.

August 01, 2012  | person_outline Will

@ Rob: I appreciate your work, and know that my $2 does not begin to cover your actual costs for Cantor.

Why didn't I buy the app for my Akai Miniak? Price was a consideration, so was the ugly UI. But I could have swallowed both if it had done the job well. It didn't. It didn't grab the current state of the hardware parameters, and it didn't handle the one thing that a touchscreen interface could have really helped with, drawing tracking curves.

August 01, 2012  | person_outline dswo

Well, I'm done putting up a defense for this guy (he seems to be too pissed right now to be capable of it). But keep this in mind when developers stop taking risks, stop being responsive, or desert the platform. Something has to give on the price issue soon. The very low prices were less of a problem for developers when there were far fewer developers.

A lot of smart guys are going to Windows8 to get in before there are 8000 other music apps in their store. I might defect to that camp myself.

At the beginning of this year, a lot of devs started writing portable code and testing out Android; but the latency issue (and the even cheaper/pirate user culture) stands in the way for music apps. Even Playbook...great latency...broken business.

August 01, 2012  | person_outline Rob Fielding

yeah, no piracy on Windows. /s

smart guys flocking to w8, but it remains to be seen if not-so-smart customers will. there are lots of w7 users who feel they are just fine where they're at and who don't even like the new metro interface, and IT depts. are much the same story, they'll happily wait for w9 next year or the year after.

August 01, 2012  | person_outline mr.bluebird

When I first saw the apps the first thing that came to my mind was how ugly the ui was. After looking at the list of his apps on appshopper.com (there are a ton of them with similar functionality) I was then confused which one I would even want. The third thing I noticed was the price which was beyond what I would ever spend on an app. There is another music app I really want badly but I just will not spend $30 on it even though I think it is an awesome app (TC-11 app).

August 04, 2012  | person_outline Adam G

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