The Shape of Everything
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April 14, 2011

Acorn 3 was released this past Tuesday, and the response to it has been pretty wonderful so far. My brain has sort of fallen into zombie mode, mostly from the amount of emails we've been responding to. But I'd like to take a little break and write down what I think are the interesting bits about this release.

First all- if you haven't downloaded and tried Acorn 3 yet, do so. I really do think it's one of the better image editing apps for Mac OS X at this point. Acorn has some great new features such as layer styles (which are really just non-destructive filters), multistop gradients, instant alpha, a completely rewritten PSD importer (and a new exporter!), and much more. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, so I must be doing something right.

App Store sales vs. Direct Sales Numbers

When purchasing Acorn, you can buy it directly from us or go through the Mac App Store. Either way has its benefits. If you buy through the MAS, you get convenience. If you buy direct, you get easier access to betas and such. People have been asking me which way I prefer as the author of the app, and I always respond to do whatever is most convenient for yourself.

But let's look at some numbers to see what folks are doing.

For the first two days 87% of the direct purchases were upgrades. This is a bit higher than normal for my launches, but it wasn't unexpected. My customers are pretty loyal (thank you!) and will buy upgrades without even trying out the app first. It probably also helps that buying an upgrade directly from me will save you $10, since the MAS doesn't allow variable pricing. (Direct upgrades from previous versions are $19.99, and if you bought Acorn on Jan 6th or later, you got a free upgrade).

I also wanted to make an opportunity for existing customers to move to the App Store. So I've temporarily reduced the full price of Acorn to $29.99 on both the MAS and direct. (This sale lasts until April 20th). I'm not sure if this is helping out MAS sales or not, since I'm not really sure how to measure it. I suspect it is helping sales though.

On the first day of sales, 49% of my revenue came from direct purchases. On the second day that number lowered to 40%. I actually made more money on the second day from MAS sales than I did on the first, while direct sales went down a bit. I've not seen that before, but it probably helped that Acorn went up to #2 in top grossing MAS sales, and was in the top 10 of paid apps. People like top 10 lists.

(Note: I'm using revenue numbers after Apple takes their 30% cut. I try really hard not to think about the 30% that isn't there).

Hey, why is the server so slow?

I've been linked by Daring Fireball a number of times in the past, and it has never been a problem. I already host the Acorn download on Amazon S3, and I was in the process of moving a bunch of images from the webpage to S3 when DF linked to me. But there was a tense 5 minutes when everything was super slow.

I thought maybe the server load had just skyrocketed so I quickly ssh'd into the box and… it seemed to be running fine. The problem was the site was getting so many hits, Apache hit its upper limit of 150 process that we had set. So I bumped that up to 250, and it instantly hit that upper limit as well. But it held out for the 15 minutes which is about the average lifespan of a fireballing.

phew

But next time I do a big release, I'm going to investigate putting some sort of caching server in front of Apache first.

A Blitz Style List of Other Things

  • Last fall I wrote a PSD parser and exporter from scratch for use in Acorn 3. I had mostly forgotten about it but based on feedback, people are pretty happy about it. PSD is Photoshop's native file format, and Photoshop as a ton of features. And because of this, the only application which will ever have 100% PSD compatibility is Photoshop. But the support in Acorn is certainly better in version 3, and I now have an intimacy with 4 character codes and hex editors that no man should ever have.
  • I took a week long vacation at the end of February this year, with the intention of releasing Acorn 3 as soon as I got back. And of course while on vacation I did some recreational coding/prototyping and came to the realization that if I was going to completely rewrite the compositing model (which I had planned for 3.1), I better do it now. It started out as a simple re-modeling of the undo system, and ended up turning Acorn from a 50% Core Image / Quartz based app into a 95% based Core Image app. It pushed the release back a little over a month, and my beta testers had some rough days, but I think it was the right decision.
  • Acorn has a bunch more automated tests in 3.0. I'm up to over 200 scripts now (mostly written in JSTalk) which test various aspects of Acorn. Each script will test multiple things, and even run through undo and make sure that works correctly. It was because of all these tests that I was able to completely rewrite the compositing model "on a whim". Nobody but the beta testers even noticed! (That's a good thing).
  • We (and by "we", I mean my wife Kirstin) spent a lot of time adding and updating documentation for Acorn 3. Make sure to check it and the tutorials out. We've also have added a comment system to the documentation which is helping us figure out what we need to improve. Thanks Kirstin!
  • I was really excited about Amazon's Simple Email Service, and wanted to use it to send out all my Acorn 3 announcements. I set it up, tested it out with a simple python script, applied for "Production" status and got everything ready. Turns out there's a 1k daily limit on that for new folks. Well crap. So instead of spending around $11 to send the emails I ended up spending over $700 using Campaign Monitor. Don't get me wrong, I love CM and think it's a wonderful service! But I'm a geek who can whip up scripts to do these things in my sleep for so much cheaper… if only Amazon would let me.

I'm really pleased with Acorn 3, and I think it is really turning into mature app. I'm certainly not done with features and there are a ton of UI things that I would like to improve some day; but version 3 is such a better app than previous versions.

Make sure to try Acorn 3 if you haven't already!