Flow for Instagram: Launch Retrospective close

Luke Hubbard
In Apps
20th February 2014
Flow for Instagram: Launch Retrospective

As it’s been almost two months since we launched Flow for Instagram, the missing iPad app for Instagram, now seemed like a good time to look back at how the launch went and how the app has been received so far.

Our Goals

Ahead of the launch we had some goals. These were:

  • Try and get into the app store before Christmas. We knew there would be lots of people with new iPads looking for a good Instagram app and we didn’t want to miss this natural spike in downloads.

  • Generate a decent amount of press coverage and buzz.

  • Hopefully get featured by Apple

Submitting V.1

In order to hit our mid-December submission deadline we had to accept that we would need to leave out some of the originally planned features. Had we tried to include everything on our roadmap, we would have certainly missed the deadline. Knowing what to include and what to leave out is a tricky balance between minimum viable product and something that is awesome enough to be featured and get some interest from the press.

Before we were ready to submit, we sent out a number of builds to a small group of Beta testers we had recruited via social media. Nothing beats feedback from people who are actually using the app and this Beta group really helped us with UX and flushing out bugs.

Building up to the Launch

Once we were reasonably happy with the app we submitted the build to Apple and switched gears to focus on the launch. Some of the things we did ahead of the launch were:

  • Published a pre-launch website with email collection form

  • Put together a spreadsheet of press contacts. As well as the usual suspects we specifically targeted reporters who had written about IG in the past

  • Produced a short one minute product demo video

  • Put together a press pack with details about the app, its background and screenshot images

  • Roughly five days before the launch we started sending out emails to press. On advice from a friend who works in the press we kept our pitch short. It basically just said: “We are launching an iPad app for Instagram called [APP NAME] on [DATE]. Here is a short demo video [LINK TO VIDEO] if you would like more information or would like to try the app let us know.” Once we started receiving replies we could then start a dialogue with a fairly good chance of getting some coverage

  • Submitted our prelaunch site to betali.st - this was a good source of traffic but in retrospect, we should have done it earlier. We ended up going live on betali.st the day before launch and it caused some confusion with the other press.

One big missing feature we knew we had ahead of the launch was comments. Instagram restrict comments API to only a few approved apps. There is a formal process to request access but it seems to be a black hole. You email and nothing happens. I figured I would try a different tactic and sent an email to Mike Krieger at Instagram with a link to the Flow video. He replied saying he liked the app and I was able to ask for comment whitelist. Within minutes we were whitelisted.

Launch Day

Launch day came and a lot of things went right but a few things also went wrong. We had embargoed the release for a certain time but one blog went out early (due to mix up with timezones) and this upset some of the other blogs. Also, due to a mistake in iTunes Connect the app actually went live before the time we had planned.

When the hour came I flicked the switch in iTunes to put the app live (again), switched the website over, sent an email to our mailing list, and sent out some tweets. Thankfully the mistakes with the embargo didn't sink us and we got some really great coverage in The Next Web, Cult of Mac, iDownload Blog and CNET, among others.

The Response

Within hours we were climbing the app store charts and there were lots of people tweeting links to articles featuring the app. By the end of the first day we had 4000 downloads. The next day it was 5000. The app reached the top 5 in photo category in over 20 countries and top 100 overall, within 12 days. Naturally after a few days things calmed down, but overall we think that the launch was a success.

Perhaps the biggest validation for us, came from Tim Van Damme (Instagram’s previous Lead Mobile Designer, now at Dropbox) who tweeted the below:

( * We actually got a chance to connect via email after that tweet and Tim agreed to join our beta group. )

The next week we were featured by Apple under the "best new apps" banner on the iTunes homepage in the UK and a number of other EU countries. We also got a request for additional artwork (that we almost missed) which usually means you are going to get the big banner feature. We submitted the artwork and waited but unfortunately didn't hear any more. Looking back I wish we had been quicker with replying to the request. Hopefully there will be a next time.

Overall the app has been well received by users, breaking 100,000 downloads in the first month and gaining hundreds of reviews and ratings (with a 4.5* average rating). From the feedback users have been sending us via email and in reviews, it’s clear that they love the app but are crying out for some of the features we cut in order to ship. The most popular requests so far have been portrait support and account switching.

What’s next for Flow?

For the past month we have been working hard on the next version of Flow for Instagram. A version which will include portrait support, account switching, design updates and a few other goodies.

We are wrapping up this week and will be sending the latest build out to our beta testers this weekend. If you want to get access early you can sign up to our test flight. Assuming everything goes to plan, we will be submitting 1.1 to Apple next week.

PS. If you pass a newsagents, checkout Mac Format magazine where Flow has been featured as App of the Month.