Well, it's taken me rather longer than planned, but finally I am really pleased to announce the launch of my Seville iPhone app. It's been a really interesting experience writing it and I wanted to share some of my learnings and see what people think. I’ll follow up with some more detailed posts soon about how I see the app concept developing. But for now… some basics:

Seville iPhone app
What is it then? At heart it's a database of entries - places to visit, to stay, to eat, to go out. For each entry I’ve written some useful description along with key info like opening hours, cost and so on. There’s a nice carousel of pics for each entry too and the entries are all plotted on a map. You can sort the database by categories which the writer (ie me) creates: Sleeping Eating, Family Fun, Nightlife, Getting Around etc. And then you can view the whole category on a map too – so you can see immediately where places are relative to each other. Of course, if you have roaming on your iPhone turned on you can also see where you are relative to the places and easily see how to get to them from where you are.

Working with an app publisher
I wrote the app with a third party US-based publisher called Sutro Media who have done a pretty good job of getting lots of great travel writers on board to write apps for the places they know well. They created the Content Management System (CMS) so the author just logs in and gets writing. I actully found it quite good fun. More so than writing a guidebook in many ways, because you’re choosing and uploading pics along with doing the writing. And you’re thinking about how to organise your entries. You can link between entries too – so I added another layer of functionality by linking them together into walking tours. Click the link at the bottom of place 1 on the itinerary and it takes you to the entry for place 2, and so on. And I then made the whole tour into a category so you can see all the stops on the tour on one map. Nice!

Does it make money?
I’m guessing a lot of people will be wanting to know this bit above anything else. I get 30% of sales. Apple keeps 30% (as it does with all apps in the app store – frankly that's a big margin compared to the Android platform that Google created which runs most other smartphones which is just 5%). Sutro keeps the other 40%. We argued a little about the price. Sutro suggested I make it 2.99 USD. I pushed to charge more. It’s priced at 4.99 USD (around three UK pounds). So I get a pound for every one I sell. And I’m selling 2 or 3 a day. Not masses, but I’ve not promoted it at all yet. So, no huge income stream yet, but I know the girl who writes the Las Vegas app sells hundreds of the things. I’m sure Seville will never sell in quite the same volumes, but I’m cautiously hopeful. Sutro’s CMS allows me to see how many I am selling too – so there’s a real sense of controlling my own destiny. It appeals far more to me than trying to make money from ads against content on a website or writing a guidebook and getting no feedback from the publisher about how many copies I'm selling.

Will apps kill off guidebooks?
I don’t think they will yet. I find actually using apps on a small iPhone screen pretty hard work. My app is also available on iPad too though. And the viewing experience on that is really impressive. Biggest issue I think is probably the cost of data outside your own country. But the EU is making tracks to cap these costs in Europe and that could make a big difference very quickly.

Of course… I’d love it if people bought it – it’s called Jeremy Head’s Seville Explorer

Anyone else written an app? How did you find it? Does it sell?

2 thoughts on “Writing my new Seville iPhone app

  1. Interesting. Yes, I have authored a couple of apps, for these guys:


    The first, on Florence, almost 2 years ago now, I think. The second, on Turin, about 18 months ago. The second was more a labour of love/discovery than anything else; obviously, a guide to Turin isn't commercially viable, but I know and like the place and found myself staying nearby for a few weeks so was able to take a few days out of my holiday to do research trips.

    The former has been useful, not so much for sales, as for profile. People saw it, and contacted me because they'd seen I'd written it, and were interested (there weren't too many guide-style apps out when mine appeared, so having authored an app was unusual, I guess). I don't have detailed sales figures (@paul_a_smith looks after those), but I'd say a handful of sales a week sounds about right. Over the period it's been out, it has certainly "paid for itself", in terms of my time, but hasn't reaped riches. The content badly needs a refresh and supplementing, and that's on the to-do list for this autumn. It's not as comprehensive or ambitious as yours by the sounds of it (e.g. no hotels or restaurants in there... it's a words-and-photo sightseeing app only).

    As an aside, I was approached by Sutro last year to write something but declined after reading the terms of the contract. It may be different now, but my understanding of it at the time was that you couldn't extract your content from your app and take it elsewhere. You couldn't unilaterally dissolve the association, without strings. They seemed like good people, though.

    And "will apps kill guidebooks"? Hm. I think probably not. Firstly, as you say, data is one problem, although many decent travel apps are 100% offline these days; e.g.:


    A longer-term issue, however, is the experience. A small screen just isn't a pleasant UX for thoughtful reading. I'm happy to let an app find me a restaurant. If I want to read about the history of an artwork or city, not so.

    Best of luck with Seville Explorer!

  2. Why, yes, kind sir - I recently worked with another app company to create the Seoul Taxi Guide - essentially, it's a reference to getting around one of Asia's largest cities. The biggest use is for tourists or businesspeople unfamiliar with the Korean alphabet - that said, the data is stored within the app, and I've pulled it out a few times to help out lost tourists.

    The money isn't yet there, of course. The entry to market is getting lower, and the niches seem to be smaller (albeit more focused).

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