The heartCam Story (how to set your app free)
In 2008, mobile apps on iTunes became the next hot thing, and we all began to hear stories of people becoming overnight millionaires with simple apps. I wanted my company, Mechanism Digital, to get into the game by using my studio’s abilities in 3D animation and visual effects to get on board.
Researching the successful apps, we saw they ranged in complexity from simple gags (like Koi Pond or iBeer) to more complex apps using existing game code or leveraging the popularity of established intellectual property (like Crash Bandicoot or Google Earth). To start, we decided to produce a couple of simple apps to learn the technology and aesthetics and possibly even go viral with an original idea. Over the next few months, we produced several apps as freebies to test public reaction. Our apps included iBoom, iBlink, and iBreathFire which taught us a great deal about developing in X-Code and the iTunes approval process but, alas, they did not go viral
. Over the next couple of years, the studio landed several good-sized contracts producing enterprise (private) apps for Medical Education Agencies, an area in which Mechanism Digital excels due to a wealth of expertise in creating animated medical explanatory videos. We also started incorporating other fun technologies, such as Augmented Reality and real-time 3D rendering engines like Unity. Augmented Reality uses an image or text “trigger” to instantly display an image on a mobile device screen that overlays the “real world”. We decided to create an app which was a bit more sophisticated and fun, to see if we could finally go viral and make millions!
In the next few weeks, using our efficient five-phase design process (mood boards, storyboards/wireframes, style frames, motion/layout, and finishing), we developed HeartCam, an app which creates the unique, and dramatic effect of peering into someone’s chest to see their beating heart. Since in-house creative decisions are made in real time, as opposed to waiting for client review, projects can move swiftly and used only ten days of labor from design to final build.
Once it was submitted and approved by iTunes, which takes about a month, we offered the app free of charge in order to garner heavy downloads and immediate feedback via the reviews. We found that some people were confused about how to use the app’s external AR marker, so we went back and spent a day or two developing some clear instructions. We then tested the new instructions on the streets of New York, using complete strangers as external consultants. Happily, iTunes’ approval time is much shorter on submitting revised apps.
Now we were getting great reviews and seeing 100 downloads a day which was exciting to watch after all the hard work. A couple weeks later, we decided to switch it to a paid app and watch the money roll in. We set the price at .99cents and watched the number of downloads plummet! With just two sales each day for two days, a total income of four bucks, we realized it would take almost thirty years to recoup our costs! I made the decision to see how far the app could spread if we just set it free.
Three years later, we have had over100,000 downloads, seen it demonstrated at conferences like SXSW, and mentioned in digital advertising articles.
Our staff is very proud of the app as we all had creative input on its design and got the chance to learn from the experience. We also get to show it off as a portfolio piece without conflict of client – most pharma projects don’t allow portfolio usage.
The app continues to be a highly effective, non-proprietary portfolio piece and very useful in opening doors at pharmaceutical and medical education advertising agencies. Several agencies have since hired us to create about a half million dollars in augmented experiences (mobile and large scale). These sales aids and educational experiences are terrific in trade show booths as well as giveaways at marketing events.
Developing the heartCam was well worth the investment for us and we continue to look for new technologies to learn and share with clients.
Mechanism Digital often receives inquiries about new technologies to set our clients apart from their competitors. It’s exciting to be thought of as a technological thought leader. Currently, we are working on 360° stereoscopic virtual reality videos to be viewed in Google Cardboard.
Tech is moving so fast, it’s fun to imagine what we’ll be inventing next year!