We have now crossed the one-million download mark for Prizmo Go. In just over a year. That is our fastest user base growth so far.
It might seem small to apps that target audience growth. It’s never been the case for our apps, as we make productivity, accessibility, and creativity apps. Moreover, we aren’t used to publishing free apps. So, by our standards and the figures we have observed throughout the years, this is big.
Prizmo Go has been innovative in a number of ways. As we previously shared, we got the idea of Prizmo Go during the WWDC 2016 Keynote in San Francisco, at the exact moment when Apple introduced Universal Clipboard on stage (copy/pasting between iPhone and Mac). We already had Prizmo which excelled at PDF document scanning and OCR, and thus connecting the dots between what was just announced then and what we had was pretty obvious.
So let’s recap, simple idea, copy/pasting text from camera, building on what we already had. This was a quick three-month project, right? Well, it wasn’t. It never is.
1. Designing a good user experience takes time and energy. You start from a blank canvas, bring in some ideas, refine, bring additional ideas, refine again… From camera shooting UI to interactive text selection in perspective image, nothing was obvious. We started small, ideas came along and required experimentation, design updates were often necessary. It’s all but a linear process.
2. Quickly adapting to new technologies is vital. We have a long experience in the field of OCR, with Prizmo dating back to 2009. We have built pretty advanced toolkits for image preprocessing, multiple OCR engine abstractions & optimisations, as well as text/language/layout post-processing. However, during the development of Prizmo Go, we witnessed the rise of deep learning-based OCR. Results were so good that we were facing this question: do we release what we have despite the rise of that new technology? No. We wanted the best. We thus re-targeted Prizmo Go to include that (Cloud OCR) as of version 1.0. This change delayed the project by a few months and led us to rethink the business model as well. And about a year later (yeah, this year), starting with version 2.0, the built-in OCR also is deep-learning based.
3. Accessibility first. The standard Prizmo has had a long-time relationship with low-vision and blind users since 2009, bringing helpful OCR & VoiceOver capabilities to the Mac, and a bit later to iPhone. Because of its quick interaction process, we immediately understood the value Prizmo Go could bring in everyday use. We designed the app with that in mind, focusing on the speed of the interaction, as well as the control users have on the capture process. Although iOS comes with many tools to make it easier for developers, this still requires effort to do it right. For example, we added a button to verbally describe the scene prior to shooting with quantitative analysis of what sits before the camera. We also decided early on in the process that the scanning, built-in OCR, and text reading would remain available at all time, no in-app purchase required, when VoiceOver is enabled.
4. Staying ahead of its time. Prizmo Go introduced augmented reality-inspired text tracking when hovering over documents. This made the experience much more enjoyable, establishing the otherwise missing link between the app and the physical world. This was no small feat! Prizmo Go was released before Apple’s ARKit was even announced, and it was supporting devices back to iPhone 5 (have you tried running ARKit on a 5?). The great news is that when you optimize like mad for older devices, you get such a great boost when running on current generation hardware. Also, Microsoft & Google later released apps mimicking some of the capabilities of Prizmo Go. That’s OK, copies prove us right, don’t they? ?
Prizmo Go was also our first app to offer subscription. We did that in version 2.0 earlier this year, and it was proposed as an alternative to prepaid “units” for cloud services (Cloud OCR, adding the translation feature with that version). We probably lack some broader view about it but, to our surprise, it looks like people actually do prefer subscription over prepaid tokens.
On a technical standpoint, Prizmo Go is one of our first apps to be mostly developed with Swift for the new features (some pre-existing parts remain in Obj-C). The tools are much better now than they were at the end of 2016, but what can be said for sure beyond the code writing experience is that it sure feels like we have a much better mastery of unexpected crashes (talking about Hockey console) thanks to Swift, and the code feels solid and predictable.
Regarding Prizmo Go users, we believe the app is being used in different contexts, from business productivity (no more retyping) to language-related uses as it can conveniently translate text into many languages. Text-reading aid which has already been mentioned. Finally, a fourth use case that we currently observe is that Prizmo Go’s popularity is increasing in US schools, where it is being installed in large batches.
That was our mini recap about the Prizmo Go’s first million users. Thank you all who supported Prizmo Go, in particular, but not limited to, the AppleVis community for the warm welcome, the excellent in-depth reviewby Federico Viticci of MacStories which helped a lot, Florian Innocente’s “prise en main” on MacGeneration, Apple App Store editors for the App Today story they published, and obviously all enthusiastic Prizmo Go users worldwide! If you guys like it, feel free to leave a word or two on the App Store, or engage with us, we are always thrilled to hear feedback!
And stay tuned, some iOS 12 niceties might be coming pretty soon ?.