Kyle Kinkade is the man behind Monocle Society, and has worked with other popular development teams such as Tapulous and Monster Costume. He’s responsible for an app called Pomodorable, that brought the Pomodoro Technique to your Mac in an understandable and fun way.
Recently, the app had to be taken down due to branding problems. We had the opportunity to talk with him about what happened, what’s next for the app, and what his thoughts are on the market for productivity apps.
Since being released in late 2012, Pomodorable gathered quite a considerable number of loyal users. What’s the deal with it being taken down?
I started Pomodorable as an app for myself a while back, as I was a user of the technique for getting things done. I decided to launch it and I was surprised by the great response it got. Soon after, we heard from FC Garage (Francesco Cirillo’s team) in the form of a takedown notice from Apple. Trying to contact them proved fruitless and I was essentially forced to remove it or deal with more serious legal matters. I like the Pomodoro technique and I respect the people there, while I find the approach they chose to contact me and others interesting, obviously I’m going to do my best to respect it.
This is the first time I’ve had an app removed from the App Store, and the first time I’ve had an app that has to deal with that kind of negative publicity. I could have very well kept the app to myself, but it was also working well for a lot of people, so I decided to have it rebranded. Their claim was that anyone who has a productivity app that uses a tomato is at risk of being taken or pulled down from the store. This meant I had to completely redesign the app in order to keep it from infringing copyright. That’s how Eggscellent came about.
How did the redesign work? Are you still using the basic principles of the technique?
I’m going to be using essentially the same principles, although there were always things that I wanted to do with the app but couldn’t because I had to stick with the rules of the technique. When I freed myself from the whole Pomodoro technique, I was given a lot of liberty to think how I wanted the app to work. I’ve implemented smaller features, like pausing a running timer, which would normally go against the technique.
The thing is, the Pomodoro technique came about decades ago. Some of the ideas don’t necessarily apply anymore. For the most part, we need to work undistracted, but we have enough tools that enable those distractions. When the technique came about there weren’t any smartphones, the possibility to track things across different devices that we now have with the cloud wasn’t there. I’d like to explore the possibilities of this, we can do larger scope things that enable how people really work today. Integration with mobile phones, tracking information like analyzing your distractions, and other fun things that we could use to engage people. I see this as an opportunity to examine the productivity community and tell them, hey here’s a tried and true practice, how can we change it for our generation?
And how do you keep your app from feeling “stale” after a while? How do you exactly keep people engaged?
I like the feedback and the reward aspect of game mechanics, that’s what I’m gonna be focusing on. I’m used to working with the game community, and so working with the productivity community has been pretty interesting because they are very particular about certain things. I’m expecting some people to say, “I want the tomato back”, and I understand that, but things have got to change. I’m open to listening and adding new features between the final release and the beta.
Pomodorable had some notable bugs when it first came out. Did you use a beta test for it? How are you planning on preventing this for Eggscellent?
With Pomodorable I did have a team of 90 testers and I tested as much as I could with the feedback from the community. For the most part it was all good until we launched it and there were a number of issues that I couldn’t possibly have foreseen. Like someone who disabled all fonts on his machine besides a really obscure one, which caused a crash. You’d think it would only be one guy but I had about 20 people experience that.
Integration with Reminders, Things and Omnifocus also had some strange edge cases out there, people use their apps very differently and it can get pretty complicated. Pomodorable had a pretty rocky release, which put me down since I put a lot of care into releasing anything that I do. This time around I’m doing an open beta which will help prepare a more stable first release. As far as integration, I went back to the drawing board and rethought the way I was doing it.
What are your thoughts on the need for productivity apps? How do you guarantee that they won’t be more distracting than they are helpful, or that it’ll become a chore to use them?
If you take a piece of paper and a pencil, they will be as useful as most productivity apps. Apps shouldn’t be used just for tracking things, since you could do that with anything. I think it has more to do with feeling rewarded and keeping it fun to reward people for using it. I try to approach this by asking myself, “How can I make this fun?”. It’s not enough to just keep people organized, you actually have to find the way to make people want to be organized. That’s the question I’m trying to answer.
When did you decide to leave Tapulous and do your own thing?
When I realized I didn’t want to keep doing Justin Bieber: Revenge. Seriously though, I had a great time at Tapulous and I’m very happy for those that stuck around after their buy out from Disney. They’re continuing to do good things, but I had other plans in mind. In order for me to do them, I kind of had to start my own thing. I first released an interactive children’s book called Bartleby’s Book of Buttons with the Monster Costume team, and it was heavily featured on the App Store and very well praised. We did that because we wanted to see how children’s books could work on the iPad.
My approach with making apps is to take certain categories of software and think, how would I do it? I’ve done it with productivity apps and with children books, and I’m eyeing other categories to take on. I’m currently working on an Eggscellent iOS app and I already have some ideas for it, although I won’t put a release date on it.
Will you continue to put out your apps through the App Store, or what’s your take on it?
The App Store is certainly a great distribution medium, but I’ve had my share of problems with it. With Pomodorable I had to wait up to 28 days to get some bug fixes up, just because the approval process can take that long. It has certainly made me rethink how I want to distribute this app. I might end up doing the App Store as well as my own independent distribution.
We’d like to thank Kyle for taking the time to talk to us. Don’t forget to try out the beta of Eggscellent, which is available for download for free right now!