Welcome to the 19th year of Panic.
That’s one heaping teaspoon of life-time, but you know what? It doesn’t feel like it. I think it’s because things at Panic are always evolving — gradually evolving, but evolving still, like any good business. Things are always being learned. Ideas are always being tested. You’re treading water in some areas, but not in others. There’s enough change that each year has a certain “feeling”, a certain texture that can only be felt in retrospect. I would describe 2015’s texture as a little nutty, mostly smooth, yet significantly chewy.
I already went off the rails. Let me try again.
In 2015, we watched our processes and systems improve dramatically as our talented team took ownership of parts of our puzzle that suited them best. We got an all-in crash-course on the business and creative challenges of developing a cross-platform video game, something we’ve always wanted to attempt. We saw some experimental notions get put on hold, while others expanded. And we shipped a couple of great new apps and stretched our creativity. It was, all told, a great year.
Here’s a look back at 2015, and a look forward to 2016.
In 2015 we released two significant new apps:
This was an incredible, top-to-bottom overhaul to Coda for iOS — which we now just call “Coda” (but for iOS). A significant amount of work went into adding new features and improving the user interface, making Coda a truly desktop-quality text editor that just so happens to fit on your iPad — and now, your iPhone. I’m incredibly proud of this product, and based on the product reviews, it’s clear that our customers appreciate it also.
Happily, Coda was chosen by Apple as an App Store Best of 2015 and landed in iMore’s Best of 2015.
We also updated Status Board dramatically with a brand new UI, new panel types, and a new revenue model — it’s free to download the app and try it, and you can unlock more panels if you like it. The cleaned up visuals and extra room for customization really improved the flexibility of this app.
Plus, there were some interesting side moments:
We put together a pretty amazing, highly-themed space to promote Firewatch during GDC and get buzz going for our game. People are still talking about it, so I think we did pretty good! Also it smelled nice.
The Panic Sign
We finally got a sign on our building — and made it interactive, rolling our own software to control DMX lighting via a web page. It’s a little something fun for Portland — and it feels amazing to watch a sign change before your very eyes. Until we finally do a blog post about this (lol), all you need to know is if you visit Portland, please come over and hit sign.panic.com on your mobile device.
Our office lobby was finally redesigned. (The rest of the building hated it, it’s a funny story.) We spruced up our own space, adding a second conference room, freshening up some tired bits, replacing the new hand dryers in the bathroom, important stuff like that. Oh, Steve had another baby. We got a new accountant. And, of course, we released the revolutionary Apple Watch. Wait hang on that was Apple
Not only did we release great things, but I feel we demonstrated dramatic dedication to our apps — we released the most high-quality, bug-free updates in our history. To give you the scoop, I’ll hand this blog post over to Ashur, who is currently leading our QA/Release efforts and is largely responsible for keeping this machine rolling:
This might bake your noodle: we shipped 35 updates across all six Mac and iOS apps by the end of 2015.
2.5.2 4.4.10 1.2 2.5.3 2.0.1 2.1.1 2.0.1 1.3 2.5.4 2.0.2 2.1.2 2.0.2 1.3.1 2.5.5 2.1 2.1.3 2.0.3 2.5.6 2.1.1 2.0.4 2.5.7 2.1.2 2.0.5 2.5.8 2.0.6 2.5.9 2.0.7 2.5.10 2.0.8 2.5.11 2.5.12 2.5.13
This includes major 2.0 updates of both Status Board and Coda iOS, and a significant revamp of Prompt’s emulation internals. That’s three times as many as last year — and an average of one release every 1½ weeks. Mamma mía!
Here’s a little bit about our testing and release process.
Each of these releases required regression testing and verification that the changes we made didn’t inadvertently cause problems elsewhere. If we ship something embarrassing, I document the hell out of it and make sure we don’t do it again. As a result, every project repository now contains:
- Detailed documentation of tests designed to confirm core functionality behaves as expected
- A checklist to guide the tester which tests to perform for a given update.
Through these tests, we occasionally catch medium-to-large issues before they have a chance to escape into the wild. Hooray!
Bug verification and pre-release testing only capture part of QA’s involvement in the pipeline:
🔍 Exploratory testing
💡 Helping to determine which fixes and features should land in a given update
🔬 Verification and release testing
And everything that pertains to moving a candidate build from Development through Release falls under the QA umbrella at Panic:
📷 Updating screenshots
✒️ Gathering, preparing and filing release notes
💥 Pushing dSYMs to Hockey
📦 Archiving release builds, for future update testing and historical purposes
🎉 Submitting to iTunes Connect or preparing the website for direct downloads
Some of these tasks take just a few minutes, others take much longer. Regardless, I feel like we’ve really made great improvements to our process, and we have many more improvements planned for 2016.
I’m continuously proud of the effort that goes into making sure our apps are the best they can be.
Not everything can be smooth, of course. A couple things that we struggled with in 2015:
iOS Revenue. I brought this up last year and we still haven’t licked it. We had a change of heart — well, an experimental change of heart — and reduced the price of our iOS apps in 2015 to normalize them at $9.99 or less, thinking that was the upper limit and/or sweet spot for iOS app pricing. But it didn’t have a meaningful impact on sales.
More and more I’m beginning to think we simply made the wrong type of apps for iOS — we made professional tools that aren’t really “in demand” on that platform — and that price isn’t our problem, but interest is.
So, once again, we will investigate raising our iOS app prices in 2016, with two hopes: that the awesome customers that love and need these apps understand the incredible amount of work that goes into them and that these people are also willing to pay more for a quality professional app (whereas, say, the casual gamer would not).
Shelving a New App. One of our interesting app experiments — an app to share and discover music — was 95% done, had a beautiful interface and some interesting ideas, plus a complete server-side component… then got shelved. It wasn’t an easy decision. It was mostly worries about revenue — it doesn’t seem possible that you can charge money for a social app in 2016, since mass adoption is critical. And is advertising really a thing we want to do? This is maybe one of the only times I wished we were a startup — with a “release now, figure out how to make money later” culture — but we’re not. I feel terrible for all the excellent work that went into it for seemingly “nothing”. That said, I am still determined make something out of it. We’ll find a way. I said: we’ll find a way!!
Balancing. We always have a million ideas over here, but balancing “keep our current apps going” and “run and do something new” is an eternal challenge that we struggle with. Too many distractions and you lose focus. No explorations and you’ve got all your eggs in dangerously few baskets. We’d love to make another Mac app. We have to find a way to make this work.
2016 is going to be an extremely interesting year for Panic. Coming up:
Firewatch. Holy smokes, it lands in two weeks: our first major video game, developed by Campo Santo (in co-operation with Panic), shipping on Mac, PC, and PlayStation 4. Can you believe that? And I’m really proud of it: it’s an incredible piece of work, in my humble opinion, a video game that unabashedly tells you a story with humor, heart, and beauty. The team at Campo did an amazing job building this game. We really hope it resonates with people. I’m nervous as all hell but it’s the excited kind of nervous.
It’s hard to overstate how much we’ve learned, and how Firewatch’s success (or failure!) could chart our future. Of course, our goal is to break even, flush with knowledge of a new industry. But if Firewatch does more than just break even, it opens up major questions for Panic: do we want to publish more games? It’s possible — it felt really rewarding ‘nurturing’ this game into existence. How do we do that and maintain focus on apps? What if we just lucked out with the greatest possible team for our first game and that will never happen again? And if we don’t recoup our investment, how does that impact our future? A lot of questions will be answered…
Prompt. A really great Prompt update is almost here, with a new tabs interface, split-screen support, iPad Pro layout, 3D touch, ECDSA host keys, and more. Hang tight, it shouldn’t be much longer!
Transmit. Later in the year should see a brand-new, major update to Transmit, that will increase speed, add Panic Sync, seriously expand protocol support, and more. A Transmit overhaul is long overdue and we are extremely excited to get this out to the world in 2016. (One open question: will we distribute it in the Mac App Store? Hmm…)
Coda Planning. We won’t ship a major new Coda in 2016. But that won’t stop us from having frequent meetings and discussions about the future of Coda. Coda needs to be torn down to the studs and radically re-thought and re-built for today’s web development landscape… while still retaining many of the core features that a large number of users love and rely on today to get their work done. While that’ll be difficult, we think we can crack it, and to be honest, it’s pretty fun and exciting to think about.
Experiments. Of course, we’ve still got some people working on crazy experiments and bold new ideas.
And who knows what else — there’s still tons of stuff we’d love to add to all of our apps!
As always, thank you for being a Panic customer, and a Panic fan. Thank you for allowing us to run this company making neat things that you hopefully like. And thanks for giving us the chance to do what we love every day. I hope that our journey can also kind-of feel like your journey, because you’ve been with us every step of the way.
And of course, I must give my deepest and most appreciative thanks to the hard-working men and women here at Panic who care about one thing: making great products. I am so fortunate to work with this group of people.
Now let’s get out there and make the best of 2016!
(PS. Another change: Patrick, one of our iOS/Mac engineers well versed in modern web development will be off on a year of globe-trotting travel. Jealous. If you know anyone who can fill those shoes, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org!)