Interview: Ocarina is Music to the Ears of Smule's Founders

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Smule's Ocarina iPhone app is an electronic version of the physical instrument. Blow into the microphone, touch any combination of four "holes" and tilt the phone to alter vibrato. If you have any talent (I don't) you'll be playing music in no time. Ocarina is currently the number one paid app in the AppStore. Smule is also the team behind the apps Sonic Boom and Sonic Lighter. AppCraver spoke to Ge Wang, P.hd, one of Smule's co-founders and CTO.

So, how does it feel to be top of the paid-apps charts in the App Store? Surprised?

We're a little surprised but it feels fantastic to be there.

How do you think being able to play Led Zep's "Stairway to Heaven" on Ocarina has contributed to your success?

It's the most often and longest song played on the radio. Our YouTube video plays off that and has been viewed more than 200,000 times. We were poking fun at our ingrained culture.

What was the rationale for pricing the product for only $0.99?

We wanted it to be accessible to the maximum number of people. Of course, we hoped to generate revenues from it, but we also wanted an aspect of social media and for it to go viral.

How many Ocarina apps have you sold?

I don't have exact numbers. It is in the hundreds of thousands.

What do you think about pricing in the App Store in general? There are an awful lot of free or inexpensive apps available and some of them are quite good. Do you think consumers are being trained by developers to pay less than an app is really worth?

We've thought about this question as well. We're sensitive to price but with everyone, including ourselves, so new at this, we really don't know what the right price is yet. The App Store is a unique marketplace. It may well skew pricing for mobile apps, not only here, but in other places in the world.

You say in your application description for Ocarina that 99 cents is an introductory price. When do you plan to change it and to what price?

We're evaluating that question on a dynamic basis. It's fluid in response to a number of factors. For the short term, it will remain at 99 cents because the response has been really, really great.

What's the top price you think any app might sell for and why?

It really depends on the app and how big a user group you're expecting. From Smule's point of view, we've been in it for only a few months. Something like Ocarina is a social experience. We wanted something that would get word-of-mouth and grass roots interaction. Lowering the barrier on price is helpful for that. The more specialized the apps, the more it might make sense to price it higher.

What sorts of apps do you have in store for the future?

We are constantly trying to figure out what to do next. We're still learning what kinds of apps do well and how to match that with interactive sonic media. We still learning, like many of our users, what it means to be 'Smulian.' It's something with audio and social interaction with the person you're standing next to rather than virtual. We want to provide technology that enables people to do cool things and to be expressive. We want to be facilitators of that technology.

What apps are on your iPhone?

I have lots of versions of Smule apps. I have other music apps like Four Track. You can actually do recording in a multi-track way. I love Field Runners. It's beautifully executed. I also have iClouds and iChalky. I use the Web browser quite a bit too, as well as the other built-in apps.

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  • Derek Moore

    I like how all the questions are the same for every developer. Gives a real control to the direction of their answers

  • MelissaHop3367

    Ocarina? Like the one from Zelda's Ocarina of Time?

  • JoshPratt79

    Why is this the number one selling app on itunes right now? There are much better apps out there for the iphone, let me tell you