TuneTrack: My app that went viral
I cannot believe I’m writing this. Two weeks ago, if you told me that an app that a high schooler made could make it up to the top charts for the App Store, I would’ve said that’s almost impossible, no way someone managed to actually do it. If you told me that my app would be the one to do it, I would’ve probably just called you crazy and gone on with my day. Yet here we are. I suppose it’s best if I start from the beginning.
For those of you that don’t know me, hello! Welcome to my site. My name is Aryan Nambiar, and I’m a 17 year old high school student from Illinois in the United States. I’ve been programming and developing software for nearly 2 years now. I began learning how to code in the fall of 2018 because I wanted to make a bot that gave you answers for the popular live trivia game, HQ Trivia. I managed to pull that off after a few weeks of work, and I was instantly hooked. Programming for me was a creative outlet, and as someone who had minimal interests prior, I had more than enough time to devote to learning about it. And learning I did. From that point until around March 2019, I learned Python and began working on and selling scripts, specifically bots for the popular messaging platform Discord. From March-May 2019, I took a break from programming to focus on school, until finally, the summer came around.
The Summer of 2019
That summer was quite honestly one of the most jam-packed I’ve ever had. In June, I found an article about some winners of Apple’s WWDC Scholarship. The WWDC Scholarship is a competition held every year by Apple, where students from across the world submit projects built on Apple’s platforms to have a shot at winning. Only 350 students win every year, and the winners get the opportunity to visit Apple’s campus in Cupertino, California for a week. I was awestruck that there were kids my age and even often younger winning this, and I made it my goal to win the competition in the next year (2020). This meant that I had to learn Swift, in order to build iOS applications and Swift playgrounds, which was the medium via which the submission was created. So, in my infinite wisdom, I decided to read a 1,000+ page book called App Development with Swift published by Apple.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that I’m extremely impatient, and reading a book to learn programming was excruciatingly boring, let alone one of that length. I did that every day for a couple hours for a few weeks until my summer internship began in July. That internship meant I would be occupied from around 7am-5pm every day, but never to be deterred, I instead kept working through the book during the nights until 1am every day for the rest of the summer. By the end of summer, I was nearly done with the book. Hooray, right? The only issue was I felt like I had learned nothing. Sure, reading through a 1,000 page book seemed like a great way to learn a new programming language at the time, but I gained no practical experience throughout the process, and as I kept going and the principles became more and more complex, I was unconsciously becoming more and more disengaged. I had realized how little I learned too late, and because the school year was starting, I no longer had time to dedicate hours and hours a day to learning Swift, and thus I stopped. I had no interest in building my own app due to a lack of time, so I didn’t have any motivation to continue learning Swift, especially since the WWDC Scholarship applications were only due to open in another 9 months.
So life went on as usual. I learned Node.js over winter break in 2019 because I wanted to learn how to make desktop applications, but other than that, not much really happened in terms of self-growth as a developer. I was looking forward to March, when the WWDC Scholarship applications were meant to open. Unfortunately, as we all know now, March in 2020 didn’t exactly turn out the way we expected it to.
Thursday, March 12, 2020. That was the day my friends and I realized just how big of an impact COVID-19 would have. For us, it really started in our 4th period AP Biology class. Our teacher was talking about what we’d be doing for the day, but suddenly, everyone’s phones started getting notifications. All of our after-school activities were being canceled for some reason. I was particularly annoyed because I was meant to go to an overnight state competition after school that day. I had packed a huge duffel bag, and now I had to carry that home. I was definitely angry, but I realized that there’s no reason they would’ve canceled school unless it was really that bad. The next day, they canceled all school for the rest of the month. Suddenly, I found myself with much more time than I expected, shortly before the WWDC Scholarship applications were likely to open. So the logical thing to do would’ve been to brush up on my Swift skills in preparation for my submission, right?
For reasons I still don’t understand to this day, I decided to just take a machine learning course instead. I was still hopeful that the applications would open, so every morning, I would wake up and then immediately check the news to see if they’d open up. The issue was, well, they didn’t. March turned to April, and April turned to May, and I quickly lost all hope. It was just one more thing that COVID-19 ruined for me, oh well. One day though, while I was in the middle of online school, all of my friends started to message me “Apple just announced their challenge for the year.” I went online and realized that they had in fact announced their challenge for the year and were calling it the “Swift Student Challenge.” I was ecstatic, but the only issue was that the deadline was in 2 weeks, and this 2 week period was the most treacherous of the school year. I had to somehow manage studying for standardized AP Testing while also working on this project.
I managed to find time during late nights and early mornings to work on my submission for the scholarship. To my surprise, I was actually able to complete work on the submission very quickly, even though I had never really felt like I understood Swift. I realized that the book I read last summer had in fact improved my knowledge of Swift immensely. I just hadn’t realized it at the time because I had kept trying to learn new things, leading me to always feel confused. Now I had the opportunity to reap the benefits of all of the work I had put in the summer before. I completed my submission a few hours before the deadline, and managed to submit the rest of the application on time. I was extremely unconfident in the submission though, as a direct result of not having enough time to submit a polished product, but I didn’t really have enough time to dwell on it since I was still super busy with school. A month passed by, and on a bright day in June I suddenly realized that the results for the challenge were due to come out the very next day. In all honesty, I began to prepare for failure because I still wasn’t very confident in my submission. The next day, when I woke up, the results still weren’t out. I kept refreshing the page to see if there were any updates, and I went downstairs to make myself breakfast and grabbed a croissant. I refreshed the page, and, well, let’s just say that croissant sat uneaten on the table for another hour.
Because I had just won.
TuneTrack: The Beginning
A few hours later, after I recovered from the initial shock of actually winning the scholarship I had set out a full year ago to apply for, I had a sudden burst in motivation. I wanted to make my own app. After dreaming about it for years as a child, I finally had the motivation and the ability to build my own app. And that’s exactly what I set out to do. I spent the next week brainstorming ideas. I often tell people that the idea is the most difficult part of a project, and I still stand by that claim. Not having anything productive to do because you don’t have an idea is one of the most frustrating feelings in the world.
Eventually, I settled on music statistics. As an avid music fan, I listened to hours of music every day. I hated waiting until December every year to see my Spotify Wrapped statistics, and I wanted to find a solution. I checked the Spotify API documentation and learned that they gave access to some of this data, and Apple’s on-device APIs allowed you to track your data on the Music app. This was an idea I knew would benefit many of my friends, and supporting both Apple Music and Spotify seemed like a great way to attract potential users. So I set out to build it. Over the next two weeks, I spent around 8 hours a day working on the application (soon to be known as TuneTrack), until I finally had a version I was happy with. I tried to buy a developer account from Apple so I could start beta testing the app, but due to issues with Apple’s internal system, it took me over a month to get an account.
At this point it was late July, and I knew I had limited time before school began again in some form. I quickly entered the application into beta testing, and after a week of beta testing by a few hundred users I got off Twitter and Reddit, the app was ready for primetime. On August 9th, I released TuneTrack, my first ever iOS app, onto the App Store. It experienced a great deal of success, garnering over 5,000 downloads within its first 3 days of release. I was ecstatic! People really enjoyed using TuneTrack, and over the next month, it got over 100 reviews and kept a 4.9 star rating. Now that TuneTrack was out, I decided to start focusing on school and college applications, as this was the year I’d finally be applying for college.
I still set aside some time for TuneTrack though, and I added support for an iOS 14 widget that displayed your currently playing Spotify or Music app song. The feature was in beta for about a week before Apple’s September event. Now, at this point, I knew that the widgets would help boost my downloads a little bit because TuneTrack was one of the first apps to support them. However, my marketing strategy was to hopefully get featured on the App Store and possibly get mentioned in an article by one of the larger tech blogs about iOS 14 widgets. Unfortunately, that was the day Apple dropped the bombshell that iOS 14 would be made available to the public the very next day (instead of the typical 1-week advance notice for developers), and I had to drop everything I was doing to just get the app ready for an update within a few hours. I somehow managed to fix most of the bugs and even add a new feature, and submitted it to Apple.
However, by this time, it was already too late. I didn’t have enough time to submit it to Apple to be featured on the App Store, and I quite simply didn’t have the following on social media to have the app’s widgets noticed by publications like other developers did at the time. Basically, my marketing plan failed. The next day in the afternoon, iOS 14 was released to much fanfare, but my app wasn’t featured on the App Store, and was picked up by a grand total of 0 tech publications. By all measures, the update I had worked on for weeks was a complete failure, and I was left to pick up the pieces. I sat staring at my computer screen, waiting for users that never came, until I decided to search for the keywords “spotify widget” on Twitter. That was the moment when everything changed.
TuneTrack: Going Viral
I slowly started to scroll through the results on Twitter. There were a surprising amount of people complaining about Spotify not having a widget on iOS 14. So much, in fact, that I distinctly recall thinking, “Just how many people updated to iOS 14… This is crazy.” At this point, I really had nothing to lose. I began commenting under some of the Twitter accounts that had a few hundred followers, in hopes they’d see my message and hopefully try out TuneTrack. And try it out they did. Those people got the widget, and began posting it on their feeds, for all of their followers to see. And then their followers began asking how they got it, and once they got it themselves, they posted it on their feeds as well. It slowly began to spread across Twitter, but honestly, I wasn’t really even paying much attention. I was just over the moon that people were using my app, as I was starting to get some feedback. I went to sleep that day thinking that I had a good day and managed to get a few hundred users.
The next day, I awoke to every developer’s worst nightmare. The app had completely stopped working for all users. As I scrambled to figure out why, I checked my metrics for the last day. I had 30 THOUSAND downloads in the span of a couple hours after I started advertising on Twitter. That was 3x as much in a single day as I had over the entirety of the past month. It had also appeared on the Top 200 music apps in the United States. This was my first inkling that something big was happening.
But I still had the issue at hand: why was the service down? My API seemed to be working, there were no issues with it. After doing a bit of research online, I came to the conclusion that Spotify’s API was rate limiting me. As a result, I had to think of a solution on the fly, and a few of my friends suggested I use multiple API keys as a sort of pool system, where the one with the lowest amount of users would get all new users. This meant the load would be balanced, and users should stop experiencing issues. The issue was that I also had school that day, and I worked on fixing the app while also trying to pay attention during school. I managed to write the entire pool system within an hour or two of starting it, and successfully deployed it and fixed the issues that users were experiencing. I thought that would be the end of it, that it was a perfect solution. Oh boy, was I wrong.
Later that day, I had to scale the servers as so many people were using it at once that my API couldn’t handle it, but that wasn’t a super difficult process. No, the worst was yet to come. The rest of the day after that went by smoothly. That night, the New York Knicks (yes, the American professional basketball team) tweeted out a picture of a home screen with TuneTrack on it. Seeing that completely blew my mind, and it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that I jumped out of my chair when I saw that happen. That day, TuneTrack had also blown up on TikTok. Videos featuring the app were millions of views. I was starting to realize the scale of the impact TuneTrack was having, and for the first time, I was completely uncertain as to what I’d be waking up to the next day.
By some miracle of nature, I awoke the next day to users experiencing minimal issues. I checked my statistics for the day and saw a number that literally blew my mind: 170,000 downloads in a single day. No wonder my servers had reached max capacity, there were now over 200,000 users trying to use the service. The day went by fine, until I went to lunch. What I came back to after lunch that day was for lack of a better term, an absolute catastrophe.
If the situation I had awoken to the day before was a developer’s nightmare, this was like a nuclear bomb. Everything had seemingly broken at once. My servers had hit capacity again, the API had stopped working, Cloudflare detected requests that weren’t going through and as a result started blocking all requests coming from users of the app. My Twitter and emails were getting flooded, I had over a hundred notifications and a hundred emails, and I honestly just turned off my phone and got to work. The next 8 hours were easily some of the most stressful of my entire life. It seemed like nothing I was doing was working, but I persisted, and at 11pm that day I managed to fix everything. I can definitively say that I’ve never worked that hard for that long of a period without breaks before in my life, and I was completely drained. It certainly didn’t help that I hadn’t been able to get any sleep the past few days because I was so excited, and ultimately I just made a tweet saying it was fixed and went to sleep.
The next morning was when I first started to realize that the worst was behind me. I checked the statistics and nearly fainted to see over 400,000 downloads in a single day. At this point, the app had hit 600,000 downloads, which was a number so big that I genuinely couldn’t fathom it. To say that those few days I was walking around in what felt like a trance would be an understatement. Luckily, there were no large-scale issues that morning, and even that day. The rest is history. TuneTrack garnered another 400,000 downloads the next day, hitting over 1 million downloads in a span of 3 days. A couple days later, it hit 1.5 million downloads. It was #6 on the entire US App Store, above household names like TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook. It was the #1 app on the entire App Store in the UK and in Mexico. It was the #1 music app in over 40 countries. My first app had successfully gone viral.
I can safely say that I never expected even 5,000 downloads after releasing the app on that fateful day in August. The fact that I’m standing before you today writing about the experiences that I’ve had absolutely astounds me. Quite frankly, it was unimaginable two weeks ago, and I still pinch myself sometimes to make sure that it actually happened. This type of success hasn’t ever happened to many people, and I’m honored to say that people believed in my app enough to catapult it to the top of the charts worldwide. For any creator, seeing their creation experiencing such success is the greatest feeling in the world. The fact remains that it’s you guys, the users, who took a 17 year old’s summer project to the top of the world. For that, I’m eternally grateful to the point where I really can’t even express it in words. I’m just happy to even have the chance to share my story today, and my story is proof to all the kids out there that we too can create something impactful. If you had told me a year ago when I first picked up that 1,000 page Swift book that it’d lead me to developing a #1 application, I wouldn’t have believed you. But here we are, one year later. Life really does have a strange way of taking completely unexpected turns.
Throughout this entire process, I learned a lot. Unfortunately, I got caught completely unprepared by this, and that’s partly my fault. I was luckily able to fix everything in a reasonable amount of time, but I still sometimes think about what would’ve happened if the app didn’t experience downtime. That actually leads me to something else, which is the ratings of the app. Before TuneTrack blew up, it had a rating of 4.9 with over 100 reviews, and that was something I was really proud of. Now, the app has a 2.9 star rating. It’s because of a few reasons, the primary of which are the widget refresh time (which I can’t really control), the Spotify integration not working (I got rate limited because so many people signed up at once), and the app experiencing downtime. Honestly, it’s been a bit tough seeing something I used to place so much significance on get basically destroyed in the span of a few days, but I do understand it’s because those people don’t know the full story. If I could ask one thing, though, it would be to think twice before posting a review online or messaging/emailing feedback to the people behind an app. They’re real people too, and personally insulting them or insulting the product itself does nothing to help it improve. I catch myself internalizing some of the rude comments all too often when reading support emails or reviews on the App Store.
Another huge lesson I learned was just about the power of social media. As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, I’m not some sort of marketing genius. Far from it actually, considering this is my first real project, so I’ve never really had to market anything before. Also considering my entire marketing strategy failed initially, I don’t think that I’m exactly qualified to be giving out marketing advice at all. My app solely blew up because of social media. The qualities that I think contributed to this were the following:
Firstly, I believe that I made a quality product. I made sure that the onboarding process for new users was as easy as possible, and I think that really helped.
Secondly, it was shareable. I personally believe that’s the biggest key to getting your product spread on social media. If users have something that they can share with others, that’s a huge step towards just getting your product out there. iOS 14 was trending on twitter for days after its release, and home screen setups were being shared and getting thousands of likes.
This leads me to the third marketing lesson I learned, which is to find where your potential users are. I realized that music listeners are such a huge population, and specifically on social media, there’s so many people. On Twitter, my app honestly went viral because kpop stans started sharing their iOS 14 setups, and my widget was on them. From there, it spread to all other communities of music listeners, but the app getting popular in one community was enough to kickstart its growth. These lessons may seem like fairly obvious to people who have experience with marketing, but as a first-timer with no experience, these are insights that I previously didn’t have.
But if there’s one thing that you, the reader, should take away from this story, I think it should be this: hard work eventually leads to success. I agree that I was incredibly lucky that the app blew up in the manner that it did. But to get to a position where that was even possible, I had to put a lot of hard work into building the app. There were many times during the initial development process where I’d be thinking something along the lines of, “Why am I spending all my time making something that maybe a few hundred people will download? I could be doing so many other things right now.” But I kept going, and working at it, and I’m here today. If you work hard for long enough, you’ll eventually get lucky, and at that point you’ll be prepared to fully capitalize on the opportunity. That’s a principle that I’ll be applying and remembering for everything that I work on for the rest of my life.
Right now, I’m just working my way through college applications. Later this year, I’ll hopefully start working on my next major project. I’m also currently beginning the process of looking for internship opportunities next summer. And of course, I’ll be working on updating TuneTrack and adding new features consistently. If you’d like to contact me, the best way is via my email or my Twitter. If those don’t work, you can find me on other platforms via my personal site. I love talking to people, whether it’s users of my app or just people looking to have a quick chat, so please don’t hesitate to message me.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading about my story! I’m over the moon that I even get the chance to share this with you guys, and I hope that you’ve gained something from it!