Notebloc is a highly successful application in the Google Play Store that has been developed in Barcelona and is currently the only Spanish app that is selected for Play Pass , Google’s application and game subscription service. The developers contacted us to tell us about their application and how was the selection process for Google Play Pass; So we arranged an interview to talk about development, Android and whatever came up.
This application to capture documents thanks to the camera, and convert it into a digital medium suitable for sharing and editing, was created by two members, Maria Trullàs and Bente Malmberg , to cover a need: to ensure that university students could easily transfer their written notes to the mobile and computer Notebloc began as a physical notebook that students were given at selected universities in Barcelona for free and with advertising. Given the success of the notebook, they developed a compatible app; which ended up being the current Notebloc that millions of Android and iOS users have freely downloaded to their phones.
We meet Maria Trullàs for the interview. It is a Tuesday afternoon in Barcelona, with a gray sky and a fresh atmosphere due to the torrential rains of only a few hours ago. Around some coffees, Maria answers our questions about Notebloc .
How did you come up with the idea of combining mobile software with a physical format like the notebook?
We came up with our desire to always put the users of our products at the center of all our decisions.
From Notebloc we started our activity being an advertising medium, also called Notebloc, for students. This was (and is) a notebook that more than 150,000 university students receive at the beginning of the course, free of charge since inside there is advertising from different companies and brands with interest in this target. In each of these notebooks we include a survey and ask directly to those who receive it how to improve the notebook. After receiving thousands and thousands of responses from students, as well as analyzing the way they take notes and study, we decided to create the Notebloc app: a scanning and document organization app made in “image and likeness” of what that students need, an app that connects the analog world (paper) with digital, and based 100% on all this feedback we receive year after year.
Did you look at any precedent? (A similar concept comes to mind, LiveScribe)
The truth is, no. While we obviously know of other initiatives and products available in the market that also connect paper or handwriting and technology, we would not have opted for it without this in-depth analysis of the answers we get through these surveys we do.
What I liked the first time we used the Notebloc application is that you left the door open for anyone to scan their documents, not just those that have one of your notebooks. Was it a difficult decision to make or did you think from the beginning make a universal application?
The decision also came from our users and their needs. As I told you in the first question, we started our activity by giving notebooks to students. Each student receives a notebook per academic year. In 2015, when we launched the Notebloc app, it was linked to some markers on each sheet. These markers were detected by the app, and then the image was processed.
What happened was that this notebook comes a day that ends and the student has to continue taking notes with other papers or notebooks, other brands. Many of these students got used to using the Notebloc app to digitize, organize and share their notes, and they started asking us for two things: first, more notebooks; and secondly, to be able to digitize other media other than Notebloc since, for example, a student receives photocopies from the teacher during a class, or wants to take a photo of the board and attach it in their notes, etc.
At that time we made two decisions:
- The first, we decided to “unlock” the app and thus not leave any student “lying”, without being able to continue using the Notebloc; By the way with that unlocking, everyone could scan blackboards, or books, or photocopies, or whatever it was necessary to digitize.
- The second decision was to produce Notebloc notebooks without advertising and open an online store ( www.notebloc-shop.com ) so that everyone who wanted them could buy them.
They are innovative notebooks, not only because of the app, but because they come printed with a special grid, which we call “inverted grid”. This grid, in which the lines are white on a very faint gray background, makes when you scan these sheets with the Notebloc app the grid disappears. The same happens if you make a photocopy of a Notebloc paper: the grid is not in the photocopy. You will only see what you have written or drawn on the paper, on a completely white background.
Ah! This grid printed upside down also saw the light thanks to student feedback. (Maria smiles)
The Notebloc app is free. Does the freemium model compensate you as developers?
As I mentioned in the previous question, Notebloc notebooks with advertising are also free. We were born as a free product, with advertising, so we don’t know anything else. We can not compare, the truth, between being a 100% paid app or a free app with advertising. So I guess it does compensate us.
What approximate percentage of users of the application also buys the books?
It is a higher percentage than we expected but less than we aspire (smile) . By company policy, I cannot provide data on the percentage of conversion of app users to notebook sales.
Google publishers have highlighted the Notebloc app. Have you had a boost in downloads and positive ratings?
Yes, any recognition of a job well done impacts positively, and much more when it comes from Google itself. That said, at the same time, such recognition implies an extra responsibility for our users. If an app that is not Google Editors’ Choice already expects it to work and do what it has to do, they still expect it more than one that is.
How is the process for Google to highlight an app? Or simply woke up one morning with that distinction?
We woke up one morning with this distinction. We have never done anything, either with the app or with Notebloc notebooks, thinking about the recognition of anyone other than our present and future users. So we did nothing, directly, to get this distinction. Indirectly I suppose so: this almost obsession in doing the best for those who use your products I suppose that, in part, it is what will have made Google discover our app and include it in its selection of publishers.
(Maria highlights the fact that her company does not carry out promotions or any action in order to win users. She is a constant in the interview: she is grateful for the impact of Notebloc, also surprised by it)
Your ratio of positive comments is very high, an average of 4.7 stars. Do you spend a lot of time supporting the application?
Continuing with the idea of putting the user at the center of everything and being consistent with it, we always try to give an effective response (I mean, not simply answer by answering) to everyone who writes us with ideas, suggestions, doubts, criticisms constructive, etc. I do not know if it is a long or short time, I would say that it is necessary to achieve this goal.
What comments have surprised you the most?
I think that more than surprise us, there are comments that excite us a lot (like when someone tells you that you have the best app of all Google Play and that if I could give you 10 stars instead of 5), others that make you put the batteries to develop new features (in plan: I put you 4 stars and when you develop xoy, I will give you the fifth), others that worry you (like when someone experiences an error in the app that you did not know so far and you have no idea if you can fix it fast way), etc.
Notebloc is the only Spanish application that is included in the Google Play Pass subscription service. How was that selection process?
The selection process by Google really do not know how it was. That is, we do not know with what criteria Google decided to invite and include certain apps in Google Play Pass.
We received an email, will do 4 or 5 months, in which Google told us that they were developing a new project, which today we all know as the app subscription service called Google Play Pass, in which they wanted to invite our Notebloc app.
We trust Google a lot and it was a great honor for us to receive this email with this invitation. So we do not hesitate to move forward with the proposal.
(Conversing with Maria about Play Pass, we are surprised by the limited information that the developers included in this service have. Maria emphasizes that they have no record of how many downloads Notebloc has achieved through the subscription service, nor do they have any statistics on the developers console or have received data on how much each download monetizes. And a curiosity: the developers of Notebloc can not even see how their application is displayed on Google Play Pass since they lack access to the subscription service because they are in Spain)
Do you rent as developers leave the freemium model in exchange for receiving the percentage of Google Play Pass?
The freemium model has not changed, at least for Notebloc. The app follows its previous model, with the only difference that there is now a new way, apart from buying the Pro version, to enjoy it without advertising, which is precisely through this new Google service.
Subscription services exist in many other industries, with audiovisual content probably being the most consolidated. Let’s take the example of a movie: one can decide to watch a movie on a free consumer television channel like La Sexta or whatever channel and, therefore, watch the movie with cuts for advertising; or you may decide to pay X money for acquiring a copy of this movie; Or you can pay a monthly subscription and watch this same movie or others while the subscription fees are paid monthly.
In the app industry, the introduction of this model is really recent, so we don’t know very well what will happen. Honestly, I cannot make estimates of how many users will decide to become customers of this type of services, nor what they will mean at the level of revenue for developers. For now it is difficult to venture to say that one model or another will be more profitable or not.
Do you consider developing any other application? What would you like to include apart from what Notebloc already has?
At the moment we are totally focused on Notebloc: to continue developing functionalities (right now we are working on the automatic synchronization of documents with Google Drive, which we will launch shortly) and to continue making it always the best for present and future users who want to scan , organize and share your documents in an easy, agile, reliable and secure way.
What we would like to include in the app is always linked to what our users want us to include. They decide.