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Welcome to Michael's blog. Michael Andrew, (aka Michael The Maven) is a freelance producer, photography instructor, tech innovator, and when needed, disaster aid specialist. Disclaimer: Michael is a participant in Bhphoto & Amazon affiliate programs that provides an advertising commission if you purchase through links on this website.


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03.04.10         michael's insights  

The Truth About iPhone App Development


Its been interesting for me to see a HUGE number of emails come in asking me for advice and contact information to find a good programmer to make an iPhone App. I wanted to use this post as a way to advise a little on the topic.

Now that my App has been out for 2 weeks, I feel I have a much better understanding about the process as well as some of the things I wish I would have known before. Don't get me wrong, I'm very excited to have finished Photographers Contract Maker. I think the most enjoyable part of it is having the need, then the idea and now I have a tool that helps me solve this problem.

Developing an App is extremely time consuming and expensive. If you are absolutely committed to making your app, expect to spend between $1500-5000 depending on what it does. If its a fancy game, expect to spend more. Probably the most critical and important thing you can do is to carefully map out the App on paper. Really understand what it does, how it works, and what the screens look like. Draw them out, draw the buttons, explain what they do. It is extremely important that you find an easy way to communicate how it works to your programmer, send him your pictures, etc. This is where a lot of problems happen, especially, if your programmer is not primarily an English speaker. It is understandable that when you are looking for a programmer to feel as if they may "steal" your idea, and a confidentiality agreement wont hurt, but most programmers are not interested in stealing your idea, because they know, there is more money in App Development than the Apps themselves. (Yes you are reading this right). Making the Apps will generally earn them more money than selling them in most cases, they know this, so they aren't really interested in stealing it. IN any case, always have a contract that says the code will be your property during and after development.

You can find aprogrammer on Guru.com. You have to sign up, but this is essentially a place to find programmers who do different things. You can even search by "Iphone" and you will get a list of programmers who specialize in iPhone Apps, see the number of jobs they have completed as well as their ratings.

Sometimes finding a good programmer, be it for an App or anything else, a lot of these programmers are truly awful and most will not start a project without some type of significant investment (say $500 or more, so it can be a little risky). There is also a very good chance that they will not live up to their rating and take months instead of weeks to get a job done. To illustrate this, I just fired one of my App programmers because he wanted to control the "code", meaning he wanted to decide when and how the code would be delivered for testing, when in fact, I was paying him as "work for hire" . In the end, I lost $470 in start up fees because now he doesn't want to refund it. Can I fight it? Yes. Will I get it back. Nope. If taking on these kinds of risks is not your thing, App development is not for you.

Additionally, once you do find a good programmer, it will be several months before all the bugs are worked out, no matter what they say. They will tell you it will take a few weeks...it wont. Photographers Contract Maker (or PCM) took a good 4-5 months and 34 versions to get right. Not only was it expensive (several thousand dollars), communicating with the programmer, and then checking and testing the application took a tremendous amount of time, Id guess about 200 hours of my time alone.

One really great side of iPhone Apps is that you do not see the piracy problem that we see with the DVDs. For every 1 DVD I sell to an honest customer, 200 are illegally downloaded. Apps are much harder to "pirate" and at the cost of $2.99, who would want to go through the trouble anyway? Additionally, Apple is going to take 30% of all sales.

While I had a few good days when the App was first released, now that things have settled down, I am selling about 12-15 a day and this equates to about $25-30. What this means is it will be several months before I break even for the development of PCM, if at all. I also feel that I have a pretty useful app, and it's been getting good reviews, imagine if it wasn't a good App, or didn't have a strong market for it?

I guess what I am trying to say, if you think that making a great App is a good way to make a lot of money quickly, its not. Only a handful of Apps will make the big money.

My recommendation: If you really REALLY want to make an App, make one that you will give away for free and be ready to spend more than the programmer is quoting you at (because you will). You will know after your first one if you want to make more, but right now, I am getting more and more reluctant to make one for revenue generating purposes. We have a few in the pipeline, but we will be watching them very carefully.

Its one thing to have a great idea, its another to have a profitable idea. If you aren't making money on an investment, why do it?

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