Today’s a post is a guest post by Joseph Campbell, a prolific iOS developer who has over 40 apps on the App Store.
If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.”
- Napoleon Hill
So you’re a new iOS App Developer or thinking about getting into the field? Well let me say I was once there too, as I’ve been developing iOS apps around 21 years now. Oops, forgot to explain that I meant them in dog years! Time, as you will find in this space, moves swiftly. I started out on iOS 3 with the iPad and now we are looking at version 7. The pace of change is fast and furious indeed.
So how did I decide to get into iOS development? Well it all started with the iPad as I was anything but an Apple fan boy. I was originally the “PC” guy. Sure I had an iPod but I thought Macs weren’t serious business machines. And the iPhone? Well let’s say I “was” a Black Berry fan and having lived the Gen-1 smart phone wars, I just didn’t see the iPhone as a game changer at the time.
However, the iPad was a horse of a different color and it placed real computing power in a user’s hands with a battery that could match its use cycle. It truly was and remains the “perfect storm” of technological design. So in short I purchased one, yes the infamous iPad 1!
And well I wasn’t alone, many of my colleagues also bought one and during slow meetings, we would compare apps and purchase new ones as we sat round the conference table together. Being the “geek” I am, I started doing the math and the numbers were mind boggling! There seemed to be millions being made and I wanted a piece of the pie!
Now I must share that many, many moons ago I did write game software for Apple II, Commodore Vic20 and TI-99. In those days, I learned 6502 Assembler and already understood a lot of the Enterprise (business) software market from my day job (which I still have today). I had already been working at a senior architecture level for several of the world’s largest companies. So while I was not a “keyboard” guy, I did have a lot of the pieces to help jump start my learning about object oriented programming.
With this I discovered Apple and iOS used C# (pronounced C Sharpe) and a model, view, controller frame work. Ok, I could deal with most of this so I shelled out my first $100 check for a developer account and set off for the Apple store to buy my first Mac! To start with I purchased a Mac Mini with a HDMI output and DVI to VGA adapter as I had to have two screens. So first big tip, two screens makes things go much faster. Yes, you can do this on an 11 inch Macbook Air but don’t. Remember, time is money and computer screens are cheap!
So I had my developer account, along with a Mac with XCode downloaded. I was ready to get coding. However, what kind of App to write was the question ahead of me. From past experience I knew games weren’t typically the best idea for a one man shop. Game sales are short-lived, and tend to be the domain of “teams”. You’ll also be competing against coders in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) nations who can do things really cheap. So unless you are targeting a simplistic overdone game with a “paper toss” style, it’s a good idea to stay away.
What really wowed me about the iPad was content delivery, especially its ability to be interactive. So this was the path I decided to take – to develop a (basic) interactive book app (This was before Apple announced “book-like apps” would no longer be accepted). It’s also worth noting my day jog has taken me around the world many times so I had a fair amount of knowledge and images from various places to create travel guides. This made an interactive book app a doubly good fit!
So with my first app coded, it was time to get it up the App Store and what a pain that was! I almost gave up and if not for all the hours of coding invested I would have! Finally I had to open a case with Apple (note you get one free call with your developer fee) and with this discovered there was a “bug” in Apple’s Keychain app on the Mac and the Apple tech walked me though a rather complex command line fix. So with that done, it was finally uploaded for review and the wait [for approval] could begin. Now before I scare you off, this entire process is much better today, so there’s no need to overly fret.
Since there are already so many stories about waiting for Apple’s approval, let’s fast forward to the tips I’ll share with you that I’ve learned after 3 years of independent iOS development experience and 40 apps.
- Tip 1: Code is a Commodity! The geek in me weeps a little in saying this but it’s the truth. Mobile apps are pretty much disposable so don’t spend a ton of time on “the art of coding”. While I believe it is a requirement to understand coding, don’t become a slave to code. After coding my first app (which I threw away later) I hired out model & controller development. I didn’t hire out to one of the high priced development houses either as I looked on the mobile developer boards and found skilled “kids” to do most of the work for a couple hundred bucks. I would also recommend not farming it all out to one person or company as you will most likely find a carbon copy of your app in the App Store. I typically will use two developers and farm out the model & controller, then write the views myself.
- Tip 2: Content is King! As Napoleon Bonaparte once said – “A picture is worth a thousand words”. With the iPads tactical abilities and content display, it’s easy to understand why the device has become such a success in this space. Additionally, as mentioned by The Canadian Professor of Communications and futurist Marshall McLuhan, “the message is the medium” in that whatever “medium” we receive or consume content from will in fact shape the “content” and how we perceive and ingest it.
- Tip 3: Make Graphics the Focus! The graphics should be appealing and should help tell a story. This goes for almost every sort of app. We’re starting to move away from skewamorphism where we needed a “notebook” icon to tell us it was a note book, or simulated leather in a planning application. In this same vein, we’re seeing new generation weather apps which tell us the story of what it’s like outside with one image! Folks, this knowledge is power and while the general consumer of this information doesn’t see it, you as the developer absolutely must do so if you want to be successful. There are tons of garbage apps in the App Store and with nearly a million apps, Apple will likely have to start curating the apps available for quality purposes.
- Tip 4: Re-use content whenever you can! Content reusability is also a key to success as whenever I’m looking to design content, my eye looks towards the future as to what are the possibilities of reuse? For example, can I simply change the color of an object (say in Photoshop) and repurpose it in another app? Or possibly make simple modifications, typically by erasing something which allows it to serve double duty? Remember, sweat the assets, digital or not and use a cataloging system (Aperture works great) to track your assets as it’s easy to forget something you already have.
While I know that was a lot of pretty heady stuff, it’s important for success. Do you know what’s doing the real work in the app? Well, it’s not the code in case you’re wondering. I’d like to place an emphasis on Tip Number 3. It’s the imagery that conveys your value proposition to the buyer.
This is what you’re going to trade them for their $0.99 – $2.99. It’s through the use of images and graphics that this is achieved. Worth keeping in mind too is that the length of attention spans in the digital age have shrunken almost as fast as transistors and Moore’s Law!
So you could have built an amazing app but if you don’t have a strong message, it’s likely you won’t see much sales. Believe it or not – the mobile app market is still a word of mouth market.
Remember when at the start of this post, I mentioned how I would sit with that iPad 1 at a conference table with 5 other people and compare apps? Together, we would influence 4 other buyers who would go on to influence another 5 and over time, this multiples to a surprisingly large number of people. Do you remember “six degrees of Kevin Bacon (or Brad Pitt)”? Well, the word of mouth market is even more powerful with social media today, so getting a quality message across in a short period of time is critical for success.
One could pen an entire book around iOS content development and these few paragraphs are only a teaser of its importance. Whew, we’ve covered a lot of ground in a short time and as I approach my 40th app in the App Store, my hope is that I’m helping pay it forward for all the help that was given to me.