History is recorded moments in life. People’s thoughts, either great among others or just great in their own shadow. Every glimpse of life at that just moment, deserves to be treasured. So just “Keep That Thought”…
By Jen Gordon
Update: 01/10/2012: The original version of this article by Jen Gordon was published in August 2009. It was thoroughly revised and updated by the author in September 2012. — Editorial Team
Since the iTunes App Store launched in 2008, over 500,000 apps have been approved by Apple, and thousands more app ideas are scrawled on napkins across the world every day. But question remains, how can a person with limited technical skills create an iPhone app?
The good news is anyone can make an iPhone app, it’s just a matter of knowing the series of actions you need to take to make it happen. Be sure to bookmark this article because it will serve as a guide for learning the process for creating your first iPhone app, going step by step from idea to the App Store.
The first thing to look at when embarking on any product development or entrepreneurial venture is your goals for the project. Having a vision of what you want to achieve at the outset is an important barometer that will confirm whether the development process is heading in the right direction.
Let’s look at an example. Jim is an “idea person” who wants to create an app that brings in passive income but that doesn’t require him to quit his day job. Jim understands that to achieve this goal, he will need to employ others who can do the work of updating the app, fielding customer questions, responding to feature requests, etc. If Jim hadn’t defined this goal in advance, it’s likely that he:
Whether you’re an individual like Jim, a marketing director, or an IT professional creating apps for internal use, having a project goal will help make your app development process a success.
Here are some examples of project goals:
Action item: Write down the goal you hope to achieve by creating this app.
When I consult with people who have ideas for iPhone and iPad apps, the question they most frequently ask is, “How much can I expect to make?” Unfortunately, this is difficult to answer. The following factors are unique for each application:
All of these factors contribute to the financial success of your app. Base your expectations on this knowledge and on the documented proof that a wide variety of people are making profitable apps every day:
Realistic revenue projections will be different for each app, but here’s an example:
ABC application will show a profit of 10% in the first 60 days after launch, based on the success of XYZ application, which has a similar user base and functionality.
Individuals and companies alike are creating apps to solve problems and to entertain, and yet the process of making apps is still cloaked in mystery. Next, we’ll look at what goes on behind the scenes of an app’s creation and give you a step-by-step process for making your own idea a reality.
Good advice on where to start is different today than it was two years ago, when you could launch an app without much promotion and still have a fair shot at getting seen. Today, App Store competition is fierce, and dozens of new high-quality apps are being launched every day. This competitive environment means that ideas must be evaluated and refined to achieve maximum success in the App Store.
Have your idea evaluated.
“Evaluating” anything in which you are not an expert is difficult. For example, if someone had an idea for an innovative design for a child’s car seat, would that person be qualified to evaluate their own idea? Probably not. They would need to seek out the advice of someone who knows the child car seat niche. That expert would shed light on how to make the idea even better based on their specialized knowledge of the industry.
The app world is no different, and a variety of people are qualified to evaluate ideas:
What will an evaluation do for me?
When you get an expert opinion on your idea, you find out the following:
This is the type of information you want to gather from an expert reviewer. Once you’ve met with someone who can give you this kind of feedback, you can move on to the next steps of the project with confidence in the viability of your idea and that your goals can be met.
What if I can’t find someone to evaluate my idea?
If you’re having difficulty finding an expert to provide an opinion on your idea, ask yourself whether these success factors apply to your app:
Action item: Have your idea evaluated.
“Wait a second, aren’t we supposed to be drawing prototypes and stuff?” Actually, not yet. The next step before moving into any kind of design or development is to figure out how your idea will generate a profit!
“Why is this so important? Can’t I do it later?”
You could, but AppPromo surveyed 102 developers and announced in its report that:
80% are NOT generating enough revenue with their app to support a standalone business.
It’s fair to assume that a great portion of that 80% also didn’t develop a monetization or marketing plan prior to developing their app. Read tap tap tap’s blog to see how companies like it do their homework. The results speak for themselves:
Here’s what you have to look forward to if you do not consider monetization strategies before developing your app:
“OMG I’ve got this great idea!”
Sketch, sketch, sketch.
“I think I’ll charge 99¢. See how that goes.”
Launch. “Woo hoo!”
“Uh oh. Why aren’t people paying 99¢?!?”
App plummets into App Store black hole.
“Maybe I should make it free?!?”
“Crap! Where’s my developer? I need to fix the app, change the way it makes money, because 99¢ isn’t working!”
“OK, the app is fixed, with a new way to make money. How am I going to get my ranking back up?”
Not pretty, but a very real scenario. If you want a step-by-step guide to avoiding the chaos of a pricing disaster, consult my “App Monetization Guide.”
Action item: Develop a monetization plan.
Even if you will be hiring out the development work, you will need to establish your business within the App Store. To do this, visit the iOS Development Center, and sign up for an account. It’s $99 for a year and requires that you provide the tax and bank account information of your business or yourself. Have this information handy before signing up.
The only reason not to sign up for a developer account would be if you’re OK with having your app published under another person or company’s account and brand. If that is the case, then know that Apple would pay all revenue to the account holder’s bank account. That account holder would then be responsible for paying you.
Action item: Open an iOS developer account.
If you have an idea already, then you likely have some visuals in mind for how the app would look and work and the information it would present. You don’t have to be an artist to sketch a rough interface, so start putting your ideas down on paper. Before you begin, ask yourself:
You may find during this process that some fresh ideas come to mind that simplify the flow or that add a creative twist to the interaction design. Try to keep your original concept in mind without blocking the flow of new ideas!
Create at least one thumbnail sketch for each screen in your application. Experiment with various navigational schemes, the copy on buttons and the flow between screens. If you want to transfer your sketches into digital format,iPlotz is a good tool to check out.
The purpose of sketching your application’s screens is to build a foundation for the next phase of the project. If you’re an entrepreneur and are outsourcing the bulk of the project’s work, then you would show these sketches to the design and development team in order to get a price estimate.
Action item: Sketch out all screens of your app.
What skills do you bring to the table? Are you a designer whose brain objects to Objective C? A developer who couldn’t design their way out of a paper bag? Or simply an individual with an idea they’d like to bring to market?
When you create an iPhone application, you’re starting a small business. It is difficult for one person to play the role of researcher, project manager, accountant, information architect, designer, developer, marketer and advertiser. Can you do it all? Of course you can, but you would be wasting a lot of time, energy and sanity in the process. Based on the following list of required skills, define the areas where you would be comfortable taking the lead and where you would need to hire help:
In most cases, the least expensive way to produce your application would be by hiring freelance contractors. While your costs would be lower, your role as project manager would become more prominent. You would spend more time managing the moving parts of the project. Also, when working with freelancers, remember to have them sign a non-disclosure agreement or at least an employment contract, with details on the scope of their work, your expectations and payment terms.
Another option is to hire an agency or development firm to handle a large chunk of the production. In this scenario, the agency would be charged with managing the project, and your role as client would be to review and approve its work. Working with an agency is a good option if you have a larger budget and less time to dedicate to the production process.
Action item: Identify your role and the roles of those you hire.
In step 4, you defined which roles need to be outsourced in order to produce the app. Now it’s time to learn exactly what each of those roles will do and where to find people for your team.
If you are a designer, download my “iPhone App Template,” a big collection of iPhone UI elements. These Photoshop files will save you a lot of time getting started on the design. To learn more about mobile design in general, these websites provide a lot of great resources:
If you’re not a designer, then you should know that design breaks down into three roles: information architecture, interaction design and visual design. Finding one person with all of these skills is possible, but know that the design process calls for three distinct deliverables. If you’ve got your sketches, then you have everything you need for a designer to get started.
Try to find a designer who has experience designing for mobile devices. They will have some good feedback and suggestions to improve your sketches. A few places to look for designers:
When posting your job offer, be very specific about your requirements, and be ready to review a lot of portfolios.
If you are an Objective C or Cocoa developer, then crack open Xcode and get started! Join a few forums if you haven’t already:
If you are not a developer, then get your developer on board as you’re lining up the designer. Speaking with a developer sooner than later will help you scope a project that is technically feasible and within your budget.
Finding a developer
Using the sketches you’ve drawn up, compose a specification document that describes in writing what your app does and for whom. This document, along with your sketches, is what you will share with the developer to get a time and cost estimate.
Having a document like this also ensures that you will be able to hire a developer who has the skills necessary to produce the app. If you provide specifications for a game app to a developer who doesn’t have game development expertise, they will be able to quickly tell that the project isn’t a good fit.
Here are a few places to look for developers:
Submitting your app to the App Store
Your developer can also help you submit your application to the App Store. Clearly communicate the launch date of your app to the developer. Nothing is more detrimental to an app’s success than an unexpected or poorly planned launch. To learn more, read Apple’s “App Store Review Guidelines.” Also, you might want to check Average App Store Review Times and unpublished rules and clarifications from Apple’s App Review team that can cause your iPhone app to be rejected.
If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Apps can sit in the store unnoticed very easily. Don’t let this happen to you. Be ready with a plan to market your app. In fact, be ready with many plans to market your app. Be ready to experiment because some ideas will work, and others won’t.
Strategies for marketing and promotion:
Action item: Find freelance or agency contractors to fill the roles for design, development and marketing.
Transforming something as intangible as an idea into a tangible, playable, enjoyable app is an exciting venture. The most important takeaway for anyone looking to create their first iPhone app is to focus on hiring the right team to help bring your idea to fruition and to help maintain the app over time.
If you are an app developer with advice to share with first-time creators, please share in the comments below. Good luck and have fun!