On the Fence About Developing iPhone Apps

Back when Steve Jobs announced that 3rd parties would be allowed to make iPhone Apps, I planned to be right onboard. I brushed up on Objective C and Xcode, and waited to be accepted into the iPhone developer program. A glitch prevented me from getting on to the program until much later than I expected, and that delay allowed for a waning of enthusiasm. So now that I am an official iPhone App developer, I have my doubts about whether or not I should do it.
First, keep in mind that developing any piece of software takes an effort. If I was to make an iPhone App, I would have to work for weeks or months developing it. Like most software, I would probably be 90% done in no time, and then spend a lot of time polishing. This is especially true for applications that are to be sold. If someone is paying money, they will want support. So you want to make that App as easy to learn and use as possible, and, of course bug-free.
So once the development is done, then what?
Well, Apple will have to approve it. So far, Apple seems to be approving most apps, so no worries there. But I will worry. I don’t like having someone else have complete control over whether my App even exists or not. It is scary to think about — spending all that time developing the App only to have to refused, maybe.
Now when iPhone 2.0 was released, and enabled Apps for the first time, I downloaded a lot of them. They were buggy. They crashed a lot. But that was nothing compared to when iPhone 2.0.1 was released. It made almost all of my Apps unstable. Turns out that Apple released 2.0.1 without giving App developers a preview. So the App developers all had to scramble to release updates within hours or days of 2.0.1.
This scares me. If I have to jump into action with every iPhone OS update, then this is hardly recurring revenue. I’ll have to be on top of developing updates all the time. And there is no putting the genie back in the bottle — if 100 people buy the App, I’ll be tied into updating it for those people forever, or at least for a reasonable amount of time.
The numbers scare me too. Apple only takes about 30%, which is great if you are familiar with typical downloadable game revenue sharing models. So a $10 App will net me $7 per sale. So if I sell 10 per day, which is a pretty good rate considering the number of Apps available, that is $25,550 per year. That’s not that great if you consider the development time, support time (for 3,650 people), and updates.
I’m not saying that $25K isn’t good. It is OK, I guess. Maybe at 20 per day it gets a little better. And if you have a full-time job during the day or something, then it is certainly nice.
But it isn’t enough to get me excited. I’ve got plenty of other ways to make money creating software and net content, and I’d have to sideline one or more of those to make the time to develop an iPhone App. There are only so many hours in the day.
So I’m still on the fence. I may try developing a free App just to test the water. A free App would mean less support, and I could relax a bit with updates. Perhaps that’s how I’ll start, if I can find the time.

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Posted on August 20, 2008 at 9:15 am by Gary Rosenzweig · Permalink
In: General