So you want to make an (iPhone) App?

January 5th, 2013


Blindfolded Dog Agility Jump

Leap those hurdles!

Top 5 Hurdles to Vault Before “App-roaching” an App Developer

I have come to dread parties. The minute people find out I’m an app developer, the conversation starts: “I have a great idea for an app, and I’m sure it’s unique and will be a real money maker. Let me tell you about it….”

Sigh. The truth is out there, and it’s tough: very few people make money from apps. And, just as with business models, often a good idea does not translate to a successful app.

So as a public service and to make my life easier, I present the Top Five App Idea Hurdles, below. This is not to discourage anyone from dreaming, but maybe to encourage realistic dialogue after the first flush of creative enthusiasm.

I. Is an App the right Approach?
Why does it have to be an app?  Apps sure sound cool, but many ideas will work better and reach more people on a mobile-friendly website.

II. Competition
Is there something like it already? With over 1 million apps from over 200,000 publishers in the iTunes store alone, there probably are dozens like your idea – how would your app be different? Even a specialized app like Mindful Bear’s Drum Journey has competitors – there are eight apps for shamanic journeying in the iTunes Store!

Is your competition doing well, or poorly?  If they’re doing well, try to figure out how.  It may not be because of whizzy features, it could simply be virality.  Try to find out their secret.  If the competition is doing poorly, try to figure out why.

III. Promotion
You’ve built it, will they come? The average iPhone user has about 40 apps installed, but spends only 39 minutes per day engaging with apps – that’s a lot of competition.Whether you are selling the app or giving it away for free, you need a plan for reaching your target audiences.  First of all, do you know what percentage of your potential users actually have a smart phone?  How will you stand out in the crowd?  When you app is first published, you’ll  have to sell (or give) each copy, one at a time; think about how you will build a base of evangelists, who will market the app for you via referrals, testimonials and reviews.

IV. Plan to Measure
How will you know if a given tactic or evangelist effort is working? It’s a truism that you can’t manage or improve what you don’t measure. Number of downloads is just one measure of success – what happens after the app hits the phone? Are people using the app? Are they using it in the way you thought they would? Is there a particular market  (geographic or other) that is doing better than others? The App Store gives you some metrics (the number of apps downloaded per country), but it’s up to you to take the metrics seriously and adjust as needed.

Perhaps most importantly, how will you make money with your app? The market deck is stacked against new entrants, as just 25 developers account for half of all app revenue, according to a recent study. Even if making gobs of cash is not your goal, there are significant costs involved with creating the app and getting it into the Store. I usually estimate 200 hours of developer time for even the simplest apps, and developers do not come cheap. Your fabulous Whack-a-Mole app idea is not unique! There are already quite a few mole-based apps: Super Mole Escape, Mole Kingdom (1, 2, and Deluxe), Mole Detective (1 and 2), Word Mole, Mole Word, and of course, Angry Moles, to name just a few. OK, your Whack-a-Gopher app  — I only count 20 apps with the word gopher in the title — could easily cost $25,000 to develop. That’s a lot of $1.99 downloads or ad views.

If you’ve cleared all these hurdles to your satisfaction, then you’re ready to move forward. Smart phones are booming – over 17 million devices were activated on Chrismas Day alone last year, according to Flurry.  There’s always room, even in a crowded market, for the next great thing – and maybe your app will qualify. Good luck!

David Mojdehi, @MindfulBear, is a software engineer who has been developing apps since 2009; he focuses on apps that promote spiritual practice. Nancy Roberts, @LeapingOtter, helps out with the marketing.

iTunes App Store: Buy the Numbers

September 22nd, 2011

Apple says it has “over 500,000” apps in the app store (up from 50,000 just over two years ago), and we know a few other details about the apps in there, such as the top free and paid apps, top apps in the various categories.  And so on.

But more detailed numbers are harder to find. For a project I’m building, I’d like to know the number of publishers, how many apps they’ve published, and a few other details.  Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t report metrics like that. But they do make the app store available on the web, via iTunes Preview, and web crawlers are a solved problem … after a few hours of tinkering I had a decent crawler, and data on all 412,018 apps!

I’ve started looking at the raw data, and was tickled by these findings:

  • I count 412,018 apps.  
    • Close to Apple’s 500,000 number, but not quite.
    • Where are the other 88,000 apps?  They’re probably enterprise apps, or aren’t in the US store. (I didn’t scrape any international stores)
  • There are 168,423 free apps. (41%)
  • There are a surprising number of apps over 1GB: 482 to be exact (that’s just over 0.1%)
  • There are 256 apps over $99, and 18 at $999, the highest price Apple allows.  Those top eighteen are interesting:
    • BarMax will help you pass the bar exams in New York and California.
    • There’s iVip Black, raising the bar in douche baggery.  It’s $999.99, but hold on, don’t buy it without reading the fine print:  

Upon download, prospective members will be required to certify they are High Net Worth Individuals with assets and/or income in excess of £1 million”

    • That’s right, after spending $999 you might still be rejected from actually using it!  Imagine your embarrassment next time you’re on Necker Island and your app stops working.

Finally, to answer my initial question: there are 98,777 app publishers in the store, or an average of about four apps per publisher.  There’s a wealth of information within that number too, but this is ample for this post.

FYI- the folks at 148Apps report some daily statistics about the store at  Naturally I found their site after I scraped the store myself! Our numbers don’t quite match up, so I’ll be exploring the stats in more detail over the coming weeks.

Image: 02-10-11 © Anton Zheltov 

UITableView example: cliqcliq Colors

July 22nd, 2011


Cliqcliq’s Colors is a handy app for creating color palettes.  I like how they’ve customized the table view with simple but effective graphics.

This is the main screen of the app, and seems to be based on a standard UITableView.  Everything under the header bar scrolls, just like you’d expect.

They have simply set the cell backgrounds to simple gradient, and added nice looking icons for a dash of color.  Not a lot of work but it’s nice polish.

I’ll ding them on the garish color choices, and the “user” icon in the top left.  [It takes you to the ubiquitous login page, but I didn’t know it was a button till I started to write this article!]



Here is their settings page.  Oddly enough this page doesn’t scroll, it’s probably just a simple UIView.  It has a nice clean look, with simple gradients.  The text for the switches is legible & easy to understand.  

A minor ding for the highlighting on Login/Signup is a little strange looking, like a group header that wants to be on a UITableView.


Getting the most out of UITableView

July 20th, 2011

You may not know it by name, but UITableView is a view that powers many of the apps you use everyday.  It is a workhorse of iPhone apps, and I’d like to share some apps that have used it well.


UITableView has two display modes, grouped and plain.  They are so visually dissimilar, that you may be surprised they’re powered by the same class.  A great example of grouped mode is the built-in Settings app:

Notice that each group has a header text (in this case the groups are “General”, “Security”).  Some groups also have explanatory footer text.

The controls on the right-hand side take a little work, but are not difficult to add.  Nice and simple code to do so can be found in this discussion on  You can add switches with UISwitch, buttons with UIButton, sliders with UISlider, and so on.  Some features like the chevron are better handled by changing the accessory style, not by adding your own accessory control.

Here the table view is in ‘plain’ mode, as seen in the AddressBook app.  There are groups here, too (the alphabetical header), as well as a quick-navigation slider on the right.

Getting Fancy

This terrific article covers all the code necessary to go from the “before” on the left, to the “after” on the right.  Really great stuff.