Making money writing apps

Over the past few years I have been lucky enough to be paid to learn how to write mobile apps. I already was a trained and experience software designer, but mobile apps were something new and refreshing. Over the course of my career, GUI design has been something that was left to graphic designers. With Apple’s x-code and IBM’s eclipse (equipped with the android development kit), things have changed. The limited nature of the mobile device user interfaces provides a simplicity and consistency that makes it possible for anyone to design a useful application.

I started looking into mobile app design because the user interface of the product that my company was selling needed an update. The person who designed it did a good job, but it was never intended to be more than a prototype. I recognized that people were getting used to swiping and touching and that competitors were starting to use mobile devices as remote controls for more complex systems. I spent the next few months watching a series of videos from Stanford University on Apple development while running on my tread mill.

I piled a number of rubber-maid containers up in front of the treadmill and placed my Mac-book on top. I would start a lecture and run for an hour. Over the next few months I  watched every one of the classes several times and had designed and written a remote control application that could replace the existing user interface. None of that would have been possible without the existence of a decent API, but the API existed and the app ended up being the primary tool we used to debug the API. I manged to drop a few pounds in the process as well…

When I was done with my first few apple apps. I decided to see how hard it would be to port one to android. I had a customer at the time that used our video product and wanted a remote control app for their android based tablets. It only took a couple of weeks to port but it really was a complete re-write. Android applications are written in Java and apple applications are written in objective-c.

The eclipse environment is so similar to the apple environment the transition really was fast and relatively painless. Now that I am several years into mobile app development I can  honestly say that even though the apple tools are great to use, android is more flexible. Apple insists that developers follow strict guidelines that can sometimes limit creativity when it comes to GUI designs. The android environment is more like lego.

The real question I have looking forward is, “How does a designer make money writing apps?” The app store is so full of applications it is hard for shoppers to find what they are looking for. When I published my first app, I received emails from people all over the globe that wanted to help me market my application for a fee. The thing is there is not allot of money to feed the marketing engine when an app sells for 99 cents.

So why don’t people charge more? Because that is what consumers expect to pay. If you come up with a killer app that people need to run their business, then you might be able to ask more but that is unlikely on your first effort. The market conditions were different when “Angry Birds” was first published so don’t expect to duplicate that effort without allot of hard work and marketing dollars.

Remember that I said Android development was more flexible and perhaps more fun for developers? Well the android market (Now called Google Play) has had a problem with quality control and there are more paid apps than free ones.

So the question remains…..How does one many money writing apps? It has to be something that lots of people want. If you designed a system to read the trouble codes from the average car for example, you would sell a good number of copies to home mechanics. What ever you come up with it will have to have mass market appeal so that people go to the app store specifically looking for your app.

If there is something that you haven’t been able to find in the app store for 99 cents, let me know and I’ll gladly build it for you…

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