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It's no wonder the iPhone App market is wildly popular among developers and creative folk. Virtually anyone can post an app for sale in the massively trafficked -- and potentially lucrative -- App Store. Traditional software development requires teams of developers and a big bucks marketing push. iPhone app development takes some mid-level coding skills, cool graphics and a seriously bright idea.
iPhone development fever is running hot. Even as you read this, caffeine-driven developers and creatives are working day and night, hammer and sawing to finish new apps. There are classes and seminars offered in iPhone development (one at Stanford University, no less) and an early-to-market guide book, The iPhone Developer’s Cookbook. A high-brow venture capital firm launched the iFund, a very large ($100 million) investment pool to fund very tiny software.
An early success story is the London-based outfit GreatApps, founded by Vassilis Samolis, Kostas Eleftheriou and Bill Rappos. GreatApp's greatest hit is iSteam, a wacky app that allows you to wipe "steam" off your iPhone – complete with laugh-inducing squeak sound effect. iSteam earned GreatApps a steamy $100,000 in its first 90 days.
I interviewed the the GreatApps crew about iPhone app development and their sense of trends in the market:
You had a huge success with iSteam. Can you talk about how long it took to develop, and what your process was?
Having launched two gaming applications with moderate to none success, we rethought our strategy, and decided to get out of the gaming market and go viral with something novel. We brainstormed for 2 weeks, the three of us separately, making a list of over 100 app ideas, which we then pitched to one another. Always keeping the viral aspect and estimated development time as the major parameters of our filtering, we decided on the iSteam idea. Immediately after, Kostas started coding and 7 days later we submitted iSteam version 1 to the App Store for review.
What's your attitude toward using a free version to help sell a paid version? For instance, Ethan Nicholas offered a free, lite version of iShoot, which helped him sell a $3 full version. Is this still a good tactic?
As Ethan Nicholas and many other developers have proved, it is a viable marketing strategy. But it's one that we haven't used. However, to promote iSteam, we have in more than one instance switched its pricing to free, for about a week's time. This gives the app enough of a boost to reach a lot of people, who in turn advertise it even when it is back to the $1 price point.
Are there particular iPhone developers whose skill/creativity you admire greatly? Who do you keep an eye on?
When we released iSteam, our target was to overtake Joel Comm's iFart. We certainly kept and still keep an eye on him; making your farts stand out that much is not an easily accomplished task after all.
What's your feeling about how the iPhone Store deals with developers? What would you like to see changed?
We understand their way of doing things, and we'd never bite the hand that feeds and produces phones like the iPhone, but we have a million questions that we'd eventually like to learn the answers to!
For every iPhone app that sells well, there are thousands that get ignored. What role does marketing play? Does GreatApps market its apps or merely put them up in the Store?
Marketing is part of developing the App. We try to get hold of the vibe of the market and release an app that people want right now, or will want in a week. Being able to produce apps fast enables us developers to adapt our work to what users are searching for and not the other way around, which is the traditional way of building a product and then trying to persuade people to buy it.
After the development cycle ends and we have submitted, we start promoting everywhere: blogs, YouTube clips, Facebook, Twitter, pitch letters to everyone we think might be interested in checking out our work. With iSteam, one of those first batch emails worked, and Gizmodowrote about it.
What advice would you give a developer just entering the iPhone app market?
Write a lot of code and expect to get rejected as much as approved, if not more. That is, only if you try to be bold and innovative ;)
Obviously the gold rush is full swing for iPhone developers. Where do you see the iPhone app market going in the future? What major trends do you see in the mid to long term?
That is really a good question. If I had to make a prediction, it would concern the gaming aspect of the iPhone. Big gaming companies are bringing their franchises to the App Store, big games with great graphics and tested gameplay depth. I think higher standards are going to be established in the gaming category regarding both price and quality.
Any other thoughts you'd like to add about mobile app development?
Its scale has grown so much with the App Store, it's mind blowing! We'd love to see more companies create more platforms and even more apps; numbers say users want apps! And we will be there to deliver :)
The GreatApps team: Vassilis Samolis, Kostas Eleftheriou and Bill Rappos.
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