One billion iPhone apps downloaded. But how many are worth it?
As the marketplace for iPhone applications grows more crowded, young and innovative software developers struggle to make their apps stand out.
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But his is a rare case. While the release of a new version of the iPhone operating system this summer will give developers more features to work with, and probably spur more excitement, many iPhone programmers caution anyone who thinks app development is easy money.Skip to next paragraph
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“You'll have better luck in Vegas,” says Howard Cohen, an independent software engineer and consultant who has one app out and another in the works. “Most people do not make much money, or even [get] their costs back, when selling their apps for the iPhone.”
Mr. Cohen’s first app was called iHomePage and, as the name suggests, for 99 cents it allows users to create a customized home page on the phone – much like the home page on a Web browser. His next app, which he hasn’t submitted to Apple yet, is a much more complicated photography program called PhotoSphere (it’ll go for $4.99) that allows users to rotate images on a sphere to create a three-dimensional slideshow.
The challenge for developers in breaking out on the App Store is not only the growing competition from other app developers but because large corporations are also keen to produce apps – and often for free.
“[T]he App Store is a excellent opportunity for big companies and as a developer that’s very appealing,” says Cohen. That’s why so many software engineers are positioning themselves as iPhone developers.
For some, success
In addition to organizing iPhoneDevCamp, Sagolla started DollarApp to help others who might have the vision but not necessarily the means to produce apps and get them onto iTunes. He looks for applications that are smart, can be built quickly, and will be beneficial to the end user.
He’s had some success, too. Math Cards, a program designed to improve basic math skills, and Big Words, which displays words as big as possible for “grabbing attention,” were both staff favorites at the App Store.
Though he declined to talk about number of downloads or revenue earned from his two programs, he says, “Both of those have paid for themselves a couple of times over.”
Like many iPhone developers, Sagolla talks about the phone’s potential with an almost childlike excitement. As the device becomes more affordable and sophisticated, he says, it may make mobile computing the norm. “I don’t really think there’s a limit to this."
The excitement is shared by Mo DeJong, who is on the verge of releasing his first app. It's an animated series of lessons for guitar players.
“It's not a little toy soundmaker. There are tons and tons of those,” he says, sitting with a MacBook, an iPhone, and coffee cup in a San Francisco coffee shop seemingly built for techie developers working on their next iPhone creation.
As he demonstrates how the app will work – combining background music with moving scales – he explains that programming for such a small platform is anything but easy. He spent six months and between $20,000 to $30,000 working on the app, and he is still refining it.
In the end, the app will sell for $2.
Will it sell? “Who knows?” says Mr. DeJong. “It's kind of a crap shoot."