During the course of last week I have been getting up to speed on the iPhone SDK; yes, I did eventually get around to buying a new MacBook Pro! The more I learn, the more doubts I have about developing for the iPhone. Nothing to do with the technology – although Objective-C is an interesting extension to C – but everything to do with the (closed) platform, app store etc. For example, I discovered that in order to test my application on a real device I need to stump up $99 to get onto the developer program; the SDK only has an iPhone simulator. I have highlighted other concerns that I have in previous posts that become more real when you read posts such as this one.
What particularly irks me is the fact that the price of apps are perpetually being driven down to zero! Sure, there have been some hits but these are exceptions to the rule; the rule being: you aren’t going to make any money off your app! If you are a developer (or a company) trying to make a living out of this and you sell your app for 59p, you work out how many copies of it you are going to have to sell in order to make a living off of it. The numbers don’t add up!
I came across a good example of this over the weekend. There is a website called Breaking News Online and they have an iPhone app that they charge $2 for and there is a recurring $1 a month subscription to receive breaking news via push notifications. You can read about it on ReadWriteWeb here. Anyway, if you look at the comments, some people are bitching about having to fork out $1 a month! What? “Is anything worth that?”, they cry! $1 a month buys you half a latte from Starbucks (depending on the size of course) yet even this seems to be too much for some people! The bottom line is this: if you are in the business of just selling applications for the iPhone then you are soon going to be going out of business! You can blame cheap users for that.
I see two primary ways of making money from mobile applications: you can offer a mobile version that supplements whatever it is you happen to be selling, e.g. Salesforce does CRM and they have an iPhone app but it’s not their main line of business; or you can write mobile applications for other companies. There are a number of apps that I have come across recently that have inline ads but your app really needs to become popular before you can start making any serious money from it.
Myself, I am focusing on both approaches. I have done Cocoa development in the past (on the desktop) so focusing on mobile right now is just another string to add to my bow. I hope to have something in the app store during the course of the next couple of weeks months years … assuming of course that it doesn’t get blocked. We’ll see!
Finally, if you do want an iPhone app building then let me know. Just don’t ask me to try and sell it for you!