Thursday, August 7, 2014

How to Create an iPhone Application - Lessons from 430,000+ Downloads!

If you desire to learn how to create your own iPhone application and have little or no programming experience, then this blog post is for you!

Background:
A year and a half ago, I launched my first iPhone application, Parlay Calculator Pro. It was a rush to have my idea released to the public and see its initial response. I launched a calculator application, because I read online that calculators were easier for programmers to develop. I really don't have an interest in sport parlays, but after some initial research I realized that there were only 5 parlay applications at the time compared to thousands of mortgage or car loan calculators.

Within the first day of its release, Parlay Calculator Pro reached over 50 downloads! This meant that there were more people than the 10 or so friends that I texted who downloaded my application!

...Little did I realize that 50 free downloads is actually insignificant. A year and a half later, I have accumulated over free 430,000 downloads from 9 applications! Although 430,000 downloads sounds impressive and might allure images of expensive new cars, most of these were free downloads.

Below is a screenshot of my 8 iPhone applications. Technically, I have 9, because I released Pro Photo Layout in a Chinese Version.



What Inspired Me: 
At first, I was intimated to create an iPhone application. I felt I had several good ideas, but I didn't know where to start. After listening to Pat Flynn's Smart Passive Income Podcast and learning how Chad Muerta launched an app empire from a hospital bed, I was inspired.

Flyn interviewed successful app-preneurs, entrepreneurs that create mobile applications, who shared how they were able to transform an idea into a finished iPhone application with little or no programming experience. These app-preneurs hired third party programmers and graphic designers from outsourcing sites, such as oDesk and Elance to help develop their ideas. In essence, they were acting as project managers, making sure that their team stayed within budget, scope and timeline. With my prior work experience, I felt that could select, manage and navigate a team through my app ideas.

Chad Muerta's story motivated me a little differently. Muerta was involved in a serious car accident. While recovering in the hospital, he started developing his own iPhone applications. He outsourced his development and launched several utility applications, such as a flashlight. As Muerta became more experienced with his ideas, he found great financial success, earning over $6 million. What motivated me from Muerta's story, was not his financial success, but that he started out from a hospital bed!

When I learned about Muerta's story, I was also recovering from a serious bike/car accident. I felt that if Muerta could develop his ideas while recovering from a car accident, I could also do it. With some of Pat Flynn's iPhone development tips and Muerta's inspirational story, I felt I was ready to become an app-preneur! As I was in the midst of my physical therapy, I started to outline some ideas and expand upon traction that I saw with my first few ideas.

Fast forward 1.5 years and here are below are 9 important lessons from the experience of creating 9 iPhone apps.

9) It's easier than you think!
You can get started today! Yes, today! All you need is an idea!

After you have an idea, spend time in Apple's Application store and research your idea. Does it already exist? If there are hundreds or even thousands of similar ideas, you may want to expand upon your idea or explore another option. It's also important to look at the top chart lists to see what is currently popular. Some of these charts may inspire some new ideas. 

After you have an idea, wire frame or draw out the main user steps of your iPhone application idea.
  • What is the first page that users would see when they open your application? 
  • What are the main navigation buttons? 
  • What happens when a user clicks on one of those buttons? 
  • Are there similar steps in other applications that you can use as reference? 
If you can spend time drawing out each step (it's okay if they are simple sketches), then it will be easier for a designer and programmer to develop your ideas.

After your idea is develop, you will be ready to select a designer and programmer on a freelance website, such as oDesk or Elance.
  • I recommend posting the job as a "fixed" project cost, instead of paying someone per hour. This way a programmer or designer is motivated to finish the project quickly and not bill for extra hours. 
  • Determine a budget for your project. You will need a budget for a designer and programmer.You may be able to hire a designer for $150-400, depending on how much design work you require and hire a programmer for $400-several thousand depending on the overall idea of your application. The general rule of thumb is the simpler the idea, the smaller the budget. With the freelance sites, you can always post a job for a low budget and see if you get any bids for the work. If you don't, then you will need to adjust the project budget.
  • When you post the job/s, you can ask candidates to include links to prior applications they have created. This way you can download the applications and see if they are up to your standards for work. 
  • Hire established work. Read the reviews of your applicants and see if they have done good work with other clients. Prior success is often an indicator of future success. Personally, I try and stay away from candidates with zero reviews.  
  • Ask to sign an NDA (non disclosure agreement). You can download a NDA template form online and customize it to your needs. If the programmer or designer doesn't want to sign these forms, you may consider hiring another party. The NDA will help you establish trust with the programmer/designer and see if they feel comfortable exclusively working on your idea before you commence.

8) Volume matters

If your goal is to make $$$ with your iPhone application, you will need a signification amount of downloads as well as regular use of your application. Although I have had 400,000+ downloads in the past year and a half, a large amount of  these are free users that only use the application 1-5 times.

That may sound surprising, but think of how many applications you regularly use in your own application? You may have a handful of favorite social applications, such as Facebook, Instagram, or SnapChat and a few news or utility applications, such as mobile banking, that are regularly used. However, think of the dozens or hundreds of other applications that you may have download, which just sit and collect digital dust on your iPhone. What value did these applications serve you?

On the flip side, with a significant amount of downloads, you will also find users who hopefully enjoy and regularly use your application. This is your core audience that will make in-app purchases and allow you to make recurring revenue off advertisements.



7) Have fun

The entire process of creating an application should be fun! Yes, it can be a little stressful and uneasy at times to figure all of the steps, especially if it's your first iPhone project. However, with a little trouble shooting, you can navigate your path and hopefully arrive at a fun destination.

If you don't enjoy the ride, get off the bus!


6) Push it ...to the consumer 

What's your main goal?
  • Is it to get people to use a certain function of your application, such as a check in feature? 
  • Is it to make money? If so, is it through an in-app purchase, such as additional application features? 
  • Do you want more reviews? 
  • Do you want people to share on Instagram of Facebook? 

No matter your goal, it's important using push notifications or in-app messages that appear when a user logs into the application, are important to help your guide users and convert them to your goal. The first few versions of my applications did not include these push notifications and as a result had very few user reviews and in-app purchases. Afterward adding these notifications, both the amount of reviews and in-app purchases increased.
Tip: You can use a message frequency rotation to limit how often these messages are seen by the consumer. For example, you may have the programmer code the message to appear 1/3 or 1/5 (appears one out of three or five) sessions, this way the message does not overwhelm the user.  

5) Charge! You can still make money in the noise

There are hundreds of thousands of iPhone applications. Despite the competition, you can still generate passive income with your application idea: either with advertising revenue, in-app purchases or charging users to download your application.

Google's Admob provides a great starting point for mobile advertising. Admob features different size banners that be integrated into your application.

If your desire is to generate revenue by charging users to download your application, it's recommended to charge between $1.99-2.99. At first, I started off charging $.99 for an application, but I a didn't notice a conversion difference when I increased the price $1-2. In fact, the perception of the application's quality and value may increase. However, don't get carried away if your pricing strategy. If you charge more than $2.99, you may lose a large amount of downloads.

The best strategy for charging is to test on your own. You can make the application free one week, $.99 another week and $1.99 for the third. Apple makes it easy to change pricing fee on the back-end without updating your application's version.

Before you hire any programmers or designers to start working on your iPhone app, complete a break even analysis. For example, your budget may be $800 ($600 programming + $200 design). It would take $1,040 in revenue (Apple takes 30% of sales) to break even. This means, you will need approximately 522 downloads at $1.99 to break even. This may take awhile to reach, if you application only reaches a couple of downloads a day. 

Tip: Apple pays on a net-30 basis. Meaning after the current month closes, you will typically receive the payment for your applications by country sales in 30 days.

4) Don't reinvent the wheel 

You may feel that you need the next "BIG" idea to make an impact and disrupt the marketplace. However, it may be easier to create an iPhone application that adds additional value to the user. For example, maybe you can make a different photo filter application that includes additional themed layouts or filters to use.

Tip: There are several APIs that can be plugged into your application, that include pre-built functionality. For example, Aviary is a photo filter plug in that I use. It includes several of photo filters, which as similar to the ones Instagram uses. Using Aviary, allows me to focus on creating additional photo editing techniques, which expand upon the Aviary platform.


3) Analyze!

As much time as you spent brainstorming, designing and creating your application, you should spend equal time analyzing your application's performance. Flurry Analytics and App Annie are excellent resources to support your efforts.

Flurry Analytics is an analytics SDK (code) that can be added to your application. Flurry can share how many users regularly use your application as well as what types of interactions they have in your app. This data can be used to refine the inner workings of your application.

App Annie provides a high level or bird's eye view of your application/s performance. It can show how many downloads, reviews and the current rank of your application. Additionally, it can provide a great portal to research competitors and see their historical performance.

In addition to seeing your countries performance, App Annie will show how your application globally ranks. The iTunes store is a global marketplace and frequently pockets of traffic may come from countries that you may not have thought would be interested. For example, one of my applications quickly rose to the top of the Italian charts after it was released in a free format.


2) Ask! ...Well, ask for anything you

With a little help from Google and other search engines, it's easy to figure out pitfall or roadblocks that may occur in the development process. If you don't enjoy researching and exploring new ideas, then creating an iPhone application may not be for you. However, if you enjoy a little research or detective work, it's possible to discover the next step. Additionally, asking your programmer may help with the overall creation of your iPhone app. Depending on their prior experience, he or she may be able to provide additional input and help you develop your ideas.


1) Consumers first

Always focus on the creating the ideal user experience! Make this your primary goal and you will ultimately achieve success.

If you want to learn more about the step-by-step process for creating an application, check out my eBook, HOW TO MAKE AN IPHONE APP. It's a short read with only 777 words (yes, it's lucky!) and includes step-by-step instructions. 

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