For anyone planning of entering the iOS app market, it is immediately clear that visibility is the key. With almost 500 thousands apps, the app market is certainly crowded, and developers interest towards it grows constantly, so the outlook is not for better. The times where entering the App Store was a guarantee for revenues are gone. We all know that.
The Business of iPhone and iPad App Development, by Dave Wooldridge with Michael Schneider for apress, tries to address this concern and to teach developers a set of strategies and approaches aimed at maximizing the chance of success. This book is strictly focused on the viewpoint of a developer, not marketing or sales specialist, and it tries to convey all the knowledge that, as software developers, we usually lack. In this respect, it is a necessary reading for all developers willing to go independent.
The journey begins
The book takes the reader through a veritable journey from the very early phases of idea definition, to techniques like press releases and customer relationship management.
The first step is the idea, but the idea in itself is not enough. Also important is characterizing this idea in terms of how it compares to the competition; understanding what already existing similar apps already offer; finding inspiration in your competition; defining a differentiatior.
I think that the reasoning about the differentiation is the main point to take home You can have a wonderful idea, but chances are, it will be already implemented by some apps. You can still go on, provided you find a way to give your app a value proposition that either puts it above all competition, or simply is able to attract a portion of the overall market for app of that kind.
This part, I think, is really important in our world. It discusses general topics like copyright, patents, trademarks; what you should be aware of in case you contract some help; pros and cons of having your own EULA; what to do when you need to pursue legal action.
This part is important, but given all the lawsuits that are falling on the neck of many iOS ISVs, I don’t think there is really a chance to be sage; and since I am an incurable optimist, I pretend that I will not need anything of this, at least for some time…
The first rule of Marketing
The first rule of marketing is having a great product. A great product does not mean just great functionality. It means a great experience, from the very first contact with your application, which usually is its icon and the description you provide on the App Store, including the snapshots.
The first 5 minutes a user spends with an app are arguably the most important and the critical ones. Many apps simply do not stand that test and get deleted forever.
There are some technical points about having an app that is a well-behaved citizen of the App Store: respecting Apple’s HIG; providing icons and artwork for all the resolutions of the devices you support; icon and logo; and the book goes into them with quite a lot of detail, possibly too much. More importantly, if you have ever wondered how you design an effective UI, the book has a lot of suggestions about simple tools to make mock ups, prototypes, interaction testing, custom controls vs. UIKit controls, colors, accessibility, fonts, and music. You won’t believe the number of applications and services that have been developed around the requirements of the mobile developer.
Apart from the technical aspect, the most important advice is designing the interface like a user, not a developer. This suggestion alone, together with the hints at how accomplishing it, is worth the whole chapter.
By the way: a great product is an app that works as expected, so don’t forget testing and performance optimization.
Promotion, promotion, promotion…
Promotion is the salt of sales. Possibly the most important means of promoting your apps in the App Store are user reviews. This is so important, that the book goes into offering you UI samples and code to encourage users to give feedback. Is a simple
UIAlert less effective that a custom view? How often and when to ask for feedback? Those are points you better decide having some sort of judgement.
Exploiting social networks like Twitter and Facebook also belongs to here, and again you will find code samples to make your life easier with integrating the API to those services in your app, and suggestion as to which open source frameworks to use for that (Twitter API, Facebook API, ShareKit). If your app is a game, yhe same kind of consideration applies to choosing the right social gaming platform. You have no excuse.
Possibly, the most important tool to sell your app can be your app itself, plus In-App Purchase, or a free Lite version of it and a full, non free Pro version. This is a large topic and the book goes into detail analyzing the pros and cons of each approach, without forgetting the nitty-gritty details that you might oversee:
- lite version: what are the restrictions? does it actually provide a sale boost? how to avoid the risk that customers will only get the free version? when to release the free app respect to the full version? how much does it cost? how to do data migration in case of upgrade? how to monetize on the lite version through affiliate programs?
- freemium version: when and how to use in-app purchase? how to manage in-app content, unlock vs. download? how to configure in-app purchase in iTunes Connect? how to test? how to integrate the Store Kit Framework in your app? how to restore paid content is case of loss or reinstall?
It is worth noting that a full chapter is devoted to the use of affiliate programs and advertising (iAd and other ad providers) in your app, and that the book goes to a great length at describing how to implement in-app purchase in your app, not only at the code level, but also describing how in-app purchase should be presented to the user so that the user does not have any bad experience. If you are interested in in-app purchase, this part only in worth the book price.
Testing and usability
When it comes to testing and usability, each programmer knows what to do. But there is much more than this to a successful app, and you better spend some effort to defend your app against the worst, a negative review, and try and proactively prevent user frustration by providing in-app help. Again, all this is treated in a hands-on manner, with plenty of examples of different approaches.
An important aspect of this, if you are serious about testing and usability, is a beta program, and the books takes you step by step along this complex path, including wirelessly distributing the app to the beta testers.
The Party starts
The final chapters are devoted to the process of marketing your app. The book is full with advices as to how creating a prerelease buzz; how to make sure that every potential buyer gets its share of information; the importance of having a professional mobile web site about your app; increasing awareness through press releases, promo codes, advertising, customer touch, price management, visibility. Each of those approaches is analyzed in detail and presented in a way that allow you to decide whether it is good for you or not.
As you may have noticed, the book, though compact and easy to read, is a sort of bible of everything you need to know to become a successful iOS software developer, including aspects of the process that are all too important, and that most programmers would possibly not consider in an adequate way since they do not have to do with development itself.
I cannot but suggest anyone serious about iOS app to go get it soon.