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I write a lot of technical articles about iPhone/ iPad development and I’ve published 2 books and contributed to a 3rd one. This time though I’ve compiled a short list of advices based on my 18 active months in the App Store. If you are a beginner in the App Store or you already published few titles, but looking at why you maybe are not selling as much as you want – I hope my article will help you succeed. I have written the Top 10 advices article as a part of a bigger project aiming to help iPhone/iPad developers and indie publishers, so if you find the article helpful please answer the 2 question poll at the bottom of the text.
1. Look for a niche or an up-going trend
When you are brainstorming about your next (first) app use all the freely accessible information on the Internet. First check what is selling at the moment – open iTunes and see what apps are in each category of the app store in the top 100 and “what’s hot” charts.
Now be sure to make the diference between an over-saturated market and an opportunity market. The first fart app made tons of money, the second was a hit, but fart apps (in general) were a trend for such a long time that eventually Apple started denying them into the App store.
So have a look what’s selling and if you think there’s still some $ for yet another app of the kind go ahead, otherwise see if you could develop the trend in another direction and release something that is not already on the market (even better).
2. More work does not mean more proft
Let’s say you want to create a 3d racing game – there is defnitely a big market for such games already and there’s a lot of $ to be made by anyone who can deliver. The thing is a 3d racing game is a lot of work, and of course as a good programmer (or outsourcer) you are not afraid of it, but the problem is that the more work you’d put in your product does not necessarily mean more proft for you. With this type of game you are in direct competition with companies like Electronic Arts and Gameloft. The fact they own big and professional marketing departments is likely to demean the value of your work hour – so get to know your competitor, be sure they don’t have big advantage on you in sales and make sure you’ll get the real $ value of the hours you intend to put in your product.
3. Always check if your app is not already existing
This is probably the very first and most common mistake potential developers do. An idea strikes them while in the bath tube and they spend hours, days if not weeks, fantasizing about what functionalities their app will have and how beautiful will it look and so forth and so forth. Until the time they finally mention it to a friend of theirs and he/she points them out to a very similar app in the app store which is already live and has X more features and its design was contracted to a professional designer.
If you have an idea – open iTunes and spend 15 minutes to make a research.
4. Name it right
Probably the hardest task will be to come up with catchy and reasonable name: it has to not be already taken, it has to say what the app is all about with one to three words and it has to be international. You hit the curb. Search everything you come up with first in Google, you’d be surprised how many and how awkward game titles exist already. Think hard and good. Don’t make a poll or a focus group with your friends. No great invention has been made by a focus group. Furthermore your friends will tend to be more critical of your ideas since you are “not a real company” – this advice is for free. Better ask your wife/husband instead of your friends, signifcant ones will be in general more supportive and criticize your ideas only if they really think are bad (for the family peace’s sake).
5. You have 2 seconds to turn a visitor into a customer
Facts are facts – most visitors on your iTunes page or your app web site will have had made their minds about whether to buy or not after the first 2 seconds. They may stay longer on your site – even browse around to see your testimonials etc., but they will rarely change their minds after that first decision.
Your most valuable marketing assets are your icon and the app name. These are what the visitor will first see on your iTunes page or your web site. If those two don’t sell the app it’s almost over for you. You can highlight all the great features in the app description, but sadly people just don’t read text (furthermore only the first line of text is visible and almost no-one will click the read more link).
if your icon is catchy be sure your screenshots are too – this is the next thing people will look at and those screenshots are the deal closer, after the screenshots is either buy now or leave to another page/app.
6. Don’t invent the wheel; use a framework
You might be a very good programmer or a first-time app developer – that does not really matter – code is just code and sooner or later it gets written and does what you want the way you want it. What really matters is how much efort you put into it and whether you can spend less time and get better quality in the same time.
There’s a ton of frameworks out there, some are commercially supported (but still free to use) and some are community developed (which still provides you with lots of opportunities to ask about your troubles in forums).
Imagine how much time it takes you to write an OpenGL ES engine for your 2d game: let’s for the sake of the article say it takes only two months to have everything coded, tested and optimized: that’ll be around 400 hours x let’s say 40$/hr; you end up with a 16,000$ budget and you still don’t have a single line of logic for your game. Swallow your pride and spend a week to master one of the 2d frameworks out there.
7. Don’t overcomplicate
This is a real story: I have a long history of developing for the desktop and the web, I’ve been doing consulting, software architecture and product design – I defnitely do know about software. While developing my first serious app for the iPhone I was trying to use all my expertise in software development to develop an awesome product. But what has happened was: I was trying to apply knowledge in space rocket engineering to build an awesome spoon. First of all space rockets and spoons have diferent users and as well diferent cost to design and produce. Don’t make your users feel (or worse: pay) like if they were using a rocket. Why? Because there are a lot of spoons out there and if you challenge or make your user uncomfortable they’d just get another spoon for a minimal price.
8. Decide on a business model before doing any work
Before you put any time into designing an icon, coding, hiring freelance copywriters, etc. etc. be sure you know what your business model will be and be sure you feel comfortable with it and it has the realistic possibility to provide you with some income.
if you plan on releasing a simple app much like a bunch of other apps on the store for the minimal price of 0,99$ be sure anyone with a similar app is selling. You won’t be able to put ads in a paid application (or better you should not if you don’t want to piss off your users) and the next thing when your sales hit the rock bottom will be to go free – then would be kind of late to add adverts inside. Be sure you plan ahead.
if you plan to release a small free app in the wild – be sure it could bring you some income. if you are depending on advertisement $ ask yourself how many times per day is the user likely to start your app? if they use it 3 times and never start it again they will never see the ads in your app.
9. Don’t use your valuable time on a dead cat
Almost all apps have similar sales graph. Release, then being quiet for a few days, then skyrocket and then slowly sink towards a plateau close to the bottom. There are a million and one tricks how to make your sales’ peak unload more apps and how to make your downtrend flatter, etc. but remember once you hit the bottom it will never be a hit app anymore, you can keep it alive and sell some more, but eforts vs. proft ratio will only get worse and worse.
10. Make fuss about it
Now that you are all done and you have a great app at hands and you are ready to start selling: don’t rush it! You won’t have patience to see what’s going to happen, and how your sales are going to do, but hold the release! Even if you are not a social media expert you do have some friends, some family, colleagues, and x-roommates, former girlfriends with whom you already speak again, and so forth. Make them all know you are releasing an app for the iPhone, tell them 3 times until they have written about it on their Facebook walls and until some tell you to stop bothering them.
Make sure to follow up with them when you do release the app.
Another step you defnitely should take is make a press release. It is not likely that this is going to get you on first page of your local newspaper, but if you use a service which automatically sends your release to a number of press release web sites they will publish it. That efectively creates hundreds of links to your iTunes page or your website and you defnitely want to be friends with the Google search engine.