Troubling Signs for iPhone App Development

I follow about 30 iPhone developers’ blogs who, until a month or two ago, were writing prolifically. Now, silence. This is a bad sign.

Who were these people? Many of the early developers for iPhone, many of whom wrote “productivity” or other apps aimed at business (instead of entertainment, although there were a few of those also). But now none are writing.

Could this be because they are so busy they don’t have time to write? Could they be head’s down on their next great app? Could they have all been on vacation since July and just not writing?

All are possible, but I don’t think that’s it.

I think they’ve gotten discouraged. I think they aren’t making more than a few hundred, maybe a thousand dollars a month, and that the sales have been so inconsistent that they’ve stopped caring. Maybe they started doing custom work — one of the few bright spots in the mobile app economy for the 13th straight year — or maybe they went back to their day jobs. But I don’t think they are writing apps for the App Store anymore.

This is a troubling sign, to me. I’m concerned that the small, independent developers are disappearing. Who’s going to be the Google and Facebook and Twitter of mobile? Or is the market not even capable of supporting a company like this?

I’ve come to a different conclusion over my too many years in mobile. I’ve come to the conclusion that mobile development needs to be a part of a bigger company strategy, but it by no means should be the only focal point. In other words, saying you’re a mobile company won’t get you two pennies to rub together. But focusing on being a web company or products company that will utilize mobile, now that’s a different conversation.

7 thoughts on “Troubling Signs for iPhone App Development

  1. Great talk last night at Portland Web Innovators Elia!

    I can’t agree with you more about becoming a web company vs being a mobile company.

    I would nice to read more about your experiences developing for the iphone app store here on your blog. Just hearing a little about it last night was very thought provoking.

  2. I’ve developed 5 iPhone Apps and I’m not going to develop any more but instead concentrate on what I’ve got and make them even better. Why stop developing new stuff? Well the honest answer is there’s just no money in it, there’s too much competition out there, it’s hard to market your iPhone Apps and there’s far too much dross in the App Store. I also think it’s wrong that Apple will let certain companies release single apps such as (these titles are made up but you’ll get the idea) Find a coffee in Manchester (App#1), Find a coffee in London (App#2) .. and so on. Apple should have said ‘hey I tell you what we’ll accept your App if you just have one and make it multi location – not one app per location’ That process alone will probably cut out 5% of the App Store (I just made that figure up but it sounds about right as there are a couple of companies out there that have over 1000 apps based on this ‘duplication principle’).

    This is a side issue but Apple also aren’t playing fare. Up until a few months ago if you searched on the App Store the App description would be used to pick up your keywords. So if you were creative in your description your App would be up there in the search results. They then changed it to include keywords, which I agree with but the problem is they haven’t forced this on all apps, only the ones that are either new or ones that have had their descriptions updated (at the moment if you haven’t added keywords it will force you to if you want to change the descriptive text). So if you have ever searched for an App and something completely irrelevant appears in the search results, then that’s the reason why. Apple should force all developers to update their keywords, to make it an even playing field. If I search for some of my Apps at the moment there are Apps that are way up the list in the results that have nothing to do with the subject matter.

    The other thing is that there is no easy way for us to find out the reviews for our Apps. It took me months to release that the reviews I was seeing in the App Store were only my ‘local’ reviews (I’m in the UK), so I was missing out on a lot of important feedback from around the world, mainly the US. There is now a site out there that will help http://www.appergy.com

    Developers are starting to leave in droves but there are also new developers who think they can still make a quick buck .. well I’m afraid to say those days have long gone … unless it really is a killer app or you can spend thousands on marketing (which sadly I can’t). The end result will be ten’s of thousands of 99 cent Apps out there that will never get an update as the developer is doing something else now .. possibly working on the next killer Android app .. or working back in McDonalds.

    • I sure understand your pain, Steve, and have been there myself for too long. That shift, by the way, from using the description to using keywords cost me a couple hundred unit sales per day. It really favors apps that do one thing really well rather than general purpose applications like FastFigures.

  3. Yeah I was the same, my Finger Draw App was slowly starting to go up the charts in the Entertainment section, US App Store and then I STUPIDLY changed my description. I saw the ‘new’ keyword section and added a few thinking that I could then go back and add some more .. sadly as I now know you can’t do that until you resubmit. It’s now off the radar and sales figures are very poor 😦 I’ve also got another app called Doodle Clock which has had some great reviews but it’s just too hard to try and market, without spending some hard earned cash .. and even then the sales may not even cover the development of the App. If you’ve got any great ideas on how to get sales I’d love to hear about them!

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