This article will outline what you need to know to design, outsource, and create an iPhone app if you don’t know computer code or programming.
Coming up with an idea
There is quite a difference between throwing something out there and developing the next hot app. It all starts with a solid idea.
If you already have a great idea for an app, then wonderful. Just make sure you research what else is out there — and read the rest of this article because it still applies.
If you don’t have an idea, then start by writing down your passions and interests, your areas of expertise, and any problems or issues that you typically run encounter. There are apps for everything, but you should focus on building something that you have knowledge of and are familiar with.
If all else fails, browse the App Store for ideas. What categories catch your eye? What type of apps are you interested in?
Finally, remember to keep your app idea simple. Does it really need all of the bells and whistles? Most apps are used to complete one task. Decide what you want the core functionality to be and focus on that.
Don’t be discouraged if there are similar apps already out there. There is no point in searching out excess competition, but remember that a group of current apps also signify demand from the market.
That said, if you’re not the first in a market, then you should try to be the best in it. How can you improve on what is already out there? What can you do to have a unique offering?
Regardless of what ideas you come up with in the beginning, don’t worry too much about it. There is plenty of time to refine your thoughts.
The important thing is to have a starting point and move forward. The difference between successful apps and unsuccessful apps is execution, not ideas.
Details and designs
Browse the more popular apps in the App Store (not just the games). How do they work? Which screens pop up and when?
Learn from the top sellers. Do they look and feel polished? What can you take away from their design and incorporate into yours?
Once you have a few ideas, sit down and think out the details of your own apps. What will the screens look like? How will the user tap the screen to make the desired functions happen?
You can literally draw these sketches out on a napkin. Your primary goal is to understand how the app will actually work.
Eventually, these details can be used to make a UI or User Interface.
Although you may leave the final design of the UI to the developer, it is important to create your own as well. This process will help you develop a much better understanding of how the app will look, feel, and function.
These preliminary drawings are often referred to as “wireframes” or “mockups” and you may find developers using these terms.
If you’re not the graphic design type, then you can simply draw these out on paper and scan them in or use a service like Balsamiq to create them on your computer.
If you’re like me and enjoy playing around in Photoshop, then I suggest checking out this amazing wireframing kit. I still can’t believe that it is provided for free and without it I would never have been able to create the user interface for my own apps.
Also, I suggest browsing this presentation covering the different ways that users interact with their iPhones.
Making a proposal
At this point, you will need to outsource the actual creation of the app.
I recommend using Elance to hire an iPhone app developer.
You can use Elance to post an iPhone app proposal and qualified professionals will then bid on it. After assessing the bids, you can select one and pay for the job.
Often times, people will post vague proposals out of fear that others will steal their ideas and create a competing iPhone app. I understand the fear, but I have never heard of that happening.
Additionally, you will find that more bids (and more accurate bids) are placed for more detailed proposals.
You don’t have to give all the details away, but remember that good developers bid on good projects. It’s hard for them to know how great your project is if you don’t tell them anything.
At the same time, don’t send out an overwhelming amount of details. You can talk about the little things in private with the more serious bidders.
Before you have these private conversations covering the ins and outs of your application, be sure to have the developers sign and return a Non–Disclosure Agreement (NDA). You can find a template here.
As an example, this a proposal I used. I received 9 bids in less than 48 hours and found a great developer almost immediately.
This app simply adds captions to photos. It must allow the user to complete 5 actions:
- Open up a photo that has already been taken
- Add a border to the image
- Add a thought bubble or speech balloon to the image and move and resize it
- Add a text box, move and resize it, and type a caption
- Save a new full resolution version of the image
There will be only one border style for all images. There will be two font types with three sizes each (six styles total). There will be six thought bubble and speech balloon shapes.
The user must be able to use the touch pad to move and re–size the thought bubbles and speech balloon shapes.
I have access to all of the font styles, balloon shapes, and the border style.
I am looking for an experienced developer. Please provide a link to a portfolio of your previous work.
Please message me for further information.
Assessing bids and hiring a developer
It can be exciting to receive your first bid, but don’t latch on to the first person you hear from.
It’s easy to hire the first developer that contacts you or the cheapest option, but I strongly recommend analyzing the offers you receive.
Elance provides you with great information about each developer. Use it to your advantage. There is nothing wrong with hiring the cheapest bid, but only if it is the best overall choice.
Here is a list of important questions to ask yourself when assessing a developer:
- How many repeat customers have they had?
- Have they created a similar app before?
- How quickly do they respond to your questions? Are they sending personalized responses or just standard messages?
- Do they speak English well? There are many excellent developers on Elance – both in English speaking countries and abroad. Either way, communication is vital. I chat with all of my final candidates over Skype before I make any decisions.
- Do they have the professionalism and capabilities required to handle the project? There is a big difference between the lone developer in a basement somewhere and a 4 man team with project management skills.
Once you have found a developer that is a good fit for the job, sit down and create fair milestones and a clear payment schedule. Make sure that both parties agree to this schedule beforehand. You can upload the milestones to Elance’s site to keep both sides on track. (Just a note: seasoned developers will often do these steps for you.)
The payment schedule will vary depending on the project, but I have found success with the following setup:
- 30% up front
- 30% after an agreed upon milestone is reached
- 40% once the project is completed
To summarize, before each project make sure you have the following:
- A seasoned developer with multiple repeat customers
- A portfolio of their previous work
- Verification that professional graphic design work can be provided (unless you are doing it yourself)
- A formal proposal (the firm I selected sent a 7–page report)
- A clear list of milestones and a payment schedule for the project (the firm I selected sent a complete 4–page schedule)
- Verification that status reports will be submitted every week
- A clear due date by which the project is to be completed
Don’t feel guilty about asking a lot of questions and demanding all of this information before agreeing to hire a developer. Remember, they are working for you, not the other way around.
OK, but how much does it cost?
This is the answer you hate hearing: it depends.
I have heard of apps being made for as little as a few hundred dollars or as much as $10,000.
Regardless of your budget, remember to keep it simple when you’re starting out. This will help to minimize mistakes and keep the cost down.
If you do have the luxury of a larger budget, then perhaps you should try two or three simple apps to increase your odds of success.
Either way, if you hire someone on Elance you don’t need to worry about the developers conspiring against you to charge more. The Elance market is far too competitive for that. Some developers will always bid high, but if you receive at least a handful of bids then you should get a sense for the fair price for your project.
Tip: If you find a developer that you really like but their bid is too high for your price range, then write back to them with a new, simplified version of your app. Ask them to send you an updated proposal based on your changes. Tell them the current bid range that you are considering and let them know that you would like to hire them if they can make a competitive offer.
Dealing with issues and planning ahead
My primary suggestion is to communicate early and often.
Issues will arise. Designs may not look how you envisioned. Some functions you want will be difficult to program. Expect surprises both good and bad.
Set up a clear line of communication and talk with your developers often. The longer issues go unaddressed the harder it is to fix them. Furthermore, if you don’t pinpoint problems early on the developers could ask for more money later due to the extra work.
Regardless of what happens, remember to treat your developers well. Establishing professionalism and clear milestones doesn’t require you to be demanding and overbearing. You are both on the same team. Think of the person behind the screen before you send your next message.
Once your app is ready and approved for the App Store, you have to select a category for it to be filed under. However, you can only choose one category, and which category you choose can substantially effect the success of your app.
For example, let’s say you make an app that is some type of money making challenge. Perhaps you could submit it to the Games, Entertainment, or Finance categories.
Games currently has 41,000+ apps.
Entertainment currently has 32,000+ apps.
Finance currently has 4,700+ apps.
Why does the number of apps matter?
When you submit your app it will be featured in the “New” section for that category. How long it remains at the top of the ” New” pile depends on how often new apps are submitted after yours. Clearly, Games and Entertainment will receive far more submissions, which means that your app will be forced out of sight much faster.
The period of time after your app first comes out is critical to your success. If you don’t have a way to get the word out (i.e. large followings on Twitter or Facebook or a well performing portfolio of apps), then this time is even more crucial.
Landing on a Top Ten list, whether it is for your category or the overall store, is the Holy Grail for an application. In order to get there, you need a very large amount of downloads.
Downloads come with exposure and because the App Store is designed for maximum turnover, it’s very unlikely that you will receive more exposure than when your app is first released.
This page keeps track of the number of apps by category. That page should help you get a general idea for which categories are the most competitive (and most popular). The category you choose to release your app in can have a tremendous effect on the success of the app due to the variance in competition across categories.
You can find the current stats for many different App Store metrics here.
Of course, category selection is a trade–off. The Books, Games, and Entertainment categories receive the most downloads, which is why they are also the most competitive. Furthermore, the lure of those categories is strong because while it is tough to hit it big in more competitive categories, the payoff can make it all worthwhile.
The most important thing to remember
If you’re anything like me, then five minutes in the App Store will convince you that most apps serve no purpose. Don’t create one of those apps.
The single most critical factor determining the success or failure of an app is the market you choose to target with your application.
A good rule of thumb is if your app doesn’t inspire, educate, or entertain then come up with a different idea.
Have an idea or a question? Add it to the comments below.
I would love to hear from you.