Why People shouldn't waste their money on developing iPhone apps

First off let me start by stating that my company develops iPhone apps. In fact we have developed almost a 100 apps since the app store opened in 2008. These apps have been for individuals, small businesses, large businesses, for ourselves and everything in-between.
This article isn't written for developers creating their own apps or companies building apps in house although anyone thinking about developing an app could benefit from reading this. This article is written directly to individuals that have "some great idea" and have thought about hiring a company to develop an iPhone app for them.
My advise to you is simple, don't do it!! If you have $20,000 - $50,000+ to pay someone to develop an app you have a better chance of striking it rich by taking a trip to Vegas an playing roulette.
If you think my figure of a starting point of $20,000 seems ridiculously large take a moment and do a little googling to find out the cost of creating an iPhone app. Sure you can find someone on a freelance site that will say they can develop an iPhone App for $1,000 but as the old saying goes you get what you pay for. You can find a great post here about the code of developing iPhone apps
So here goes a list of 8 things people have said when wanting an app developed that have raised the red flags and have lead me to the conclusion that individual’s shouldn't “waste” their money on developing an app. These are based off of actual emails and conversations I have had over the years. Most of them have been said many many times over by different individuals.
  1. "This should be a really simple app" - Depending on the person saying this it can be interpreted several ways. In most cases I have found that it means: I don't have a clue what I am doing and have no real idea what it takes to get something like this done.
  2. "This should only take a few days to develop" - Again goes to unrealistic expectations. This statement is directly tied to statement #1. They have no clue what they are talking about.  This is probably their first “tech” project they have done and if they have never been involved in any sort of technology project I sure as heck don't want to be their first. It is almost always a painful experience of unrealistic expectations never being met.
  3. "This app is just like the app 'Angry Birds' so it shouldn't be to hard" - When someone names a top app like Angry Birds and thinks it should be developed for anything that doesn't involve six figures they are completely off their rocker. Seriously people do you think that an app of that quality was just put together over a couple of weeks. The amount of polish that goes into an app like that represents a significant amount of time on top of the time it took to develop the base code. Not only do you have the enormous coding time it would take but you would spend as much or more time creating all the graphics. In a recent interview with Wired Magazing, Rovio put the cost of developing Angry Birds at $140,000
  4. "I got a quote on this freelance website saying they could do it for x amount" - Did you get a list of their previously developed apps? Is this a US or British based company? Is it some kid in their basement? Again you get what you pay for.
  5. "I had a developer that started the code and it is 90% finished. It shouldn't take to much time to finish it." - Taking over someone else's code can be a nightmare at best. When a developer leaves you hanging and says it is 90% done in my experience it is usually less than 50% done. There is a reason is never got finished and a good bet is because they were a bad programmer and/or an inexperience developer. You are usually better off flushing that code down the drain and starting with a clean slate. This is a broad statement and isn't always true but it has been my experience it usually is.
  6. "This is a top 10 app for sure" - Even with the most polished, high quality app the chances of it being a top 10 app are slim at best. There are 300,000+ apps right now. The top ten list is dominated by the same apps for long periods at a time. You do the math.
  7. "This app will make me very rich" - Recent figures show that Apple has paid out over $2 billion to developers so far. Sounds like a huge number right? If you take $2 billion and divide it by the current 366,000+ apps you get $5500 lifetime earnings off an average app. Based on my experience that payout is logarithmic in nature with most apps making much less than top earning apps that make millions of dollars. Just throwing a number out there that is based off of the limited experience that I have but I would guess that the top 2% of apps make 90% of all profit. My own company has 19 apps at the moment and I follow the sales figures on a regular bases. Two of our apps make as much money as the rest of them combined. Again a limited data set but based off our clients apps as well and reports I have read by developers over the last few years on the internet I am very confident in saying that trend is pretty common.
  8. "I only have x amount of dollars so I have to have the app built for no more than that" - So is what you are telling me is that you are putting your life savings into this app? An app has a higher chance of losing money than making money. This isn't a get rich scheme. This is a high risk investment with the potential for a high reward. The reason an investment is high risk is because you have a higher risk of losing money than making money. A wise business owner once advised me to never develop an app for someone that was spending more than 5% of their investment portfolio. This has to be disposable money that at the end of the day if the app loses money and they lose all the investment they can walk away and stomach the pain that the lost money will cause them.  As a development company you never want to be responsible for the life or death of a person's entire net worth.  This is probably the biggest reason we no longer do development work for individuals.  Unless they truly just have the "spare cash" laying around see what "Turning their app idea into a reality" can do for them it is always better to run far far away from this kind of client.

So my advise to individuals wanting to build an app is for them to get their head out of the clouds and wake up.  Sure your idea might be the next Angry Birds mega hit but please be realistic.  It most likely isn't.  I get multiple emails every day through our website and referrals of past clients. I end up turning most of them down almost immediately based off the fact that they are an individual wanting an app done and a comment or believes similar to one or more of the eight listed above. Our company ends up developing on average 1 out of every 30 app ideas that are presented to us.
In my experience the best success of an app is when it fits into a larger business model. Apps for companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, Netflix are great high profile examples. The business does not live and die by the success of the app. But instead the app supplements the bigger goals of the company.
Again the company doesn't live or die by the app but the app is one piece of the bigger picture.  If you set up your company around the success of a single "stand alone" app you are statistically setting yourself up for failure.
If you are an individual and you feel like playing app roulette feel free but don't say you haven't been warned. My advice to for you to be realistic.
  • Expect to spend $20,000 plus if you want a nice app.
  • Understand there is a very good chance you will lose money in your app adventure.
  • Do your homework and review a developer's portfolio of apps.  Download and test drive their previous apps.
  • Find a developer that speaks English or your native language.
  • Have a well formed idea before you contact them.
  • Contact several development companies to get a feel for who you feel will be the best fit for you.
  • Try and find a local developer, if possible, since it is very hard to put a price on being able to work with someone face to face when needed.
  • And of course feel free to contact us about hiring us to develop your iPhone or mobile app.

The hard truth is that most individuals shouldn't get involved in app development. It is just too risky. Build up a company that has more depth than "just an app" and THEN have an app built to support it. If history has taught us anything about the "gold rushes" of the past it is that most people don't end up striking it rich, some make a modest amount and many walk away losing everything.
Like I said these rules are mostly for individuals looking to strike it rich off a single app.  It just isn’t a smart business plan.  If you are a company these rules don't apply as well to you. You still need to decide how an app will fit into your larger business model and have realistic expectations of what it is going to take to get an app developed and what your return from having the app will be. You need to do your homework, shop around and look for an experience development company.  Basically the same things I mentioned above.
In the last decade the user's expectation was that all companies should have a website.  With the new mobile revolution facing us today an ever growing number of users are expecting companies to have mobile apps and/or mobile optimized websites. So businesses today need to decide if they can afford to have a nice app built and what the consequences of not having an app might mean to them if they get left behind in the new mobile age that is upon us.  They need to understand their goals of developing an iPhone, iPad or mobile app and have clear expectations of what they are wanting to "get" out of having an app.  Most importantly they need to base the decision to build an iPhone,iPad or mobile app on how it will compliment the bigger objectives of the company.

About Us:
Clever Coding is US company based out of Springville, Utah. We are available for hire to develop iPhone/iPad apps. To date we have developed over 100 apps for companies around the world. Many of our apps have been top 100 apps and many have been featured by Apple. Please visit our main website for more information about the apps we have developed and to learn more about hiring us to develop your iPhone or mobile app.

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