Working in a corporate IT department or for a software house as an application developer has its benefits, namely a regular paycheck. But, you probably want more. You dream about selling your own apps through the Apple App Store, Google Play, or maybe even the Windows Store. Good luck.
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Microsoft’s Nick Landry, Sr. is a technical evangelist and all-around cheerleader for all things mobile on all platforms. (He’s a mobile guy, not a Windows guy.) Landry especially loves developers who have big ideas for small apps. Write an app with a goal of selling it in an app store? Absolutely. Go for it, he says with a big smile and wide eyes. But, don’t expect to get rich doing it. And, definitely don’t quit your day job thinking you’ll generate enough income to live comfortably. Those who strike it rich selling apps are like the people featured in those late-night weight-loss infomercials — their results are not typical. “It’s an extremely competitive world where you have literally millions of applications out there,” Landry says. “It’s very hard to get discovered; it’s not like ‘if you build it they will come.'” He’s right; your app will literally contain fields of dreams.
Whatever the idea you conjure up for an app, it’s likely already been done hundreds or thousands of times. After your app is finished and you submit it, the scrutiny begins. In its App Store Review Guidelines, Apple itself has a lot to say, including “If your App doesn’t do something useful … or if your app is plain creepy, it may not be accepted,” and ” we will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line.” The guidelines includes lengthy sections covering everything from metadata to push notifications, user interfaces to trademarks, personal attacks to violence, objectionable content, and a whole lot more.
Get past all the obstacles and watch the dough roll in? Not so fast. Landry says you have to do a “ton” of marketing and promotion to even get noticed. Marketing, though, generally doesn’t come naturally to techie types. That’s why Steve Wozniak had Steve Jobs, why Bill Gates had Steve Ballmer.
No less an authority than Gartner weighed in on the subject. In a 2014 report, Gartner said less than 0.01% of consumer mobile apps will be considered a financial success by their developers through 2018. In the words of Ken Dulaney, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, “There are so many applications that are free and that will never directly generate revenue. Gartner is forecasting that, by 2017, 94.5 percent of downloads will be for free apps.”
Of course, there will always be the one app that just happens to go viral on its own, but it’s not the sort of thing that one can plan. “It’s something you can hope for,” Landry says, “but, you cannot build a strategy on hope.” Talk about a dose of reality.
“Discoverability is a real challenge. If your app is not among the top 50 in its category, the chances are it will never be downloaded,” Landry says. That’s certainly a sobering dose of reality. According to Statista, as of May 20, there were 1.5 million apps in Google Play, 1.4 million in the Apple App Store, 360,000 in the Amazon Appstore (who knew?), and 340,000 in the Windows Phone Store.
He adds that 17% of independent developers generate no revenue at all from their apps while another 18% make less than $100 a month. In other words, if you’re in it for the glory and experience, have at it. Revenue streams, not so much.
But, you still have your dream. Go for it. Landry isn’t trying to talk you out of anything. He is, after all, a mobile app evangelist. He simply wants to be sure you understand the rules of the road. Write that app. Go through the testing and vetting process. Watch it go live then impress your friends. And us. We’d like to hear from you. Share your app store development challenges and successes.