When the first true mainstream app store launched with the first iPhone back in 2007, the idea caught on like wildfire. Prior to that point, programs were downloaded via the web, and though good for the consumer, monetization was difficult. This meant that, apart from offering the fruits of their labor for free, amateur developers had little other recourse to action.
The App Store offered something different. It brought a clean interface, bite-size downloads, easy options for monetization, and a unified set of hardware specs to work with. As such, it is hardly surprising that competitors soon popped up, with the Android Marketplace arriving with the T-Mobile G1 in 2008 and the Windows Phone Store following later in 2010. With the explosion in the popularity of smartphones, and the millions of apps that are now available to download, it is easy to assume that things have never been better for the small-time developer.
Unfortunately for some, at least, that hasn't quite proven to be the case.
Take for example, the story of Greg Stoll, a Windows Phone developer, who recently learned a few hard lessons about the world of app development.
As Greg recorded on his blog and then posted to Reddit, he recently released the app FlySmarter. The concept is simple: the app helps to collect flight information into one location to make the act of flying from one place to the next a little easier. Users can track a number of flights, look through a feed that shows delays throughout the aviation world and look through maps of a number of airports (useful given their increasingly cavernous proportions). Despite the simple concept and its general promise however, things began to go wrong quite quickly.
The first hurdle to be found was in the interface. Effective UI designs are a result of a long process of trial and error, with the ethos being to fail fast and often, to see what works and what does not in the shortest timeframe possible. With a budget of millions and a large dev team, this is easy. Working solo...not so much. Greg found, to his dismay, that this impacted his star rating.
The second and most important hurdle was monetization. Greg calculated a slim profit for himself, through the use of an omnipresent banner ad, along with a small initial purchase fee. And yet, with every flight refresh for a pinned flight, he had to pay out of his own pocket. Soon, with low levels of adoption and the fees for info usage adding up, Greg eventually found himself in the red.
A large part of this came down to an often overlooked part of app development: marketing. How the app is presented through its logo, its star rating and description, along with its wider reach, will decide how it lives and dies. This is anything but an easy task for the solo developer.
While the likes of Rudy Huyn make development look easy, there are tens of thousands of small app developers working to get their efforts off the ground, working as one-person teams, marketing, development, research: everything necessary for success. As the example of Greg Stoll shows, the best of intentions can always be defeated by a lack of experience, and yet, as he shows, there is still cause for optimism.
For although the road is hard, for the committed, it is always worthwhile.
Do you think more ought to be done to help novice app developers? Have you got any development stories of your own? Let us know in the comments below.