Professional iOS app developers need to factor in a lot of things while creating applications, to bolster the chances of the latter’s success. If you are planning to get into this field, here are a few pointers to get you started.
Mobile app development has been projected to become a $26 billion industry by the end of 2015. Fast forward another couple of years, and the total revenues are likely to soar beyond $65 billions, as the annual app download count goes past a stunning 210 billions. Among the different app development platforms, iOS offers by far the highest earning potential for developers (in spite of Android hogging more of the worldwide market share). Creating iPhone apps at a professional level can certainly be financially rewarding, provided you keep in mind the following factors:
- Do not develop apps for the heck of it – As soon as you move beyond working on dummy projects, there has to be a purpose to all your app developments. In order to be successful, an app needs to be ‘needed’ by the end-users. If the app-idea is unique but won’t be serving any particular purpose (or its targeted end-users would be too niche), it won’t be worth investing time, money and effort on.
- Not all app ideas are feasible – Brainstorming new app ideas is not particularly easy. Once you and your team have zeroed in upon an idea, it is only natural that you would be determined to transform it into a nice iOS application. However, this is not possible in all cases. There are many ideas that sound perfectly good in theory, but are not practical (either the potential costs are too high, or the coding required is too complex, etc, or any other such problem). If a third-party client floats an app idea (and asks for a free app quote on it) which you do not feel is workable, don’t be hesitant to tell him/her that.
- Become an expert programmer – This is, of course, an ongoing process. However, before you even apply for a position at an iPhone app company, make sure that you are comfortable in working with Objective-C and Apple Swift – the two programming languages you will need to code apps. You will also need to have a first-hand feel of the latest Xcode tool (the third beta of Xcode 6.4 has been seeded) as well as the Cocoa Touch framework. A good mobile app developer is, invariably, a master programmer.
- Register yourself with Apple – Now for the official stipulations of Apple Inc. To start submitting apps at the App Store, you will have to register yourself as an iOS developer (a fee of $99 has to be paid) at https://developer.apple.com/programs/ios/. In case you are not familiar with working on Mac computers, start learning up the nitty-gritty of the OS (install OS X Yosemite) as quickly as possible. You cannot, after all, make an iPhone app without an iMac!
- Move with the times – The domain of iOS app development is in a state of constant flux. You might have received training about how to make apps for the older 4” iPhone 5 handsets – but your clients are likely to ask for applications that are optimized for the much larger screens of iPhone 6 (4.7”) and iPhone 6 Plus (5.5”). In addition, new opportunities have opened up in the sub-domain of making apps for Apple Watch. The general standard of the initial set of WatchKit apps has been pretty poor, and companies are in a race to create better applications for the Apple smartwatch.
- Be realistic with your deadlines – While setting a deadline for finishing a new mobile app project, make sure that it can actually be completed within that period. Factor in things like available manpower, probable delays, the expected app testing period, and the like, before you quote a particular date. Ideally, divide the entire app development process into multiple phases and milestones. This will help in keeping your task streamlined and systematic. Remember, missed deadlines can be disastrous for the goodwill of iPhone app companies.
- Work in collaboration with professional designers – You are reading this because you want to be an iOS app developer, right? That means your expertise/principal line of interest lies in the direction of coding, bug-testing and related tasks. Do not kid yourself into thinking that you can handle the UI/UX designing responsibilities as well. In order to be successful, an app needs to have user-friendly, engaging interfaces and layouts, in-app navigation, splash screens, animations (particularly in iPhone games) and other visual features. Hire professional graphic artists and animators for the purpose, and work in collaboration with them as a team.
- Never give up on your core expertise – This one is for all the senior mobile app entrepreneurs and CEOs out there. As their companies grow, more and more time gets spent on guiding others, managing projects, interacting with clients – i.e., all the responsibilities that come with helming an app agency. This, in turn, squeezes the time available for actual coding and developing applications (after all, you can work for only so many hours in a day!). If you are a proven expert coder but do not have the time for programming, that would be a shame. Delegate some of your everyday tasks to a trustworthy colleague, and devote some time for doing the thing that brought you in this profession in the first place. That’s right, coding for apps!
- Understand the difference between desktop and mobile screens – An iPhone application should never be a bundled-down version of a website (in fact, if you simply replicate a website in an app, it might very well get rejected at the App Store). The content viewable on a mobile application has to be customized to the targeted device screens, and should not be anything like the pages of web applications (except for visual branding elements). Developing native mobile apps is what you should be interested in. Mobile web apps are no longer popular, and making hybrid apps, in most cases, is not worth the effort.
- Delivering optimal user-experience should be your prime focus – Not what ‘looks good’ to you, not what the client ‘feels’ will be right – you need to be concerned about the user-experience that an app would deliver in its final form. The long-run success of an app depends on whether its download figures sustain over time, and developers simply cannot afford to put user-preferences in the backburner. If there is a difference of opinion between you and your client(s) regarding the features and/or layout scheme an app should have, schedule a meeting, discuss things over, and find a solution that would be the best for end-users. Most of these final users will be from non-tech backgrounds – if they find your app too complicated, they will simply uninstall it.
- Set up app monetization and analytics tracking strategies – You are planning to make iOS apps for one final goal – to earn (hopefully) handsome revenues. That would, however, remain a pipe dream if you do not monetize your app in the first place. With the share of paid iOS apps having dwindled to less than 8%, implementing a straightforward paid download strategy won’t be a good idea. Instead, decide whether you should go for mobile advertisements (you will need to have a premium, ad-free version as well), or whether the Apple in-app purchase (INP) system can be included in your apps. In addition, it is imperative to track user-behavior on your apps, after installation. Make sure that you have set up a properly functioning mobile app analytics tool in your software.
- Never be in a hurry to release your app – Leading mobile app developers across the world agree that there is a three-way trade-off involved in making apps: between the quality of the app, the cost of the app, and the time required to create the app. As a new developer, you cannot afford to compromise on quality, and once you have stipulated the budget for the app-making process – take your time to ensure that the piece of mobile software you churn out is of the finest quality. You can release a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) earlier, but do specify that it is not the app in its final form. A tearing hurry to bag a non-existent first-mover’s advantage is the cause for many app failures.
- Make your clients a part of the team – The last thing you want to see after spending weeks on making a custom iOS app is a frown on the face of the client. Think from his/her perspective too – (s)he is shelling out big money, and it is only natural that the app should be made exactly the way (s)he wants. During the development stage, constantly interact with your clients, share wireframes and mockups with them, and ask for feedback/suggestions. It’s important to make clients feel involved – and the strategy ensures that your work is in sync with the clients’ preferences.
- Consider potential memory and bandwidth problems – Developers moving on from the web platform to the mobile platform often tend to overlook this. The available memory space in a mobile device can be as little as 128 MB – a far cry from the 8GB memory space that a computer can have (maximum). Avoid using too many ‘heavy’ images in your app – which will affect its overall speed and performance. In addition, monitor the bandwidth usage of your new app before submission. If too much of mobile bandwidth is being consumed by an application, you need to make the necessary fixings.
- Optimize for touchscreen devices – You need to have an in-depth feel of the general touch gestures on the latest iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices, before getting down to create an app. Work with your app design team to create buttons, tabs and menus that would be easy to tap (for people with all types of finger sizes), and the expected user-flow would not be hampered in any way. Understanding the nature of touch interfaces and modifying the app codes accordingly is a necessary skill – the sooner you acquire it, the better.
- Test your app – No matter how many bug fix updates you release, if the first version of your app is buggy – that gives your company a bad name (your client won’t be overtly happy either!). In addition to testing apps on the iOS simulators available in Xcode, you have to actually install and test it on all the targeted devices. If possible, form a focus group, ask them to install the app on their devices, use it, and provide their feedback. Mobile app testing on the cloud is also important.
As a professional iOS app developer, it is of essence that you should be acquainted with all the clauses of the App Store Review Guidelines and the iOS Human Interface Guidelines. Never use any private APIs in your app, and make sure that there are no discrepancies in the small and large versions of your app icon. Data management on apps should ideally be from the server-side. Becoming an expert iOS developer is certainly not the easiest task in the world, and it will not lead to overnight riches either. However, if you follow the above tips, you can steadily move towards professional success and recognition.
Now, that’s what you should be after, right?