Confessions Of An iOS App Developer
What goes into building an app for the iPhone? Is it hard? Does it require a lot of school? Is it possible to make a living off one Flappy Bird- level success?
This week, I chatted with Aron Nelson — a Salt Lake resident, musician (you may have seen him on keyboards - imehana or Ben & Maila) and iOS app developer — to get some perspective.
“I went to school at San Jose State University for my masters in electronic music composition, so part of that was learning how to program a computer,” Nelson says. “I got excited … and I just took time off to learn how to program in different languages.”
In order to program apps for the iPhone, Nelson says, you have to learn a coding language like Objective-C or Swift.
“You can literally teach yourself. You just have to understand a few basic things,” he says, noting that there are plenty of online tutorials that can walk aspiring learners through things. He estimates it would take six months to a year to gain mastery.
Then comes the hard part: the idea.
Nelson’s experience on stage l ed him t o develop unrealBook, a performer-friendly compendium that compiles music and lyrics sheets on iPad or iPhone.
“It basically allows you to get yourself organized, play a background track, do lyrics and things like that,” Nelson says, adding that you can bet local musicians with an iPad on stage are using his app.
More recently, after his son became i nterested i n golf, he developed Backtrack Golf, an app that uses GPS tracking to help golfers trace their or a partner’s progress across the course.
“You can kind of get an i dea of i f you’re hitting crooked, if on this one course you’re always hitting to the right or left, you can visually see an overview.”
Simple as these ideas may sound, it took quite a while for each to see daylight. Nelson estimates that it takes at least two to three months to develop, prototype and release, and the job doesn’t even stop there.
“After that, it’s maintaining it, answering emails, and every time Apple builds another operating system, you need to update (the app).”
Nelson says he spends about 14 hours a week working on his various apps — practically a part-time job.
The i ncome, however,
“I don’t know anybody that can do it full time as an i ndependent,” Nelson laughs.
Apple takes a 30 percent cut of every app sold through its App Store (which is, of course, pretty much the only app store i OS users have access to). This means that a 99-cent app only nets its developer 69 cents.
“(People) think you can make a lot of money, so let’s think about it: How many people do you know in Hawai‘i? Let’s say I know 500 people real well, so then everybody bought my program, and let’s say it was $1.29.
“So I made $500. But you can’t live on that.”
Charging more seems like