Con­fes­sions Of An iOS App De­vel­oper

MidWeek (Hawaii) - - Front Page - Paige Takeya

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

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