Should He make an iPhone App?

A friend of mine wants to make an iPhone app for people in his field. He’s not a software developer so he needs some help. He works with the top people world-wide in his lucrative field, so he is in a good position to really find out what people want.

He asked me,

Have you had any experience with iphone apps? Do you think there is money to be made? Or is it a waste of time?

Here’s my answer:

Everything below is my opinion – ask another software guy and you’ll get another answer. However I am also a business guy…

Developing an iPhone app is a crap shoot. A few people hit it big. A few more earn enough for a good income. Some more people would have earned just as much money if they had spent their time waiting on tables instead of working on an iPhone app. And most people? If they account for their time they end up well behind. It’s like wanting to become a musician or an actor. A few people do exceedingly well, but chances are you’ll get very little income from it.

You need a good idea that fills a need in the market, you need to execute it well, you need to promote it well, and you need buckets of luck! Actually this applies to software in general.

Keeping the idea secret is a mistake. The idea itself is nothing. Anything you create for the iPhone can be easily copied by others. Whether they do that a few weeks after you release or in advance is immaterial.

The important thing is how you execute (keyword: iterate, key phrase: release early, release often) and how you market. In my opinion you should bounce this idea off anyone in your field who will listen. Then you can gauge the level of interest, get suggestions, make improvements on the idea. With your contacts and experience in your field, you have the opportunity to get killer feedback from your colleagues. Once you’ve got a unreleased beta version done, you can give it for free to everyone you know with an iPhone in your field to try it out and give you more feedback.

If you want to get started working on some ideas, I recommend using Balsamiq Mockups to sketch out how you might want the user interface to look and work. You can use it for free on the web (with nag screens that appear once every few minutes), and it has some good iPhone templates to work with. Work on some mockups, rework them, and then rework them a few times. Then after taking a break do some more rework.

My friend asked me not to disclose his idea, so I can’t tell you the field he works in.

Do any of you reading this have experience creating and selling iPhone apps? If so, do you have anything to add?