Making and Selling Quality Software for the iPhone

Recently I’ve been hearing a number of complaints from iPhone software developers about pricing. These folks want to get out of the “99 Cent store.” The vast majority of these guys are either producing shovelware, first time coders, first time businessmen, are not making the effort to strategize their applications on the app store.

There are five basic things you need to do to get your app sold.

  1. Price appropriately, price not-free.
    Have a lite version so users can get a taste, but, do charge money for a full application. Don’t half-ass it with a 99 cent program and think you’ll get into the top-tier of sales. That is essentially a lottery at this point with the 10,000+ applications out there. Don’t go free, because then you lose your standing. Only go free if you want to establish a brand like ngmoco before releasing your paid apps. Also note that reviews are stacked against free apps, since more people will download apps for free, but are less likely to be commited to (and appreciative of) the app. Whenever someone makes a purchase for anything, they become more committed to it. Just like sony/microsoft/nintendo console fanboys become more commited when they own “they greatest console ever.”
  2. Make quality software.
    If your software isn’t very good, even the fart app fans will review it appropriately, and it isn’t going to go anywhere. If this is your first app, fine, make it a free application to demonstrate your willingness to learn, and then once you’re a better programmer you can move on to…
  3. Strategize your pricing.
    Start out with .99 cents. If your software is good, you’ll get into the top 25.  Once it is there you can iterate on the software and raise your price appropriately. Drop the price if you fall out of the top 25, have a sale, whatever.
  4. Iterate the holy hell out of your software.
    The biggest purchasers on the app store play with a piece of software for at most a few minutes and then never touch it again. You do not want these people to delete your app and rate it poorly. If my theory is correct, those same people are punching the update app button on the apps part of iTunes every ten minutes. You want to be updated whenever anyone hits that button so that their interest in your application comes back. There are a lot of little parts to this as well. Change your icon so these people understand that your app has undergone a significant change. They’ll see it in  iTunes and they’ll see it again on the iPhone. With any luck they may go back to the app store and review your application well, and even give it the benefit of the doubt for any problems it is having because you are updating it. Every time you update, you get back on the new page on the iTunes store, even if you just update to change the version number. Updates are free advertising.
  5. Spend just a little on marketing
    Most of the applications that are free have some kind of admob integration, buy through them and it won’t take much but the uptick in users could get you to be more sticky in the app store. Do not use admob advertising in your own application, you’d just be advertising for other applications.
  6. Consult with others, network the hell out of yourself and your product before and after release.
    There are only so many things you can know. You might be a good marketroid but a poor developer. Then you’ll need to talk to find a community of developers on a forum or IRC channel and get chatting. Establish yourself there, help others, and others will help you. The same goes for being a developer and needing tips on marketing, or bizdev, or whatever. Talk to other people about this stuff so you don’t make mistakes in the long run. Lets say you’re writing your first OpenGL application, and it is for the iPhone, talk to OpenGL developers, don’t do it all on your own! The “others” you consult can even include your users, include a feedback form of some kind in your app. Do read and understand their feedback, if the majority of your users want something, you should probably deliver it. Ignore the crazy people who tell you they want more porn in your app.

Once you’ve got one app that has sold really well, and you’re ready to move on, think about continuing to support the older application and lowering the price. Eventually as you get back down to around the 99 cents, you’ll want to think about your strategy for going free with that app. Once it is out of the top 50 it isn’t going to do you any good, so it might as well get into the top 50 on the free chart and become an advertisement for your newer applications.

So there you go, I’m just a reviewer of software, but stop complaining about why it isn’t selling and try some strategies. The worst you can do is fail as poorly as you are now. Or tell me why I’m wrong, I’m sure my strategy isn’t perfect. Talk with other developers and publishers like ngmoco, find out why they’re successful, and use those ideas to make your apps sell.

Author: Jack Slater

Your editor. More here.

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