Playing to win big on the iTunes App Store

12 Mar 2009

At just 20 years of age, Steven Troughton-Smith is a student of digital-media engineering at Dublin City University, and also a successful developer of iPhone applications for Apple’s iTunes App Store.

There are thousands of iPhone apps out there. Is it a difficult industry to be successful in?
That depends on how you define ‘successful’ – yes, it is difficult to achieve a ‘superstar’ application status, but it’s certainly not difficult to make a lot of money.

Even the most uninteresting 99c application can make €1,000 a month or more. It’s a massive market; over 16 million iPhones alone will have one-click access to your software, and that’s not including iPod touch devices.

What are the perks of this career choice?
For an iPhone developer, consultancy/freelance fees are incredible; most of the major developers charge upwards of $200 an hour for their work on a project.

It’s a very desirable position as many companies and independent innovators are looking for iPhone developers, even in this current climate.

As a hobbyist, it is fantastic to have my efforts available to millions of users worldwide; to see their reactions and feedback, and then to work on bettering your output with the feedback in mind. Apple handles all the distribution and legal work for you, so all you need to do is ‘create’. I look on it more as an art form than software development.

From the point of view of a developer, the programming language is a perk in itself. It is possibly confusing to a newcomer, but it is so much more usable than C++ or Java. You’ll soon find yourself in love with it and, of course, learning it enables you to develop for Macintosh too.

Do you plan to continue with this after you’ve completed your college course, or do you think you’ll change your focus?
I would hope so; although, the iPhone App Store is only a nascent market, so I have no idea how it will have changed over the next four years.

It’s a hobby I love, it pays very well and it allows you to interact with a global user base of people who may love and depend on your software in their daily lives.

Are there any disadvantages or pitfalls to being an apps developer?

There are a couple of issues: sales are very dependent on chart position, similar to music on iTunes. The more visible your application is on the store, the more it will sell, but to become visible, it either has to sell very well initially or has to be ‘featured’ by Apple on the front page, which is a near-impossible thing to get.

There is also a noticeable piracy problem that can affect sales or external resources you use in your application. Fortunately, the benefits outweigh any problems.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing this as a career?
Buy an iPhone or iPod touch. You can’t truly understand how the platform works, or how user interaction should be, without having a device of your own that you live with.

While you might be able to create a working application, without knowing the iPhone user interface inside-out, you can’t possibly create ‘enjoyable’ (for the user) software for it.

Other than that, artwork is very important; you’ll often want to get a proper artist’s or art student’s help, instead of creating art assets yourself for the application (icon, other images, etc).

Finally – think big! This is an amazing device with far-reaching possibilities, and future models will only get better.

There is no other platform like iPhone, even though many have tried. I’ve written software for most of them, and all it takes is a little imagination to make something awesome.

By Marie Boran