Last December, I had a bunch of unused vacation time and took a couple weeks off, stayed at home, and learned me some iPhone dev. I submitted my first iPhone application in January and I was hooked. I now have six apps / games in the store (not counting full/lite versions as different), making close to an app per month.
Those are my personal apps. At my job at Infrared5, we are also flooded with iPhone development. I’ve been flat out on iPhone games there for a couple months, and scheduled for another two months forward.
It got to the point where I hadn’t coded a line of AS3 in 2-3 months, and was seriously wondering if I would ever get back to it. But something snapped in the last week or so. I guess I’ve become somewhat disillusioned with the whole iPhone dev game.
So the iPhone App store is just over a year old, which means it’s twice as old as it was when I first got in. And it’s changed a lot. One of my first games, Falling Balls, unexpectedly took off and rose to be the #1 free application. I put some ads in it from AdMob, and was stunned at how much money it was making. Even now, almost 7 months later, it continues to lay a nice golden egg for me every day. I have NO complaints there. The only problem is, it’s like winning at gambling. Once you get a taste of it, you can’t stop, even if you never win again. All of the rest of the apps I’ve released have barely done anything. Not even remotely made up for the amount of time I’ve put into them. I’ve done lite versions and full versions, ads and paid versions, done all the promotion steps, everything everyone says to do. Bug Out! has done the best so far, and is doing OK, but only a tiny fraction of what Falling Balls did.
Now, it is very easy to say that my other apps weren’t very good, and I won’t argue that, but come one… Falling Balls? A stick figure that runs back and forth and gets squished by balls? It literally took me a weekend to make, as a brand new iPhone developer, and only part of that weekend. I guess it has some kind of zany viral appeal, but that’s pretty hard to reliably duplicate.
Also, while that viral appeal is a factor, I think it has more to do with the changing landscape of the app store. In December, when I started learning, there were 13,000 apps there. In January, when I submitted Falling Balls, there were around 17,000. Now there are well over 60,000. As for selling apps, the average prices for apps and games are steadily decreasing, games being lower and more steadily decreasing, with an average of less than $1.50. Even top studios are releasing high end, polished, professional games for $0.99. How can a single do-it-all-yourself developer compete? So I’ve pretty much given up on selling apps in the store.
What remains is releasing free apps with advertising. After all, it worked with Falling Balls. But even the free games market is totally saturated. There are close to 15,000 free games and applications in the store right now. That’s more than the total number of applications that were there when started. If you don’t get in the top 100, you aren’t going to get enough downloads to get enough ad traffic to matter. Of course, if you DO get in the top 100, you could be in for a rocket ride. And there’s the whole gambling / addiction thing again. Chasing that thrill of a big hit.
The problem is, it stops being fun. When I was doing Flash stuff for myself, I was almost always doing stuff with no concept of making money. I was just making cool stuff that I found to be fun. Once you get a taste of profits though, it’s hard not to be in it for the money.
Note, that I’m talking about being a single developer. I still think there is money in doing iPhone apps for the bigger companies who can afford teams of people, and tons of advertising and promotion, and forge whatever allegiances with whatever demons you need to forge allegiances with to get your app featured in the iTunes store, which is like a golden ticket. So I’m not saying the app store is dead, merely that the gold rush days are over, and now it’s big business like anything other market. As a single developer, I won’t deny that you still might win the lottery, but I’m done chasing that dream.
I’m still going to refine and develop Falling Balls, as it’s still in the top 100 games, still making money for me, and with some cool new updates, could go even higher again. I have an update waiting for approval that brings different difficulty levels and should be out in the next few days.
I’m sure I’ll also continue to keep my foot in the door with other applications or games here and there. I love the Objective-C language, and have learned so much from diving deep into it for so long. I’m sure it’s made me a better developer overall. But any apps I do from here on out, will be purely for my own enjoyment. And technically, there is a lot of enjoyment to be had in creating things that use multitouch and accelerometer. It opens up all kinds of possibilities for creative, artistic apps.
But I’m also going back to Flash, and in fact, have started creating a brand new Flash game. I’m having fun getting back into AS3 after such a long hiatus. Pretty rusty though. 🙂 I’m also realizing some of the things I really missed about the Flash Platform as a whole. I think the biggest thing is the immediacy of it. I can code up something cool, upload it to my server, blog or twitter it, and instantaneously, thousands of people will be able to see it. No waiting. No arbitrary judgement of whether or not my SWF meets certain criteria.
Compare that to the app store approval and waiting game. When I started submitting stuff, it was an average of 3 days for approval. Now it is up to 12-14 days. That’s because app store submissions have about tripled in that time. And if waiting times are getting longer AND submissions are getting higher, that backlog is only going to continue to grow and grow. If I banged out a new iPhone application right now, nobody would see it til much later this month.
The approval process itself is getting a really bad reputation for reasons beyond the wait, as well. One is the arbitrariness of it. So many horror stories. Apps getting rejected for certain reasons, while another similar app with the same “problem” gets approved. Some developers have said that if you get rejected, just immediately resubmit with no changes. Chances are you’ll get a different reviewer who won’t be looking at the same thing the other one was looking at. Or one that’s in a better mood, or at the end of his shift and wants to go home. Or maybe it’s like airport security, where every nth app gets pulled aside and gone over thoroughly. Then there are the apps rejected with no reason given, and the apps which are simply kept in limbo for months, never approved or disapproved. And this week’s scandal with the Google stuff.
Actually, I’ll be the devil’s advocate on that one, and say Apple has the right to reject an app that competes with their own built in apps. They’ve made that explicitly known from the start anyway. But as for the other stuff, I don’t feel like Apple is being intentionally malicious in the delays and rejections, just that the app store has grown larger than they planned for, and they are struggling with the whole process. But it makes for a really bad developer experience. If you do get a rejection, you could be looking at over a month for app approval. That’s ridiculous. And the fact that it’s just a black box is doubly frustrating. You just submit and wait an unknown amount of time. No prediction on how long the wait is going to be. No feedback on where it is in the queue, nobody you can talk to to speed things up or find out what’s happening. If you get rejected, there’s no appeal process. You fix it and put it back into the black box for however long. Again, I don’t think it’s malicious, but it sucks big time. Luckily, in all my submissions, I’ve had only two rejections, which were valid items and easily fixed.
Well, that’s the end of my rant. By the way, all the stats I’ve mentioned here are from this page:
I can’t vouch for all the stats, but most seem correct except their submission wait times. I have not personally seen a drop off in wait times in the last month, only an increase.