iPhone programming 101, part five

Posted by on November 6, 2010 in Essay, iPhone/iPad, Programming | 0 comments

…Or I have an awesome app! But now what??

Two years ago last month, I uploaded my first app to Apple for review. About 20 hours later I received that magical email saying “Your application has been approved for sale.” And the latest version of my once-Amiga/Mac/PC application was now available to millions of potential customers. And then I got my first sales, 8 downloads that day. Wow!

So what is the actual process of finishing up your application and getting it out of the lab, off your iPhone and onto millions of other iPhones?

When he started NeXT after leaving Apple, Steve Jobs insisted on a completely new distribution model for applications. Considering that the infamous NeXT Cube came with no floppy drive (“that’s old technology”) or CD-ROM, getting software from point A to point B could be problematic. “Not so!” said Jobs. He thought that that since software was simply bits and could and therefore should be distributed on this  fledgling internet thing.  This is clearly the case of a visionary being about 20 years too early. For back then there was no means of handling the small monetary transactions essential to a download service like that; ie, no way to pay, Jack. The only media available for the NeXT Cube was an experimental optical read-write drive, which used so-called “flopptical” discs running at $200+. Understandably software houses were very reluctant to have a disc cost many times that of the actual software itself. Ultimately, some of the dealers would just sell the manual and let the users copy their purchased software from the store’s machine over to their own flopptical. That was not a good business model. The App Store however, is the fully fleshed out realization of Job’s original dream.

The App Store is not the first such system. There was a similar store for Palm OS applications years ago, as well as numerous other scattered efforts, but none amounted to much. Applications would usually have to be downloaded to your PC, then synced with your device, and while easy conceptually, it was just an annoyance. When Apple develops a new system, be it software or hardware or both, the solution is virtually 100% complete, in need of very little except for some small refinements. Unless Apple can do something right, they usually don’t do it all. The other way of doing business can be seen in Microsoft. Bill Gates and company will go about 97% of the way expecting the consumer to manage the other 3%. The other 3% might mean something like downloading drivers, adding more memory and downloading more drivers, swapping the internal DVD drive to use a different connector on the motherboard, oh, and by-the-way, downloading more drivers.

Look back at the App Store again. To paraphrase the “Old Spice Guy”: this is the App Store you wish your App Store could be! It is designed to give the buyers a nearly frictionless means to purchasing, delivering and updating their applications.  Once again, it was the complete solution.

In the “good ol’ days” a freelance developer such as myself would have to court a publisher and work in the old-school author/publisher model. I would supply the content, in this case Galileo (the original name of Distant Suns), and they would supply everything else: the box, manuals, advertising, PR, QA and tech-support. In return the developer might realize a 10% royalty off of the retail price. Galileo’s original price was $99. My eventual take was $6, or 6% of the sales. On the other hand, the App Store eliminates much of what publishers would supply, and the developer gets not, 6%, but 70% off of retail. Not only that, one guy and a kitchen table can be as visible as the Electronic Arts of the world. Excuse me, I think I hear a playing field being leveled. (To the guys who whine about Apple taking such a huge cut, well boo <bleep’n > hoo. You’d be making more per sale off of a $10 product then I did off a $99 one.)

So now you have your app just fresh out of the oven. Then what? If you are a paid developer, there are three services you will make use of: The iOS Developer’s forum, the iPhone Developer’s Center, and iTunes connect. The forum is where developers meet to answer questions, or question answers. Several Apple reps are also there, willing to jump in as well. The second is where we can get the latest iOS beta distributions, tool downloads and documentation. Also you’ll find the iOS Provisioning Portal. Here is where you generate the needed certificates and provisioning files that prove you are who you say you are.

The third is iTunes Connect. Here is where you generate the application page for the App Store. You will upload the icon, description copy, versioning information, screenshots and then the app itself. The store optionally supports localized pages for each of Apple’s 80+ subsets of the App Store, all the way from Argentina to Vietnam (sorry, Zimbabwe, you and Zaire are not listed).

Once submitted to the agony of Apple’s approval process there is very little you can do, but wait and wait some more.

The approval process goes through  four steps: 1) The application waits for review, 2) it is in review, 3) (optional) Pending for Developer’s release, and 4) The application is ready for sale.  You can opt to have the app released when approved by Apple, or you can manually push The Big Green Button of Doom (TBGBoD) yourself and release it on your own terms later on to synchronize with possible marketing plans.

The review process had always been a black box and one of the weakest and murkiest parts of the dev process. It’s clear that Apple never expected the deluge of applications that flooded in through the door.

Back on the good ol’ days (two years ago) Distant Suns 1.0 took a scant 20 hours before that wonderful email popped up saying: Your Application is Ready for Sale.

However, the delays would eventually migrate north of the 3 week mark while Apple was sent scrambling to find ways to reduce the load. As of this writing, the delay has come back down to a reasonable 5 days or less, as Apple took measures to discourage authors from flooding the store with both junk apps and overly frequent updates. That alone cut the delays down significantly. And just a few weeks ago, Apple finally released their review criteria. Up to this point, many authors would find that their months of hard work was wasted as Apple would reject their application for little or no apparent reason. Others would find their apps stuck in review-hell for months on end, with no explanation. (Although if you’re lucky your app might be rejected for a really stupid reason, giving you all sorts of free publicity, but don’t plan on that in your business model, the boys in Cupertino don’t like to be embarrassed.)

So what happens the next day when you get your first sales report? Should you start planning to buy his and hers matching yellow Corvettes, since, after all, now you are an APP AUTHOR! Just wait a minute there sport. Your work is just beginning.

When Distant Suns was first released, the store was just about to reach 10,000 apps. I thought “my goodness! How can I possibly compete against 10,000 apps!” As of this writing that total is said to have topped 300,000K. So now you have to find out how to get discovered, how to market yourself and your tender creation, how to address the competition and so on (and if you have no competition, just wait a couple of months.)

But that will have to wait for another column.