How To Make An iPhone App That Actually Sells

So you’re a developer who wants to make an iPhone app, but you’re afraid that you’ll spend a bunch of time (and potentially money) building something that no one will actually use. You imagine releasing an app that people will buy on Day 1 as well as Day 361, but you have no idea how to make that happen. Well, today’s your lucky day! With a bit of research and consideration before you begin, you can dramatically increase your chances of making an iOS app that sells like crazy. I’ve had a hand in quite a few successful and not-so-successful iOS apps, and this is some of what I’ve learned.

Throw away your sexy idea
So you’ve thought up this amazing app that does something unique and you just know that once enough people “get” it, it’ll sell like crazy, or that the market is big enough for you to to make money selling anything that you can think up. That’s a huge red flag. While you’re busy thinking of clever apps, such as ones that take the music that you were listening to on your computer and start playing it on your phone, right where you left off, other developers are sitting at the top of the charts selling tons of copies of apps that let people take photos. So, obviously you need to…

Know your marketplace
The App Store is a treasure trove of information that can help you easily decide what to build, because it tells you what people are already buying. Given that at least 400 million iOS devices have been sold, even capturing a fraction of the market of apps that people are actually buying will bring in some good revenue. Look at the top sellers, and build things that fall into those categories. Right now, what I’m seeing a lot of is the following:

  • Apps that are a good upgrade to apps that ship with iOS (better calculators, calendars, email clients, cameras, to-do lists, etc), because many people will hit the limits of what the stock apps do and they look for something that does more. Generally, Apple builds apps with a lot of breadth (almost anyone can use them), but not much depth (if people want more than basic features, they need to look elsewhere, and that’s where you come in!).
  • Games (everyone plays them, and there are many types. Multiplayer games in particular are some of the best to build because there’s a built-in reason for people to share your app with others.)
  • Apps that do one thing that most designer/developer types would hardly ever think to build, because they seem SO simple… like Over, which is making bank right now, but it only does one simple thing: it lets people put pretty text on their photos. Something like Over might be a simple thing to you because you know how to use Photoshop, but it’s like black magic to many other people. Bringing a single useful feature that you take for granted to the masses can be a surprisingly good way to make a successful app.

Release early, release often
Many of the best iPhone apps are the ones that do one thing well. They let you get in, quickly perform a task, and get on with your life. With that mind, make an app that is polished, but only does one thing. Don’t throw a bunch of features into an app that you haven’t gotten into the market yet. When it launches and starts selling well, you’ll have a lot more confidence in spending the time/money to add features, and you can see how people are using it and factor that into your decision making.

It’s good to add features over time for another reason: When you release a new version, your app appears in your customer’s app updates list, which keeps your app top-of-mind.

Have a great icon
It’s possible to skimp on design for your icon and be successful, but you greatly increase your chances of success if your app has a great icon. For an iOS app, your icon is a huge part of your brand, because there’s a huge version of it on your App Store pages, it’s one of the first things that a potential customer sees, and it’s the thing that they tap on their home screen to start your app. Make the rest of your app great as well, but don’t skimp on your icon. There are tons of great icon designers on Dribbble, and that’s a great place to start. You can get great icons made for as low as $300.

So after reading all of that, I bet you’re a lot more confident about making an iOS app that will sell, sell, sell, and you’re ready to go and make the next blockbuster!