Seth Porges is a magazine editor and the creator of Cloth, an iOS fashion app for iPhone and iPod Touch. His Twitter handle is @sethporges.

App appeal is obvious. The barrier to entry? So low! The upshot of producing the next Angry Birds or beer-chug simulator? So high! Heck, with just a small investment of time and cash, it’s not hard for would-be mobile moguls to turn a concept into a steady stream of cash. And thanks to today’s app stores, it’s never been easier to try your hand at becoming the next tech tycoon.

Here’s (almost) everything you need to know before you get started on your own app — and what I wish I knew before I got into the game.


1. What Does It Cost to Make an App?



If you’re new to the app game, prepare for some sticker shock. Making an app will cost you, at the very minimum, around $10,000. This is for a super-simple program — none of that fancy enterprise or social networking jibber-jabber. Even still, any app worth its weight in code will likely cost you closer to $20,000. 

Unless you have some basic design skills, you’ll need to enlist the help of both a programmer and a designer. And these guys ain’t cheap — particularly programmers who, thanks to a pronounced shortage of qualified coders, can pretty much name their prices. (A suggestion for those low on funds: Find some creative way to come up with the cash. I funded my app through Airbnb income.)

You can try to offload some of your costs by offering your guys equity; on the other hand, everybody tries to get free (or close to free) apps by offering developers equity. So unless you can really sell them on the strength of your idea (or bring something totally rad to the table, such as a celebrity), you better be prepared to pony up some cash. Of course, adding in some equity as a bonus is never a bad idea, so you’ll probably want to dish out some shares too.

This basic supply/demand dynamic also means that many developers ask for some pretty insane terms. Some demand deals that involve a huge upfront payment in exchange for a few weeks (or even just days) of work. And if a decent developer isn’t already working full time, it’s not unreasonable to assume he’s at least a little commitment-averse. So, if you’re serious about making something beyond a quickie cash grab, find a developer you are sure will stay with the project for updates, and not abandon it the second it hits the store.

And get it all in writing. If you don’t want to hire a lawyer, find a boilerplate contract online or get one from somebody else who’s gone through the process, and just swap in your names and numbers.


If you can, you’ll also want to work with people who are local to you — or at least with people who are willing to join you for regular Skype chats or Google Hangouts. I had weekly beer summits with my coder and designer, which proved super helpful as we continued to fine-tune our app well into its development.

One more unavoidable cost: Apple charges $100 per year to hold onto a developer’s account (which you need to publish your app). So be sure to reserve an extra Benjamin for your budget.


2. What Should You Charge for Your App?


I would consider starting one’s app at or near $1.99. It’s premium price, but it’s also immensely satisfying to get more than a buck per download after Apple takes away its 30%. And, as with most things, it’s a lot easier to lower the price later than it is to raise it.

During the holiday period, we briefly played around with a special promotion that dropped our app price to $0.99. Predictably, this spiked our downloads, but it didn’t actually raise our total revenue. Even on Christmas Day — the single biggest download day for just about everybody — our revenue was actually higher a week or so later, once we had raised the price back to $1.99.


The obvious exception: If your primary business model involves in-app purchases, ads or the like, you’ll probably want to give your app away for free. After all, a quick glance at Apple’s top grossing charts shows a whole bunch of free apps.


3. When Will You Get Paid?


Apple sends you cash one month at a time, up to 45 days after the month has ended. So, if your app goes live in January, you can expect your first kickback sometime in early March. Oh, and Apple only pays you if your earned amount totals at least $150, so you may have to wait before getting your first payment. Keep in mind, Apple only pays you through direct deposit.


4. How Do You Write Your iTunes Description?


Don’t try to rock the boat here. Take a look at a bunch of hit apps, and crib their formats. If it works for them, it’ll work for you. Typically, this involves a quickie intro statement, press blurbs and a list of your key features. Then add some screenshots (the most interesting ones first) and call it a day.


5. What’s the Best Way to Beta Test?


Getting an unreleased app onto your friends’ iPhones isn’t the easiest thing in the world. My developer and I are in total agreement that the best method is a program called TestFlight, which makes it very easy to send build updates to registered devices, over the air.


6. What Happens When You Get Featured on iTunes?


Getting featured on iTunes is obviously awesome, but what exactly does it get you? When Apple included our app on its featured lists, we enjoyed a predictable flow of downloads almost identical in volume every single day we were parked there. Especially fascinating, the “New & Notable” list gave us almost exactly twice as many daily downloads as the “What’s Hot” list. I’m assuming this is because, when you tap the “Featured” tab on the “App Store” app, “New & Notable” pops up by default.


7. How Do You Get Press?


As a longtime tech writer, the main advice I can give you in your pursuit for press is that less is more. If you think a site or publication would be into your app, don’t email the entire staff or the big boss — just find the writer who covers your category, briefly summarize your app in an email, and attach a download code (Apple gives you 50 for every update). Smaller sites may be more responsive than the big guys, and if you build up enough buzz, you can rest assured that the majors will come knocking.

If a journalist doesn’t get back to you, move on. And don’t even touch that phone or personal email address (unless that person is a freelancer) — writers hate nothing more than phone or personal inbox press pitches.

Consider also producing an embeddable YouTube or Vimeo ad of some sort. Not only does this provide one more avenue for people to stumble upon your app, but it also gives bloggers something alive and colorful to toss into posts, which could increase the chances that they’ll write about you. Keep it simple, and preferably, well under two minutes. And don’t forget to promote over Twitter, Facebook, etc.


8. How Do You Avoid the Spam?


Within days of hitting the App Store, expect whichever email you linked to your iTunes developer’s account to be pounded with spam. Most try to lure you into ponying over money in exchange for positive reviews, under the guise of “mobile marketing.” Let’s put it this way: If you don’t regularly buy Viagra pills online, then you probably shouldn’t give cash to these guys. Of course, if you’re smart enough to make an app, you’re smart enough to know this already.

What other tips do you have for app development and promotion? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, svariophoto, Flickr, Andres Rueda

More About: app store, apps, contributor, features, iphone, mobile applications, trending

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apple hack image

Apple has a reputation for being virus and malware-free, but a hacker has uncovered a potentially dangerous security flaw in the App Store. Charlie Miller, a Mac hacker and computer security researcher, has made a bit of a career finding and exposing flaws in Apple‘s software.

His latest discovery shows how the App Store, Apple’s tightly regulated marketplace for iOS apps and programs, could be compromised by code not approved by Apple, reports Forbes.

Miller’s method is to create a normal, Apple-approved app that is programmed to “call” a remote computer that can then use the app to gain access to the user’s phone. This remote computer can then issue commands such as downloading the address book, files stored on the device or even make it vibrate and ring.

Miller created a dummy app (which has since been removed from the app store) called Instastock, which displayed various stock tickers. The app, however, was also tied to Miller’s home computer where he could use the app to gain access to his phone. You can see Miller describe and discuss the app and his hacking process in the video below.

Forbes reports that Miller noticed the potential flaw when Apple released iOS 4.3, which allows javascript code from the web to run deep in the iOS device’s memory. In order to boost the web speed of its new operating system, Apple created an exception for the browser to run unapproved code — such as Miller’s hack — in a region of the device’s memory that had previously been inaccessible. Miller says it’s a flaw in Apple’s restriction on code signing.

Apple hasn’t issued an official response to Miller’s discovery, though Apple did revoke his developer license. Miller says he’s planning to talk about the flaw in more depth at the SysCan conference in Taiwan next week but has stayed mum on the exact details to give Apple more time to fix the security flaw.

Miller’s hack raises an interesting question on whether publicizing these potentially dangerous flaws are good for companies. Hackers (presumably white-hat) find flaws in systems so that companies and organizations can improve their products and safety measures. This practice becomes more controversial when the hackers are officially unaffiliated with the company or relative unknowns. The hackers essentially break the system to show it can be broken with the hope the company can, or will, fix it.

Are white-hat hackers a public service or a corporate nuisance? Let us know your opinions in the comments below.

More About: app store, apple, hacker, hacking, iOS

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A new App Store rejection sheds some light on the real implications behind Apple’s new in-app subscription policies, and the results aren’t pretty.

The iOS app for Arc90′s recently re-launched Readability service was rejected on Friday for “utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase (IAP) API to purchase content, functionality, or services.” This is significant because unlike companies like Rhapsody (who are already on the record as being firmly against the new policies), Readability is not a a traditional content provider.

As Readability creator and Arc90 founding partner Richard Ziade says in his “Open Letter to Apple” blog post, “Readability’s model is unique in that 70% of our service fees go directly to writers and publishers.” He continues, “if we implemented In App purchasing, your 30% cut drastically undermines a key premise of how Readability works.”

We spoke with Ziade after he posted his letter and he offered us this additional insight:

A big problem with this isn’t just the model (which is a big problem on its own). It’s the additional hoops we’d have to jump through just to make all this work. Imagine two payment distribution systems — one for iOS subscribers and another for web — that would have to exist. It’s just a big obstacle on our roadmap if we decided to do it. We’d rather put our energy towards making Readability better.


About Readability


Readability started as a bookmarklet that provided users with a better-formatted reading experience. Ideally suited for long-form content, Readability cuts out the clutter of modern web writing and presents text in a clean, focused way. The original proof of concept was so popular that Apple even based its Safari Reader feature on Readability.

Last month, Readability evolved into a total reading platform. While the basic bookmarklet remains free, users can subscribe to the Readability service (starting at $5 a month) and add articles, Instapaper-style, to a reading queue accessible from any web browser. What sets Readability apart is that publishers of the content that users choose to read get a percentage of the profits. In fact, 70% of a user’s subscription goes directly to the content writers.

The iOS app, which was developed by Instapaper’s Marco Arment, was supposed to be a special bonus for paid subscribers. It’s based on Instapaper and offers and optimized, offline reading and queuing experience.

Apple’s decision to reject the app doesn’t change the fact that the Readability is still usable within iOS. As a Readability subscriber, I’ve added “Read Now” and “Read Later” bookmarks to Mobile Safari on both my iPhone and iPad and am fully satisfied with the experience.

Instead, the decision very clearly sets the tone for what the rules for subscription-based service apps are going forward.


iOS Adverse Implications


The iOS platform is no stranger to criticism. Even before the official iPhone SDK made its debut in March 2008, developers were complaining about Apple’s policies in keeping the platform locked down, closed off and under a stringent set of guidelines. Through the years, some restrictions have lifted, rules have been better explained and more service offerings have opened up. Still, this is Apple’s show, and anyone who develops for the platform knows it.

For most developers, it’s worth the trouble. Despite Android’s tremendous gains in adoption, developers make more money on iOS and are more likely to cultivate repeat customers. New features tend to appear in the iPhone version of an app first; the iPhone and iPad get more exclusive titles; and the overall app experience tends to be more cohesive and complete.

Major brands and larger development houses target iOS and Android, but there are far more independent developers and smaller software shops that make their living entirely off of the iOS ecosystem than from Android. If Apple isn’t careful, it could start to push some of those indie developers away.

First launched with The Daily, Apple’s new subscription purchasing policy seems largely targeted at print publishers of magazines and newspapers. In that context, we have a hard time finding fault with Apple’s decision to take a 30% cut of all subscriptions obtained through the application download. Newspaper and magazine publishers might not be happy with the arrangement (though they can still offer subscribers the ability to subscribe outside the app), but in the grand scheme of things, 30% is likely on the low side of subscriber acquisition costs.

Even for streaming content services like Rdio, MOG or Rhapsody, we can understand Apple asking for a cut of a subscription rate — if only because those companies typically charge much higher rates for subscriptions that include mobile device support.

Plus, for consumers, the benefits of an in-app subscription system for magazines or music services is to their advangate. Not only is canceling a subscription faster (no having to wai
t on hold with an operator), but user privacy is better protected, too. Furthermore, at least in the case of published content, most content is going to be consumed on the device. If I subscribe to an iPad magazine, I am going to be consuming that content on the iPad.

This isn’t the case with web apps and cloud-based web services like Readability. Readability is an app built for the web browser. Having an iOS app is great — but fundamentally, the app and the service are designed to be platform agnostic and the desktop browser is definitely a major target.


How Far Does This Go?


The frustrating aspect of the Readability rejection is that this makes the road for apps that tie into cloud-based services in the future much less clear.

As Dan Benjamin and I discuss on a near-weekly basis, the line between web apps and native mobile apps is starting to become less and less distinguishable. A recent Appcelerator study showed that cloud connectivity is one of the top requirements for developers when building a mobile application.

Cloud connectivity can often mean plugging into subscription ecosystems. What worries us is what this means for native clients for web services.

Does 37signals now have to offer an in-app Campfire subscription in its Campfire for iPhone app? What about Evernote? Moreover, what about third-party apps that plug into the API for systems like Evernote or Campfire or Basecamp — are they also subject to this new subscription pricing policy? If so, how can that be enforced if the API doesn’t designate a payment or subscription option?

At the end of the day, we think Ziade summs it up best in his letter:

To be clear, we believe [Apple has] every right to push forward such a policy… But to impose this course on any web service or web application that delivers any value outside of iOS will only discourage smaller ventures like ours to invest in iOS apps for our services.

More About: app store, apple, In-app subscriptions, Instapaper, iOS, readability

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Apple has launched @AppStore, a new Twitter account for its popular iOS and Mac App Store.

The new @AppStore Twitter account only made its debut a few hours ago, but it has already amassed more than 35,000 Twitter followers as of this writing. For comparison, its sister account, @iTunesMusic, has more than 680,000 followers.

As the accounts first tweet explains, @AppStore will feature new apps in Apple’s iOS and Mac App Stores and provide exclusive offers for Twitter users. For example, the account’s second tweet provided a quick pitch and a link to Nike’s Training Club app.

Creating a Twitter account for the App Store seems like a simple and effective way to generate more buzz and more downloads about featured apps. It’s essentially the same thing Apple has been doing with its App Store Facebook Page, which has nearly 1 million fans. Apple also has five popular iTunes Twitter accounts tweeting about new films, music and TV shows.

Still, Apple is known for its lack of engagement in social media. The company doesn’t have official Facebook or Twitter accounts. While the @AppStore account is a refreshing addition to Apple’s social media roster, don’t expect Steve Jobs, Tim Cook or Apple, Inc. to be tweeting anytime soon.

More About: app store, apple, iOS, iOS App Store, iphone app store, itunes, mac app store, twitter




Who’s up for a friendly game of Nike+ Tag? Let the games begin, Nike+ GPS users — there’s an update now available for your iPhone app, letting you compete against your friends.

It’s available for download from the iTunes App Store as a free update to existing Nike+ GPS app users, or it’ll cost you $1.99 for a new purchase.

While there’s no physical tagging going on, the object of the game is like you might expect: Don’t be “it.” Runners compete against each other, and whoever runs the slowest, the shortest distance, or starts running latest in the day is designated as “it.”

How does it work? Nike explains it:

  • • After a run, a Nike+ GPS App user is prompted to Play Tag
  • • The user can invite – or “Tag” – as many Nike+ friends and email contacts as they choose
  • • The user can customize the message that goes to friends
  • • The user sets a game of Tag based upon either distance (person who runs shortest distance is IT), time (person who runs for the shortest amount of time is IT), or order (person to run last is IT).
  • • Tag begins once the user invites his/her friends
  • • Once Tag begins, the game will continue until each runner has taken part, or up to three days, whichever comes first
  • • The Nike+ GPS App tracks each time a runner is IT and NOT IT
  • • If no one other than the initiator takes part, he/she is not IT, the game just dissolves after three days

Unfortunately, if you’re a Nike+ iPod user using a watch or shoe sensor, you won’t be able to play this new game of Tag. According to Nike, the two apps were developed by completely different teams, and they use different technology. Unlike the Nike+ iPod system, the Nike+ GPS software doesn’t use that sensor that fits into a shoe or is built into watch, but uses the iPhone’s GPS to gauge location, speed and distances.

Take a look at the cute video Nike produced in association with this app:

More About: app store, apps, Fitness Apps, free downloads, iphone, Nike+ GPS, Nike+ Tag, Tag, trending, Update