7 Myths of App Development (and The Elephant In The App Store)

App development is fun, and also very popular. Recent estimates suggest that over 1000 new apps show up in the App Store each day, ripe and ready for hungry mobile users. Let's look at some popular myths about app development.

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Myth 1 - "Build It, And They Will Come"

Ironically, this quote is a myth to begin with. From Field of Dreams, the actual quote is "Build it, and he will come." However, the misused version is less restrictive, so I'll stick with a little quote misuse just for this article.

The popular misconception is that if you build a great app, people will find it, and it will be a huge success. The truth is that the odds of someone stumbling across your app by searching the App Store are very small. The subject of app marketing is a huge domain unto itself, which I'll not venture into for this article (there are experts for that).

Many of the apps that have gone viral have not done so overnight, and were the result of huge marketing budgets. It may seem like some have emerged from a magic cloud of dust, but other than a small minority, most apps that are highly successful have required significant marketing efforts in one way or the other, which could be on their own as standalone product, or as a component of a brand. More about that later.

Myth 2 - My App Is Awesome And Will Make Money

The reality is, almost all apps do not "make money". Is $2.99 (minus Apple's cut) for (insert your number here) downloads really making money? Unless that number is 10,000 or more, then you are not likely making money, given the average amount of hours it takes to create, test, and deploy an app.

Of course, there are monetization options beyond asking a user to pay for downloading your app, such as advertising and in-app purchases. In either of those cases, a high number of users is required to hit the break even point, assuming you factor in development cost of the app.

There is another way to look at this though. If you conceptualize your development time as a hobby or learning process, and have just enjoyed the therapeutic aspect of writing code in your office, you may be totally pleased with some bonus cash as a result of your efforts.

If the odds of turning a profit are slim, does that mean that you should not bother making your own apps? No! Never give up on a dream, and never sell yourself short. However, be realistic and understand the true cost of app development, as well as the rewards and pitfalls. Also, be true to yourself as to what you intend to achieve by creating an app. See Myth 5 for more about this topic.

Myth 3 - The Party Is Almost Over

There are so many apps out there, and it may sometimes seem as though all the cool social media bases are covered already, so it is too late.

History is rich with the belief that all the cool inventions have been made already. If we set aside truly new inventions just for a moment, one might have assumed that Facebook wasn't worth creating since MySpace already had that niche locked up. We all know how that played out.

The reality is that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg now in terms of what can and will exist for apps in the future.

This party is just getting started.

Myth 4 - No Formal Education? Find Something Else To Do

Imagine someone erecting a sign and offering dental services or cosmetic surgery without a qualifying degree and relevant certification. I'm trying not to imagine that for obvious reasons. 

This frightening scenario does not apply to software development. As a programmer, it is actually completely feasible to be very successful without a formal education in computer science or engineering.

This is not to say that a relevant degree is not highly useful, providing a foundation of knowledge, experience, and problem solving skills. For many jobs a degree is also mandatory. I highly covet my own engineering degree and it was a very wise investment.

For anyone that does not have a degree or does have one but in a domain unrelated to computer science, just remember that being a good programmer involves more than a degree, and the skills necessary can be acquired through practice, time, and dedication. This doesn't mean it is for everyone, but you won't know unless you give it your best shot.

Myth 5 - If It Won't Make Money, It Isn't Worth My Time

Prior to the internet, unless a product underwent a laborious process to bring it to fruition, it may never have been seen beyond a small number of friends and family.

Today, app stores represent a storefront that is visible to millions, or even billions of people. There is an allure to creating a product that has such a medium for being exposed to consumers. Many developers are capitalizing on this opportunity, even if it is for the thrill of seeing their own creation proudly displayed for those who are window shopping on an app store.

For anyone wanting to showcase their talent, app stores facilitate a portfolio of capabilities that goes far beyond the traditional curriculum vitae. Whether your apps are all free, revenue generating, or some combination of both, your content on the store is a significant component of your personal brand.

There is a very high corporate demand for mobile developers, so building a portfolio and your personal brand can be a catalyst for landing a very nice job with generous benefits.

Myth 6 - Wow! This "App" Is Amazing

It is common to hear about certain apps that grab people's attention and are coveted by users. They are often referred to as apps, but in many cases what the user is really impassioned about is a brand.

Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter are all brands that allow users to share with each other. The user loves the brand, and the relevant apps provide a means of accessing the amazing brand. Without the app, the brand still exists with website access.

Sometimes brand and app are lumped together, leading to the belief that all one needs is an app to lure millions of users and quickly become rich and famous. While it can happen, it is more common that a brand (with an accompanying app) will lure potential customers, and the brand will include a sophisticated backend solution.

Myth 7 - Developers Should Stop Giving Apps Away For Free

OK, maybe this one isn't really a myth, but it is a common topic of discussion.

The general theme is that if everyone were to collectively start charging for their apps, then developers would finally be justly rewarded financially for all their hard work. People would become accustomed to paying for apps, and everything would be wonderful in app development land.

The reality is that Apple (and Google) created an ecosystem whereby the expectation is that once you pay for your device and the monthly data, you do not have to pay for the software that will run on the device and use up all that cherished data.

This is not unlike the pre-mobile phase of technology, where millions of websites were available for any kind of niche you could think of. Despite hundreds or thousands of hours that went into building beautiful websites, users were generally not interested in paying for access to them. If one website were to charge a fee, a user would likely find an alternative.

The big brands we know and love do not charge for their apps, and instead earn huge revenue from advertising, which is made possible due to their massive user bases. This sets a precedent for user expectations on the cost, or lack thereof, of other mobile apps.

That brings us to the related hot debate of today on whether users would pay to use the big brands such as Facebook, versus walking away. If every user would pay only one dollar per month, perhaps there would be no need for advertising. It is an interesting topic, but based on the history of television and the fact that advertising has not yet been eliminated in lieu of special user fees, users will not likely be faced with making a decision anytime soon.

Referencing Myth 5, app stores provide developers with an invaluable opportunity to showcase their talent, even if an app is not likely to generate meaningful revenue. This is the ecosystem that evolved and it isn't likely to change, even if many developers were to repel the concept of free apps and start slapping a price tag on their beloved creations.

So, Now What?

App development for mobile devices is obviously a relatively new domain, despite the fact that some younger users do not know of a time where such devices did not exist. It is hard to predict how things will change over the next 5, 10, or 20 years. One thing is for sure though. Creating apps is fun and rewarding!

Demand for developers will continue to increase in the coming years, so you can't go wrong if you want to enter this fascinating space. There are so many free (or low cost) resources available if you are considering learning how to create mobile apps.

I need to get back to completing my newest free app that is almost ready to submit to Apple for approval. I need the app myself for when I'm waiting in line, or have already opened all my other favorite apps and have nothing left to do on my iPhone.

Please feel free to continue the dialogue on this subject by leaving a comment, and thanks for reading.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are my own. I am an engineer that loves to write, and I appreciate that you have taken the time to read this article.

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