Adventures with the iOs Apple Store

This is my experience with publishing apps on the Apple store and trying to make a living out of it.

1 The beginnings

Around 2010, I wrote as an independent developer an iOs app to help myself and others learn English.

I manage to develop this first working app, I shipped it to the Apple Store and was surprised to see that some people where buying it. I realized that since I was making some money out of it, I could theoretically become independent by writing more apps or having my app more successful. I decided to give it a try.

2 Strategy

At the same time I was reading the The Personal MBA. It gave me some basis around business strategies and I really liked the idea of multiplication: trying to create different versions of the same business. By Making more learning apps for different languages combination (English French, German French, Spanish English etc.) that was possible.

I did some basic math and realized that if I were to sold some apps every day­each app giving me back 1€ of royalty­to match my salary of the time I would need to sell `3000/30 = 100` apps per day. I did not think it would be very easy to do that with one app. However If I were to create several apps, I bet someone would buy one of each each day.

So I needed at least 300 apps. Again doing some math and using combinations `32! / (30! x 2!) = 496`. I found I needed at least 32 different languages.

It took some research and some data mining but I managed to automate almost all aspects of app creation and publication.

3 Success

It worked pretty well! After publishing around 150 apps I was selling enough to be able to stop my employed job! Even better than I hoped!

I remember being with my Dad when I got the news and I was so pumped. I felt I was really onto something and It was amazing to actually build something that was providing enough for me to live.

It felt like ultimate freedom.

4 Problems

With success problems started to appear. First of all I had mixed reviews around my apps. Some people absolutely loved them. Others were pretty disappointed. There is a limit to what an automated system can do but I was determined to fix the issues.

As I was working hard on fixing bugs and brainstorming on new ideas I got contacted as I was shipping a new round of apps. At that time I had around 500 apps online and I was shipping more and would have approached 800 apps.

This is when Apple accused me of spamming the Apple store. In my eyes all I was doing was applying a business strategy to sell my apps and to increase my benefits. I thought it was clever and it was an approach described in the MBA book. This became clear when I realized that Apple was just trying to push in-app purchases and they wanted me to use this method instead.

I was disappointed but I was forced to do it. So I rewrote my apps, lost a lot of apple store exposure and with it a lot of sales At that time I moved down to one app for each family of language. One for French, one for English, one for German etc. Each of those apps would have in app purchases for other languages.

So I was down to around 50 apps but It was not enough for Apple and soon they asked me to switch to one single app. I sent some messages and eventually someone from Dev support contacted me. I could tell that the person had trouble understanding my broken French English accent and marketing strategies were very foreign to him. All the requests I made were denied.

5 Depression

This was a pretty hard hit on me. The sentiment of liberty I had completely disappeared with all the things Apple hit me with. I was trapped because I had only one channel of distribution through the Apple Store. This sole distribution channel was a big mistake. This is something mentioned in the MBA book so I knew it was a problem and I was concerned about it even before Apple begin contact me.

In honesty I had plans to ship my apps to Android but Apple hit me too soon and I lost motivation. I was also feeling lonely working on apps alone. So I stopped completely the development of new apps. Stopped fixing bugs and decided to let my apps die. This was in conjunction with Apple releasing new versions of iOs and deprecating old APIs. Sometimes my apps would just break with an iOs update. This was unpredictable and very time consuming.

There was also a lot of talk about how difficult it was for solo developers to make a living from the iOs Store and having to work with the apple 30% tax on any sell.

6 Back to Employee work

So I went back to employee work. There were good parts. I was back in a team, and I could learn a lot from other developers. I have a lot of new friends. There were bad parts. While other developers were improving their technical skills I had focused more on Business and Marketing skills. I felt It was an edge but I have never been able to use those skills completely as an employee developer. Sometimes I felt that I was bullied on code reviews by developers who had focused time learning the intricacies of one particular language.

Overall I don't regret this experience. I learned a lot, I was quite successful for a time and I have now put in place a system around continuous learning that makes me really good technically. This would not have happened if I did not feel a gap in knowledge between me and other developers.

Actually I feel more knowledgeable technically than most of my coworkers. This is not because I am smarter, it is just because I have better learning techniques in place and I am very proactive in my learning. I think I will go back one day to shipping and selling my own apps. My experience will Apple will help me to not make the same mistakes. Hopefully this story will help you too in some ways.