By Guest Author Saad Fazil
The current economic climate has several people pondering whether to become rich by selling iPhone apps. Like anything else, making money by creating and selling iPhone apps is no easy task. If it were, most people would do it, thus increasing the competition and bringing down the revenue to zero. Sure, it did make some people rich instantly — Steve Demeter made $250,000 in two months — but that is an exception and not a rule.
With very low barriers to entry, over 35,000 of apps and over a billion downloads, the market is extremely crowded. Very few of the 35,000 apps sell at all. A thirty-fourth position app Zen Jar earned just $20 a day!
So if you are an indie developer or have a team of two to three people, you must be thinking whether it’s worth the time to develop an app, and if you do, what are the questions you should ask yourself. Here I try to answer a few critical questions that must be taken into account before you launch or develop an application.
What category should I develop an application for?
There are several categories in which applications can be developed: Books, Business, Education, Entertainment, Finance, Games, Healthcare & Fitness, Lifestyle, Medical, Music, Navigation, News, Photography, Productivity, Reference, Social Networking, Sports, Travel, Utilities, and Weather. There are a few distinct “areas” the categories can fall into. Is the software for fun (one out of three apps is an entertainment app or a game) or does it enhance productivity (weather, productivity, utilities etc.)? More than 50% of the top 20 apps, when measured by total number of installations, are games. The other applications that dominate are generally iPhone version of an existing website or product, such as Facebook or MySpace. Several other popular apps are in the media or entertainment category. When looking at total usage, ranking changes slightly. Weather and Facebook apps (both can be considered “productivity” or “utility” apps) dominate big-time.
Which category you choose can have profound effects on pricing and marketing strategies. For example, if you choose a utility category, you might not expect a huge number of installations, but you could expect heavy usage by the users who do use them. This could perhaps give you an opportunity to charge a little higher, considering that the demographic that buys this app is less price-sensitive. An example would be a project management application targeted for businesses. These business users would most likely pay a few dollars for an app.
Contrast it with a game. Unless the game is exceptional, it will be extremely hard to charge above 99 cents. A game might get huge number of downloads, but would lose its top rank pretty soon as more games come out. This could mean that you would have to keep upgrading the game and developing new games more frequently.
Another important issue to think about when deciding the category is whether you want to build just an iPhone application or develop a “standalone” business. For example, if you want to develop a food-ordering service, the iPhone would be one of several platforms for which to develop the application. This is certainly much more complicated to develop than a client-facing game, but could also mean a sustainable business model. You could venture out with the iPhone app and if it does well, extend it to an independent business. Another way to look at it is that many successful apps on iPhone (Facebook, MySpace) were popular before they were launched on iPhone, primarily because they provided utility not just on iPhone.
How should I price my application? Should I give it out free?
Though it’s going to be different for each app, this case study gives some clues as to how many downloads to expect from a free vs. a paid app. Let’s say the ratio is 100:1. That means for a $0.99 app, you would have to have a CPM of $9.90. However this assumes that one download on average will amount to one impression, but if you take into account several user interactions per download, and three to five impressions per user interaction, the CPM required to exceed the sales revenue is far less than $9.90. In fact with a CPM of about $2, your ad-based revenue could exceed that of selling the apps in the long run. AdWhirl reports an eCPM of $1.90 for top apps. Moreover, you could have both a free and a paid version to price discriminate. Make sure not to make the free version too basic as that would amount to far fewer downloads, thus affecting the popularity of the app.
How do I market my app?
This would also depend on what kind of app you are developing. If it is a project management app, you would have to market it to consultants who are more likely to use it. If it is an app that increases productivity for doctors, you would want to market it to big hospitals and doctors. You obviously do not need to make it a top 100 app in that case, since your success doesn’t depend on how well the app is received by masses. If it’s a game, you will have to aggressively use social media marketing. Based on several interviews, I have found that getting an app in the top 100 is difficult, after which it sells itself if well designed. The following strategies will help push your app to the top.
Making money from iPhone apps was much easier when the App Store came out. With time, it has become a lot more competitive. Like anything else, you will have to go through several trial and errors before you come up with a hit. Get started before the market becomes even more saturated!