This is what Apple's latest figures say.
Apple's million dollar marketing budgets have certainly hit their mark with the young, uber cool, social population.
It's a phone, a camera, a music player, a.... functions aside there is the beautifully crafted slim line look and the innovative Multi-Touch interface, the accelerometer, GPS, real-time 3D graphics, and 3D positional audio and much more.
Interestingly, of the 21 million iPhone users, a massive 3.7m bought one in the last quarter alone, and although there are a dozen similar devices on the market you can be forgiven for thinking that if it's not Apple, it simply isn't worth having. Certainly, the purist MAC'ys would have you believe it.
That's the power of Apple's branding.
To create a user experience second to none, Apple 'opened up' its app to allow developers to build and upload applications to suit the user's every whim or necessity. By the download of the App, both the developer and Apple could make money.
And has it worked? You bet! In the 10 months since Apple opened App Store, there have been 35,000 applications successfully released and, between them, a billion downloads has been surpassed.
The First Bites
The barrier to developing iPhone apps is set low both in cost and simplicity. It is a model that allows almost anyone enter the market, and as a result, a very large percentage of people developing the applications are thought to be hobbyists.
To become an iPhone developer, first, you must give Apple $99 and they in turn give you access to the current SDK, SDK betas, OS betas, and examples of code.
Before Apple will agree to let your apps go on the App Store, there are three sets of agreements covering free apps, paid for apps and artwork licence that need to be completed. According Vinny Coyne, a professional software developer and part-time iPhone Apps developer from Galway, the contract process is a largely painful and frustrating experience.
He told us, "Once you've filled the forms and submitted them, all you can do is sit back, wait and hope. Getting a conversation going with Apple is near on impossible and it's been known for people to wait for anything up to 2 months before having the agreements authorised by the company."
Coyne adds, "As the scramble to get up and running recedes, the process is becoming a little more fluid, but I'd recommend to complete and submit the forms as quickly as possible after signing up as a new developer."
Dublin software veteran Dermot Daly, who recently took voluntary redundancy from his position in a software development company, has had a similar experience.
He told us, "I have an app ready to go, even accepted by Apple, yet I'm unable to launch it on the App Store because the contracts I submitted six weeks ago have still to be concluded . Unfortunately, once clicked, you go into a black hole where there's absolutely no one to talk to, except a call centre with email addresses, but that's woeful!"
He reiterates Coyne's advice, the day you sign up, start the contract process straight away.
We caught up with Daly at the iPhone DevDay in Dublin (read more) last week where he was launching his new venture Tapadoo, established to build iPhone applications for 3rd parties.
He explained, "I've been a software developer and a software director, had some amazing times and done some amazing things in my career. But when I began to think about what I wanted to do next, as an entrepreneur I realised that I'd never had the perfect job."
"My interest in the iPhone came about when I got talking to people at xCake, an informal user group for iPhone developers in Ireland. I met a variety of people including professional developers working for software companies, and developers who are writing apps in their personal time. It seems a momentum is building and I'm happy to be a part of this early group of pioneers."
Daly added, "Getting started is easy. Cocoa Touch, the iPhone SDK, is a good tool which is well documented with lots of examples and video tutorials. I initially bought a book on Objective C by O'Reilly, (see description) but any Java or OO developer will get up and running quickly."
Getting Your App Launched
Once your app is ready, it is reviewed by the iTunes people who ultimately decide on the suitability for distribution on the App Store.
The manual review and acceptance process is said to take normally 7 - 10 days. In itself, given Apple's intention to keep quality high, this isn't ordinarily lengthy, and in fact Apple claims 96% are approved within 7 days.
Coyne has released two very successful apps called eirtext (40,000 downloads) and eirtext pro (5000 downloads) since becoming an iPhone developer when the platform was opened around a year ago.
The apps allow users to send cheap or even free SMS from their iPhone by logging in to sites like O2, Vodafone and Meteor that support free Web Texts. On the device itself, the app displays like the iPhone SMS app to keep the user experience constant.
Coyne advises to test, test, and test, and make sure that there is no contravention of the Apple terms before submitting apps.
He explains, "You will normally receive an email with screen shots explaining what the problems are if the app is rejected. Once fixed, you re-submit, but have to wait in line again for another two weeks. For a new app this may not cause too much difficulty, however in the case of a previously released app where a 'user' finds and reports a bug, it still takes Apple 7-10 days to authorise the fix. In this time, users could post reviews on the App store highlighting issues, deterring prospective users from downloading the app and effectively destroying the work you've done to develop it. Even though you might have the bug fixed, there is nothing you can do about it."
Even though Apple have a high involvement in the process, mistakes are inevitable. Just last week, the company was forced to withdraw an app called "Baby Shaker" by Sikalosoft, after it was condemned by parenting groups.
According to reports, Apple said, "This application was deeply offensive and should not have been approved for distribution on the App Store. When we learned of this mistake, the app was removed immediately. We sincerely apologise for this mistake and thank our customers for bringing this to our attention."
Apple refused to explain why the application was not vetted before it went on sale, but what is clear, is the lapse has caused widespread embarrassment to a company whose majority customers would be parents of young infants.
You can bet on much closer scrutiny from now on.
Buying software online for a device is still relatively new and people are not yet used to it. Most apps we reviewed are in the 59p sterling range. There are feature packed apps costing £5 and £10, but the sentiment seems to suggest that presently anything over £2.00 - 3.00 is getting quite pricey.
The trend is to keep Apps featureless, easy to use, and cheap to buy.
For the software developer with entrepreneurial tendencies, the ability to create applications easily and then get instantaneous access to a customer platform of 21 million users is highly appealing and, even after Apple's 30% cut in the pie, potentially very profitable.
Although companies have shown some reluctance to jump on the bandwagon, which has allowed smaller developers get a foot hold, like Facebook and other platforms with high numbers of users, the market for commercial development is growing. Each iPhone user is downloading an average of around 50 applications, and it is simply too big a number to ignore.
As OS 3.0 is released, there is bound to be a significant number of organisations coming aboard to deliver games and enterprise software for the iPhone.
Coyne concludes, "Most developers will continue to keep their prices low, hoping for volume downloads instead. The more people you have downloading, the more people you have talking about your app. It's perpetual. Even at 59p from 1% of the market, you can see how you can make a lot of money!"
What makes a Good App - Tips from the Top
1) The iPhone is not a computer - people use the apps to do what they want and then they put it away again. Keep feature set down. The design element of the app is crucial. It needs to be quick, logical and simple. The design is 'how it works' not 'how it looks' (ie colours and layouts). Reduce clutter.
2) the App Store supports English, French, Italian, German and Spanish (EFIGS) languages, so to make the app available to as wide a market as possible, localise the description to EFIGS as a minimum.
3) Finally, localise the app itself. There is little point in launching the app to a foreign speaking market if the app relates to English only. Create a localized app page making sure screen shots are localised too.
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