I came across this YouTube video of Brian Greenstone from Pangea Software talking about how his company made $1.5 million on a two-week port of a Mac OS game over in the comments of my online friend Andy Brice’s blog.
Andy’s post concerned the media reality distortion field cast over the iPhone, rightly pointing out that while some developers do quite well, most make more like bus fare.

“Before you write your iPhone App I think you should ask yourself if it has got a realistic shot at making the top 10 in its App store category. If not, don’t give up the day job just yet,” Andy concludes.

While that’s true enough, I don’t draw the same conclusions as Andy does about the iOS market. I think there’s more to the story than the odds are against you, so why bother?

  • I think the number one reason most iOS apps fail is that they are poorly executed knock-offs of common ideas and approaches. For example, I went looking this weekend for a different kind of checklist app. I found a good hundred that would let you create a checklist – and not one that would let you reuse and improve a checklist. Those hundred shared a common view: A checklist is something you make and use once. But, if you’ve read Atul Gawande’s, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (and you should), there’s a entirely different way checklists can be created, maintained, improved and used than the make a list once approach.
  • Another reason software companies large and small fail when they get on the iOS bandwagon is they start from the point of view of “How do we squeeze our app from the desktop to an iPhone?” They ignore/disrespect the platform. And by the way, the iPhone and the iPad may share an OS, but they are emphatically not the same platform. Same thing happens when Windows software makers try to “cash in” Mac users or the reverse.

I find the reason some developers succeed beyond their wildest dreams more interesting:

  • They passionately believe in not doing what is commonly expected.
  • They are willing to take a risk.
  • They work hard at getting their execution right.

What do you think?


  1. >his company made $1.5 million on a two-week port of a Mac OS game
    Yes, but that was on the back of years spent writing games for the Mac. Also he acknowledges that:
    -a lot of the success was due to their game being pushed heavily by Apple
    -you need to be in the top 100 apps to make decent sales and a lot of that is down to luck (having the right app at the right time)
    It is interesting that their sales are so much higher on iPhone than Mac. I wonder how much of that is down to the promotion of the iPhone version by Apple.

  2. It again comes down to distribution. You have to get your app out there in front of people. I won’t even go as far as saying the market is highly competitive. You might find a niche, but there are thousands of apps all around that. Spreading the word is hard too. I tried pitching an app to dozens of review sites. They are backlogged weeks if not months.
    Building apps for fun and see if they take off, absolutely. Developing iPhone apps to build a predictable and sustainable business, not so much.

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  6. Bob, did you finally find an iPhone app for your checklists?
    I’m seeing if our library has the book you recommended.
    We’re developing an iphone list app if you want to be a tester. About a month away from doing beta testing. Lots of alpha in house testing right now.

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