The SDK that changed my life

This week marked the 10 year anniversary of the original iPhone SDK. Craig Hockenberry wrote a great blog post about it and since I wasn’t part of those pioneers that figured out how to make apps without an official SDK, I’ll let him tell the tale. It’s a great read.

However, I can tell you how that event changed my life.

Back in 2008, I was working as a freelance web developer. I hated it but not as much as that job I left a year earlier. At least I was somewhat calling the shots and wasn’t on the verge of a nervous breakdown anymore.

When Apple announced the iPhone SDK, I was very exited. Unfortunately the program was only opened to developers within the US. But a few months later, Apple allowed people from other countries to apply so I did. To much of my surprise, I was accepted into the program!

I managed to find two projects to work on: Linguo, a language translator and Steps, a pedometer. I had previous experience with Objective-C having ported a Windows app to the Mac a few years back so I picked up Cocoa Touch rapidly. My goal was to have both apps approved and part of the July 11 App Store grand opening.

Apple only approved my developer program application in April and the deadline for the grand App Store opening was late June so there wasn’t much time to be all done on time. Luckily, I could rely on a talented part-time employee to help me out and actually hired one of my clients to work on the user interface, app icons and website. I knew it was a financial risk and a lot of work but deemed worth it as this was a one time opportunity for what would end up a huge success and change the industry.

Then the day finally arrived – the App Store opened on July 11, 2008. Both Linguo and Steps were part of only 500 apps available for the grand opening.

Back then, developers didn’t receive daily sale figures so you would have to wait a whole month before knowing how much money you made. When I finally saw that amount, I was in shock – it was more than half my annual salary and knew right then that my life would change.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve developed many apps. Most of them are no longer available but every single one of them was an important part of what me and Edovia have become. These were the building blocks that made it possible eventually to release Screens, which will celebrate its 8th birthday later this year.

Every year brings new challenges and developing apps is hard work. There are times of doubt but the reward is so gratifying. I am very grateful of where I am right now and I know that the iPhone SDK has changed the lives of many.

Back to the iMac (Pro)

I’ve always been a fan of the MacBook Pro+Thunderbolt Display setup. It worked very well, the monitor was amazing and it offered me the required versatility that I needed at the time as I had an office both at home and with other fellow developers.

iMac 5K

Then in 2014, came the iMac 5K. We’ve been spoiled by Apple since 2011 with the Retina Display (let’s face it, I’m not getting any younger and my eyes could use a break) and figured that I would switch to a MacBook Pro+iMac setup while Apple works on the Retina Thunderbolt Display or whatever they would end up calling it.

This dual computer setup is less ideal for me as I would code on both and syncing source code via Dropbox or some other sharing service is no option. Having to commit unfinished work to Git on one Mac only to keep working on the other is really a pain in the butt and is prone to human errors.

A very expensive and frustrating experience

“Finally”, Apple announced late 2016 new MacBook Pros and 5K external Retina displays to go along. Great! I thought. I could get rid of the iMac 5K and go back to my ideal laptop and external monitor setup.

The word ‘finally’ is in quotes because the 2016 MacBook Pro and LG Ultrafine display has been nothing but a frustrating experience. Luckily, I never had any keyboard issues many have been experiencing (yet) but the setup never really worked well. Not to mention the poor build quality of that LG display, which would wobble every time I would hit a key on my keyboard or just refuse to turn on unless I made some dance or forced reboot the MacBook Pro.

The fact that Apple gave away its display business to LG reflects how the company feels you shouldn’t plug in an external monitor to their laptops. If you do, then they don’t care about the experience.

Then came the iMac Pro

So I bit the bullet this week and got an iMac Pro. My intention is to use an iPad Pro on the rare occasions that I’m not working from home and use that time to do tasks other than coding, like blogging for instance.

If I really need to use Xcode, I can always fire up Screens and connect to my iMac Pro!

As a backup, I have a late-2013 MacBook Pro that still works very well.

Apple seems to have done a pretty good job with the iMac Pro. It is the most expensive computer I’ve ever purchased but I intend to keep it for a very long time.

Let’s hope this doesn’t end up being another expensive and frustrating experience!

Ten Years

January 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of being an independent developer. It all started in August 2006, when I got laid off by my employer and found another job that turned out to be very bad for me. So bad that I thought I would end up with a nervous breakdown so I had to do something about it.

I resigned later in December, took a few weeks off during the holidays and started being my own boss in January 2007. Then a few weeks later the iPhone was announced.

I still had to work as a contracting web developer, which I hated but not as much as that last job. It wasn’t up until April 2008, when my application to the Apple Developer Program was approved, that I could finally do what I wanted: make my own apps.

I was able to release two apps for the July 11 App Store launch and since then, I’ve been very fortunate to do what I love. Every year brings its challenges but I wouldn’t be doing anything else.

How to be a successful indie developer*

* Not a guarantee

There has been a lot of words written lately about how hard it is to make a decent living as an independent software developer. While I agree that it has become harder every year to stay on top of things and keep making it in a crowded space, it is possible if you apply these rules:

  1. Find a real problem to solve
  2. Make sure that those that have that problem are willing to pay a fair price for your app in order to solve it
  3. Make a great app

That is what I did with Screens and I’m making a pretty good living out of it. Of course, the app was released back in 2010 when there weren’t as many apps out there and it was easier to get noticed but it is still a proof that a $19.99 iOS app ($29.99 on the Mac) is possible.

Yes, it takes a lot more time, money and personal investment nowadays to make it as an indie but that’s what we call doing business. This isn’t 2008 anymore and it is not enough to just release a $1.99 app out there and hope to make it. Solve a problem and ask good money for it and you’ll have more chances to become successful.

Back to the Mac

Brent Simmons, UXKit Again

I have no illusions that I can talk any iOS developers into Mac development. I will say that it’s fun, though, for a bunch of reasons. Your apps run on the same machine as your development environment. You have the freedom to distribute outside the app store. You have a chance to write something that all your peers — many of whom are also programmers — will run all day long on their Macs. (And you have a decent chance of making better money. Mac users tend to be loyal and supportive and awesome.)

I’m not kidding myself, Edovia wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Apple and its respective App Stores. However, I’ve had this urge lately to try to make it on my own, without Apple’s help. Of course, there’s no way out of the App Store for iOS apps but you can still hold the reins of your destiny on the Mac side.

Just a few weeks ago, Screens for Mac made more than 90% of its revenues on the Mac App Store. My goal is to increase the percentage of copies sold directly drastically by the year’s end.

It’s not only about the money. Of course, having FastSpring taking roughly 9% off every sale compared to the hefty 30% taken by Apple on each sale is nothing to sneeze at.

For me, the real gain is to be able to push bug fix releases in the matter of minutes, not days, and taking care of my users in a much less frustrating way. Direct customers also tend to be less of a pain compared to App Store customers and easier to work with.

As for UXKit, I don’t understand all the fuss. Yes, AppKit is sometimes frustrating compared to UIKit but seriously, just learn the damn thing.

I don’t know why but for me, shipping a Mac app has always been something special over an iOS app.

Price Trolls

$4.99. This is the price you’ll have to pay for Pixelmator, a desktop-class photo editor. I don’t know if the ridiculously low price was set at Apple’s request (a $19.99 price tag at the end of a Keynote demo would have much less impact) but if this trend continues it may hurt the App Store on the long run.

Of course, the makers of Pixelmator can afford such a low price since they’ll get a ton of promotion and the download volume will make up for it but this is not the case for most developers.

It sends the message to consumers that they shouldn’t pay much for quality software and that developers asking for a fair price are greedy. Eventually, it will be no longer profitable to develop for the platform and we’ll start seeing less quality apps on the App Store.


Jared Sinclair:

I conclude from all this that anyone who wants to make a satisfying living as an independent app developer should seriously consider only building apps based on sustainable revenue models. I suspect this means through consumable in-app purchases, like those in Candy Crush Saga or Clash of Clans, or through recurring subscription charges, like those in WhatsApp.

The marketplace has changed drastically over the past few years and I think we’re going to see more and more freemium apps, such as Arment’s Overcast. As for Edovia, it is quite possible that our next major releases will offer new features through In-App purchases.

I have always been against the race to the bottom and priced Screens accordingly. The freemium model (or at least the Charge-Less-For-Basic-Functionalities-And-Offer-In-App-Purchases-For-Pro-Features model) is now something to consider and perhaps, unavoidable on the long run.

Furthermore, I have grave doubts that any solo developer would have the capacity to ship and maintain either kind of business working alone. She would probably have to consolidate her business with other indie developers in the same position. The marketing budgets of the major competitors makes me doubt that even a consolidation strategy is tenable.

I’ve been pretty successful with Screens because I was able to hire excellent developers and designers. The app would not exist without them.