How Much Money I Made on the App Store
Some time ago I began learning to develop iOS apps using Swift. It was a massive learning curve. Some quick takeaways:
- The iOS framework is huge.
I doubt it is possible for a single human being to be familiar with the whole thing.
- There is no cross-over from typical web development.
Things that seem so easy in web design are completely baffling in native iOS.
- The rate of change that Apple keep pushing is exhausting.
Even during my app development process of a few months, the Swift language changed – requiring significant changes to the code. And there were two iOS updates.
- The smallest bugs can have you down a rabbit warren for hours if not days.
- Stack Overflow became my new favorite website.
All that said it was immensely satisfying to write my own app, get it submitted to Apple, and live on the App Store.
Once up on the App Store I will confess to struggling with a lot of self-driven stress. I now had a product for sale and I felt a strong obligation to fix bugs as soon as they were found. And of course there were a few, and many a late night was spent poring over code.
The submission process is time-consuming. Each release would be in the review queue for at least a week. Creating the images for the store was a hassle. 5 images for each of 4 iPhone sizes. That’s 20 images, and if you change something in a new version you’re probably going to redo a lot of those images.
What About Sales and Revenue?
This was more than a hobby. I have a web-based business and this thing had to produce income at some point. I have people depending on me, and like many don’t have the luxury of spending endless hours indulging in pursuits that don’t end up as a viable business enterprise.
I charged 99c for the app.
Here are the actual sales from May 2015 to Feb 2017.
The first few days it was a rush. I was checking the app store reports morning and night – excited to see someone actually bought the app. Within a few days it hit 10 sales in one day. Little did I know but that was as good as it was going to get.
Over the following weeks I feverishly worked on some updates to get the app to the point I had always intended (along with bug fixes).
Then reality set in.
199 units old = US$209 in sales = US$135 proceeds (net to me). In order to get the app on the app store I needed to pay the $99 developer fee.
So after 2 months and 1 week my (before tax) profit was $36.
UPDATE 2017: Since the initial rush, the app has sold about 1.2 copies per day – at 71 cents per sale to me. Of course I still have to pay the Apple Developer Fee of $99. So profit for the last year was about US$217. I’ve updated the app for ios10, but will not be building in any new features. The only way I could do that is if it became a hobby. Just updating the code for new versions of Swift and Xcode has chewed up enough hours.
UPDATE 2 NOVEMBER 2017: I have removed the app from sale. The primary reason is keeping up with Apple’s gobsmacking proliferation of devices. That, and the constant updates to the Swift language, meant with every release, something wasn’t quite right. Unfortunately 70 cents a day is not quite enough to sustain active development time!
My final thoughts? App development only works if it is your full-time gig.
I did my best on the marketing front. I carefully researched app store optimization. I wrote personal emails to a few of the sites that write about apps. I gently pointed out some points of difference in my app and what I’d discovered about cellular data usage that had prompted me to write the app. That effort lead to nothing.
In doing so I stumbled on the bizarre after market for app store code. So that’s why so many Flappy Bird clones appeared within weeks. It seems like hordes of developers quickly discovered they made no money on the app store – so they might as well endlessly recycle their source code.
Talk about a way to kill innovation and no wonder the app store is so chock-full of all kinds of stuff.
So why am I doing this?
I had sunk so much time into this. I’ve gained some new skills but in doing so – discovered just how challenging it is for a team of one to get anywhere in this new world of apps. Apparently the app store gold rush finished sometime in 2009.
I get that. My own app does what dozens of other apps do. BUT – of course I coded it to improve on issues I saw in other apps. It is something I prefer to use to measure my data usage rather than the 4 other apps I tried before hand.
It’s buried in the app store. It’s hard to locate even with a fairly specific keyword search.
Where to Now For Software?
The app store model has changed things. Our expectations as consumers are for free everything.
We buy a $5 cup of coffee without a thought or throw $50 of gas into our car as if it were monopoly money. But any software over $1 is shockingly overpriced! And the developer better FIX MY PROBLEM RIGHT NOW OR ELSE…
As a child I bought games on cassette tape for my Commodore 64. They cost over $70 (in old money).
Things have never been better as a consumer – unfortunately the app store model has made things weird. Most games (for example) are now little more than vehicles to drive in-app purchases via a cynical addiction cycle. It’s tough to find something that you pay for once and enjoy. And even then – we expect to pay a developer a couple of dollars and have the app upgraded for free forever.
It’s a bit like the web: the moment we expected (and demanded) content for free, publishers began to turn sites into content silos in order to drive ad views. So we bitch about the ads, but none of us would be willing to spend money on a website (the paywall experiment failed years ago).
Where to Now For Me?
I had a few other app ideas for the future… but the cost/benefit ratio simply does not justify it.
I’m going to leave it.
I’m too slow at coding. Maybe if it was something I did full-time I would no doubt get faster – but I can’t afford to do that. Not with $36 to show for it (and don’t tell my wife – I barely got my head out of the laptop for a month).
For those who purchased my app. Thank you so much. I will support the product as long as it is available. I will answer your emails and read your reviews and listen to your suggestions.