Note: This is a walk-through of my experience creating my first iPhone app by hiring a developer. It’s called Photo Date and allows you to see the date your iPhone photos were taken. Download it here, its free.
I knew that mobile was going to be a huge deal 9 years ago when I bought my first brick of a smartphone. Pre-iPhone days it ran windows mobile, had a dreaded stylus and even gave me an impressive bulge in my pants.
Making an app on my own has been on my geek bucket list for a couple of years, but I never got around to it until last month when I went from idea to app store in less than 3 weeks.
Step 1: Break through your mental barriers
One of the main things that held me back was thinking that I needed the perfect, epic idea for an app. I’d finally think that I had it, only to find something similar already existing.
I only realized the lunacy of this mindset when I started to recognize it in other people. I’ve had dozens of people tell me about their super complex, mind blowing app idea – and now I just smile and nod, listening to them knowing the whole time that it is never going to see the light of day.
So that’s why I decided to do something incredibly simple for my first app. Why risk thousands of dollars on a large scale app project when I could start small and easy and gather learnings before trying to take down Angry Birds.
For my job I work on digital projects for Lexus, one of which being an iPad app. Yes, I was more familiar with the app world then a lot of people but there is no reason anybody can’t do this. I don’t know any iOS programming languages and didn’t know what xCode was before starting the project.
How I found the mythical ‘perfect’ idea
The first thing I wanted to lock down for my app was the idea. Instead of something mind-blowing I just needed something incredibly basic. I thought and thought. Finally the idea just came to me while scrolling through my photos on my phone one day – “I can’t see when any of these photos were taken.” I can see an awesome map that shows where, but I can’t see when.
So then I went to Google and typed in “how to see iPhone photo date” and on the first page saw about 5 forum posts where people were looking for a solution. This helped me validate the idea by seeing that others would want this app and not just me.
So boom, I found my idea.
Here are a few other ways to find ideas that people are looking for:
- Pay very careful attention to the things your friends complain about. The words “I wish you could do…”, or “I hate…” should make your ears perk up.
- Lurk on https://discussions.apple.com and look for recurring things that people don’t know how to do, or apps/features that they ask for
I think its important for your app to fill a need if its going to be successful – but for the first app it should really be about just going through the motion and doing it as quickly and cheaply as possible.
The important thing to keep in mind, is that for your first app, it really doesn’t matter what your idea is. You shouldn’t be trying to re-create Instagram on your first try. You should be trying to come up with the simplest thing possible just so that you can get something out the door. That way when you go to do your next one, your more complicated one, the process will go more smoothly.
How to create mockups that a developer will understand
I’m going to show you two ways to do this.
1 is free.
The other will cost $20 (maybe even free).
Both cheap as dirt.
Free option – Skitch
Download Skitch and use the rectangle tool, line tool, text tool and arrows to create a ghetto mockup. Here is an example of mine. Pretty crappy, right?
$20 option (maybe free) Keynote + Keynotopia
If you already have Keynote, this option is free also! I didn’t so I had to shell out the $20. Ok so get keynote if you don’t have it, then download these free iPhone mockup templates here.
You’ll create your ‘app’ in one keynote window and open up the templates in another. Then you just select the pieces you need, copy them, and past them in your ‘app’ keynote window.
Each ‘slide’ is a screen of your app. If you can copy and paste you can design an app!
It’s helpful to include notes on your screens that describe the functionality. For example: “On this screen the user can scroll down through their camera roll and as they do so the bottom bar will automatically change to show which month, year their photo was taken.”
After I did this, I exported a PDF. done.
Ultra-free option - You can always just draw your app out on paper and take a picture of that as well.
Finding a developer without worry
I think this part scares people the most because they have no idea what the hell they’re doing. They are scared of hiring the wrong person, that they’re going to take their money, that their thing isn’t going to work properly, that the developer is going to take 4 days to respond, that they will try to cheat them out of money etc. etc.
I work with developers every day in my job and I was still hesitant that I could find the right developer. (I couldn’t use anybody I work with because they’re too expensive.)
So here’s what I did:
I went on freelancer.com and posted a project. I titled it ‘very simple iPhone project’ When posting a project you have to think what a developer is going to think as they’re scrolling through the site and you have to title your project so that they will care.
Does a developer care about this project title: “Revolutionary idea for real estate app” No.
How about this: “Exciting project with clear guidelines, reasonable timeline” This is better. This says, this person knows what they want and isn’t going to expect everything to be done in 1 day.
I named my project – ‘very simple iPhone app’ so that they know it would be quick and easy money.
Now – if you post a project on a site like freelancer, elance or odesk you are probably going to receive at least 20+ bids. I got 23. Who has time to review that many and how do you go about narrowing it down? Most people get overwhelmed at this stage and give up.
But there’s a quick little trick you can use to eliminate 80% of all bids to narrow down the pool.
A lot of people on these types of sites will submit bids to every project out there, which is obvious by the 500 word responses you’ll receive less then 3 minutes after posting your project.
So what I did is in the description of my project I said, “in your bid include the answer to 2+2 so that I know you actually read this.”
And it worked, dozens of people didn’t do this so I ruthlessly deleted their bids. I made the mistake at first of looking at their profiles and a few were actually quite good. But then I remembered that if they can’t follow my basic instructions then it doesn’t matter how good their past work might be.
So don’t even look at their portfolios if they can’t follow basic instructions. Communication is priority #1.
If you want the name of my developer leave a comment below and I’ll put you in touch.
Testing your app
After your developer programs your app, you are going to want to test it to make sure it functions correctly.
To test it on your actual phone
- Supply your developer with your phone’s UDID. Connect your phone to your computer and in iTunes it will show you the serial number. Only phones with a UDID built into the app will be able to test it.
- Your developer should send you an IPA – which is a packaged up file of your app. Then go to testflightapp.com, register an account and upload the IPA.
- Then go to testflightapp on your phone, log in and it will install the test flight ‘app’ on your phone. Open this app and it should show a build of your app as available to download. Download it and you are ready to test on your device.
Highly recommended - Show your app to your friends and watch them using it. Don’t tell them how to use it, just watch them. This will give you ideas on how to improve its usability. I did this for my app and saw someone try to swipe left/right in between photos but they couldn’t. I assumed my developer would have built that in so I didn’t think to test it at first. So I immediately had this functionality added.
Submitting to app store
The submission process to the app store process is documented here. Be aware that it costs $99/year for a developer license to submit to the app store.
The only thing worth noting here, that I messed up, is to make sure you have all of your screenshots uploaded to your submission before submitting it. Apple no longer allows you to upload screenshots after it’s been approved. The only way to get new screenshots up is to submit a new build of the app and go through the review process again.
- Start with the simplest idea you can think of. Bonus points if you can make it simple and useful for people
- When working with a developer you don’t know, provide extremely detailed and visual instructions.
- Screen applicants out by making them follow basic instructions
- Have others test out your app to identify bugs, improved functionality or new features
What questions do you have about creating your own app?
P.S. I’m working on a few more posts about finding ideas and how to pick the right one, marketing – and also legal stuff like NDA’s, contracts etc.. enter your email below to get them when they’re ready. I’ll also give you the contact info for my developer.