Thoughts on Professional iPhone Development

by ramin

Idea vs. Execution

Raven Zachary in a post on the O’Reilly Inside iPhone Blog raises the old idea vs. execution argument. *Sigh*. This is the same debate I’ve been hearing (and having) for the past twenty years and it keeps popping back up again.

Folks, it’s not zero-sum / either-or. It’s both. One hand holding the other. Yin and yang. It’s like saying who was more important in your creation: your mother or your father? (OK, some might say it was the Rum and Coke, but remember that’s just the catalyst.)

A lot of people bandy about the phrase “Ideas are a multiplier of execution.” As near as (Google) can tell, this phrase was popularized in a short post by Derek Sivers. What most people ignore is the conclusion he posits:

To make a business, you need to multiply the two.

In other words: I * X = success

If either I (idea) or X (execution) values are low (or zero) the outcome suffers–or stays at zero. Without a good idea, the best developers will sit around and play games or post rubbish on Twitter. Without a good implementation the best ideas will sit around till the cows come home. And the converse is true as well (bad idea/bad execution).

Architects can draw as many designs as they want, but without the builders nothing will get built. The builders can build the most fabulous walls but they won’t quite connect because they don’t have good plans.

Shall I go on? (NNNNoooo!)

So the next time you discount somebody’s idea by assigning it a value of $0, you may want to pause and give it another listen. Naturally, there are lot more ideas than implementations, but that doesn’t mean ideas are worth $0. It just means you need a knack for sifting the good from the bad. And let’s not forget good and bad are subjective valuations. If it wasn’t so, all movies and games would be instant hits.

OK, ’nuff said. I’m sure this isn’t the last time I’ll be hearing this debate again.

Product vs. Project

On a different topic, if you go by Raven’s numbers your typical developer making $125/hr working full-time will gross ~$250K a year (most developers I know work only part-time, however). If they write an app, put it on the app-store and it sells, say, 30,000 copies for the year (a conservative estimate) they would need to price it at around $10.99 in order to match the consulting rate. Write a hit (say, 100,000+/yr) and at that price, you’d be waaay ahead of the hourly rate.

The dilemma most professional iPhone developers will face is whether to take on a consulting project or spend the time working on their own product. I can tell you from personal experience, it’s pretty damn hard doing both. In a perfect world, you could do one for a while then switch to another. But it rarely works that way. While doing consulting, you’ll have to battle the constant nagging feeling that you’re actually losing money by not having your product out there and the opportunity may well slip away when someone else beats you to the market. On the other hand, while working on your product and not generating income, it’s hard to say no to someone offering you cash.

It’s a tough choice (and you should drop to your knees and kiss the ground if you’re lucky enough to be facing such a dilemma.)

Pricing

The other thing to keep in mind is that if you’re planning on writing an app for yourself and pricing it low (say, $0.99) then you’re looking at a heckuvalot of copies to make it worth not going the consulting route. iPhone developers wanting to do product development for themselves and make a good living at it might want to take Andy Finnell’s sage advice and price their apps at a more reasonable rate–something that would at least cover their costs and allow them to turn down subsequent time-intensive consulting gigs.

My personal feeling is no competent developer should be putting out $0.99 apps. They’d only be shortchanging themselves. The iPhone store is in its early stages. It’s too early to have all the shelves be stocked with apps retailers put in the discount bargain bins.