Historically, there have not been many product books—that is, books that deal with topics beyond the creative or programming aspects of the software development process. The ones that do exist have been fairly conceptual. They often don’t get into the details and instead focus exclusively on frameworks for building software. Details are necessary, however, for those who want to go from idea to software product, or in this case, from idea to iPhone app. This book includes those often-missing details. While providing a broader perspective of iOS application development, this book also covers the specifics of taking an idea and subsequently launching an app into Apple’s App Store.

Yet that statement is oversimplified. People don’t want to just take an idea and launch an iPhone app. Instead, the typical goal is to take what is believed to be a unique or great idea and launch a successful application. The latter element, success, can vary but is usually easy to define. It may include financial gain, notoriety, career advancement, personal satisfaction, or similar outcomes.

How to achieve these desired outcomes by launching an application, however, is not as straightforward, and hence, failing to achieve them is common. Failures often result because of the false assumptions that an idea is indeed unique, great, interesting, financially lucrative, or more generally, appealing to someone beyond the person with the idea. This problem is not specific to launching an app into the App Store and it is a major reason why most new business ventures of various shapes and sizes flounder early in their existence.

Thus, critical to turning an idea into an app that people beyond you—customers—really want is an understanding of how to assess whether an application actually does that. Some preliminary items need to be handled before that can begin to occur. The good news is that regardless of role, job, background, or skill set, anyone can complete these steps.

Who Should Read This Book

It’s possible that you are a “product person” like me, who can’t create designs or write code, but has an idea. Or you could be a designer or developer who has either launched an app to no fanfare or realized that those skills alone won’t guarantee success on the hyper-competitive App Store. You might even be tasked to build an app at work. Regardless of your background, this book distills my experience, as well as that of the larger iOS development community, to provide you with a practical guide to launching awesome customer-inspired iPhone and iPad apps.

I don’t claim to have the market cornered on the right way to build an app, but what’s in this book is not merely a guess of a way to do it. In fact, throughout this book, I am going to refer to two of my apps that have done well—AudioBookShelf and Tweeb—highlighting the principles of this book in practice.[1] Beyond AudioBookShelf and Tweeb, I will also point to the apps of those interviewed in this book, as well as several others, so that you can see the apps’ evolution throughout the development process.

Although I’ve had my own successes, my knowledge, experience, and apps alone wouldn’t be enough to prove that what you read in this book is a smart way to build your app. So, you’ll be happy to know that I have interviewed the very best developers in the App Store. And when I write “the very best,” I mean the very best. These developers include the likes of Smule, the creator of Glee, Magic Piano, and I Am T-Pain, as well as tap tap tap, maker of Camera+, the Digg iPhone app, Convert, and Where To? Both of these developers have had a handful of the top paid apps in the App Store throughout their history. These interviews are well worth the price of admission. You’ll find them exceptionally insightful and complementary to the content of each chapter, starting with the “Interviews” section in Chapter 1.

What You Need to Use This Book

This book assumes that you are a registered iOS developer and enrolled in Apple’s iOS Developer Program, which allows you to develop and distribute iPhone and iPad apps on the App Store. If you are not, refer to this book’s Appendix on how to register and enroll. Although you can begin developing your app without being part of the iOS Developer Program, you’ll want to enroll in it now and start the process early, especially if you want to distribute a paid app. There can be some back and forth between you and Apple to complete the contractual, tax, and banking information.

Unless you are the person who is doing the actual programming of your app, you don’t necessarily need to be working on a Mac. If you use a Windows-based PC, however, you’ll be missing out on some nifty tools developed by Apple and third parties that can help you through this process. This includes Apple’s freely available iOS SDK (software development kit) that has tools such as the iPhone Simulator and requires an Intel-based Mac for installation.

If you don’t have a Mac but you have some funds for one, consider looking for a used machine on eBay or Craigslist. You might also look at Apple’s lowest-priced Mac, the Mac mini, which is perfect if you already have a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Of course, if you are planning to invest in app development over the long haul, take a look at higher-end models too (

Refer to the Appendix to learn more about the iOS Developer Program, installing the iOS SDK, and which tools are available to you. Unless you are the one doing the programming and testing, the SDK and tools are not absolutely required. They are extremely helpful, however, as you become more familiar with building apps. At the expense of being a little more involved in the technical details, you’ll free yourself from relying on others, especially your developer, and generally will be more informed about what’s happening with your app.

I don’t want to overlook a more basic requirement, which is to have an actual Apple iOS device. You should have an iPod touch, iPhone, or iPad. For the first two devices, I recommend at least a third-generation iPod touch or a third-generation iPhone (3GS). Although it is not required, if you have one of these devices for personal use, you may want to consider purchasing a separate one just for development purposes. That device will be useful if you plan to install the latest pre-release iOS software that Apple makes available to developers only. Chapter 2 covers the hardware differences among these devices.

How This Book Is Organized

I wrote this book so that you can use it from idea to App Store sale, while at the same time being able to refer to it for a particular topic. This second goal is particularly important for those who may already have an app or are just stuck. For example, discussing how to differentiate your app from others is addressed in Chapter 2, while improving your app before it is submitted to the App Store is covered in Chapter 6.

What is not initially apparent from the sequential nature of this book is that Chapter 8—the marketing chapter—actually begins being referenced in Chapter 3. As you move forward, you’ll learn that marketing, or what I call your marketing crescendo, actually occurs in parallel with the development of your app. This approach highlights something that many developers miss. Namely, that many either do not market their apps or believe that marketing begins only after they have built the app or gotten it approved by Apple. If you start marketing your app at that point, you’ll miss out on a key opportunity for your app, because the launch into the App Store presents one of the biggest moments for exposure and you need to fully maximize it.

Thus, the initial culmination of your marketing crescendo will be reached when your app is approved into the App Store. To reach that point, I will continue to direct you to Chapter 8 throughout the book to perform your marketing checkups—marketing activities that occur in parallel with your app’s development—which consist of five phases. By the time you finish submitting your app to Apple in Chapter 7, you will have already referenced most of Chapter 8 and will immediately jump to Phase 5 of your marketing crescendo.

I also want to highlight that the process you are going to follow is essentially one complete pass through the life cycle of an app. This process starts with an idea and ends with updating your app once it has been launched. Some parts of the development process may require you to iterate; that is, you’ll need to repeat what you are doing and get it right before moving forward (see Figure 1). This can include validating your idea until it resonates with customers, revising a screen until it is easy enough to use, or improving the performance of your app before you submit it to Apple. While your decision to continue to invest in your app won’t necessarily take you back to the beginning of this process, the conclusion of this book may seem somewhat anticlimactic because you’ll already have been through all the steps at least once. This means that at the end of the book, the next step may actually be a previous step from an earlier chapter.

The life cycle for an application and how it relates to the various chapters in this book; notice how you will be referring to throughout the book, performing your marketing activities and developing your app in parallel
Figure 1. The life cycle for an application and how it relates to the various chapters in this book; notice how you will be referring to Chapter 8 throughout the book, performing your marketing activities and developing your app in parallel

With this background, it’s time for you to begin exploring your idea. Here’s how the rest of the book breaks down.


Chapter 1

You don’t start building an building an app. You first need to wrap your mind around the vastness of the App Store ecosystem and discover whether your app idea should be more than just an idea.

Chapter 2

To build an app, you need to fully understand Apple’s touch devices—the iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad—and how you plan to differentiate your offering from other options.

Chapter 3

With the initial assumptions about the device you are targeting and the features you want your app to have, you’ll immediately turn to customers to start validating these ideas. Of course, you’ll first need to know who those customers are and how to find them.


Chapter 4

Having a concept for an app and some validated ideas about it will expedite your conversations with people or companies that will actually build it. Beyond understanding your app, you’ll need to know how best to find and then vet designers and developers.

Chapter 5

Once you have a team in place, you’ll use the assets you’ve created up to this point to begin developing your app. You’ll dive more into the details of specific features the first version of your app will have, and begin defining the look-and-feel and functionality as you drive toward getting a working version of your app.

Chapter 6

To improve the features and functions of your app, you and your customers will test it extensively before it is submitted to the App Store. To install an app outside the App Store, you’ll create a special version of it that you can distribute for testing.


Chapter 7

After you are satisfied with the first version of your app, you’ll need to submit it to Apple for approval. Before running straight to Apple, though, you’ll gather everything you need to make the App Store submission process as smooth as possible.

Chapter 8

By the time your app is approved, you’ll have your pre- and post-launch marketing checklist in place and start checking those items off to maximize the visibility and reception of your app when it first hits the App Store.

Chapter 9

Comparing the criteria you defined at the start of the process with the feedback and data you now have allows you to assess how your app is doing. You’ll be watchful of early warning signals and avoid problems by keeping customers engaged and excited about your app.

Tips and tools:

Appendix B

Those daring enough to get slightly more technical will be rewarded with some tips and tools that will make their involvement in app development more efficient and enjoyable.

Conventions Used in This Book

The following typographical conventions are used in this book:


Indicates new terms, URLs, email addresses, filenames, and file extensions

This signifies a tip, suggestion, or general note.


The following words and phrases are used in this book:


“iPhone” is generalized to refer to the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad unless noted otherwise.


“App” or “apps” is short for application or applications, respectively. Apps are available for download and installation from Apple’s App Store.

iPhone app

“iPhone app” is generalized to refer to iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad apps unless noted otherwise.

Third-party app

The term “third-party app” refers to all apps in the App Store. It is used only when comparing these apps to the Apple-provided apps such as Calendar and Mail.

iPhone developer

“iPhone developer” or “developer” refers both to the person(s) responsible for bringing an app to the App Store and to the person who possesses the programming abilities to write actual iPhone software code. The context will dictate which usage is being implied.

iPhone development

“iPhone development” or “development” refers both to the process of bringing an app to the App Store and to a specific task called “development” that is performed by the person who possesses the programming abilities to write actual iPhone software code. The context will dictate which usage is being implied.

Development team

Often, multiple people will be involved in the development process. Instead of the term “development team” or “team,” though, the word “you” will generally be used to represent all of these persons unless another team member is specifically referenced.


“Customer” and not “user” is the preferred way to describe a person who will download and use an app. The word “customer” will generally be used to refer to prospective and actual customers, of both free and paid apps.

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This book would not be possible without a number of people. First, my beautiful wife, Stephanie, put up with me spending considerably more time in my man cave than normal. Without her support and understanding, this book would probably have been completed sometime in 2012. Similarly, I must thank my parents, family, and friends because even though I didn’t talk with many of them through the first half of 2010, they decided not to disown me.

Of course, I wouldn’t even have had the opportunity to alienate my loved ones without my editor, Brian Jepson, taking a chance on a first-time author. From my first interaction with him, Brian showed incredible interest in my ideas, super-fast responsiveness, and a desire to collaborate; that hasn’t stopped. To that extent, Brian reflects the demeanor of the entire O’Reilly team, who impressed me through every step of this process.

Along with Brian, my technical reviewers, Jeremy Olson of Skookum and Chris Brown of Millennial Media, wrestled with the earliest version of the text and provided extremely detailed and insightful criticisms. Jeremy and Chris were initially interviewed in the book, but continued to provide some of the more helpful feedback after their interviews were finished. They were asked to do a formal technical review of the book once the first draft was completed.

I’m extremely grateful to everyone who agreed to be interviewed, and their names are listed in each of their respective chapters. There are others, though, that were not interviewed but were always willing to chat about anything and everything related to apps and this book. These people included David Smith, Doug Kushin, and Trace Johnson. A special thanks also goes to Thanny Young for her amazing design work on a couple of my apps, Bert Bates for his editorial comments while working on his own book, Graham Dawson for his perspectives on App Store rankings, Kevin Dewalt and Brant Cooper for their reviews of the customer development principles described in Chapter 3, Cody Fink of MacStories for his thoughts on estimating development costs, and Eric Ries for his generous introductions.

O’Reilly’s Open Feedback Publishing System (OFPS) provided a great way for interested people to provide comments on the in-progress draft. I’m thrilled that many took the time to comment, but am especially indebted to Sean Mountcastle and Yixin Qiu for the amount of time they spent reviewing the book, both in OFPS and, later, with me directly.

Finally, this book represents a culmination of many, many years of personal and professional encouragement and love. These acknowledgments would be unbearably long if I expressed my appreciation to everyone who has been a part of this journey. To those I have not mentioned, and you know who you are, thank you.

[1] My interests in Tweeb were acquired by the development firm Mobomo in June 2010.