Now that developers can get their hands on the iPad, it’s reasonable to predict an oncoming wave of app development. The larger screen and faster processor practically guarantee it. And that means all the big questions about getting an app approved, finding an audience, and testing app models, will once again come to the fore.
OReilly got in touch with Craig Hockenberry, author of “iPhone App Development: The Missing Manual” and principal atIconfactory, to get his thoughts on the App Store approval process, useful app marketing techniques, and what he thinks the iPad will mean for developers and consumers.
Q: Are there certain things that guarantee an app won’t be accepted by Apple?
Craig Hockenberry: There have been some high-profile rejections that have been covered extensively by the media. That’s natural: conflict makes for a good story. But for every rejection you hear about, there are tens of thousands of apps that make it through without any problems. For the most part, Apple has been consistent about what it will and won’t allow. I suggest that developers keep a keen eye on this Application Submission Feedback site for the latest problem areas.
Q: Is there any sure-fire way of getting an app approved?
CH: There is no guarantee that Apple will publish your app. However, if you avoid the problem areas, your chances are very good. Use common sense and avoid things that would embarrass a customer or Apple.
Q: If an app is rejected, is that the end of the road?
CH: Most developers have had an app that’s been rejected for one reason or another. It’s not the end of the world. Sometimes it’s something simple to fix, such as a graphic that uses a picture of an iPhone. Other times, it means you need to go back to the drawing board and rebuild a part of your app. Any app that has been rejected can be resubmitted after the issues listed by Apple have been addressed. We’ve had several rejections for Iconfactory products and it’s never been a long-term problem.
Q: Are there certain types of apps that seem to catch on more than others?
CH: There are two types. The first are the novelties that are fun to play around with, but have a very short shelf life. It’s notoriously hard to predict what’s going to be a hit and generate the buzz that makes a title like this successful. You’ll spend a lot of money marketing this type of app.
The other type of app that catches on is one where a developer continually improves the product and works to build a loyal customer base. These apps aren’t million-dollar hits, but I know of several developers who are making a good living with this approach. Good word of mouth is the key here.
Q: Once you have an app in the App Store, how do you market it?
CH: This is one area where most developers come up short. In fact, your question implies that marketing only happens once the product goes on sale. Our experience is that you need to think about marketing as soon as possible.
As we evaluate a new idea, the first thing we ask ourselves is how we’re going to sell it. Knowing how you’re going to position the product affects the design and coding for the app. Because you’ve started thinking of these things earlier in the process, you’ll also have an idea of the price you’re going to charge for the end product, so you’ll be able to budget the development time accordingly.
Building a story for your app also gives you something to get the media and public interested in before the product launch. If you wait until after the product launch, it’s much harder to generate buzz. Look at the example that Apple sets.
Q: Do you recommend creating both free and paid versions of an app?
CH: Absolutely. For some apps, such as open-ended games, it’s not possible. But if there’s any way you can limit the functionality of the app without sacrificing utility, then you should do it. And now that in-app purchases can be used by customers to move from the free version to the paid version, there’s no excuse not to do it.
Q: What are your most significant lessons learned from developing Iconfactory’s Twitterrific app?
CH: I think our biggest mistake was straying too far from the Human Interface Guidelines (HIG). As UI designers, exploring touch as a user interaction mechanism was an exciting challenge. But in some cases we got carried away and ended up building interfaces that were unfamiliar to new users.
Apple’s done an excellent job with the interactions in their applications and documenting the results in the HIG. There’s still room for creativity. Remember, they’re only guidelines. But as you venture into new territory, you’ve got to do a lot of user testing and validation of your designs. It’s a time-consuming and expensive proposition.
Q: Of course I have to ask about the iPad: As a developer, what are you most looking forward to and what are you most concerned about?
CH: There’s a lot to be excited about: cool new APIs, more screen real estate, new customers are probably the biggest things. The more I use the iPad, even in a simulator, the more I feel it’s the most revolutionary thing Apple’s ever done. Even bigger than the iPhone, which I thought was pretty damn fantastic!
My fears about the device revolve around being an app consumer. I suspect that lot of developers are going to just throw more controls and crap into their interfaces because they have more space to do it. In our own development, we’ve found that you need to be very conservative with how you use the extra screen real estate.
It’s more important to give elements room to breathe than it is to give the user more choices. I suspect that the demographics and use cases for the iPad user will be very different than the iPhone. We’re going to learn a lot in the next year or so.
Note: This interview was condensed and edited.