As a developer, I have independent software business ambitions. But I understand it’s definitely not an easy path, and even less a guaranteed success. The documentary App: The Human Story shows the ups and downs of independent iOS app development, bringing to light the challenges of running such businesses, beyond the technical struggle.
When the iPhone was announced, it was pretty much a revolution. It brought to the masses the idea of everyone having a computer in their pocket. Even more, it democratized the use of digital computing devices to perform everyday tasks. A year later, when the App Store was announced, software developers from all around the world saw an amazing opportunity to easily distribute their software. Then, the iPad launched, bringing these ideas to an all other level.
Through the movie, we discover the stories of some iOS developers, exposing what it’s like to run an app business on the Apple App Store. The tools are available for anybody to develop the skills needed to launch an app. Developers from other tech stacks are transitioning to iOS in the hope of getting their share of success from the seemingly limitless platform.
At first, stupid apps could be quite successful. The public was hungry for any kind of experience on their new shiny device. But serious developers began to use the platform to solve real problems and improve users’ lives, help them learn things or even streamline business processes. That’s when we saw the real love of developers toward the Apple ecosystem. Apps became more than an icon. An app is a brand, a set of focused functionality delivered with a well-thought user experience. Developing apps becomes an art form where everything is in the details and developers strive for excellence.
Developers must not forget that they are at the mercy of Apple. Apple owns the App Store and it’s front page was redesign, showing only a few featured apps instead of top 20, a lot of developers lost exposure and revenues. This was a wake up call. An app must make money to survive, just like any business. But the market on the App Store quickly evolved in favour of free apps. Common software business models no longer seem to apply. It can be too much of a commitment for them to put money into an app before trying it out. The absence of trials did not help and upgrade pricing can be hard to justify for users. Apple released in-app purchases but this is not suitable for all kinds of app and it can add complexity to the code base. When I ear the story of a journaling app, which could not sustain its business even with a hundred thousand customers, I don’t know what to think of the future for indies on the App Store. At the end of the documentary, many developers needed to return work at a company and stop pursuing independent iOS development full-time…
As of 2018, a few years after the recordings, some googling informed me that some apps presented in the documentary survived, others didn’t. I also found that new apps were launched and seemed to gain some traction. In my opinion, this really goes back to one thing: persistence. Do not give up, consistency is the key and eventually hard work will pay back!
Overall, I absolutely enjoyed watching the movie (I even watched it twice). It didn’t discourage me from my goal of having an app of my own someday. At least, I know what I’m getting into and I know I must do it smart. Starting as a side project, iterating a lot, fail, then trying again, and again…
I strongly recommend you to watch the film if you have any interest into app development or independent software business, so here is the trailer for a sneak peek of what you’ll get, enjoy! :)