When people ask what I do, I used to tell them that I build apps. I soon learnt that this short-sighted response is a common segue to that person’s ‘awesome iphone app idea’.
Every man and his dog has an earth shattering idea for a ‘game changing’ app. Apparently these ideas escaped thousands of extremely talented and bright Apple iOS developers; yet the proverbial apple fell on your mate’s head while they were sinking beers at a pub. After making your ears bleed, this person then generously offers to ‘go you halves’ in this aforementioned venture. Cheers.
A recent taxi ride saw a cab driver (with Honours in Software Engineering no less) peppering me with questions on costs and timelines in regards to iOS apps. I’ve never even pushed a pixel on a mobile app, I focus more on web, but as a keen conversationalist I reciprocated. Out of curiosity I asked him a few questions on his idea. He became cagey. I’m not actually sure what fuels this fear, but people seem to think that idea’s are something that can be jotted down on a napkin and turned into a million dollars. Maybe this scene from Italian Job helped it along.
What springs to mind is a question on stackoverflow where someone asked how long it would take to build a typical iPhone app. Twitterrific was the app used as an example. Readers began estimating the piece of string and 160 hours quickly got voted to the top. This thread started to get some coverage which lead to an actual developer from the Twitterific development team putting in his 2 cents.
“I can tell you everyone who upvoted the estimate of 160 hours for development and 40 hours for design is fricken’ high.” – Chockenberry
Chockenberry went on to ballpark the cost of developing Twitterific at 1100 hours + existing code base for a conservative total of $200,000. It’s important to remember that most of what this app does is echo out what’s already coming from Twitter. It’s no Angry Birds or Bejeweled. Mark this cost down not as development, but execution.
The notion that ideas are worth nothing has been written about to death. Derek Sivers gives this movement some metrics in his seminal blog post, Ideas are just a multiplier of execution. The article suggests that a brilliant idea with poor execution is worth $2000, whilst a brilliant idea with great execution is worth $2,000,000. You can see why I felt like I was getting my pants pulled down in the opening paragraph’s offer.
Ideas don’t have to be original. First to market is not a stand alone strategy. Facebook wasn’t the first social networking site. Google wasn’t the first search engine. And Steve Jobs was more of a tweaker, or curator, than an inventor.
Apps that go gangbusters certainly get romanticised and there’s no doubt the story travels far and wide. The App Store took three years to reach 15 billion downloads. From that point it only took 8 months to hit 25 billion, which takes us to today.