My experience with the iTunes app store

I just finished reading Newsweek.com’s Striking It Rich: Is There An App For That? I concur with what many of the developers report. Because of the huge amount of publicity that Apple gets, and RunPee itself has gotten more than it’s fair share, people think that I must be making money faster than I can count it. Truth be told if all my money were in dollar bills I could count it all in about 1 minute.

RunPee has been hugely popular this summer and I’ve put a great deal of effort into keeping it there and preparing for the future. I’ve made a version for basic mobile phones – m.RunPee.com – and I’m working on rebuilding the site to support any language, like Chinese, German, French, Spanish, etc. Because of that I’ve only worked on two freelance projects this summer and one of them netted me a big fat zero in income. Fortunately the other project was with an old client of mine which made me a few thousand dollars. Without that I would be in a deep financial hole.

I was comfortable with taking on fewer freelance projects because I knew how many downloads the app was getting and therefore how much money I would eventually make. At least I thought I did.

The RunPee iPhone app didn’t come out until the 1st of July. Apple states that they will pay developers their share of money within 45 days of the end of each month. Unfortunately I based my finances around that. I knew exactly how many downloads there were each day and just did the math. It is easy to calculate how much I should get paid and the deadline for getting that money. My first check – going to RockSoftware who developed the app for me – would pay for the app development and net me a little more than $1,000+.

However that was not the case. RockSoftware did receive a check in mid September but for only about half of the downloads. It was a mystery to everyone as to why there was less money than expected. Then a few days ago RockSoftware received another check that seems to cover all of the downloads for July – over three weeks late. It’s hard to tell just what each check covers because, as I’m told, the reports that Apple produces with their payments are horribly complex and almost impossible to decipher. Basically, Apple will pay you what they want when they want to. And there’s not a whole lot you can do about it but wait.

The app has sold pretty well and fortunately wasn’t too terribly expensive to develop – which I had to pay for. But I would say that developing for the iPhone is far more expensive than developing Flash applications. As a Flash developer I could have developed an app that has all the features that the iPhone app has – plus local storage and vibration for the Timer – in 15 hours max. It took the iPhone developer for RunPee at least 3-times that long to develop the app. From talking with a few peers that do both iPhone and Flash development they report that there are a lot of simple things on the iPhone that are very tedious to make work correctly. Most of that is because it’s an immature platform. Flash has been around for 10+ years and has an amazing set of tools to work with. Maybe iPhone development will get there someday.

The bottom line is that eventually I’ll start seeing a nice steady income from the sales of the RunPee iPhone app. Nothing that I can retire on but it will help pay the bills while I work on my next project. But I can tell you this now: there will never be another iPhone app associated with any of my projects. Well, I take that back. One of my projects, a game, will have an iPhone app. But I won’t sell it through the iTunes store. It will only work on unlocked iPhones. I know that’s a small percentage but it beats being beholden to Apple and their control-freakish culture. Hopefully more and more developers will go that route and force Apple into some changes. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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