Don of the Day

Don of the Day


Adventures in software development with Xamarin and the Web

Software developer, building things with code in sunny Scottsdale, AZ.

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There Are No Free Apps

Don FitzsimmonsDon Fitzsimmons

Since releasing my first app, I’ve been introduced to the producer’s perspective of the mobile app ecosystem. For years I’ve been a consumer. I’ll gladly plunk down a few bucks for an app that I find worthy. Between iOS, Android and Windows Phone, I’ve probably spent a few hundred dollars an various productivity tools alone. But not games. I don’t do games (nor Sci-Fi, don’t hate me).

Like any human, I assume that everyone thinks just like me. You do it too. We all do. I spend money on apps, therefore, I expect that everyone else does the same. If you come across a nice little tool that solves a problem and you can fork over say, $1.99 you’ll do it, just like I do it. Well, you know what they say about assumptions. Some people will not part with their hard earned cash for an app and hey, that’s fine. To each his own. You don’t have to buy anything if you don’t want to.

But, what I learned after putting an app out there in wild is this: some people feel entitled to poses apps. These individuals feel that apps should be free. All of them. Free for them to have and use as if by birthright. This should not have surprised me but it did. I have been lambasted in the ratings by several users of my app for one reason: I have the gall to charge money for upgraded functionality via in-app purchase. One woman even emailed me to express her anger that I should want money for my creation (a whole $1.49 of which I’ll get about $1.00). After a brief cool-off period (serenity now, serenity now) I emailed her back and explained my perspective as calmly as I could. She respected my view and told me she wold be buying my app after all. Hope for humanity.

Over the past few days the Windows Phone community has been up in arms about a new app in the store. This app is called “Free Market” (it has since been revoked by Microsoft) and it has one simple purpose: to allow users to get apps for free that developers never intended to be free in certain markets. The app itself merely exploits a loophole in the Windows Phone store. But what I find most interesting is not what this app did, or what Microsoft should do about this loophole. I’m more interested in the comments from users on Reddit and WPCentral, who again feel entitled to poses apps for no cost. But, I don’t want to rant about this, I want to describe why there are no free apps just like I did to that enraged woman in the email. While I’m focusing on Windows Phone development here, I’m sure the case is similar for other platforms.

Tools Cost Money

In order to even get out of the gate creating a new app, a developer needs a computer capable of running Visual Studio and HyperV for the phone emulator. Sure, there are some cheap machines out there but you’re looking at anywhere between $600 to $1,200 for a workable development machine. Mine cost $1,800.

Next, we’ll need Visual Studio. Now I’m aware one can obtain a free version of Visual Studio Express and get by, but those versions have some serious limitations, which will end up costing you time. A license for Visual Studio 2013, necessary for building a phone app, costs $499.00.

Hmm, if we’re building a phone app, we’ll be needing a phone, eh? Those can run from as low as $70 to as much as $700. Mine cost $400.

Next is the developer account with Microsoft, a yearly subscription. This costs $20.00 if you only intend to write apps for the phone, but it’s $99.00 if you want to create apps for both the phone and Windows 8 as well. I paid the $99.00.

Everyone likes cool transitions, effects and controls. Now this is optional, but highly recommended, we’ll need a control library like Telerik’s Windows Phone controls if we want to get fancy. That’s another $99.00 (and that’s a steal for such a great set of controls).

Want to incorporate push notifications, Azure services or non-free 3rd party API’s? Your looking at recurring costs that could range from $10 per month to a few hundred.

Okay, so that’s the cost of tools. Now what?

Time is Money

This is the single largest cost of developing an app and the one that can vary the most. It’s possible to kick out an app in a day. It can be done, but what you’ll end up with is a bunch of white Segoe WP fonts on a black background with some form fields and a lot of 1 star reviews. Not to mention, if you’re new to Windows Phone, you’ll need at least a few weeks to get familiar with the API and that’s for an experienced developer.

For me and my first app, I estimate that I spent about 90 hours developing my countdown timer. A freak’n countdown timer! Now, this was my first app and so it came with the learning curve. My goal was also to create a feature-worthy app (and it’s been featured 42 times to date and reviewed by WPCentral). Most of that time was spent fussing over type face, color choice, icons, live tile design and other non-code related concerns. The actual C# was the easy part.

Once I had the app in a state where I felt it was complete, I put out a beta (best move ever) and then went back and spent about another 10-15 hours fixing issues and dialing the design in further. Then, I released the app and did more bug fixing and responding to user feedback. Probably in the neighborhood of about 10 more hours. In the next few weeks I’ll be putting out another update and probably another and another, etc.

As you can see, developing a quality app takes a lot of time and time is money. If I had created this app for a client under contract, minus the learning curve, it would likely have cost around $7,500 to create the first iteration. And that’s not including the tools mentioned above. So far my app has netted me a fraction of a fraction of that cost.

F@#K It. Why Bother?

This isn’t a sob story, it’s just the sober truth. Honestly, I damn near quit working on that app a few times. Lately, I’ve been working on a weather app and I know I’ll never break even on it. Contrary to popular wisdom, programmers are creative. We like to make things. At least that’s true for me. I like to create software and photos. Besides, I don’t play video games and I can’t stand Sci-Fi. I’ll probably keep paying the price to develop quality apps despite the cost. But please realize, there is a cost to developing apps. Apps are not free…ever. Every developer pays a price to build apps and I don’t think it unreasonable to expect a tiny bit of remuneration in response.

Software developer, building things with code in sunny Scottsdale, AZ.

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