Saturday, July 26, 2014

Who at the Table is an Indie iOS Developer?

Brent Simmons:

There are a ton of Mac and iOS developers in the Seattle area — and almost all the iOS developers are making money either via a paycheck (they have a job) or through contracting.

The only local indie iOS-only developer I could think of was me — and even that won’t be true for much longer, as we’re working on Vesper for Mac.

[…]

[…] indie developers — people who make all or most of their money via products they create and sell — are fairly rare these days. Most of the local developers I know work at Omni, Black Pixel, or Apple or do contracting.

See also the responses from Rich Siegel, Ole Begemann, James Thomson, David Barnard, and Daniel Jalkut.

Update (2014-07-28): Brent Simmons:

But with how prices have fallen — how people are now accustomed to not paying anything until they’re hopelessly addicted and need the $4.99 packet of imaginary things that will get them to the next level — I can’t recommend to anybody that they quit their job to just write their own iOS apps.

Update (2014-07-29): Marco Arment:

The app market is becoming a mature, developed industry, with vastly increased commoditization compared to its early days. Competition is ubiquitous, relentless, and often shameless, even in categories that were previously under-the-radar niches. Standing out requires more effort than ever, yet profits are harder to come by than ever.

Full-time iOS indie developers — people who make the majority of their income from sales of their apps, rather than consulting or other related work — are increasingly rare. I thought Brent Simmons would get flooded with counterexamples when he proposed that there are very few, but he didn’t.

Update (2014-07-31): Nick Bradbury:

I also gave up pursuing the indie life because I wanted to make the switch to mobile development, and I didn’t see much future for indie mobile developers. The economics of the various app stores coupled with the plethora of free software didn’t paint a rosy picture for one-person companies building consumer apps.

Michael Burford:

Sales are still not $0. At the current rate, it could have supported just me a bit longer (at a pretty low income, a fraction of what I'm making at a regular job as an iOS programmer) but the writing is on the wall. I found something new rather than waiting 6 months or a year when things could be much more desperate.

Its crazy that even working somewhere else full time, and doing Headlight work in my spare hours, it is still likely one of the bigger Indie developers--which is a sad sign for all app developers.

Peter Burford:

One of the main systemic problems with the AppStore is that it grew out of a music store. Music works very differently than software. As music gets old it may become less popular, but it never becomes obsolete. There are people in the world that are listening to Mozart, or Sgt. Pepper's, or London Calling, or OK Computer (or...hell, why not: New Kids on the Block) for the first time today and enjoying that music just as much as the people who listened to those songs when they were new. But no one is loading up Asteroids, or VisiCalc, or Doom, or Word 2.0 and feeling the same way people did when those pieces of software were new. Software doesn't work that way. You may feel nostalgia, but you won't feel mind-melting awe.

David Smith:

The word ‘Indie’ has taken on a somewhat mythical connotation within our community (whether conscious or unconsciously). It can take on the persona of this genius engineer, tirelessly toiling away on their work, sweating the details, making the hard decisions and then (after much noble blood, sweat and tears) emerging with a gleaming product. They then take this product out into the world and it begins to generate “passive income” sufficient for them to continue their artisanal craftsmanship. I must say I love this story. It sure does sound nice. It lets us elevate and aspire towards a rather delightful ideal. However, as someone for whom this title is oft ascribed I can say the reality is almost nothing like this.

Mark Bernstein:

In fact, not only is no one making a living from building mobile software: almost nobody is even scraping by.

This is deeply disturbing. There ares millions of the devices out there. They do amazing things. Mobile apps do incredible stuff, things nobody expected. And these are some terrific apps.

Update (2014-08-01): Mark Bernstein:

If you think all the failures in mobile software arise from the shortcomings of the products and/or their creators, then you think that you can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not.

[…]

But, speaking of the seeds of time, it sounds increasingly like none of the seeds are growing. One advantage of looking at indie products is that it’s hard to fudge: a big company can explain away weak sales in product A because A helps sell product B and B is what really matters. Are Pages and Numbers profitable? Who knows? My guess is that Apple has no idea, and we really have no idea. But if few or no isolated mobile software apps are thriving, we’ve got a real problem.

Michael Göbel:

It was a nice bubble. It lasted for almost four years and some of us made some decent money.

In 2012 I made more money than I earned the other eight years before that combined. In 2013 I ‘only’ made half of it and I better not talk about the current year; it will be half of the half.

The App Stores are dead. At least as long as you don’t write games or ripp off your customers.

Jason Brennan:

The real reason why it’s so hard to sell iOS apps is that iOS apps are really just websites. Implementation details aside, 95 per cent of people think of iOS apps the same way they think about websites. Websites that most people are exposed to are mostly promotional, ad-laden and most importantly, free. Most people do not pay for websites. A website is just something you visit and use, but it isn’t a piece of software, and this is the exact same way they think of and treat iOS apps. That’s why indie developers are having such a hard time making money.

Update (2014-08-23): Allen Ding (via Brent Simmons):

From a financial perspective, in the words of the wise, it’s been a toxic hell stew. Pretty ironic for an app meant to help people with expenses.

Laying it out there and admitting the app has been a failure isn’t easy, but it is the truth. The revenue from the app has barely been able to cover the cost that I paid for ads. About the only good thing you might be able to say is that the magnitude of the financial failure isn’t quite as depressing as some other apps which sometimes make nothing even though they deserve much better.

2 Comments

Not me, alas (though I have another unrelated business that pays most of my bills).

Michael, you should have included yourself in this thread. You're a rare bird indeed.

@Kevin Well, currently my revenue is 100% Mac and 0% iOS.

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