1. An app isn't necessarily a business.
2. Can you generate enough revenue to pay for the development?
3. There is usually more to an app than just the app.
4. Which platforms?
I thought I'd take this opportunity to address each of these points in more detail. Before I do this, I think it's important to say that I don't consider myself to be the world's leading authority on apps, so I should explain why I get asked this question.
In 2008, when I saw my first Android phone, I was very intrigued by the ability to write an app for a phone. I had this thought - what if I could develop an app that would I would sell and it paid for my lunch every day. How cool would that be? I was a Java developer (not a great one, but I could write Java code) and the Android devices used a Java development stack as their base. So the learning curve wasn't huge for me. More importantly, I only had to invest time, not money to write an app.
I was very much into Web Services at the time and Yahoo had (still has actually) some really cool Web Services that are available for public use. These are based on what they call YQL (Yahoo Query Language) and since I'm a SQL (Structured Query Language) guy at heart, YQL and Web Services were right up my alley.
One of the uses of YQL included providing a location and getting all of the local events in a specified radius from that location. So I thought I should create an app that would allow anyone to find their local events that they were interested in. I created my first "Local Events" app and put in the market. Not many people downloaded the app (it wasn't paying for lunch), so I started thinking about how people searched for apps. I figured they would search for the events they were interested in - singles, beer, crafting, technical, etc. So I created "Local Beer Events" and "Local Singles Events" and many other apps.
Another YQL search that Yahoo provides is for local businesses - again, from a specific location. So my "second" app was centered around local businesses. One again, I thought about how people searched for apps and I created a local Starbucks app, local Panera, local Noodles, etc. The downside of this app was that Starbucks and many others didn't like me using their name in app name due to trademark infringements.
Back to my story of paying for lunch - I quickly paid for lunch each day and my goal became to generate $100 a day, then $1000 a day. I did generate over $1000 in many days. I experimented with pricing and learned a lot.
In the end, I ended up taking all of those apps off the market...or actually Google took them off the market for me. Likely due to my app names or because I had spammed the market with over 500 apps or who knows why.
I wrote a book for Apress book on the business of writing Android apps and I spoke at numerous conferences on the topic.
It was at that point that I decided to rethink my app strategy. What could I build that would actually be a business? Could I charge for the app or did I need to offer an entire service?
So back to my questions above:
An app isn't necessarily a businessIf you're a developer and you can develop 100% of the app with no costs, this may not apply to you. Most people have to pay for developers and servers to deploy an app. A business is typically defined as an entity that makes a profit. So income minus expenses is profit. What will your income be from your app? Do people actually pay for apps today? I believe they do, but not often...i.e. there must be a LOT of value to pay for an app...especially to have enough people paying for your app. Let's say you price your app at $2. How many copies do you have to sell just to pay for the development? What about the ongoing support costs? If you paid $20k to develop the app, you would have to sell 10,000 copies to "break even." But...you'll have to support the app, keep it running, upgrade it, etc. Most apps (like books) never sell 10,000 copies. So...just creating an app isn't necessarily a business.
Can you generate enough revenue to pay for the developmentLike I said above, generating revenue for an app is tough. Paying for the development of the app is tough. Maybe you can generate revenue other ways? Think about this a LOT before you decide to proceed with developing your app.
There is usually more to an app than just the appMost apps aren't standalone apps. Sure, my "Local Starbucks" app was "standalone" in some regards, but it wasn't in other regards. It relied on the Yahoo Web Service to deliver current Starbucks locations. I had someone approach me about a "Need a Loo" (find a local bathroom in London) app. They had the data for all of the bathrooms...but this changed frequently. Could I have built the app and had the data be included in the app? Yes, but...when the Loo locations changed, I would have had to update the app, which isn't an ideal solution. So I had to build a database and a Web application that allowed them to maintain Loo locations. Then I had to build web services that looked up the current Loo locations from the database. In other words, most apps involve databases, web services, and back end systems to maintain the data. All of these imply additional costs...which imply additional revenue that must be generated to sustain your business.
I wrote 5 books for Oracle press on the topic of web applications, web services and the like. I know how to build the backend of apps, this was the easy part for me!
Which Platforms?When you think about an app, you might be thinking of an iPhone app if you have an iPhone or an iPad. You might be thinking of an Android app if you have an Android phone or tablet. There are SO many development platforms today. iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Apple TV, Kindle Fire TV, and literally about 100 more. There are cross platform development tools, but they tend to be what I call "least common denominator" solutions. In other words, they will alienate someone. If it looks like an iOS (iPhone/iPad) app, it's going to alienate the Android users...or visa-versa. For this reason, native apps are in vogue now.
Every platform is about $30k or more in our world. Again, all of these are expenses...that must be recouped.
I thought long and hard about my next generation of apps that I wanted to create. That's when I determined that I needed to create a business...that had apps, not an app that was a business. The video business was a natural progression for me. I wanted to have the ability to sell my educational material (Oracle training) and deliver it in an app. We have a LOT more than an app. We have an entire business - that has apps. So when you think about developing an app...think about the business, not the app.