First Apps Roundup [Updated June 3, 2016]

Last week I challenged iOS developers to share anecdotes and screenshots of their first apps and was delighted when a few people responded. These are exactly the kind of responses I was looking for!

Marius Constantinescu:

My first contact with iOS development was during my BSc. studies. We were a bunch of students and a passionate teaching assistant, and we were learning iOS development on our own, outside of the university curriculum, following Paul Hegarty’s Stanford CS193P course on iTunes U.

I think it’s really cool that Marius and his fellow students taught themselves by following along with the Stanford course. I also love the screenshot from his first (albeit unreleased) iOS game!

Rob Poulter:

Development is easy. We know (or quickly learn) the constraints of the development environment and platform, and the rest is about research and experimentation. Not having done a lot with UIKit before, learning the API was the most challenging part of this. I wish I’d tracked just how much time I spent on StackOverflow vs XCode.

I also wish I’d timed my Stack Overflow visits. I’m sure it’s been at least a couple of days.

Alistair Phillips:

After reading Becky Hansmeyer’s post I decided to dig up some screenshots of the first version of My Opal to see just how far things have come. My Opal was released not long after iOS 7 arrived so I started off with the clean/sparse look but about 8 months later it gained a little more personality.

The screenshots Alistair posted are downright inspiring.

I’ll continue to update this post if more people respond!

Update: April 18th, 4:00 p.m. CST

Curtis Herbert:

One conversation I keenly remember having with my partner on this venture was about the app’s worth. After nights and weekends spread out over a few months we had 1.0 in review for the store. We were talking next steps over lunch and he brought up his idea to approach the big-wigs in the server monitoring space about selling the app to them. For “easily $50,000+” as it existed today, he asserted.

I love that little anecdote! In a nutshell: app pricing is hard, man. As such, Curtis notes how important it is to have a marketing plan and to manage your expectations.

Isis sold 6 copies over its lifetime. I’m pretty sure one of those was my mom, trying to encourage me.

This made me laugh. I’m pretty sure the only people who bought my first app (a Bible verse app for Apple Watch) at $0.99 were my friends and family as well, probably out of pity. ? Once I lowered it to free, the downloads picked up considerably! Anyway, go read Curtis’s post because he included some nice old school iOS screenshots as well as reflections on his code organization and implementation.

Update: April 20th, 5:10 p.m. CDT

Yono Mittlefehldt:

In March 2010, I scrapped everything and rewrote the entire app from scratch. Even I, a novice iPhoneOS programmer, could see how bad it was. And it was really bad. Since it was just a side project and not a business, I had the luxury to do so. And I learned a ton in the process.
Then, in April 2010, I rewrote the entire app. Again. Seriously. It was still terrible.

Another awesome “first app” post! I’m starting to understand more and more than in order to make something great, you have to first be willing to make something terrible. And then figure out why it’s terrible, and try again. Lather, rinse, repeat. This is so hard for picky people like me, who want everything to be perfect the first time! Random, but: Yono’s post also makes me want to learn Hebrew. He’s got a cool language learning app for kids called Gus on the Go, which I plan on introducing to Charlie when he’s old enough!

Update: June 3rd, 9:15 a.m. CDT

Cesare Rocchi:

Beginning of May 2014. I get out of the hospital after a sleepless night. A few hours before my daughter was born. Happiness and concern both having a party somewhere in my body. I stood up and took a walk to think a bit. I made the error of checking my email. As I skim I end up on State of Union. Bottom line: I spent my spare time building on an API that was going to slowly die. The first reaction was cursing. The second was realizing the crazy twist of fate: I was experiencing the joy of birth and the sorrow of death at the same time.

Cesare recounts the story behind what would have been his fourth app—a slick-looking client—if it had ever been released. He encourages new developers to experiment with new APIs but also to be cautious with them and give them time to mature.

We All Have to Start Somewhere

I only know one person in the 3-dimensional world (aka “real life”) that develops iOS apps. We went to college together but were a few class years apart, so we never really got to know each other that well. However, I had the opportunity to talk with him a bit last week and came away from the conversation feeling encouraged, so I thought I’d share the reasons for that here.

I would consider my friend (I’m not sure he’d want me to publish his name, so I won’t) to be a pretty successful programmer. He was the sole developer contracted to build the iOS app Lens Distortions, which has done really, really well in the Photography category. You can read a fairly recent review of it on Fracture’s blog. Although my friend didn’t invent the photo filters featured in the app, I think he did a good job with the UI and the overall user experience.

What encouraged me was when I brought up one of his first projects, a matching game for iOS released in 2009. One of the things I loved about the game was that all of the artwork was literally drawn with colored pencils by his mother, who is one of my dearest friends. The game was adorable and quaint, with unique and challenging mechanics. But when my husband asked how much money the game made, my friend laughed. “Probably about 50 bucks,” he said. “Sometimes I think about going back and making it work again.” (The game is no longer for sale and is broken on most devices.)

I joked that he should rewrite the whole thing in Swift.

Reminiscing about one of my friend’s first apps reminded me that we all have to start somewhere. I’m currently where he began: creating my first game, with far-from-polished graphics and little hope of making more than a few bucks. But it’s all part of the adventure, right? Maybe in 7 years I’ll be where he is now…maybe I won’t. All I know is that these things take time.

Now here’s a challenge for you: If you want to encourage and inspire newbies like me, write a blog post about your first app. Share some screenshots from that good ol’ version 1.0 and talk about what was good and not-so-good about your first effort. Everyone says things like “yeah, the first apps I built when I was learning to program were terrible.” But like…pics or it didn’t happen, amiright? And if you already wrote about it awhile ago: I’d love it if you’d share the link.

(Note: this post was also inspired by Marco Arment’s recent interview with Computerphile, where he reiterates that it took him about a decade to build his audience and create the success he enjoys today.)