Musings from a hobbyist iOS developer

I got this hair-brained idea a little over a year ago that I was going to develop apps for iOS in my spare time. The crazy part of the idea wasn’t that I was going to learn Objective C, it was that I actually had spare time. So over a year into it how am I doing and how does one measure success for a spare time endeavor?

My First App: Rejected

I got into iOS app development with a very specific application that I wanted to develop. However, as I started getting into learning how to code for iOS I realized that the app I really wanted to develop was too tall of an order for my first time at bat. So in the middle of my self-induced training I found a big hole in the App Store where a very simple application that was within my capabilities to develop could fill the void. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had chosen to develop an application in a category that Apple had deemed saturated. Had I read through ALL of the developer documentation I would have known this ahead of time, but honesty I would have developed the app anyway. Why? Because the app I was developing was truly unique and was bringing functionality that did not exist in any form within the App Store. Unfortunately Apple doesn’t make app approval decisions based on an individual application’s merits (at least in terms of this particular guideline) and they shouldn’t. Apple can’t afford to at this point. There are a couple of app categories in the App Store that are so over saturated that even if you developed the best and most original app within that category it would be lost to the void the second it was released. So where does this leave me? It actually leaves me in a better place. Developing that app (even though it was rejected) gave me the confidence that I can actually do this app development thing. It also left me with fucntionality that I can use as part of another app (to be develeoped in the future) in a different app category. That app will at least have a fighting chance of being successful instead of getting lost in the noise of an over-saturated app category.

Success or Failure?

I want to address this question of success or failure. There has always been a fine line between success and failure. One one hand I failed to release my first app on the App Store, but that’s not what I set out to do was it? My goal was to develop apps for iOS in my spare time, not the specific app that was rejected. Now you could say I’m just making up excuses to make myself feel better about being rejected. Maybe. But I contend that you have to look at the big picture. No single endeavor worth pursuing can be achieved without having some amount of failure along the way and app development is no different. I learned a tremendous number of things along the road to rejection and those things ultimately are going to help me be successful in the future. Here is what I have I learned:

  • The last 5% of the dev process is 95% of the work

  • The details are EVERYTHING when it comes to design

  • Never stray from the vision or the need behind developing the app in the first place

  • The last leg of releasing the app (ideally) should be more of a slow slog than a sprint

Forward From Here

For me this past 6 months (the time period I have been spending a respectable amount of time learning and developing) has been a good lesson in time management. If app development was my day job or at least represented a significant contribution to paying my bills this would be a totally different blog post…but I’m lucky enough to not be dependent on income from this pursuit. The down side to this is that I have to try and balance my very demanding career and (especially right now) my incredibly jam-packed family life/responsibilities. What I have taken away from this experience so far is that for a part time pursuit it is imperative that the activity remain as fun and creative as possible. As soon as pressures to produce or release something come into play the creativity and the drive for perfection starts to wane, and if you have caught on to the title of my blog site "half-way" is not something I am interested in doing. So going forward I am going to be learning and developing at a slower and flexible pace than what I was attempting before. I signed up for the Stanford University iTunesU course: “Coding Together: Developing Apps for iPhone and iPad (Winter 2013).” I also registered for an account on Piazza (a social learning platform) that allows students to post questions and discuss class problems in between assignments. For this particular session there are over 16,000 signed up for this particular class that are using Piazza to collaborate with other students. I started with the best intentions, but my other responsibilities made it too difficult to keep up with the pace of the class. I am still on class session #3 and they just posted session #14. So it didn’t work out this time around, but I really like the added social component that Piazza brings to the table. I can see where a class like this will work really well for how I like to learn.

So while my iOS development may be on a slow-track right now, by allowing this to happen (and really being ok with it) I will be all that much more enthusiastic about it when all my other responsibilities allow me to indulge on this undertaking at a much faster pace in the future.

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