Rapture In Venice, LLC

:: Mobile Apps for iPhone, iPad, AppleTV and Watch

Is it Profitable? Ask Gorilla Mart.

I’ve been pondering lately — just how profitable is the iPhone?

We all know the stories, there are developers out there that had huge hits and pulled down millions in their success. Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, and we all love these stories because it inspires us to keep crafting. It actually reminds me of the American phenomenon where voters will actually back the interests of the very wealthy over themselves. It’s natural that we hope to be there one day. Only a tiny, tiny percentage of us will, however.

Rapture In Venice has been successul, especially lately. I’m now at a point where the work finds me, rather than me finding it. It’s nice not to have to sell myself…my own work does that for me. The question is, who else is profiting off iPhone development?

A little while ago I wrote a story about Gorilla Mart and, well, one whale of a project disaster. :-) It’s in the App Store now, and I got a chance to check on its sales figures today. Here are some jarring statistics:

  • Gorilla Mart’s app downloads get in a week what my little Task List app gets in a day.
  • Gorilla Mart’s app cost nearly $150,000 to create.

That’s a LOT of money! US dollars here. That went into UX designers, artists, software development (in many phases), project management, bug fix cycles, feature increments, and so on. And the downloads are pretty darn low for it.

So what happened? What happened, I believe, is that the urgency for the app eclipsed the desire for the app. There was no brilliant idea or driving force to make the app, the idea was retrofitted behind a business goal of merely having one. I think in these cases the user detects that. It’s not authentic, it’s forced. The work behind it isn’t passionate, it’s paid. It breaks no boundaries, its existence is merely for it to exist.

Task List, on the other hand, was a labor of love. I made it because I’m a very task list-centric human being. I write down *everything* I need to get done and that list motivated me to do it. None of the apps on the market satisfied me, so I sat down and merely made the app that *I* wanted. Not a single feature was for the benefit of anybody else. In the end, I created an app that has generated hundreds of downloads a day. I feel like my user base detects that labor of love.

Now, this isn’t about Task List. That’s merely a free, ad-based app I really expect no return on. What I’m referring to are the real successful apps out there backed by an indie developer who wanted to make their tower defense game reality because they believed in it, or the kids’ app maker who produced their Old MacDonald app because they knew their kids would love it!

Ultimately, the best-selling apps for iPhone are games. I believe that’s the case not just because the market loves to play games, but because you cannot possible force a game. The idea comes, it’s deemed a good one, and the team goes about making that vision happen. Writing a game is a lot of work, so you have to believe in it to do it. Nobody makes a game to satisfy a market “niche,” they just set about making a freakin’ cool game! There are no Gorilla Marts producing games, only game developers who know what’s cool.

Apps will fail and succeed. The ones born from a desire to make something great, regardless if it gets a single download, will ultimately shine. The user must feel the passion; the pursuit of excellence. And, in the end, those are the ones that become the most successful.

The best advice I can give is not to create an app just because you want to create one for the sake of it. Make an app because you WANT the app or NEED the app. If you need it, most likely a lot of other people out there do, too. This guarantees you’re not just competing with a competitor for a space. If you needed the app, and a competitor satisfies that need, then it’s not going to work out for you.

If you ever find yourself saying, “Hey, I have an idea, how about an app that lets you design bathrooms,” it’s going to fail. You don’t want it. You don’t need it. You likely have no domain knowledge to even make a decent one, let alone a good one. Just stop.

Create what you desire. Build what you want to see built, not what you *think* may sell. Only then can you make something great.

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John Blanco

John Blanco is a freelance iOS developer in Denver, CO. He's been developing mobile apps for 12 years, starting during the medieval days of Java ME, making him the ultimate hipster mobile engineer. Follow him on Twitter!

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3 thoughts on “Is it Profitable? Ask Gorilla Mart.
  • Michele says:

    Rapture in Venice is great!

  • I agree with this – passion for what you’re making makes all the difference! Even if your interests are very odd and strange (like mine often are) – there will probably be a ton of other people just like you out there! :]

    As for app store success, my strategy has been the simple “keep making apps” – with the theory that over time skills will improve and downloads will increase :]

    • I’ve always felt that our successful artists, singers, actors, football coaches, and yes — app developers — need more luck than they give themselves credit for. I don’t think anybody knows what the next “big thing” is. But, as long as you’re making apps you believe in and love, you’re more likely to HIT it.

      And if that doesn’t work: quantity over quality. ;-)