True confessions of a former iPhone developer

Summary:As of last Wednesday, I am officially no longer an iPhone developer -- which frees me up to tell you about my sordid experiences as an iPhone developer.

UPDATED: Fixed a math error on page 4 by using actual math. Also added some final thoughts for potential app developers.

2008 was a long time ago. Like 2012, it was an election year. George W. Bush was President, and -- at least before July 10, 2008 -- there was no such thing as an App Store. Until that summer, the closest thing to an iPhone app you could get your hands on was a bookmarked Web site in Mobile Safari.

But then came the iPhone 3G (there was no iPhone 3) and the App Store. The software business changed forever.

That was before I wrote for ZDNet. It was a quiet summer back in 2008. I was between side-projects, and I thought it would be fun to develop for Apple's new phone. Like those who participate in Google's 20-percent time program, I like to work on a side-project in addition to my mainstream work. These side-projects -- usually writing books or programming -- help me keep my chops up, allow me to explore new technologies, and give me a broader perspective on a wide range of topics.

So back then, in mid-August 2008, I decided my side-project was going to be iPhone programming. It'd be interesting, I'd keep my programming skilz up, and -- besides -- it might make some real money.

In the next few pages, I'll tell you about the 40 apps I wrote and published on the iPhone App Store in the space of a month, the challenges of being an early developer, the whopping $7K I made over four years, the scammers who copied my work, the complete lack of Apple support, and the statement Apple made that the official White House photo of then President Bush was "obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory".

You see, after four years, I've finally decided not to renew my iPhone developer agreement. As of last Wednesday, I am officially no longer an iPhone developer and my apps are no longer available for sale. This frees me up to tell you about the early days of iPhone development -- and the one month, way back in 2008, that I devoted to the cause.

The investment

There once was a day when all I owned were Macs, but that was back when the elder George Bush was President. By August of 2008, I hadn't owned a Mac for well over a decade. I was strictly a Windows user. 

See also: Apple's lost decade, HyperCard, and what might NOT have been
if Apple then was like Apple is today

But if I was going to develop for the iPhone, I had to have a Mac. Xcode only ran on the Mac platform, and that meant I needed to get a Mac. I also needed to get an iPhone, because -- although Xcode had a rudimentary simulator -- testing on the device is really the way to go.

So I bought an "early 2008", aluminum-body 24" iMac for $1,799 at the local Best Buy. If you add in additional RAM and tax, the total came to about $2,000 (not counting the phone and service). I needed a phone anyway, and I wound up getting years of use and annoyance out of the iPhone 3G I purchased.

See also: The two reasons I avoided Android
and finally upgraded to the relatively boring iPhone 4S

In addition to the iMac, I also had to buy into the Apple developer program. That was $99. I renewed it three times, so call that investment another $396. I didn't buy any development tools or books at the time, because Apple explicitly would not allow any books, courses, or training resources to be made available.

So, my total out-of-pocket investment (not counting my time, the phone, or AT&T service) was about $2,400.

The products

My initial plan was to build a pocket server monitor app, one that would let system administrators see the running status of all their servers at a glance. It was going to scan SMTP, http, ping, SQL, and a variety of other heartbeats. But that was a relatively big project and I didn't want to start on something big before I got my feet wet.

2012-08-17-daystoxmas

More to the point, Apple was exceedingly capricious about what it would allow in the app store and what it would not. I didn't want to invest weeks (or months) of my life into building a piece of software that Apple could, at a whim, kill.

At the time, the App Store had been only open about a month, and Apple gave very few indications of what it would accept and what it would not, so I opted to donate a very short amount of time to the project. I gave myself no more than a week to learn and produce my first app. And I gave myself just one month for the entire project.

I settled on something incredibly silly and easy: DaysTo Christmas. This came about in a conversation with my wife. I was talking about the server monitor app, and I told her I'd probably code a test app, the cutesy iPhone equivalent of "Hello, world." I said, "Heck, it could be something as simple as, you know, days to Christmas or something."

She actually liked the idea. She likes Christmas, so she encouraged me to code it. So I did. I wrote DaysTo Christmas, which presents a screen with ... wait for it ... the number of days until Christmas. I know. Silly. But I priced it at $0.99. For a buck, it was worth a lark.

Keep reading. Next up is the one that got rejected ... and more.

Topics: Apple, Smartphones, SMBs, Developer

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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