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.

The next two apps were DaysTo Baby and DaysTo Anniversary. These required the addition of a calendar screen, but that was just a little additional code. By now, the app development process consisted of creating a cute image for the screen, and copying the code for each new app, customizing for dates. I also had to design the app icons, and my wife (who's been a writer and editor for years) wrote the descriptive copy for the iTunes store (more on that in a while).

I did more holidays, like DaysTo Halloween, DaysTo Hanukkah, DaysTo Valentine's Day, DaysTo Thanksgiving, and DaysTo Cinco de Mayo. I didn't plan on doing any marketing, so I just wanted things that would show up in App Store search results.


Within a week of the apps appearing on the store (which took an average of 13 days), I started getting requests. A woman asked me to do DaysTo Divorce. A man serving in the Marines asked for DaysTo Discharge. And the head of a major movie studio (yes, you'd recognize it) begged me to do DaysTo Retirement. He had had it with that gig.


Others included DaysTo BBQ, DaysTo Concert, DaysTo Interview, DaysTo Taxes, DaysTo Presentation, DaysTo Spring Break ... you get the idea. Not exactly rocket science.

I did think about the idea of combining the apps into one bigger DaysTo app, with all the events. But the letters I got from buyers indicated that they really grooved on just being able to hit the icon and see the one thing they were strongly looking forward to. Pinpoint apps -- apps that do exactly one specific thing -- are often very popular with users, and I didn't want to build something cumbersome with a huge list of selections just because it was technically possible.

The one that got rejected

Before I tell you more about my career as an App developer, let me tell you about the one that got away. I wrote DaysOf Bush -- the one app that Apple wouldn't accept.

DaysOf Bush was an app that calculated the days until the end of the Bush administration. As a picture, I used the official White House photo of the then-President (sadly, I can't seem to find a screen shot of the app). The descriptive copy recognized that some people loved President Bush and others didn't -- as is the case with all partisan politics:

Whether you love him or you love to hate him, simply tap the icon and you'll immediately know how many more days of George W. Bush's presidency you'll be savoring or enduring.

Enjoy the heightened sense of anticipation or bitter sweetness, making this unique time in history just that much more fun.

Interestingly, I couldn't get this into the App Store. The key sentences in Apple's rejection were:

Applications must not contain any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.), or other content or materials that in Apple's reasonable judgement may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users.

Defaming, demeaning, or attacking particular political representatives is considered inappropriate.

While I didn't think Apple's criticism (especially since I used Mr. Bush's official White House photo) was particularly appropriate -- and, for the record, I still haven't decided on whether I favor Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney in 2012 -- I also didn't care enough to make this app a major battle. I apparently didn't even care enough to save a screen shot.

The major takeaway for me was that it wasn't worth risking a lot of time coding if I couldn't be sure the finished app would be accepted.

Apple's miserable support

When you code iPhone apps, at least back then, you code in Objective-C. I've coded in many different dialects of C, and I can handle them all. But I don't particularly like Objective-C (it's a lot like someone welded two separate programming languages together and forgot to grind down the rough edges), and I don't particularly like using the Mac. Together, that meant that programming iPhone apps wasn't particularly enjoyable.

Shortly after I'd released my 40 apps, Apple released an update to Xcode. You need to understand something. When you pay your hundred bucks for developer status, Apple explicitly advertises that you'll get two support incidents, where Apple claims it will actually provide you with support.


They don't.

When I upgraded Xcode, my provisioning credentials were somehow corrupted during the upgrade. These are the software keys you need to compile and upload apps to the App Store. No amount of reinstalling or rebuilding the development environment would fix the credentials.

So I contacted Apple developer support through the appropriate channels. Even though I'd bought support incidents, Apple never replied. Ever. My support dashboard did indicate support incidents had been used. I think the first one triggered when I asked for help and never got any. The second one seemed to trigger when I then tried to tell them that I'd never gotten any help from my first support request.

So, I wasn't able to build more apps. Frankly, by then, I was pretty disgusted with the whole process -- more on that on the next page. App building wasn't my mainstream gig, and while I could have eventually gotten the problem solved (I have extremely good problem-solving skills) I didn't care to spend any more time on the problem.

Even though I've bought and paid for a total of eight support incidents, Apple has never -- not once -- responded to a single support request. This becomes even more of an issue, as you'll see on the next page.

Even worse, Apple -- at the time -- had some sort of weird restriction where you violated your development agreement if you published anything about iPhone development. No courses, no books, no forums, no nothing. There were a few underground forums out there, but there really wasn't much in the way of professional peer support.

It was ridiculous. But it didn't seem to matter to Apple nor its legion of app developers.

There's more to this story. We're headed for the bad and the ugly.

Topics: Apple, Smartphones, SMBs, Developer


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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