Mobility

10 years as an iOS dev: One developer's take on a decade with the iPhone

Todd Moore struck gold in the early days of Apple's iPhone with his White Noise app. Here are his thoughts on how developing for iOS has changed over 10 years and what he thinks new devs need to know.

It's officially been 10 years since the iPhone launched, and whether you like Apple's smartphone or not it's hard to deny that it has changed the tech world—and not just as a consumer device.

Many developers looking for a niche have struck gold with iOS, in turn leading others to the mobile world. The result has been a revolution in mobile app quality and quantity that has made the iPhone and its competitors essential in our daily lives.

One such developer is Todd Moore, the creator of White Noise (disclosure: Todd is a former TechRepublic contributor). Moore has been coding for the iPhone since before there was an App Store, so we reached out to him to get a glimpse into a decade of developing for iOS.

In the beginning

Developing for the iPhone wasn't very easy in the beginning, Moore said. Without an App Store, aspiring developers had to jailbreak their devices to even think about building or loading new software.

SEE: The revolution in your pocket: How the iPhone changed everything (TechRepublic)

"There was a really steep learning curve," Moore recalls. It may have been even steeper for him—he had no Mac experience and was fully invested in Windows and C++. "I had to go out and buy a Mac and I hadn't ever programmed for a smartphone either."

iOS 2.0 and the App Store

Things got a bit better with the release of iOS 2.0: Apple added the App Store and gave Xcode the iOS SDK, which gave app developers like Moore a legitimate way of building and releasing products.

"My first app [on the App Store] was a simple game called Bubble Pop," Moore said. "I built it more as an experiment and it didn't do that great," he laughed. But that didn't mean he wasn't able to learn from his experience.

Moore had published shareware before. For him the App Store was a completely different, and really fun, model. "Everything uploaded to the App Store was able to get thousands, even millions, of downloads," he said.

One of the best things about the App Store, he said, was the immediate feedback from users. The small quantity of apps meant that developers were sure to get downloads, and thus ratings.

Moore strikes iOS gold

The immediate feedback and small volume of apps helped Moore become a top developer when he released his first app: White Noise. It's a simple white noise app that also allows users to make their own sounds and loop them correctly so that there's no interruption in the sound.

The app continues to perform well and has "opened so many doors for me," Moore said. He wrote White Noise in his spare time, and before long it enabled him to leave his job and devote all his time to being a developer.

"[White Noise] and the App Store helped me build a business, bring on employees, and even write a book." The book in question, Tap, Move, Shake, even has a forward written by Steve Wozniak.

Moore and his team at TMSOFT have gone on to build a number of apps for iOS, Android, smart TVs, and a multitude of other platforms.

But what has the evolution of iOS and the iPhone been like for developers?

How 10 years have changed the development game

Image: Apple

Moore said that from the get-go, his experience developing for the iPhone was great—at least compared to other operating systems.

"Thinking back to earlier platforms like Palm and BlackBerry ... iOS was a breeze in comparison," he said. Building apps in Xcode was more like coding for a regular computer, and that gave iOS a huge edge over other platforms: It was allowing developers to build truly powerful apps that weren't possible in other ecosystems.

The development process for iOS, he said, has only gotten easier as time has gone on. Newer versions of Xcode are simpler, Automated Reference Counting has made memory issues less of a concern, and Swift has completely transformed iOS app development by giving it its own language.

SEE: Swift Programming from Scratch: Interactive Learning Platform (TechRepublic Academy)

Simplicity may be good for the individual developer, but that doesn't mean it hasn't had a negative effect as well. Early apps were sure to get attention in the store, Moore said, but modern app developers are lucky to get more than a handful of downloads or even a single rating.

"It's not as fun developing for the App Store today," Moore said. The market is saturated and developers are competing against countless apps, many of which do the exact same thing as theirs.

Learning from success

Moore has been part of the iOS developer community from the iPhone's inception 10 years ago, and he's learned a thing or two in that time. New iOS devs, or those struggling to get noticed, can learn a lot from those who've borne witness to all the changes iOS devs have been subjected to.

So what does Moore think new developers need to know?

"First off, it's really expensive to build an app," he said. That goes double for today's filled-to-the-brim App Store. Getting noticed means more than just writing good code: You have to account for other costs, like a marketing strategy, a PR firm, and various expenses that come along with building a business.

Simply put, for every Flappy Bird that goes viral there are countless other apps that have had to claw their way to the top through marketing campaigns, social media, and other expensive means.

Developers also need to be on top of the latest hardware and software changes from Apple. "My strategy over the last 10 years has been to always support the latest devices and technologies," Moore said. Doing so leads to having your app featured in the App Store and keeps users happy.

Think about all those apps that won't be available when iOS 11 kills support for 32-bit apps: You're sure to be affected by a few, and that's sure to lead to frustration with the app's developers.

As for the actual app concept, Moore said, don't spend all your time trying to build a massive, groundbreaking product: Build a basic app that you would personally want to use. "Pick a simple idea first. If you can, make it solve a problem you yourself have."

He built White Noise, he said, because he wanted to stop using a fan to fall asleep. "I thought it was stupid to have a fan blasting on me during the winter, so I built an app."

Sure that White Noise was too niche for other users, Moore released it for free on the App Store. It shot straight to the top of the store, so Moore added other features that allowed him to make money off of it.

That said, Moore has advice for those seeing app development as a "get rich quick" scheme: It won't work. "Don't chase the money," he told me.

"Build something that people will love and you'll find the money there at some point."

Disclosure: Todd Moore is a member of the Developers Alliance Board of Directors. CBS Interactive employee Malene Sam is also a board member. TechRepublic is a CBS Interactive property.

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About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

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