"I hate computers. I love technology, but I hate computers." This quickly became one of my favourite sayings after I began developing software for commercial purposes well over a decade ago. I was referring to desktop computers and the "joys" of operating a PC in the 90s and even the early years of the 21st century. It was those frustrations with computers that helped motivate me and many others to create software. Those days were described by many as the "goldrush era," and it is certain that many fortunes were found during that period. Times are changing though, and there is no better time in the evolution of the technology industry to be a software developer than now. There's still a lot of gold to be found — you just need to know where to start looking.
As the 90s rolled along, so did significant innovation in technology. PCs became the standard for interacting with the Internet. Bubbles and scams aside, we saw the birth of many hardware and software technologies that have shaped and changed the world we live in permanently. As the PC continued to gain momentum, more of those boxes became connected to the Internet, and this created even more opportunities for enterprising individuals and organizations. We have seen the rise of new superpowers in the technology industry, and we have seen the demise of former institutions as technology and communications have progressed in ways that have been unforeseen and unpredictable. We are now in another age of technological evolution where the stakes are even higher and so are the potential profits.
When desktop computers were on the rise, stats concerning per-household adoption rates and other factors describing the proliferation of technology drove the desires of developers to continue crafting and peddling their wares. The stats of the "post-PC" era revolve around smartphone and tablet adoption rates with assumed broadband connectivity. The questions are not centred around "if" people have computers, but "how many" they own and what platforms they are using. Computers are no longer isolated to desktops, as smartphones and tablets continue to increase in power and put yesterday's desktop computing power in to the palm of today's consumer. Combine this with decades of UI refinement and business model development, and the world of computers is not as frustrating as it was at one time.
In the desktop computer days, selling software meant you needed to get your product into "channels." There were (and still are) distributors of software titles and retailers who worked with them to sell to end users. Marketing your products came with the challenges of spreading the word to a world of users whose methods of access were fragmented and limited. We now live in an age where leading platform creators have opened their virtual showroom floors to anyone who has something to sell (or even give away). People discover products and services through instant, electronic word-of-mouth networks, and payment processing is as easy as sending emails (literally). All of this discovery, sharing, and buying is no longer isolated to a desktop computer — it is happening with technology that fits in the palm of your hand and can go with you anywhere.
Without software, hardware is useless. Without content, software has no purpose. Without money, all of it is pointless.
Any developer knows that a hardware platform cannot succeed without a developer ecosystem. Hardware vendors make great efforts to draw talented developers to their platform. Availability of software is what makes or breaks a hardware platform. Regardless of the platform you develop for, all software creators face the same challenges when starting to plan a project. They also all share the same goal of success, which is measured by profit.
How to get your pot of gold
Here is a list of things every app developer needs to factor into their projects in order to maximize their chances of success:
1: Do something new
Come up with an original idea. This becomes more challenging as time goes by, but the potential rewards increase proportionately. Creativity often wins in the software business, so if you can be original in a way that appeals to a large enough audience, you will have a success story.
2: Make life simpler
Technology is supposed to make people's lives easier, not more complex or difficult. Apps that simplify people's lives find success. There are countless examples of how websites, and now apps, are making people's lives easier. If you can apply point number one and this point, you are well on your way.
3: Enable creation
As we learned with websites, the more user interaction you can generate, the more potential for success and monetization your site will have. Some of the largest websites in the world are that way because they enable site visitors to create and share content. Apps that can achieve these results and do it better than a website will also likely find users and dramatically increase their chances for success.
4: Share and share alike
Ignoring social networking will cost you users. People will share their experiences, good or bad, if you make it easy for them. If you can build an app that encourages sharing, you can benefit from viral marketing and network effects.
5: Good website != good app
Although many success stories have come from turning a web service into an app, the world of apps is a new frontier. People interact with their handheld devices much differently than they do their desktop counterparts. Just because an idea worked with the web, doesn't mean it will work with an app. A good website does not equal a good app.
6: Collect your compensation
Determine what business model is best suited for your idea and incorporate it from the start. People have become accustomed to paying for quality content. Whether you get paid by ads, upgrades, or download sales, any app has a potential revenue stream, the real challenge is creating an app that people want. If it is something they want badly enough, they will pay your price.
Today there is more hardware and more ways to create and consume content than ever before. As more and more people own technology and become connected, they will need software and content to bring meaning to those devices. If you are a developer of software in this era, there are now even more opportunities to find gold in the hills. Google came well after Microsoft established its dominance, and for years and years people had waited for the death of Apple. Funny how things can change in the world of technology... and computers.
I hate computers a lot less these days.
Steve is an independent technology and content developer. His experience spans decades and covers areas including rich-media production, software development, and education. Steve has contributed to the digital realm in many ways and has no plans on slowing down any time soon.