iPhone App Development: A Comprehensive Guide For Getting Started

Posted Nov 13, 2012

The Apple App Store launched in 2008 and since then, many developers have been able to capitalize on it.  The App Store is becoming competitive though and if you are going to get into it, you better get in now.  This article will help people that have limited knowledge and skills get into iPhone app development. Note: This article will be constantly updated to ensure that it is still relevant years from now.

Step 1.  Assess your competition

The first thing that you want to do is find out if another app developer has already taken your idea.  Odds are that there is an app that exists that you will be competing with.  You may need to sit down and ponder for a day about how you will design your app to stand out from your competition.

I would recommend searching on the Apps section of iTunes to see if there is any competition.  Download apps that you think may be competing against your idea and learn about the insides and outs of their app.  Then decide whether it is worth your time and money to pursue your idea.


Let’s say that I have enjoy putting together quinoa recipes.  I searched for quinoa on iTunes and learned that there isn’t any quinoa-specific apps that exist, but there are a couple of apps called “Gluten Free and Love It” and “Go Veggie!” that pop up when I search for quinoa.  Both of those applications have an excellent design, but they do not focus specifically on the niche idea that I have.  This idea may be worth pursuing for me now.

But I am going into this understanding that millions of people per day will not be searching for quinoa app.  I would most likely be able to capitalize on the few hundred or thousand people that search for quinoa on the app store per month based on the assumption that this idea is a niche.

Step 2. Paid, Freemium/In-App Purchases, or Advertising Model

One of the growing pains of the App Store is that people are less willing to purchase applications now that they can download high quality applications for free.  Yes it does not seem fair, but the music industry had to face the same growing pains after Napster and torrents became popular causing people to be less willing to pay for CDs.

The way to adapt is by choosing your own monetization strategy.


Let’s say that you want to make your application a paid app.  You can automatically expect that people would be less willing to download your quinoa app for $0.99 because there are other free recipe apps that exist today like the Must-Have Recipes from Better Homes and Gardens and AllRecipes.com.  I am not saying that you would never get any downloads, but you can expect that it would not be very much when competing with some of the “big boys.”

Freemium/In-App Purchases

Since I have decided to make my app free, it is likely that I would receive hundreds of thousands of downloads rather than the thousands of downloads per year from charging for my app right off the bat.  But I know that you want to find a way to make money from these users somehow.

You can put in-app purchases into your app.  For example, I could put only a few basic quinoa recipes in the free app, but the user would have to pay to unlock my premium quinoa recipes.  I may decide that my app download is free, but there would be an Unlock button in my app that would open up a few more premium recipes when the user pays me $0.99.

If you develop a very sophisticated recipes application, then you could consider charging for a monthly subscription too.  For example Spotify is a free music application on the App Store, but to access the ability to play any song that you want from the application you will need to pay $9.99 per month to the company.  Otherwise you can only listen to the Radio feature of the application and you can only listen to songs in a randomized order.

Advertising Model

Another way to make money from a free application is through the placement of ads.

Two of the biggest application ad networks include Google AdMob and Apple iAd.  Some of the other options include LeadBolt, Millenial Media, AdFonic, Jumptap, and InMobi.

Step 3: Registering For A Developer Account

The next step is registering for a developer account with Apple.  You can sign up for an account at the iOS Development Center.  The cost is $99 for a year and you will need to input your tax and bank account information.

Apple splits revenues with you on a 70-30 basis.  For every sale you make on your application, you can expect to pay Apple 30 cents for every dollar you earn.  This includes in-app purchases, paid apps, and subscriptions.

Step 4: Design A Wireframe For Your Application

Making tweaks to applications when you start designing can be challenging.  You should design what the application looks like.  What will the navigation look like.  Maybe you want buttons on the top with specific functions like “Random Recipe” or “Add To Favorites.”  Decide your design first and then jump into the development stage.

Some great resources for a mobile app wireframe include JustInMind, Pencil Project, Lumzy, Mockabilly, and Mockup Builder.

Step 5: Procure The Necessary Tools / Delegate Tasks

Once you are done with the wireframe, you can completely outsource the mobile app development on websites like ELance or Freelancer.

But if you are going to do everything on your own, you will need to have a Mac computer with an Intel Duo Core processor or higher.  You will also need to have the necessary test devices like the iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, iPad, etc.  Note: If you are not planning to make an app for the iPad, then you will not need to buy one to build your iPhone app.

You will need an iPhone to ensure that your app does not crash.

In Apple’s developer center, they have some great templates to learn how to get started.  DesignBoost also has a great iPhone App Template.

If you already have a Mac and an iPhone, then you will need to download Xcode.

Xcode is Apple’s integrated development environment for creating Mac, iPhone, and iPad apps for the Apple App Store (iPhone Apps, iPod Apps, iPad Apps) and the Mac App Store (Mac Apps).

Xcode has a single window interface builder, helps you fix live issues, and debug your code.

Step 6: Development

The primary language for basic app development is Cocoa.  If you do not know how to program in Cocoa, you may want to look into getting some books to help you.  If you want to learn how to program games for the iPhone or iPad, you may want to look into how to program for OpenGL and Cocos2d.

Below are some books that could help:

Keep in mind that the learning curve for app development is very long.  It could takes months or even a year to get your first app on the market if you do not have much experience programming.  App development requires a lot of patience, energy, and time.  Getting your application actually approved by Apple takes weeks and you may be rejected a couple of times in the process.

If you hire a freelancer overseas, you may want to consider making sure that they sign an NDA so that they do not re-release the application that they made for you with a different name.

Some additional development resources include:

– Apple Developer Forums

– iPhoneDevForums.com

– iPhoneSDK Google Group

– StackOverflow

– ipadforums.net

Step 7: Submitting To The App Store

Once app development is complete, the next step is submitting to the App Store.  You will need to make sure that your application complies with the App Store Review guidelines and the Application Submission Feedback to find out what may cause an application to be rejected.

Step 8: Promotion

The next important step to keep people engaged with your application is social media and promotion.  Before your application launches, you can ask bloggers to write about what you are building.  Some top blogs that write about apps include TechCrunch, Mashable, TUAW, GigaOM, MacWorld, AppCraver, TouchArcade, and Gizmodo.

You may also want to create a Twitter account and Facebook Page for your app and invite your Facebook friends to the Page.  Ask your friends to tell their friends about your app.  Spend about 1-2 hours per day working on ways to promote your app otherwise it will disappear in the App Store black hole.


Keep in mind that your application go could on to do very well or it could crash and burn.  If everyone could become a millionaire from building an app, then we would probably see 10 million apps on the App Store today instead of 800,000.

Everyday you will need to spend hours learning how to stay competitive on the App Store, how to program your app, how to improve your app, how to keep your users engaged, etc.  If you do not have any patience, then this business is not right for you.  Sometimes when you submit your app on the App Store, it may even take a whole month just for them to review it and make their decision on whether your app is good enough or not.