How to create an app (and make money from it)

In days gone by, dissatisfied employees dreamed about writing a bestseller or putting a brilliant business idea into practice. Today, they want to build a killer app and get rich quick. How easy is it?

Sat, Jun 7, 2014, 01:00

Alan just wants to get rich. A project manager for a tech company, he says he’s sick of seeing ideas he’s had but has failed to act upon launched to huge acclaim by others. “I want to quit my job,” he says. “I thought coming here might give me a push. I have a lot of ideas.”

He is one of a crowd of twenty and thirty somethings who have gathered at Dublin’s Twisted Pepper venue for a recent event called “How to Build an App” run by a group called Made It (http://www.madeitseries.com/). And interest in the subject goes far beyond these walls. Online searches for “how to make an app” or “how to create an app” each return more than two billion results.

As various entrepreneurs and experts give their considered thoughts and tips on the maturing app market, young men and women lean forward in their seats or tweet on their smart phones (this is permitted as long as they turn their ringers off).

Over interval drinks, Alan tells me it hasn’t been as uplifting as he’d expected.

“They’re being a bit downbeat,” he says. Earlier, one of the panellists, Clare Dillon, Microsoft Ireland’s head “developer” mentioned a report that suggested only .01% of apps would be a financial success (this was research released by Gartner Inc). There was a flurry of similarly downbeat statistics.

“I think some of the people who came along really think apps will make them rich,” I say to Dr Susan McKeever, who teaches mobile software development at DIT and spoke at the event.

“Yeah, I could tell that from some of the people I spoke to as well,” she says. “There have been some high profile winners in the app market, particularly in the early days but as you heard, it’s only one in a thousand will make money from an app so there are huge number of redundant apps sitting in the app store that nobody downloads and nobody knows about.”

Those high profile winners include well-known game-changers – Angry Birds, Whatsapp, Instagram, Hailo, Tinder – but there are also some forgotten, lucrative success stories from the early days which had simpler appeal.

There’s iFart, for example, which is an app that can fart (variations of fart include “Brown Mosquito” and “Burrito Maximo”).

“There’s another I remember,” says Simon Judge, co-creator with Chris Judge and James Kelleher of the Lonely Beast educational apps. “It was just a pint glass that would empty as you tilted your phone.” He laughs. “That was very popular.”

These are all vastly different services, ranging as they do from taxi-coordination to flatulence emulation. And as I write, the Samsung app store’s “hot” apps include the familiar-sounding Clumsy Bird, the Tamagotchi-like digital pet Pou, the free telecoms app Viber, a talking Tom Cat, a weather app and something which provides funny ringtones. Among the new apps is a paid-for “Lie Detector” app, which can’t really detect lies (it admits as much in itself in its blurb, which is very “on-brand”).

All these App Stores amount to really, according to James Kelleher, is clever software delivery services. “I mean, we’ve had apps since the dawn of computers,” he says. “An app is just a bundle of code and assets tied together and presented in a package. It’s a thing that does a thing on your thing.

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