Who hasn’t had a great idea for a smartphone tool—but not the slightest idea where to begin?
At 2 a.m. on my ninth day of troubleshooting, I lost my mind. I had expected to face some obstacles as an amateur app developer, but I hadn’t foreseen this. Alone in a room whose landscape comprised ziggurats of crude design sketches and empty Red Bull cans, I was wrestling with a picture of bacon dumplings. It didn’t have enough dots per inch for an Android smartphone screen, and I didn’t have a version of Photoshop that would let me fix it. Even if I got my hands on a friend’s copy, I was looking at doing this all over again for the larger screen of the iPhone 6. And then God only knew if I would find the resolve to dream up special features for the 6 Plus. Frustrated and over-caffeinated, I switched tasks, checking to see if my app’s interactive map worked. It geolocated me into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I slammed the laptop closed.
I blame my exasperation on the increased ease of entry into the app-development market. Having a world-changing idea is so common it’s almost a side effect of smartphone ownership, but only in the past few years have regular people been able to turn concepts into reality. Five years ago I would have had to know Objective-C, the programming language for Apple iOS coding. But in 2010 dozens of user-friendly app-creation platforms appeared. In January 2010 there were 120,000 published iOS apps. Twelve months later there were more than 350,000 in the iTunes Store. Last year more than 6 million app developers existed in Apple’s ecosystem.
If I was going to make a million dollars, which was (obviously) the plan, I needed my idea to capture the public’s imagination. That idea? Bacon Now, a geolocation app that would provide directions to restaurants serving critically acclaimed bacon dishes in U.S. cities, starting with New York. The app would also include geofencing features: If a user wandered within 100 yards of, say, a bacon-infused bourbon cocktail, his phone would buzz with an alert.
Idea in hand, I spent a nonrefundable $99 developer fee on an account through Apple’s developer website. This granted access to a Software Developer Kit, where the actual programming takes place, and a video tutorial for learning some basics. I started playing the first video: “The G-L resolve-multisample-framebuffer Apple has now become”—at this point there is an expectant pause, as if the narrator were about to reveal the exceedingly simple secret to success in programming—”the G-L blit-framebuffer,” he concludes. “It’s pretty simple.” I slumped back in my chair.
So I needed help. Thankfully, there’s a lot of it out there. On a Pinterest-like site called dribbble.com, I found dozens of designers who could build Bacon Now, customized with whatever features my cholesterol-lined heart might desire, for around $100 an hour, or $10,000 in total. There was another option, appmakr.com, that would allow me to design an app the same way I would a blog on WordPress or Tumblr: Choose a few premade tabs; customize some colors, pictures, and headers; and the app is essentially complete. The downside: It’s full of distracting ads.
In the end I went with Bizness Apps. For $59 a month this service offered tabs that I could customize for each dish, a premade GPS-enabled map that I populated with my own data points, and a feature that let me draw circles around each restaurant for geofencing. Within the design dashboard was a simulator I could use to see instantly how my app functioned, like the Preview button in WordPress. When I was done I hit Publish, and my entire app was compressed into a bite-size file, ready to upload to app stores. The whole thing couldn’t have been easier.