“I have an idea for an iPhone application.”
The most common conversation I have with people these days concerns the process of turning ideas into iPhone applications. Someone reaches out to me from across the Internet, hoping I will be able to build an iPhone application or make connections to people who will.
I love talking with entrepreneurs and people passionate about their ideas. It’s one of the things I look forward to most in my week. Unfortunately, we are at a phase in the growth of the iPhone ecosystem where there is a significant gap between individuals with the ideas and those who are actually capable of turning the ideas into iPhone applications.
This gap is almost entirely financial in nature. The demand for iPhone developers exceeds the supply and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The going rate for iPhone developers, at least the developers I know and trust, is $125/hour and up. I have some friends who are booked out at $200/hour for the next few months, although $125/hour seems to be the going rate in my network. At that rate, a full-time contract iPhone developer costs $5,000/week and it may take four to six weeks for an application to be developed. Sometimes it will take less and sometimes it will take more. Add to development the other costs – project management, design, QA, and marketing, to name a few. It’s not uncommon to spend $30,000 and up on an iPhone development project. iPhone applications are not cheap.
I am someone who is highly motivated by ideas. So, it pains me to say that the value of an iPhone application idea right now is pretty much zero. A great idea isn’t worth anything under these conditions. There is no shortage of great iPhone ideas, just a shortage of talent to bring these ideas to market. Many people in my network have stopped doing contract work altogether, focusing instead on self-publishing on the App Store and making a living from software sales. The few examples we’ve had of App Store millionaires has been an inspiration to many to drop out of the contract market.
No one wants to work for equity or the promise of future returns for someone else right now. There is too much cash work out there. The developers willing to take risks on future returns would rather do this for their own application projects. That is a risk worth taking.
I think it’s inevitable that the hourly rate for iPhone developers will decrease, although don’t expect a major drop. As the offshore capabilities for iPhone development increases and as new iPhone developers start to enter the market, you will see some downward impact. The experts will continue to be able to command impressive rates even with these changes. If you’ve been a Cocoa developer on the Mac and have transitioned to iPhone development, you’ve got a bright future.
Do I think the economic downturn is going to change the dynamics? No. The iPhone market is hot, and it’s only been four months since the launch of the App Store. Growth and demand is on a steep incline right now and I’ve only seen a growth in demand for iPhone applications over the past few months.
So what do you do if you have a great idea for an iPhone application, but don’t have a budget of tens of thousands of dollars to fund the project? Get creative. It’s not impossible to build an iPhone application on the cheap, just very difficult. I’ve advised people to look for college students with lower financial expectations if $125/hour is beyond reach. However, be prepared. Experts can develop iPhone applications with much lower risk than bringing in less experienced talent or farming the work out offshore.
If you believe in your iPhone application idea passionately, maybe, just maybe there is someone out there who will share your passion and that you can motivate to work under different terms than the going contract rate. Just don’t bank on it. Ideas are not the currency. Cash is king, as they say, especially in a down economy. The people who are making it in the iPhone application market right now are either self-motivated or well-financed, or in some cases, both.