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Pro Software for iOS and Making Money on the App Store

An Idea

In November I had an idea for an app. For some time I, like many people, have been looking at iOS, namely iPad, and asking if it’s time for me to use it professionally yet. What can it do? What can it not do? What are my real requirements for work? As I explored those questions, I found an area of functionality that no app had satisfied yet that front-end developers require daily: the web inspector.

Finding an area unexplored by other apps can be rare and usually means a lack of API support or a huge time investment would be required to build. Neither ended up true. With about two weeks of development (moonlighting-with-a-baby weeks), I had built the first version of Web Tools. Feeling like I had something special, I got a few betas out via TestFlight and launched it in mid-December.

Launch week was met with an article on MacStories and a boom in traffic. In December Web Tools earned me around $1400.

Pro Software for iOS

November marked the release of the iPad Pro, the new addition to the iPad family, differentiated by its much higher memory, storage, and processing power. But what makes it “Pro”? Software. With iOS 9’s new multitasking split-screen and slide-over functionality, it’s starting to feel like you can really get things done on these devices. With better and better API’s for developers to communicate and share data between apps, we can do more and more with the platform. So where’s the software?

As a million articles have covered, the old structure of selling software included two major features: offering a trial and having upgrade pricing. The first allowed one to charge a reasonable price while not scaring off possible customers that couldn’t try before buying, and the second allowed one to make money from current customers. The App Store offers neither of these. Because of this, it’s hard to charge more than $9.99 (or $2.99, really) for an app and actually make sales. Sure, advertising and word-of-mouth can help spread the word that your app is worth it, but that’s an uphill battle. On top of that, there is an expectation among App Store customers that you will continue to pump out updates, bug fixes, and more for years, all for free.

For smaller apps that require less investment of time or can sell large numbers, this can work. $0.99 multiplied by a million is good money. But pro software targets niche markets. There are not millions of potential customers. So high price goes with higher development investment and higher risk.

Making Money on the App Store

How does this work for the App Store, then? The first version of Web Tools had just two features: a scalable web browser and a web inspector. People are already using it every day because nothing like it exists on the platform. As I completed the first version, I realized that much more could be added to this if the market exists. While I could rise the price of the app with every new feature, I would end up with a high priced app that no one will take a risk on because of the lack of trials and I wouldn’t get additional money from my current customers that I’ve worked so hard to get.

So my strategy is in-app purchases. While many games have given them a really bad reputation, they can be used very well too. I have seen many apps use them for try-first methods, such as only giving read access until you upgrade with an IAP.

The structure of Web Tools allows for IAPs to be implemented very easily, as the tool box (that started with just an inspector) is a series of panels and each major panel will come with an in-app purchase, starting with the JavaScript Console coming this month.

But unlike some games, I don’t intend to nickel and dime my customers. The core app will continue to get feature enhancements for free and the Console will continue to get feature enhancements for free to those that buy that panel. I won’t be charging $0.99 for the ability to edit inner HTML in the Inspector. Nope, that one’s on the house.

A Suitable Path Forward

For software to be maintained, the developer must make money. If your business plan misses that step, your app will slowly die as you lack reason for investing time into it. So this is part of my strategy to keep this app alive. If you wish for the app to continue getting updates, please consider supporting it by purchasing the upcoming Console.