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iPhone & iPad: How to Make a Great App in 6 Easy Steps

Think you could make a fortune building an iPhone or iPad app? You might be right.

The web is riddled with stories about young developers who have made a mint by offering their games and applications through the iTunes store. You don't need a degree from MIT either.

Consider Freddie Anne Hodges, 12, who was "obsessed" with two things -- how tall she was getting and her iPhone. She decided to put the two together and, within a matter of a few months, she created an iPhone application called "Measure Me" that quickly sold several hundred copies. (Unlike the book crooks, who hacked accounts to boost their iPhone app sales before they got booted from the iTunes store, Hodges sales are legitimate.)

The message: If a Dallas-based middle-schooler can create an iPhone app, so can you.

You just need to follow 6 easy steps.

Find your niche

You might imagine the vast riches you could earn by making the next "World of Warcraft" for mobile devices. But if you're not Activision or Hasbro, or even just someone creative enough to have designed an engaging game in the past, this probably is not your niche. Think of what you're passionate about and how your iPhone or iPad might help you track or share that passion.

Let's say your passion is gardening. You're always noticing new flora and fauna while you're out and about, but sometimes don't know the name of the plant or whether it would grow in your climate zone.

Picking plant sprigs out of other people's gardens to bring to the garden center strikes you as criminal. (The clerks aren't that good at identifying the dead things that you've been carrying around in your purse either.)

You realize that you can take a photo with your iPhone; get your app to match that photo to a plant; and use your GPS to tell you whether it's a good choice in your climate. Eureka!

Research the competition

Search the app store
Before you rush to develop "Flower Power," the app sure to make you the next overnight millionaire, you need to figure out if you're the 57th person to come up with the same idea.

Go to the app store and search the category. In this case, you'd type "gardening" and "flowers" and any other key words that you think could describe your product into the search bar. Is your product already there?Anything similar? If so, what makes yours different and special?

If there's already an app for this product, is it available for both the iPhone and iPad? Would it work with both, or is it best suited to just one or the other?
There's nothing stopping you from creating and selling an application that's similar to what's already out there, of course. But if you want to sell enough to make a profit, you should find a better approach, says Bear Cahill, president of the independent application development company BrainWash Inc. His advice is to be first or best -- or, better yet, both.

Lay it out

Not only does your application have to be serviceable, it needs to look good. To design a page that allows you to lay out your graphics and text in a way that's visually appealing, you'll probably want to draw it out first, thinking through how each page will look and operate.

When you want to see how it would look on an actual iPhone or iPad, you can go to a site called, which can let you cut and paste your application pages to perfection.

MockApp doesn't charge for the service, but would like you to tell your friends about it. You're on the honor system. But if it works, you'd probably want to tell you friends about it anyway.

Hire a developer

If you're a computer programmer, or just somebody who doesn't mind tinkering with tech until you get it right, you can probably build your own application, following Apple's detailed developer guidelines. But you don't have to be techno-savvy if you're willing to hire someone who is.

How do you find a good and reasonably priced app developer? Ask your Facebook friends if they know someone they'd recommend. Cahill suggests you look for independent developers because they're cheaper, but there are big companies in the business, too. You also can Google conferences on app development and how-to app development books. The speakers and authors are likely developers for hire, he adds.

Once you find a few potential developers, interview them to find out how they work, what they charge, and whether they can provide references. For a point of reference, Cahill says he typically charges between $5,000 and $10,000 to program an app for a client, but has charged as little as $2,000 and considerably more than $10,000 too. (Hodges got her app developed for $3,000.) The price will vary based on complexity and how much work you've already done. If you've got the layout and graphics and have a simple design, your fee is likely to fall on the low end. But, if you application needs to be coordinated with a yet-to-be-completed web site, you could be taking about some real money.

Price your product

You're doing this for both fun and profit, right? If so, you need to figure out how much to charge per download.

Apple keeps about one-third of the price, so you'll get about $2 per sale if your application sells for $2.99. If you paid $2,000 to your developer, your app won't break-even until after the 1000th sale. Cahill cautions that you shouldn't expect the laws of supply and demand to work perfectly here. One developer created a "pretty bad" game, which sold poorly when it was priced at $3. Instead of revamping it, the developers simply hiked the price. Guess what? The game started selling better.

"People are not necessarily buying based on value," Cahill said. He suggests you set a price that allows you to recover your investment and potentially put your app on "sale" later.

Market like crazy

I say again: 350,000 apps are already out there.

It's going to be a challenge to make yours stand out in that madding crowd. To be sure, making your application great will help, but you'll also need to talk it up with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Linkedin and every other social networking site you know.

If you think the app has legs and is worth the investment, enlist your friends to talk you up. Consider hiring a publicist to help, too.

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