Can You Make A Living As an iPhone Developer?

By Josh Catone
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A day after the release of Apple’s iPhone application store, that was the question that Jason Fried over at 37signals asked. “Most [apps in the iPhone App Store] are $10 or less with the bulk at under $5. If that’s where the market settles out, developers who planned on making a living selling iPhone software may be in for market whiplash,” he wrote after sharing some early data on the price distribution of applications in the app store. To make money on $5-10 applications requires serious volume, said Fried. But he might actually have been wrong — it looks like there is room for developers to make a living developing low cost iPhone apps afterall.

Of course, “make a living” is completely subjective and I chimed in with a comment to that effect. If US$40,000 is enough to live comfortably — and it is in many parts of the US, especially rural areas — then 4,000 $10 apps per year gets you to that point, I said in my comment. That’s a pretty modest number of sales given the large number of iPhone users that Apple estimates by year’s end. Someone later chimed in that because Apple takes a 30% cut, my numbers were a bit off (4,000 sales at $10 actually equals about $28,000 in the developer’s pocket), but even so, given the relatively low barrier to entry, a single developer very likely could scratch out a modest living with a couple of moderately popular iPhone applications. And let’s not forget that in many non-Western countries, $28,000 per year is a very comfortable living (again — “make a living” is open to interpretation).

Numbers released over the past week seem to confirm that, and then some. Ars Technica reports that developer Eliza Block’s crossword puzzle application 2 Across, which sells for $5.99, is being downloaded at a rate that puts about $2,000 per day in Block’s pocket.

“With the sales volume that 2 Across has been seeing, even a $0.99 application would be bringing in around $300 per day,” writes Ars reporter Justin Berka. $300 per day is a six figure income (calculated over a seven day week) — that’s definitely a pretty good living for a single developer, especially given the likely time investment for a $0.99 application.

Software developer Tap Tap Tap, who also released some sales data according to Ars Technica, said that they sold 3,546 copies of their applications, Where To? (which sells for $2.99) and Tipulator (which sells for $0.99) for a combined 7 day total download revenue of $9,896. After Apple’s cut, the Tap Tap Tap team took in $6,927 — or about a grand a day. Again, not bad at all given the likely relatively low development costs.

As Ars points out, since the App store hasn’t been open very long, these sales numbers will almost definitely drop and level off. But if the report on TechCrunch this morning can be believed, and Apple is expecting to sell 40 million iPhones per year, there could be a huge market for iPhone applications. If a developer can get just one half of one percent of those 40 million users to buy a $0.99 application, that’s $198,000. After Apple takes their cut, that’s just under $140,000.

It seems almost a guarantee that we’ll be minting our first iPhone App Store millionaire before long.

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  • holy crap!

  • I keep meaning to get around to writing a little app for the iPhone but still haven’t had the time yet. Objective-C in itself is a nice language to program with, so if you’re a hobbyist software developer writing an iPhone app would be fun and making money from it would be fantastic.

  • Bear in mind we’ve yet to see Piracy rear its ugly head.

    A torrent called “5,000 iPhone apps” for example?

    Whoever (Apple or Google) can clamp down on that kind of practice on their platform will be flocked to by devs.

  • Ok… But if any of you do decide to jump on the bandwagon with yet another “get rich as a [insert cool device name] developer” scheme then please sell useful and reasonably priced apps. What not to do::

  • JohnOoo

    Can you distribute commercial apps for the iPhone on the Apple Store, with the free SDK and wihout applying for the iPhone Developer Program?

  • Joe

    spoofapp has already made a $1,000,000 and its only available on jailbroken phones

  • and then there’s the tax…

  • There is no doubt about it, there is potential to be earned developing for the iPhone. Its purely a numbers game. The problem is coming up with that cool idea and then getting it heard so people download it.

    I also wonder why Apple choose to allow people who have never purchased an application or even installed it to be able to leave feedback about an app. This leaves it open to anyone leaving feedback even if they have not tried it.

    I do think its great that you can only download apps for the iPhone through the App Store. As much as people see this as Apple monopolizing I think it ensures integrity of the apps you download and above all else, helps keep everything legit. If you can download from anywhere then you have no idea what you’re installing.

    Finally, piracy is always going to be a problem but I believe (to some extent) that if someone copies your app, then they weren’t going to buy it anyway. In other words, if it was impossible to copy then they wouldn’t buy it. Not fair though that some honest people pay and others don’t but generally that is what I believe. The bottom line is everyone will pay eventually either through no apps being developed or increased costs of apps.

    Apple will soon have the home market sown up I believe. Fantastic, intuitive and cool products.