From Idea to App store in 6 months

6 months, 5,000 lines of code, 13 blog posts, 15,000 words and both the App and my blog series are finally finished. When I started this I planned on following a carefully designed and documented process to translate my App store idea into an actual product. Along the way my aim was to share all of the steps with you, along with the results.

This post intends to wrap-up the series. It also contains the final blog post, my Coffee Cellar postmortem. Whereas the postmortem covers the App itself, this post reviews the process and acts as a convenient hub to bring together all of the previous posts in the series (for future reference).

First up, here are the links to all of the posts in my App development series. You can track Coffee Cellar’s creation from the idea right up to distributing it on the App store and the subsequent sales revenue. It covers everything from documentation and artwork to testing and marketing.

So grab a nice hot drink, settle in, and click away!

1. The Idea

Early-February 2011: The first post in the series. A breakdown of the project process I intended to use along with details of my App idea. [Read the full post].

2. The Design Document

Mid-February 2011: A detailed description of what makes up a design document along with the actual design document for Coffee Cellar itself. [Read the full post].

3. The Wireframes

Late-February 2011: A brief overview of the tools used to create the wireframes followed by a full breakdown of each of the planned screens for Coffee Cellar and a detailed workflow. [Read the full post]

4. The Artwork

March 2011: Moodboards and the first artwork for Coffee Cellar. [Read the full post]

5. The Development Diary

The core development of Coffee Cellar took place between March – July 2011. I posted three development diary entries during that period.

Early-June 2011: Part One (Xcode 4, GIT, and Core Data)
Mid-June 2011: Part Two (Coffee sharing and Camera functionality)
Early-July 2011: Part Three (A change in workflow).

6. The Testing

Mid-July 2011: A detailed breakdown of all the steps needed to use TestFlight for beta testing. This covers everything from signing up testers, to the provisioning portal, setting up your App, and analysing feedback. [Read the full post]

7. The Final Artwork

Late-July 2011: A look at some of the artwork iteration in addition to a walk through the final artwork for each screen. [Read the full post]

8. The Marketing

August 2011: A detailed look at all of my planned marketing activities. [Read the full post]

9. Coffee Cellar Launches

August 17th 2011: Launch day. Just a copy of the press release. [Read the full post]

10. The Numbers

Early-September 2011: Full disclosure of the sales for Coffee Cellar. This post looks candidly at download numbers, revenue figures, and critical reception. [Read the full post]

11. The Postmortem

Late-September 2011: A full postmortem of the Coffee Cellar App. [Read the full post]

How it all began

Game development is where my passion lies but at the start of this year I had an App idea related to something that I’m equally passionate about… Coffee! I began haphazardly working on the App and quickly realised that I was repeating past mistakes – rushing in with no real sense of direction. I decided that rather than bumbling through the production of my App, I’d turn it into an example of how to do it right. My best attempt at approaching App development in a methodical way. My goals were three-fold…

1. Get my Coffee App produced and available in the App store
2. Get hands on experience at traditional App development (as apposed to games) and learn about UIKit and the related API’s.
3. Share my experience openly, creating a series of blog posts for others to refer to.

I’m pleased to say that I managed to achieve all three of these goals. I stuck to my original plan, following all of the steps and posting as I intended to. There were of course some interesting take-homes from the process as a whole. Here are the lessons I learned…

Design Document

I was determined to create a decent design document for Coffee Cellar and I believe I succeeded. Here’s the thing though, I never once (okay maybe once) referred to the design document after I had created it. That said, I definitely recommend creating one if you’re producing an App.

The very act of writing out each feature, and what the function it intended to perform, clarified things in my mind. Producing the document itself took a lot of thought and this is really the point of the document. Taking some time to solve design issues up front, before coding.

So the value wasn’t in the end product (the design document) but rather in the process of producing it.

Don’t be afraid to deviate

Whilst the document solved some issues up-front, I still hit a huge issue once I had actually begun coding the App. I ended up removing a large chunk of the workflow. If something doesn’t work in practice, change it. Iterate everything. Just remember, iteration doesn’t have to mean no documentation. The structure I had in place gave me the guidance and direction I needed. It gave me a framework within which to change my designs.

Initial artwork is not that important but a general art direction is

I spent some initial time creating a first pass at the artwork for the main screen. In hindseight I don’t think this was necessary. The time spent on the artwork could have been spent on sketches instead.

What did help was deciding on a colour palette early. In fact, the moodboard was one of the things I referred to the most. Having a guide for the general feelings you want to evoke in your App is really helpful. I encourage you to create one for you own App.

Get testers early

I ended up with a good amount of feedback from testing. It helped me to shape the finer details of the App. Where I failed slightly was in gathering enough testers early on. You’ll only receive feedback from a small percentage of your testers (30% in my case) and you need to plan for that by increasing the initial volume. My recommendation would be to begin recruiting testers as early as possible.

You don’t need to allow huge amounts of time between App acceptance and launch

I allowed two weeks between my App being submitted and actually releasing it on the App store. My theory was that I could use this time to help drive some initial coverage. This doesn’t work. With Apps, you’ll get better coverage if the App is already out. I think I should have placed more emphasis on post-launch marketing. I’ve heard contrary statements but I believe that you can build upon a product that’s already in the App store – it doesn’t all hinge on launch day. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t put effort into the launch, its just not as important as you may think.

Motivation

Motivation can be tough. Particularly when it comes to knuckling down and getting on with the coding. In addition to that, you’ll face the inevitable wall that is finalising the App (the last 10% of work which equates to 90% of the effort). The fact that I was blogging about my App definitely proved to be good motivation. I encourage you to be transparent about your development and commit to public updates.

Conclusion

Overall, the process employed and the project itself was a success. I achieved what I set out to do and the experience was very rewarding. The App hasn’t been financially successful in the grand scheme of things (at least not yet) but it is my best selling App to date.

I think my biggest failing as always was the marketing – but honestly I’m getting as tired of writing that as I’m sure you are of hearing it. I’m bad at marketing… I need to be better.

If you enjoyed these articles please consider leaving a comment below. If you *really* enjoyed them and want to support me, the best way you can do that is by buying Coffee Cellar or gifting it to someone you know.

(Lightbulb image courtesy of James Bowe)

Part 1 – Doing it properly
Part 2 – The Design Document
Part 3 – The Wireframes
Part 4 – The Artwork
Part 5a -The Code (Xcode, GIT, and Core Data)
Part 5b – The Code (Coffee sharing and Camera functionality)
Part 5c – The Code (A change in workflow)
Part 6 – The testing
Part 7 – The Final Artwork
Part 8 – The Marketing
Part 9 – The Launch
Part 10 – The Numbers
Part 11 – The Postmortem
(Bonus) Part 12 – A review of the process (You are here)

12 Comments

  1. Awesome series! I love the information and of course your numbers! I’m currently working in a similar process, but I decided to do it with a game instead of app. This is very helpful, and I congratulate you on your completion of your initial goals! :)

  2. Chris says:

    Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. Good luck with your game :)

  3. Brian H says:

    I have enjoyed and learned from the articles you’ve written for each of your projects. Look forward to the next one. Are you going back to the interactive fiction idea? As a longtime lover of creative text adventures and former dabbler in Tads and Basic for such a purpose, this idea certainly intrigues me.

  4. Chris says:

    Thanks Brian. Nice to know that people are getting something out of them.

    I have an idea and some notes for an interactive fiction project but I’m not sure that it’s going to be my next project. Its very niche and would require lots of time to complete. That said, I think it could be quite cool.

    Anyway, its early days and I’m bouncing between a few different game prototypes so we shall see :)

  5. Stephen Adams says:

    Hi, thanks for these articles very interesting. Hopefully it’ll encourage others to write similar articles. Are you planning to build another app or just stick with games?

  6. Chris says:

    @Stephen

    Thank you, glad you find them useful.

    I do have another App planned (utilising the same engine). I’m still deciding but if I go ahead it will be out for Christmas – the workload is mainly the graphics.

    Other than that I’m back to games – already prototyping a new one. Its not that I consider them more financially rewarding, its just that game development is where my passion lies :)

  7. Rakesh says:

    Chris

    I found this very inspiring! Like others, I have an app idea, and the demystification truly helps! Thank you!

    Are you working on a project now?

    Regards.

  8. Chris says:

    @Rakesh

    Glad you found it helpful. I’m currently working on a large update for Coffee Cellar and a new game :)

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