Jul 22

Making Scope Nights: Astronomy Weather Reports with Xamarin

Scope Nights: Astronomy Weather Reports will be one year old in August 2013, so I thought I’d write a little bit about my experience in order to try and help new app developers and also to highlight the amount of work that goes into creating a mobile app.

Making Scope Nights with Xamarin

I started writing Scope Nights in Spring 2012, and chose to use Xamarin as a development platform. This allows native iOS apps to be created using the C# programming language. As I already had fifteen years experience programming Microsoft Windows apps with C++ and C#, I decided this was the best way to go. Training in another language such as Objective C would have been too time consuming, and I wanted to create native apps and not web apps.

Scope Nights took me five months to conceive working part-time, including design, coding, graphics, testing on multiple devices, and the learning curve moving from Windows Forms to iOS MVC. If I’d had to learn Objective C as well, it probably would have taken twice as long. It took me longer than planned mainly due to learning how to use Xcode Interface Builder and working round some of the ‘nuances’ of Xamarin Monotouch which is a new and evolving development platform. I’ve read about people churning lots of apps out at a phenomenal rate, but unless you have a team of developers, it is not realistic for a well written native app. Most apps that are written very quickly will most likely be web apps with limited functionality and limited scope for design, written in HTML, CSS and Javascript and running within an embedded web browser in the app, essentially a web page. Whereas native apps written with an Object Oriented language like C# allow the app to become very complex without the code becoming unwieldy, this means the app can become very powerful yet also be easily maintained. To create a basic app quickly a web app may be the best route for some, but coming from a Object Oriented background, it feels more natural to use C# and I don’t want the app design or functionality to be limited in any way.

Scope Nights initially released in August 2012. Since then I’ve released six free updates in twelve months. Regular updates are necessary as any first release will always need fine tuning, and regular updates are also required to maintain sales and to ensure the app is maintained and improved. Releasing so many free updates in the first year was a problem which I hadn’t accounted for in my business plan. I’d planned to release more apps in the first year and not just one. One misconception that many people have is that mobile apps are quick & easy to produce. This may be the case if you want to create a basic web app or you have a team of developers, but if you’re an independent developer then it will take a lot longer and you have to be prepared to persevere. I also hadn’t realised how much time must be spent on marketing and support, coding is only half the job! On a positive note I’ve had some great feedback and lots of ideas for new features so have no doubt about the app’s potential. I also have yet to take advantage of In-App Purchasing, and because Xamarin is a cross-platform development environment, the Android market could also help fund further development and more apps.

Would I have done anything different? Yes release in-app purchases from early on to generate more funds. But even with this extra revenue, the road to mobile app development for indie developers is a lot tougher than I’d imagined, especially as the app market becomes saturated with cheap ad-filled apps and larger corporates begin to grow and buy up any successful small businesses.

Can Apple do anything to help small businesses?  Yes, lots! At the moment people can leave anonymous unfounded poor reviews without any comeback which can quickly kill a fledgling app. There is also a mindset that all apps should be free or cost next to nothing, and if that mentaliity continues then small independent app developers will suffer. I personally prefer premium paid apps, as I know free or very cheap apps are either full of annoying adverts, poor quality and poorly maintained, or will sting you with hidden costs. I’m hoping that the app market will mature and more people will become wise to these types of apps and realise you don’t get anything for nothing.

I hope that Apple takes steps to help small businesses survive in the App Store, otherwise it will go the way of other free markets and succumb to large corporates and small businesses will be bought out and that breeding ground for creativity will be stifled. Unless Apple finds a way for the little fish to survive in the big app ocean, like increasing sales share to 80% for indie developers, then it’s going to get even harder for indies to survive as the big fish begin to dominate.

So the future is still in the balance and like any business startup the first years are the most precarious. With a quarter of new businesses failing within the first year, moving into a second year will be an achievement in itself. Most independent app developers like myself are reliant on good reviews and recommendations, so if you like an app and use it a lot, check to see if it’s an independent app developer and leave a good review to help them along.  And if you like Scope Nights and would like to see new features and continued support, please leave a good rating on the App Store.