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10 Things You Need Before You Write An Apple App
You’ve seen the amazing statistics about Apple Apps and how ordinary people are achieving success writing apps for the iPhone and iPad. Well, the first thing I can tell you is that you are right! The Apple App Store is taking the world by storm (over more than 2 billion downloads). And my suspicion is that this is all just the beginning.
The problem is, how do you write an app? Actually, what do you need before developing app? Well, this is where this article will help. I’ll give you 10 things you need before you start writing your Apple app. Even if you’ve never developed content for a mobile device or if you’re new to software development, you should know that learning iPhone development can be a fun and rewarding experience.
1. Get a Mac OS X computer
To develop applications for iPhone OS, you need a Mac OS X computer running the Xcode tools. Xcode is Apple’s suite of development tools that provide support for project management, code editing, building executables, and debugging.
I know many of you may be PC users, some of you may be balking at the thought of using a Mac. Well, my advice is – give Mac a try. I have many friends who were once heavy PC users who have now switched to Macs. Why? Because they want to write apps! And once they switched – they found the Mac so much easier to use and a really enjoyable experience.
2. Download the SDK
Apple distributes an iPhone app software development kit (SDK). You will definitely need to download this one and read it cover to cover. Don’t worry, it’s more complex than it seems. Give it time and you’ll soon be on the app development bandwagon.
3. Learn Objective-C
Mac programs are written in Objective-C Apple also introduced a special abstraction API for Objective-C called Cocoa Touch for iPhone (and iPod Touch) development.
Objective-C will come naturally to those who have programmed in C, C++ or Java before. Now, if you are new to programming, Objective-C can be a challenge.
Try to get hold of a basic programming book before diving into the nuts and bolts of Objective-C. One of the better books for learning Objective-C is Programming in Objective-C by Stephen G. Kochan. It does not assume that you have any prior knowledge in this area.
4. Become a Certified Apple Developer
It takes some time to become an approved developer for Apple apps. Many people do not know this. I hear there is a six month waiting list to get approved as a developer. Some have speculated that the wait time may decrease now that interest in the iPhone and iPad has hit the roof worldwide.
Becoming an accepted developer only gets you into the App Store. Of course, this is the only way to distribute your applications, so it is a necessary part of the process.
5. Research your app
As with everything related to software development, the goal of your app will be to provide a solution to a set of end users.
Be sure to research your app. There’s no point in just jumping in to write apps that don’t meet any user needs. A year ago, you could easily write an app that did something silly (eg make a fart noise) and expect people to download it. It’s not going to happen anymore. If you want an app that’s popular, you have to make it useful.
Usually in mobile development, your audience is a person on the go. People using mobile applications want quick interactions. They definitely don’t want to type a Word document on the go. They want to do useful things at the touch of a button or two.
The second tip I have is to think of the Apple iPhone as a pocket computer. For example, successful applications like Pandora that have typically struggled in a desktop setting are now flourishing as a pocket computing solution. When planning your application, think about what is unique to the iPhone that can be used in your app.
6. Write for portability
What do I mean by portability? Well, depending on which frameworks (main components of the iPhone SDK) are used in your application, your app may not work on all iPhone devices. For example, an application that uses the camera, compass, or microphone will work on an iPhone but not on an iPod touch.
Now, it’s OK to write an app that’s limited to the iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS – but my feeling is that you’ll miss out on a potential portion of target users.
7. Always document your ideas
Before you commit any code to your new project, spend some time documenting your end-user experience. This does not have to be a long claim document. It could be as simple as writing down some notes on paper or sketching some drawings.
There is actually a great sketching product out there called UI Stencils that allows you to mock up a screen design on paper. I love it and highly recommend it for app development.
8. Provide a good user experience
When you start looking at Apple documentation, a recurring theme you’ll see is reference to a document called the Human Interface Guidelines (HIG). Essentially, this is the master document for how your iPhone application should look and behave. Be sure to familiarize yourself with it.
It is also important to download and try other apps made by other leading developers. To ensure a good user experience in your app, ask yourself why these applications are leading and what elements they used to create a good experience. Also check out usability expert Jakob Nielsen’s ideas.
9. Data management
Oh, before I forget, one of the most complex things you will have to consider is data management. If your app is a basic utility (eg a calculator), don’t worry about storing data. If you’re building an app that connects to an Internet-based service, you’ll connect to these online resources through web services. Your third option would be to store user data on the device using the Core Data Framework.
10. Manage memory and battery life
Those who are a bit more technical will understand what I mean by memory and battery life. Note that there is no garbage collection for iPhone. Garbage collection is a programming term that means if your program has a “memory leak,” it can cause the iPhone to eventually crash without warning.
Also, be aware that certain iPhone features will use more battery life than others. For example, applications that stream data from the Internet or make extensive use of the Core Location Framework (eg GPS) will drain battery life more quickly.
I certainly hope this article has given you an overview of the things you need before writing an Apple app.
There are quite a few things you need – including a Mac OS X computer, Objective-C know-how, UI design experience. But if you’re serious about your app development journey, you shouldn’t be deterred.
Learn a little every day and I guarantee you’ll be a pretty expert developer in no time!
Next time I will write some articles on how to actually program an app in Xcode tools and Objective-C. Until then, have fun learning how to develop these apps!
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