How To Create Your First iPhone App (2012 Edition)

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Update: 01/10/2012: The original version of this article by Jen Gordon was published in August 2009. It was thoroughly revised and updated by the author in September 2012. — Editorial Team

Since the iTunes App Store launched in 2008, over 500,000 apps have been approved by Apple, and thousands more app ideas are scrawled on napkins across the world every day. But question remains, how can a person with limited technical skills create an iPhone app?

How To Create Your First iPhone App1

The good news is anyone can make an iPhone app, it’s just a matter of knowing the series of actions you need to take to make it happen. Be sure to bookmark this article because it will serve as a guide for learning the process for creating your first iPhone app, going step by step from idea to the App Store.

What Is Your Goal? Link

The first thing to look at when embarking on any product development or entrepreneurial venture is your goals for the project. Having a vision of what you want to achieve at the outset is an important barometer that will confirm whether the development process is heading in the right direction.

Define Your Project Goal2

Let’s look at an example. Jim is an “idea person” who wants to create an app that brings in passive income but that doesn’t require him to quit his day job. Jim understands that to achieve this goal, he will need to employ others who can do the work of updating the app, fielding customer questions, responding to feature requests, etc. If Jim hadn’t defined this goal in advance, it’s likely that he:

  • would not have planned in advance to hire help,
  • would be unhappy with the time commitment required for him to take on the work personally.

Whether you’re an individual like Jim, a marketing director, or an IT professional creating apps for internal use, having a project goal will help make your app development process a success.

Here are some examples of project goals:

  • Create an app that doesn’t require hands-on day-to-day management.
  • Create an app that becomes a full-time business for me and a team.
  • Create an app that promotes my existing product or service.
  • Create an app that is purely for fun and not for profit.

Action item: Write down the goal you hope to achieve by creating this app.

What Are Your Expectations? Link

When I consult with people who have ideas for iPhone and iPad apps, the question they most frequently ask is, “How much can I expect to make?” Unfortunately, this is difficult to answer. The following factors are unique for each application:

  • Cost to produce,
  • Popularity,
  • People responsible for managing its success.

All of these factors contribute to the financial success of your app. Base your expectations on this knowledge and on the documented proof that a wide variety of people are making profitable apps every day:

Realistic revenue projections will be different for each app, but here’s an example:

ABC application will show a profit of 10% in the first 60 days after launch, based on the success of XYZ application, which has a similar user base and functionality.

Individuals and companies alike are creating apps to solve problems and to entertain, and yet the process of making apps is still cloaked in mystery. Next, we’ll look at what goes on behind the scenes of an app’s creation and give you a step-by-step process for making your own idea a reality.

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/create-first-iphone-app.jpg
  2. 2 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/define-a-goal.png
  3. 3 http://www.gogogabi.com/
  4. 4 http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fitunes.apple.com%2Fus%2Fartist%2Flima-sky%2Fid285874818&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFQjCNHNfDb27tSOpnFjAP8GXG9S_SzGzg
  5. 5 http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/driftlab-inc./id405957092
  6. 6 http://montessorium.com/
  7. 7 http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/jesus-calling-devotional-by/id444553118?mt=8
  8. 8 http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/electronic-arts/id284800461?mt=8
  9. 9 http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/zynga/id295913422?mt=8
  10. 10 http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/mlb.com/id281969992
  11. 11 http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/disney/id284888248?mt=8

Overview of this article


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Jen Gordon is a designer, writer and founder of mobile design training site, Tapptics. She teaches Idea People how to make apps here. She teaches fellow designers and developers how to create beautiful and usable apps here.

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  1. 1

    This is great ’cause I want to learn Cocoa soon!

    2
  2. 2

    More App designers and developers should pay more attention to Point #1. The number of absolutely useless apps is amazing…

    Neat article…

    5
  3. 3

    I wish there was something like lite xampp for iPhone. I want just small app for myself, but I do not want to spend $$$ just to mess with it. sigh

    -4
  4. 4

    Awesome, as usual…!

    1
  5. 5

    What a great post. Makes me want to spend some time thinking about what I should build.

    0
  6. 6

    excellent guide!

    -3
  7. 7

    Very nice post. Will keep this in mind for a future project =)

    0
  8. 8

    This post is just so awesome!! Thanks much. Can’t help but comment here.

    -3
  9. 9

    This came just in time. Thank you very much!

    1
  10. 10

    Nice post, Jen. Great information and resources.

    Coming from one that is working on an iPhone/iTouch application myself, this article is quite beneficial to those that are not only starting out with their first app, but also to those that have done so before.

    2
  11. 11

    Christopher Waite

    August 11, 2009 4:33 am

    Nice article. If you do decide to go down the game route, you may find the following post on my blog useful. It details all of the software packages (graphics, code, sound, etc) I used to create my first iPhone game -> iPhone game development toolkit

    I promise its not self promotion, i just felt that it may complement this article for some people since it suggests the software that could be used to cover steps 8 and 9.

    0
    • 12

      it isn’t self promotion. It is actually a pretty good article on how to organize your project and get started.

      6
  12. 13

    Maybe you can suggest that SM ask the author Jen or others to write a series of articles with each article focusing on one of her points in the development process? Obviously, it would have been a very longggggggggggg article if she went into great detail on each step. Also, some people make a living as developers, designers, marketers, consultants, etc…so it might cost you to get more detailed info. ;-)

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and advice Jen!!!

    -1
  13. 14

    yah i agree with @Mike

    0
  14. 15

    @Mike you can download the SDK for free and have it declare your iPhone a “development platform” to put your test app on.

    0
    • 16

      @Parallax So, you mean that $99 for registering app store is just for marketing your program if you want at the end, is that correct?

      -1
    • 17

      No, you can’t, you need to pay at least $99 a year to put your own apps on your iPhone / iPod Touch and to submit them to the app store

      0
      • 18

        @Another Mike you can download the SDK for free and make the app. The distribution of the app to a mass audience is through iTunes store. You can only distribute through iTunes after you pay the $99 and are vetted. Sign up for a dev account here http://developer.apple.com/devcenter/ios/index.action note the register for free wording. then download the sdk (3+ gigs) and start whacking at objective C. You can publish the app you create to your i-device from the development environment.

        0
  15. 19

    Great article and well layed out. I wish I would have found this earlier on… Would have saved me some time researching all this stuff.

    I have found using Titanium a great tool that uses html and javascript to produce native iPhone and Android apps a great benefit. My two cents for somebody looking to develop cross-platform mobile apps.
    I believe the tool is produced by appcelerator.

    PS you still need xcode and android sdk..

    0
  16. 20

    Hi SM, i wondered… Is it possible to developp an iPhone app’ exclusively for my business, for a intern use only ?
    Thx, and nice post, as usual.

    0
  17. 22

    I’m in the middle of finishing up my application right now and this is very helpful. I know everyone and their mother are deving iPhone apps right now which can get discouraging but number 11 in the list is very important. Staying focus is definitely the hardest thing to accomplish. Good luck to anyone else out there deving.

    0
    • 23

      did u spend any money on making an app?..if u didnt, reply me bak how u did that….

      0
      • 24

        Apps can cost money to have built if you are limited on knowledge, but it’s still important to develop a good understanding of everything so that you can communicate effectively with a team of people. Regardless, you’ll probably have to invest in somethings, but overall if you set aside some money it shouldn’t cost too much. That’s why I like this article because you it puts a lot of focus on having everything thought out first so that you don’t waste too much time or energy. There’s also similar information here http://www.squidoo.com/makeiphoneapplication, which really goes into how to do market research and audience research.

        0
  18. 25

    Hey all thanks for the great feedback!

    This is my first article for SM so I’m happy it’s finding positive reviews. Feel free to follow me on Twitter to chat :) jen

    @itsjengordon

    0
  19. 26

    This post made it seem like a very easy process. I have been trying to come up with ideas for a while now but figured it was just krazy to get it moving forward. Thanks for the review!

    0
  20. 27

    Brendon Kozlowski

    August 11, 2009 6:09 am

    One request: The initial table under Section 1 – in both the RSS feed and on the main site page, some of the text is cut off unless I shrink my browser’s text side. Can that perhaps be fixed? Nice article though, much appreciated!

    0
  21. 28

    Good overview, but the attribution for the photo of the iPhone UI sketches is incorrect. I’m pretty sure the original photos were posted by the Cultured Code dev team here:

    http://culturedcode.com/things/iphone/makingof/

    0
  22. 29

    Step 10b: Get rejected by Apple’s App Store…

    -1
  23. 30

    Great tips. I was just about to start on my school capstone project with these tips, although I am simply newbie to iPhone development.

    Thanks.

    1
  24. 31

    We had to submit a copy of our business license in order to be “allowed” by Apple to develop an app for the iPhone. Is this still required?

    0
  25. 32

    I wish I were good at developing but I’m sure I could make something look cool. Hm.

    0
  26. 33

    This is among the best, most thorough instructions I’ve seen for getting started developing iPhone Apps. I’ll also add that a developer should add application analytics to understand how users interact with your application once released. While I work for Flurry, a free mobile application analytics provider, there are several services available. You can play around with data that has been collected from a live application to see what you can expect with Flurry Analytics at http://www.flurry.com/demo. We also have a lot of tips gathered from our development community around up-selling, cross-selling, and other in-app marketing strategies for the iPhone – all free. You can check these out at http://blog.flurry.com. Good luck with developing your apps!

    1
  27. 34

    Great article. Full of useful information!

    2
  28. 35

    When I was reading this site (ostensibly for the web design community), I can’t imagine not mentioning http://www.phonegap.com/ as a way to easily make your iPhone apps. It allows you to use web technologies to make native apps easily which utilize familiar web methods instead of having to bumble through Objective-C.

    While my company usually produces Objective-C due to past embedded experience, I can’t see that being the correct path for someone coming from the web world. If you know javascript, start with Phonegap, not with objective-C.

    0
  29. 36

    the time on the iphone in the pic! haha, i love attn to detail at SM.

    I would like to see (or even contribute to) an article on successful music branding/marketing in 2009/10. There are so many new avenues and models to explore… I have been doing a lot of research, but you guys have a knack for finding incredible content.

    0
  30. 37
  31. 38

    Ramiro Riox - rariox

    August 11, 2009 11:34 am

    Thank you for sharing this useful content! Greetings!

    0
  32. 39

    I was hoping for a simple tutorial on how to build a basic “hello world” app. This article spreads itself way too thin and doesn’t really cover any individual task very well. Boo!

    0
  33. 40

    Do you have a list of good iPhone App developers / UI designers that you would recommend?

    0
  34. 41

    I found these quite helpfull to get started with XCode specially for the iPhone; These are podcasts from the Stanford University called “iPhone Application Programming”, it’s a bundle of 10 videos, free to download (via iTunes, but that comes all with your osx for sure ;))
    http://deimos3.apple.com/WebObjects/Core.woa/Browse/itunes.stanford.edu.2024353965

    Hope it helps

    ** If the link doesn’t work, just search in the itunes store for “IPhone Application Programming”

    0
  35. 42

    This is absolutely brilliant. Thank you so much for this, it’s just what I needed!

    0
  36. 43

    thanks! great article i learn something new and fresh… need to buy first iphone and mac computer hehehe:D

    0
  37. 44

    Great tips!! Some of us Windows users want to develop programs for the Touch and iphone. I want to do more than just build apps for Android

    0
  38. 45

    Very informative and detailed article for those who are thinking about getting started. But the thing is, with the current attitude of Apple, I would risk my time and money on making a iPhone App :)

    0
  39. 46

    Hey Guys,
    I’ve got the promotion, a niche, the backend, but I’m not an iphone developper, if someone’s interest to a partnership, just shout me a mail. It’ll be a very simple app.

    -1
  40. 47

    Under programming, I highly recommend two sites for iPhone developers. One is iDevapps.com. It is geared towards general apps. The other, iDevGames.com, is aimed at game developers, as iPhone is doing some great biz in gaming. They have a large forum with many seasoned Mac programmers.

    0
  41. 48

    Great information .. Very good study plan .. was very useful for me and of course for every beginner.

    0
  42. 49

    Thx for sharing, More Infos about the iPhone here iPhone4ever

    0
  43. 50

    Great article, one of the best I have seen, and I have looked around a lot!
    Thanks Again!

    -1
  44. 51

    A spiral bound Notebook * Required. LOL

    0
  45. 52

    @Carlitto tks for the dev links!

    0
  46. 53

    >7. Sketch Out Your Idea
    Instead of buying a iPhone Stencil Kit, there is an online application http://www.balsamiq.com.
    It has sketch like graphics that allows you to input text dinamicaly into the pre-build buttons, iPhone screens and such.
    Save your mockups into image or XML files instead of a crumpled photocopy of your co-workers illegible handwriting.
    A must for every developer, all platforms, not just iPhone!

    0
  47. 54

    This is wonderful and well thought out step by step guide for the beginner and a great reminder for the rest! Thank you for the well written article, links and know how! You have included all of the elements that so many article on this subject skip right over.

    Thank you!

    0
  48. 55

    Only problem is getting a response from sites that may be able to promote or review your product. Any suggestions there?

    0
  49. 56

    Excellent article. Very impressive and the graphical resources provided are suberb.

    Michael Murdock, CEO
    DocMurdock

    0
  50. 57

    @abby re: review sites: My experience has been great with high-traffic sites like http://www.toucharcade.com, but for the most part your typical iPhone user is making purchases from their handset, not searching the web (i.e. review sites) for apps. Here’s a great article by Tim Cascio – 50 ways to promote your new iPhone app:

    0

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