How hard is it to make money developing an iPhone or iPad app?

Joe Videtto July 17, 2011

I’ve dappled with programming, and every once in a while I have an idea for an app that I don’t see on the market. However, not the confidence I can develop, market, sell and make money from it, which I’d really like to do, along with the dream of making some real money from it.

What percentage of developers are making more than $100,000 from selling iPhone or iPad apps? How hard is it to make money in that business? Is it as hard as becoming a pop music star, like Lady Gaga or Madonna?

  1. AS
    June 19, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    This app is quite interesting, it let the user count fake money on the retina display, but the developer makes the REAL money from it.

  2. Elmassous
    November 4, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    There are numbers to answer that question easily: now over half-million apps and only top 75 are actually selling ! So that would give you a 1/25,000 chance to sell your app. And this chance is decreasing day by day, as developpers (and wanabes) are getting into it, thinking they could spend a few days writing something original that would sell a million times. But if you go through the net and Apple revenues, you'll discover that people (like you and me) are NOT buying iphone apps/games...They would download free apps and demos, then trash it. People are buying songs however. So you'll have more chance to come up with a new song instead :)
    Apple is making money through its sales of hardware and a little through music, that's it. Apps and games are not even in the Apple revenu indexes...This would tell a lot.
    But as far as making money with iphone apps/games, you have more chances playing poker on the web..easier to learn, and more people there are into it, more money is spend to share...:)

    • James Bruce
      November 5, 2011 at 9:23 am

      Where on earth did you get numbers like that?! Serriously, only 75 apps making money? You know, if you'd have made up a more believeable number like 750, and justified it with  "making over $1000/month" or something reasonable, I might have fallen for it. As it is, I think you just made those numbers up. Prove me wrong with a link and a source, please. 

      Apart from which, I think you're missing the point. The app store is floody with mediocre crap from people who think you can make a quick buck, but the reality is indeed far from that. Like anything in life, you're not going to make money selling something that sucks (actually, I lie, many people do, but… you get my point)

      • Joe Videtto
        June 2, 2012 at 10:42 am

        "Prove me wrong with a link and a source, please."

        I love this line - it's a gentle way of showing skepticism while holding out hope that a claim is true, and hopefully - without annoying or insulting the person you're talking to so that they don't want to stop talking to you. In fact, I've often annoyed people by asking the same type of questions with good intentions, but I guess in the most undiplomatic way, inviting a negative or defensive reaction.

        I plan to use this line more often (maybe even look for a gentler way to ask the same). I will credit you when I use it !!!

      • Joe Videtto
        June 2, 2012 at 10:50 am

        Wow - going back to this thread really gave me some more food for thought, but the most interesting - if as few people are making money on Apps as was suggested here, is the genius of Apple in getting people to work for free !!! The quality of apps in the app store is a big part of the attraction of Apple products, and they've gotten people to compete with each other, almost for free (because of the popularity of the device and the dangling carrot of making some bucko dollars by writing and selling your own given the large number of devices out there). This competition and low cost app development is precisely a huge part of the Apple Business Model to ensure the existence of useful, high quality apps - genius, I guess.

        Bruce - could you share the most useful links or books you've found most useful that would help me get started in Apple Apps development ? (or maybe - I'll just focus on writing that hit song
        ; ), but I thing if we investigate the odds of making money on a song vs. an App given the competition, the App would come out as the better bet.

        • James Bruce
          June 2, 2012 at 10:55 am

          Actually, I don't develop so I'm not sure of the best resources for learning. I pay others to write apps for me ;)]

          One site I can say I really like is this one: - really good tutorials there for getting your first app.

    • sebastian
      February 16, 2012 at 4:22 am

      I get your point. To be honest with you I would like to develop my own application to have it on my iPad with things that I'm particularly interested in, but here interfere another inconvenience that Apple should look into it, and that is they should wave the $99 fee as long as a developer doesn't want to sell it, unfortunately developers cannot even try their apps on a real iPhone or iPad if they don't enroll in the Apple developer program, which kind of it really sucks. First you have to spend quite a bit in books, classes and so on, and after that pay annual rent to Apple because they offer "free" compiler Xcode to make it happen...come on. In other words this is a huge business for Apple versus huge loss for developers who indeed don't make any money out of it. I can't say if your statistic is accurate however is much closer to the reality than fantasy. I do believe the web apps for iPad is going to be the future, too much control from Apple. Ironically Steve Jobs considered himself a free unconformist spirit all his life...yet brooding passionately this controlled environment...hmm, funny cause I was just going back to the Big Brother in my mind, and I could have bet my life 30 years ago that Bill Gates would harbor these is a real trip, isn't it?

      • James Bruce
        February 20, 2012 at 2:30 pm

        You can learn from the internet, develop in XCode, and test in the simulator - all for free. Waiving a fee just because you don't want to sell it is a ridiculous idea that would enable thousands of *free* malware apps on the store. 

        • Sebastian
          February 20, 2012 at 2:59 pm

          Well, the point was to develop my application and use it myself on my iPad or Iphone everyday, with no intentions for selling it, and for that I have to pay $99 a year to Apple Inc. The simulator is confined to the Xcode environment for debugging purposes, and it goes no further than that,  hence no welcome to non-profit developers. 

        • James Bruce
          February 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm

          I see your logic there, but that would basically open up the iPad for anyone to install anything they got the source code to. The reason for needing to be a paid developer is that iOS only runs signed applications - when you're a developer, running on your own device, the code is still signed, and an ad-hoc certificate must be installed. 

          The only solution would be to offer free developer accounts, with which you could sign your code but not sell on iTunes store. That would be perfect for you, but I think the majority of developers would have no use for that, so the costs of implementing it just don't add up. 

          Realistically though - couldn't you just jailbreak your device, compile your app, and then install it that way?

        • Christianmaleot-12
          March 1, 2012 at 7:45 pm

          So hiring a website developer for a foreseen opportunity is not worth it?!

        • James Bruce
          March 2, 2012 at 9:20 am

          Christian, I'm not sure if this relevant in this particular thread of the conversation, but I'll respond anyway. 

          I didnt say hiring a developer for a good opportunity is not worth it. I simply said be realistic. The chances of that idea actually being worth anything are very slim. To develop and market it, you would need a significant amount of money. It's a big risk to take just because you have an idea you think might work. 

  3. Joe
    July 26, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Thanks for you inputs - interesting that they don't publish that information about the type of money to be made developing apps.  I guess the part of the reason it's so hard to make money is that there are so many experienced developers available and publishing so many apps - great for the consumer, difficult for the developers. Your points about the level of commitment involved and the learning curve are well taken.  Thanks for you inputs.

  4. Mike
    July 17, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    I agree with James ~ before you will ever make money with an iPhone/iPad app you will actually have to spend some (iOS Developer Program) and invest a lot of time into it. 

    Also the entire process is not that simple as putting some ZIP download on a homepage. There are a lot of processes involved not to mention the App Store Approval you have to pass.

    Here is a nice little article about becoming a developer:

    I don't know of any statistics on this topic but I'm confident to say that 60% of the developers quit before their App was ever available on the iTunes Store. And the ever-changing App guidelines together with things Apple decides to put into iOS (see iOS 5 features discussions) another 20% are out of the game before ever making notable money with their Apps.

    Last but not least ~ having an idea is not everything. You also need a market, a target audience. Something you may think "that's cool, I want this on my iPhone" doesn't mean anyone else thinks so.

    I really don't want to sound discouraging ~ I'm just trying to say in length that a year may pass before you hit your 10th download on the iTunes Store (especially if it's not free).

    • Mike
      July 17, 2011 at 11:08 pm

      One more thing ~ you need a Mac! No Xcode and iOS Development on Windows

      • KevinNOSPAMjgunn
        December 4, 2011 at 10:18 pm

        Not true!  I'm doing it on Windows. 

        • Mike
          December 4, 2011 at 11:22 pm

          Yes, you can develop Apps on Windows, you can even compile them on Windows.

          But as far as I know there is no way around Xcode if you want your App to be approved for the iOS App Store.

        • Joe Videtto
          June 2, 2012 at 10:36 am

          Mike - same question as for Kevin - how what do I need to do it in Windows - are there any links you can share to get me started ?

        • Joe Videtto
          June 2, 2012 at 10:36 am

          Kevin - how what do I need to do it in Windows - Can you also see how the runtime will look ?

  5. James Bruce
    July 17, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    No one has those figures you're asking for, but I would estimate less than 0.1% of developers make that, and most of those didnt start out with the idea of making money. Like being a pop star, you start making money if someone important notices you - a famous blog or something. You dont neccessarily need the best product, you just need to be noticed and promoted well. God knows, the majority of todays pop stars are complete crap, but the radios play them so people buy them. 

    I will say one thing though - a great idea is only 1% of the work involved. If you want to try programming, learn to develop in XCode etc, then I applaud that , good on you! However, absolutely do not go into it thinking you will ever make money from it, because you wont. 

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