Creating a Number One iTunes App: Two Success Stories

Creating the next number one application in the iTunes App Store has become the most coveted goal among iPhone developers. It provides a way to get their Paid or Free app noticed and further ensures the success of their application.

TrismSteve Demeter and Ethan Nicholas are just two of the developers whose apps have reached the coveted position of Number One Top Paid App.

Steve Demeter is the owner of Demiforce and the developer of the iPhone game Trism. Development of Trism began in February of 2008, and it was release in July with the opening of the iTunes App Store. Originally, it was priced at $4.99; currently it costs $2.99. Trism is a game that is similar to Bejeweled but incorporates the use of the accelerometer. In September, an article on announced that Trism had brought in over $250,000 since its release. Steve hasn’t released any updated numbers, but had the sales continued, he would bring in around $2 million this coming July.

Trism (left) is an award-winning puzzle game similar to Bejeweled.

iShootiShoot was originally released in the App Store back on October 19, 2008. Over Christmas, developer Ethan Nicholas continued work on the app and released a free version of the program, iShoot Lite, on January 3, 2009. Within 10 days, the paid version of iShoot came out of nowhere, and knocked off the reigning Number One Top Paid App, iFart, with over 16,972 downloads in a single day. On top of that, iShoot Lite took over the Number One Top Free App as well. Becoming Number One produced roughly $21,000-a-day sales for Ethan’s $2.99 app.

iShoot (right) became more successful when the developer
released a free version of the program.

Its worth noting that for an app to reach the acclaimed Number One Top Paid App or Number One Top Free App, it would need at minimum 10,000 downloads. That stat is defined by how many units you’ve sold in the previous day, NOT the amount of money you’ve made.

IS the road to Number One still open for independent developers?

Let’s take a look at road Steve and Ethan traveled to reach the coveted Number One spot. Trism release coincided with the opening of the App Store. As soon as this happened, iPhone users started downloading and raving about this $4.99 game. It quickly became a hit.

On the other hand, iShoot was released in mid-October and was not an immediate hit. It wasn’t until the free version of the game, iShoot Lite, was released almost three months later that iPhone users got excited. Excellent reviews were posted and word spread on various Web sites, causing both versions of the game to shoot up from the bottom of the list and take over the Number One Top Paid and Top Free App spot.

The App Store’s phenomenal success has attracted the attention of larger software companies, which are in many ways better suited to compete in the iPhone app arena. They have more resources at their disposal, they can wait longer for their app to turn a profit, and they can afford to price it lower or release a free version of the app to encourage downloads. How will smaller, independent developers fare in the increasingly cut-throat world of iPhone apps?

Smaller, independent developers need to distinguish their apps from the flood of titles being submitted into the App Store. They must not only compete will in terms of quality and innovation, they must compete on the level of price. They face a Catch 22 situation. They put a lot of time and effort into developing an app and need to recoup their investment. But if they sell it for what they consider a fair, but somewhat higher price, they run the risk of falling into the depths of the unknown apps.

Steve and Ethan both found a way to rise to that coveted Number One position; each with a different approach to success. Independent developers will have work hard and be creative if they hope to duplicate that success.

Small, independent software developers face challenges getting their apps noticed
Spring 2009
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