How to Pick an iPhone App Developer (Part 1 of 2)

If you're an entrepreneur, chances are you're ambitious. And if you're ambitious with high hopes for your new or established venture, chances are you've entertained the idea of building an iPhone app to supplement your online or brick-and-mortar existence. But if you're not a coder or fluent in iOS terminology at all, it's tempting to just curl up into the fetal position after Googling "Chicago iPhone app developers." What do you look for? How can you tell when you're being swindled? What are the costs?

To answer these and many more questions, I got in touch with Randall Cross, president of iPhone development firm Ethervision. The local company is a veteran of the industry, developing since the concept of iOS apps first emerged a few years ago. Today Cross helps figure out how to select a developer -- tomorrow he'll tell us what to ask of potential companies to make sure you aren't being taken advantage of. 

How can folks weed out the less-efficient developers from the ones they're considering?

Randall Cross: Obviously I don't go around interviewing other companies, but based on the feedback of my clients, stuff is never on time. In the iPhone world it's even tougher. People have to remember it's a three-year-old industry that exploded overnight. Apple obviously invented it and Android is on their heels.

But the difference between a decent coder and a really good one is the good one will find any creative way he or she can to get the job done. A lot of times what seems straightforward, once apps get really technical or heavy in multimedia, things just don't work as planned or as they should. To have that strong will to just push through to the very end and make it a really quality app, there's not a lot of folks who hold those credentials.

Since this is such a young industry and there's still a strong aversion some people have to learning about tech stuff, what expectations should businesses not have when hiring a developer?

That's actually a really good question and it's something we get over and over and over. So many companies come to us and they want, "Can you do everything that my website does?" Or there's four main screens and five sub-tabs. The problem with that is that users [want] really clean user interface and simplicity. We tell clients, "Look, you can go for it and try to get all this stuff in there, but what's the core functionality or the most important thing your users can do? Start there. We'll act as your sherpas."

Keep it simple. The client, and the bigger companies are the most egregious at this, what they think their customers and users want isn't actually what they want. The companies are in the Blackberry culture, and Blackberry has not nailed apps at all. [Laughs.] One could argue they completely dropped the ball.

But keeping it simple, and having really clean user interface so the user just swipes, swipes. Everything needs to be one second away. You're going in, boom, you're going out.

People are not afraid to give feedback in this day and age. They will help bring you home and let you know where you need to go from there. But if you try to do too much, guess where they're going to spend 94.8 percent of their time: on the first tab on the first page.

What should people expect to budget for in hiring a developer?

It's impossible to gauge. If you want an app that's a level, where you're just using the gyroscope, that'll probably take us under a week. If you want a social app that feeds into Facebook and Twitter and you can upload videos and it's totally multimedia and it's got badges and stuff, you're looking in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It totally varies. I would say generally for companies for smaller stuff? At least $20,000 or $25,000.

Are you the barbershop down the street who wants a one-page little brochure app? Or are you Honda or BMW who wants the car-matching kit that you can share with friends instantly and also have augmented reality? The core thing people need to understand on iPhone/iPad versus desktop is it's so dynamic because you've got gyroscopes in there and a camera. A lot of computers, especially Macs, have cameras. But that's always sitting on your desk; an iPad/iPhone can move around and use it like binoculars.

We mentioned earlier how Android is growing in being a viable alternative to the iPhone. Should companies consider doing both, or just one platform?

It depends. I say just stick to iPhone or iPad because, in my opinion, and I am biased, but the things you can do with the iPhone and iPad, and the amount of resources that the device can allocate to each app is awesome. There's nothing with those you can't do. So there's no reason to say, "If you're on an Android do this. If you're on an iPhone do this."

If you're more to the consumer, I would start with iPhone/iPad. I personally don't think it makes sense to do them both at the same time because you're always making tweaks and refinements.

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