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

So you want to make an iPhone app. Or more specifically, you want to hire someone else to make an iPhone app for your company. It isn't easy, which is why we split this into a more digestible two-part bite-size series of posts.

Yesterday I spoke with Randall Cross, iPhone development firm Ethervision's president, about what entrepreneurs should bear in mind when hunting for coders to make an iPad or iPhone app to supplement your business. Today, Cross offers a questionnaire you should use on the handful of companies you've narrowed it down to.

Given that the price range can vary so much depending on your needs, and there's still a relative ignorance about what goes into making apps, what are some signs people should look out for so they're not being taken for a ride? Are there warnings that people aren't being talked into car-lot tactics like paying for the app-equivalent of undercoating?

Randall Cross: Just keep asking tough questions of the developer. I think that would help weed out the BS from the real folks. This won't be forever, but people say they'll go offshore. With Elance and all these sites you can find developers, but the problem is they'll agree to the project, start working on it, and you'll start to see results. They'll keep getting that money from you but at some point you'll realize that everything in there was faking the functionality, not actually doing it. That's actually the extreme case. The worst offender is probably India.

People come to us almost in tears, because they're a project manager and they chose the cheaper route overseas. We look at the code and are like, "Dude, this isn't even the underpinning of the app. These are just videos simulating your app. We're gonna have to start from scratch."

But I think there are some good questions to ask them to get the vibe: When did you publish your first publication? That will help you determine whether they're a web developer or are they just putting iPhone development as their fifth capability because it's the hottest growing market right now.

Ask them when they published their first app. Hopefully they have a track record for a couple years and they were in early. The earlier they say, the more faith you should have. In the earlier days, rejection from Apple was much higher and you wouldn't really know why you were getting rejected. We got a lot of gray hairs and gray whiskers just trying to put our head in theirs, like, "Okay, are we taking too much bandwidth from the phone?"

[Another one is] what's your development process? With the iPhone/iPad, whereas websites, it's like writing a final essay for your college English exam, an app is like condensing that into the tightest 200 words you can, like a poem, and still getting every point across. The screen is so small, you have to get rid of all the redundancies. But that'll help you figure out how smart or loosey-goosey they are.

[Also ask if] Apple has featured your app on their homepage or iTunes store? Or if they're a big guy, did you have a commercial? Any developer worth their chops hopefully will have at least a couple features. We've been featured 25 times now over three years. If they have been featured, then ask them why they think they've been featured. Apple tends to pick things that highlight something with their device.

Ask about their philosophy of user interface. That's really important to the success of the app. If the user really knows what they're getting, then they can get the information quickly.

Ask if they outsource their development at all. Some countries are definitely better than others. Hopefully they don't, or they do it around the US.

What three apps best represent your design and interface philosophy? So you can actually play with their apps and getting acquainted with how they approach the user interface.

Ask if they've had any apps rejected. This is a trick question, but it'll show if they have those gray hairs. Anyone who's been around for a year or a year and a half has at least one good rejection story. You learn a lot in the rejection because Apple's guidelines were changing especially in that first year constantly. Asking that is an indirect way of finding out if they're boys or men in the category.

Ask along the way if they offer any category or marketing advice. There's 400,000 apps now, or thereabouts. Now, to be successful, with some exceptions, there's still the diamond in the rough that just gets lucky and gets picked up right away. Now that there's so many apps, and Angry Birds and that Smurfs game from big publishers dominate, it's really hard to establish yourself if you don't have some successful apps in there to market your new apps. If you're gonna make an app, you should set aside money to have a seriously good marketing plan. 

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