I recently finished reading Appillionaires by Chris Stevens. I picked the book up at the library while browsing and I’m glad I did.
From the title, I was a little worried that the book was going to veer straight into “guru” territory. In my mind, Appillionaires evokes a strong emotional reaction that aligns with the perception that a lot of people have of developers in the mobile device age. I was concerned that the book was going to minimize the effort that the top mobile developers put into their successful products and make it seem like anyone can strike it rich on the app store.
My initial impressions couldn’t have been more wrong. This is one book that really can’t be judged by its cover.
Appillionaires starts by telling the story of the Apple app store, and software in general. It explains the democratization of software sales and goes into detail about how Apple acts as publisher for small independent developers, allowing them to reach the widest possible audience. If you’re familiar with the app store as a sales platform, you can probably skip the opening chapter and not miss anything.
I was a little surprised that there wasn’t a larger discussion surrounding the 30% cut that Apple takes on all app sales. The book stresses the $99 fee that registered developers are required to pay to submit and distribute their apps but only covers the publishing fee (which is essentially what that cut is) very briefly. Honestly, I think this publishing fee is an important part of the equation for those looking to make money on the app store and would have liked to see some more commentary about it.
After the overview, the book features several highly successful developers, one developer/team per chapter, and describes the apps they produced, what led them to build the app, and the effect the app’s success has had on their lives. Also covered in each chapter is some background on the developers and information about their past experience and future plans.
I love reading success stories, so I really enjoyed the content contained in these chapters. I liked learning about the people behind some of the most popular iOS apps and the effect their success has had on them and their family. That being said, every chapter basically boiled down to three points:
- You should have prior skill in management or development before trying to make apps
- You need to really have a passion about what you’re working on because building a hit app is more like playing a slightly stacked lottery than anything else
- You are going to work really hard on something to make sure it is awesome, and even then you might not have the success you were hoping for
I don’t think these are bad points to make. Anyone recommending hard work as a method for success is perfectly OK in my book. Still, it left me wanting more. I feel like there must be other stories to be told. The book concentrated on small teams who build (almost exclusively) games. Are there developers who are living off of other types of apps? Are there non-developers having success with outsourcing their ideas (reliably)? I would have liked to read those stories.
After the success stories, the book briefly covered the gold rush mentality that has started to affect the app store ecosystem. Huge venture capital investments, trust fund kids who want to build apps, people pitching developers ideas at parties, huge publishers (EA, Activision, etc) entering the market, and downward price pressure based on consumer expectation – each of these things got a small section. I didn’t find this latter content as valuable as the rest of the book because I don’t think there are a lot of lessons to be learned.
I really liked Appillionaires and would recommend it if you’re looking for some inspiration. I didn’t really learn anything new, but I enjoyed reading the success stories the book contains. I wish there were more varied examples of successful developers, but what is there is pretty great. That being said, I didn’t find the beginning or end of the book very valuable – there just wasn’t a lot of insight or noteworthy content.