Can you get rich by inventing an app?

Nick Booth
money getty 300x225 Can you get rich by inventing an app?

(Getty Images)

Most of us have crazy ideas for apps that we’re convinced will go global and made us millionaires. I tend to get mine just as the barman is ordering me to go home and I never get to write them down. The other time apps come to me is when I’m exasperated with my shopping experience. Why oh why don’t they stack the cornflakes next to the milk? Why hasn’t anyone mapped out the layout of Waitrose so I can get round quicker? But even if I remember my WaitNav invention when I get home, I don’t have the skills or the oomph to chivvy someone into making it.

So, as learning exercise in how to create apps, here’s some feedback from a professional app developer on the practicalities. I’m indebted to development boss Mike Gamaroff (boss of the professional app building agency of that name) for his advice on app making. I hope this knowledge helps you fulfill your own promise!

App Idea: The Triumph Car buying App

Remember how Triumph had the bra for the way you are? What if they had an app that measured up your driving skills and found you a fitting car? The majority of people buy a car that they are completely unsuited to. Few Jaguar drivers ever go over 30, hardly any BMWs drivers can take a corner without hitting the brakes, and nobody needs a Range Rover to drive to Waitrose. This app would assess anyone’s driving style and match them to an appropriate vehicle.

How? The app runs on a device, an iPhone perhaps, or on onboard computer, that somehow measures how you take turns, how often you break, how quickly you pull off as the lights change and whether you hog the middle lane of the motorway.

How easy would it be to make?

Gamaroff’s verdict: You would use GPS technology for this and can use it to pull off lots of data on how fast you’re going, braking speed, acceleration speed, how fast you’re going round corners etc. You could also get it to map your route over time. So if you take two half-hour journeys every day in streets with a 30 mph speed limit, you won’t be allowed a Jag.

As an iPhone app this could work if rested in a standard phone holder on the front of the dashboard. As long as the app also asked the driver questions about their lifestyle, such as their income and objectives, so give a more holistic summary.

How long would it take?

Gamaroff’s verdict: Building an app like this could take anything up to two or three months, if you allow a period for testing. If it’s going to be an iOS app you’d need to allow up to a month for it to get approved by the App Store.

What are the chances of success?

Gamaroff’s verdict: It’s a good idea in theory and if it was a free app it could serve as a nice marketing tool for a car brand – say Toyota – for recommending you a particular model. If not used by a car manufacturer it could be picked up by a different type of brand – like the AA or RAC – to prescribe you a certain type of car (based on size of car, engine size and features). It would be impossible, marketing-wise, to have it completely impartial to different brands but an interesting marketing tool. It could also be embedded into a Sat-Nav esque app, which provides a main value, but also uses the background data to recommend you switch cars.

What are the hidden obstacles?

Gamaroff’s verdict: Manipulating the GPS technology to fit with the exact objectives of the task. Obviously building a technology completely bespoke to the app would need considerable research and development by the brand itself which would take a long time and a lot of money. This is the kind of thing that’s quite gimmicky (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing if it works well) and more of a PR activity. So the main issue would be extracting meaningful data from the GPS mechanism – making the data that we do get into something meaningful to the user.

Is there any market for it?

Gamaroff’s verdict: It won’t be profitable but it might look good on your CV. If it’s free it’s more likely to get picked up and it’s the kind of thing that would get good PR and be a good branding exercise. If you can make it social – for example a user downloads it, tries it out and gets recommended Toyota’s newest shiniest model – you can share this on Facebook, which would encourage the spread of downloads amongst friends. With the advent of Internet connected cars we are not far from seeing this type of technology embedded into the car itself.

So, it won’t make a profit, but it might be a good form of promotion. I’m half tempted to give this a go!

More tips on developing your own shopping apps in my next blog.

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  • OhThisBloodyPC

    If you want some pointers on getting your app developed, I can happily oblige.

    The point of this article was to try and explain some of the pitfalls. But there’s too many to list here.

    I’d be only too happy to help if you need more information. That’s sort of my job. It’s tough getting apps made, and sadly there are loads of cowboys out there.

  • How_delightful

    50/50 ?
    I provide the concept (and material), you write the (Simple) app?

  • OhThisBloodyPC

    I’d love to write the app. But by the time I’d written it, the world would be a completely different place.

    I do know people who can do it much more efficiently. Some are in the Ukraine. Some in India. Some in UK. The tough bit is expressing your ideas clearly enough for them to interpret. Which is difficult, even when you speak the same language.

  • Jane Rimmer

    Interesting article, and unlike some of the other comments, the title and content do connect for me! There are many small app entrepreneurs out there but I don’t know of any personally that have made it to the big profit time.

  • OhThisBloodyPC

    Thanks Jane,
    I did meet a Swedish teenager who created an app for a beer promotion that went ballistic. (He used the tilt mechanism to programme an iPhone to look like a glass of Heineken. Or was it Kronenbourg) Whatever. He made a fortune, but only because a big London ad agency paid him a bucket load of money to do it.
    That was in the early days of mobile phone apps. These days, like everything else, all the people with money control the apps market. So it’s difficult to be an overnight sensation with an app you created in your back bedroom. But the myth that anyone can become a millionaire still persists.

  • Peter Snelson

    usual constructive comment…love the indie for that.

  • ExPatJoe

    That’s rich coming from you…

  • ExPatJoe

    You should try reading some of my other posts – mostly informative, very few complaints (unless warranted).

    As for the use of “connect” equating to creepiness, that’s a leap in anybody’s book.

    I notice, by the way, that some of your replies here include personal insults and put downs. That’s usually a sign that you don’t have much to say.

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