Mobile App Development: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly — #CreativeTribes AMA with Ramon C. Pastor
Earlier this year, #CreativeTribes hosted an AMA Live Chat with Ramon C. Pastor, co-founder and CEO of Rogomi, Inc., a cross-platform mobile app development company based in the Philippines. Ramon is, like all of our AMA presenters, a fellow member of the #CreativeTribes Slack community.
After graduating from the Ateneo de Manila University, the Philippines’ third-oldest university, Ramon worked for six years as IT Manager at a manufacturing company as well as Business Development Manager at an IT company before co-founding Rogomi. Since releasing his first iOS app on the App Store in May 2009, Ramon has developed numerous apps and given countless talks on mobile development. He’s also delivered basic iOS development seminars at various universities and corporate-sponsored events. In August 2013, he was chosen by Nokia as one of ten global developers to join the Nokia Imaging SDK team in Lund, Sweden to participate in the exclusive Future/Capture Hackathon.
In this article, we’ve distilled the essence of all that Ramon shared during our #CreativeTribes AMA Live Chat with him.
On getting started with mobile app development
I started studying iPhone development in 2008, and released my first iPhone app in mid-2009. I was a new programmer. I didn’t have a technical degree, so I studied programming on my own. I bought Stephen Kochan’s Objective-C book and studied Apple’s docs on iPhone development.
Then, when the first iPhone app development book was released by Dave Mark and Jeff LaMarche, I bought it as well. I’d got an iPod touch in early 2008, and I loved it. So, when Apple announced that they would start allowing native app development, I jumped right in. I bought an iPhone when I realized that I loved the platform, and I haven’t looked back since. I think it took me around six months being comfortable with programming in Objective-C before I wrote my first app.
On what inspired that first mobile app
The first app I did was called WalletWhiz. It’s still on the Apple store, but I haven’t really added much to it. My eldest kid was very young at that time, so I was very conscious of my finances. So, I said, might as well do a budgeting app. It never really generated much revenue or downloads.
But, it got Ramon started in the business. And in 2009, he founded Rogomi, the company he’s been running ever since.
On why particular businesses should consider developing a mobile app
Asked whether apps connected to an existing business are downloaded more than standalone apps, Ramon replied:
That depends. Facebook was able to leverage its user base to grow the downloads of the standalone Messenger app. But WhatsApp and Instagram weren’t exactly household names when they grew their user base. However, these days, I think brand recognition is critical because of the sheer number of apps available.
And what types of businesses do you think benefit the most from having an app alongside a website?
Businesses that need to place lots of real-time and/or offline data would benefit from an app alongside a website. The combination of push notifications and offline data is, for me, the key deciding factor between having a mobile app or a mobile website developed. For example, chat apps and social networks, which rely on users being able to communicate in real-time with each other, would definitely need an app more than a website. Another factor is location tracking and/or monitoring. Companies that need to monitor their sales and delivery teams would definitely need an app more than a website.
On why Rogomi shifted from developing their own apps to doing so for third-party clients
Since 2010, we’ve focused our efforts on building apps for clients, so I’m the only one updating our in-house apps. It was a financial decision. We were making decent money from projects, and our in-house apps weren’t really generating enough revenue. So, we made a decision to build a team of devs to focus on contract work instead.
However, I still want to build my own “next big thing” app. One day, hopefully.
On why some mobile apps make money
I guess it depends on the app. The in-house [Rogomi] apps were fairly simple and lacked polish since I was a new programmer at that time. I believe people will spend money on an app when it provides a benefit that’s worth paying for. Or, when the app provides a good platform for consuming exclusive high-quality content — whether video, news, and the like.
As for myself, I’ve mostly spent money on mobile games and video-streaming app subscriptions. Though there are a couple of productivity apps I’ve spent money on as well — like Duet, Screens, Dropbox, etc.
Tecarta is doing it right — provide just enough free content so people can see that it’s worthwhile to pay for more. Freemium works as long as it’s implemented tastefully and in a reasonable manner.
My startup clients offer their apps for free, since most of them are platforms. However, some of my bigger clients, like Cambridge University Press, sell their apps.
On how a non-coding entrepreneur should go about deciding whether, and how, to develop a mobile app
I suggest that you sit down with the rest of the team and ask yourselves: why do you need an app? From there, you can determine what are the most important things your app should provide for your target market. Basically, what needs will the app address?
Once you nail down these needs, you can now discuss these with a technical person — who, by the way, doesn’t necessarily have to be an app developer. A generalist might be fine. This technical person can take a look at your requirements, and give advice on whether an app, a website, or both options would be best. Besides a technical person, you’d also need to discuss these things with a UX person.
On how to go about developing one’s first app
For a first-time app developer, my advice would be to look at the current app markets and see if there’s a need that isn’t being addressed. Also, even if a particular need is already being addressed, maybe you can think of a better way to address it.
- Do’s — do your research, study the market, choose the right platform and tools, and ensure that good UX/UI practices are observed
- Don’ts — don’t start coding right away, don’t market only after the app is done, and don’t settle for the cheapest provider/solution
Sadly, some of my previous clients learned that the hard way. They had to close their start-ups after failing to gain traction.
On the good, bad and ugly of mobile app development
When one AMA participant chimed in with the following question: “Is there anything you dislike about iOS development?”, Ramon had this to say:
At first, I found the review process of Apple cumbersome, especially when I was starting out and had to wait quite some time before updates were approved. Also, my second app, DeskWhiz, got rejected because of misuse of frameworks, so I wasn’t able to implement exactly what I wanted. However, these days, the process has greatly improved, at least in terms of speed and transparency.
After being asked about the title of the AMA itself, Ramon rattled this off:
Great question. Here’s the short version:
- Good — wonderful platforms, amazing development tools, appreciative and engaged users (for “direct” devs), fantastic and exciting clients (for contract work)
- Bad — saturated in certain genres, difficult to market and generate consistent revenue
- Ugly — unreasonable clients (for contract work), and finicky/troll users (for “direct” devs)
Overall, at least for me, the good outweighs the bad and the ugly!
On fielding “crazy” app ideas
I often offer advice purely on a technical level since I believe that my clients are more familiar with their respective fields. However, sometimes, when I see something really “crazy”, I do step in and offer unsolicited advice.
On where Rogomi is going from here
I think Rogomi can only grow exponentially if we build a platform for clients rather than just “one-off” projects. Something that clients would really find useful and essential to their business. Consultancy and development for a monthly fee rather than one-time fees would be ideal.
And, on a personal level, I’d like to dabble in either a health or fintech-related app.
On what percentage of apps fly/don’t fly after a certain length of time
In most cases, we don’t get direct access to the downloads and analytics of our clients’ apps. But based on gut feel, apps that don’t take off within the first six months end up getting scuttled.
On the mobile app industry outlook
I think heath plus wearables is still an under-tapped market. I’m seriously considering creating something in that space within the next few months.
AR and VR are exciting, but the hardware isn’t there yet — it’s too cumbersome, too demanding, etc.
Smart homes and cars seem promising, but I think those won’t generate enough app revenue in the near future. Maybe in three years’ time?
In any case, the key is disruption.
If there’s a big enough “traditional” market that could be disrupted by an app-based platform, then that’s something we all need to keep an eye on!