How I created my first iPhone app

This morning I received a long-awaited email from Apple indicating that my app, SlimList is now available for sale in the App Store.

Early in February I was inspired to finally build an iPhone app. I’ve had countless app ideas, but this one I knew I could do, and I felt strongly that there would be a market for it. I knew from before the word go that I wasn’t going to learn how to code the app myself. I spent three miserable years of my life in college as a computer science major and I knew I didn’t want to try to learn how to code again. I don’t like coding, I suck at it, I find absolutely no fun in it, and my brain just doesn’t work that way. I greatly admire, respect and hold in high esteem those who do code. In my career I’ve really enjoyed working with developers, and I like to think they’ve enjoyed working with me. And that’s why I leave the coding to those who enjoy it and are good at it.

Years ago Elise told me she would love a simple grocery list app. She wanted one that would allow her to type or copy & paste in her grocery list items, and then be able to check off each item as they were procured in the grocery store. It’s a really simple app idea and I’ve always liked the concept. I’ve kept this app idea in the back of my head for a couple years now. When I finally had some downtime this last summer, I created a graphical workflow for the app as I had interpreted it. Once I started on the workflow design, the project started becoming fun, and I got a bit of wind in my sail. After spending a couple days on the design, I reached out to a friend who was the sales director for a local app development shop. A week later, he came back to me and said, “iOS 5 is slated to have this exact app. If you still want to do it, it’s going to cost you $20,000.”

And that totally took the wind out of my sail. A few months later, iOS 5 came out and, if I had to guess, the app that was supposed to be just like mine was ‘Reminders.’ That wasn’t the case. I kept my workflow design filed away on my computer and it wasn’t until I recently tripped over some inspiration that I decided I was just going to have my app built anyway. Reminders isn’t the same app, and there are tons of list, to-do, grocery list and getting things done apps out there, but my gut kept telling me that mine was unique because it solved MY (wife’s) specific problem. And that is how great things are created.

Late one recent evening I opened my workflow design in Photoshop and gave it a once over. I made a couple minor changes, wrote the “story” of what problem my app is supposed to solve, and then I sought a developer to help me. Two years ago I hired a developer when I barely had enough money to pay him for the work, and today that little idea has turned into a successful and profitable little side business called Scrubbly.

I consider myself very blessed to be of the “get shit done” mentality. I love having a to-do list, but I hate having stuff on said to-do list. I get things done, and this was one of those things that I had to get into motion or the mental inventory would weigh on me. Like most, there’s a small part of me that thinks, “Oh, but what if some developer steals my idea and makes millions?!” With Scrubbly, and other ventures, I’ve learned that “what if” is a leading cause of procrastination. Someone else might think my idea is great, but that’s just it, it’s my idea and vision. I’m the one that’s passionate about it. I’m the one that’s treating it like it’s my baby and will push and fight and make it happen. The passion and the enthusiasm are the driving forces behind seeing an idea through to a product. It’s all about the execution.

So while my developer was working on the nuts and bolts of the app, I worked on the other facets of the app, like graphic design, copywriting & marketing strategy. I knew I wanted a landing page website for the app, so I built that. I spent a couple hours creating and updating the copy on the site, as well as swapping out icons, updating meta data and app screenshots. I also created a couple menu items: a “buy” button (an extra call to action never hurts) and a link to watch a demonstration video. I think a demo video is a must have for most every product. I created a simple demo video of Scrubbly, and I think it really helps in showing customers what the app actually does. I did the same thing here with SlimList.

I probably spent the most time on the logo. My first inclination was to outsource the logo design, but thought I’d give it a shot first. I kind of knew what I wanted in my head, so I figured I’d try to harness my vision and get it onto my screen. My initial design idea was a list (a vector image of a piece of paper with a list written up on it) and some kind of belt or ribbon wrapped around the middle of the list to make the list look “slim.” I also knew I wanted a checkmark on the list. I didn’t know how I would go about making the ribbon to make the list look slim, so I started playing around with general button shapes and checkmarks. It didn’t take me long to figure out how to create the square with rounded edges and the gradient, nor did it take too terribly long to create the checkmark. I was actually quite surprised with how my first iterations came out, so I just kind of stuck with what I’d come up with on my own. As I thought more about the logo and looked at the one I’d created myself, I realized that what I’d come up with was simple and to the point, so I decided to stick with it. It works.

At first my logo was going to be red. Then I simply changed it to blue in Photoshop because Elise’s favorite color is blue. Blue stuck. Blue also invokes feelings of calm, rest, peace & tranquility. Blue’s always a good bet. Plus, simple blue icons on my iPhone always seem to attract my eye. Just look at Skype, Facebook, Amazon and Google — all simple. All blue.

Because I’d spent many intimate hours with the SlimList workflow diagram last year, there wasn’t a whole lot more that my developer needed from me. He’d plug away at the code and reach me via Skype with any questions he had. We collaborated very well and ironed out any kinks together as they came up.

I had a couple last minute feature requests toward the end of the project (like the little ‘note’ icon for list items and the ability to repurpose a list stored in the ‘Logbook’), and we had to design the search functionality together as I hadn’t really thought that part through in my original design.

And then the day came when he sent me the final version of SlimList for approval. I signed off on it, we collectively indulged in a sigh of relief, and then it was time to submit the app to Apple for approval.

I’ll spare you the details in submitting an iPhone app to Apple for approval because honestly, I don’t know all the minute details of the process as I had my developer do the legwork there. I’d heard that the process can be somewhat daunting and painstaking for a first-timer, so I saved myself the headache and paid him to create the profiles and upload the binary. I created my own developer account, setup my “company”, categorized the app and handled all of the marketing aspects such as the logo, screenshots, keywords, description and pricing.

The name SlimList was kind of an accident. When I designed the app, I called it “Simple List Maker” As it came time to think about what to actually call it, I first thought of its acronym – SLM, which quickly became SLiM, and then SlimList. I really like “Slim” because I wanted it to be a “slimmed down” and simple list management app by design. There are tons of list apps out there, but most of them are bloated with so-called features that are too clunky and aren’t appealing or useful as an everyday to-do list management tool for most people.

It’s impossible to put into words how much fun I had, and how much I learned from the experience. And I can’t wait to get started on the next one!