how to create an iphone app

Leading iPhone Application Developer Rob Terrell Shares Insights on Creating Apps

Rob Terrell, Founder of TouchCentric LLC, has been around computers since he could remember. The Terrell family's Byte Shop in Mountain View, California became the first distributor of Apple computers after being approached by Steve Jobs in the mid-70s.

Rob's uncle Paul Terrell was amazed at the tenacity of the then young Steve Jobs and thought that he may indeed have something. Terrell put in a purchase order for 500 Apple computers (his only request that the computers would be fully assembled). Jobs then scrambled to finance and build 500 computers, delivered them to Terrell and Apple was officially in business.

It is safe to say that without the Terrell family's vision and willingness to give new technologies a shot, Apple may not be where it is today. Rob continues his family legacy of innovation with his passion for new technologies, with Apple at the center. Since 2007 (the beginning of the iPhone revolution) Rob has been developing top-selling iPhone apps and is now extending his knowledge into iPad apps.

In the following interview, Rob shares ideas on how to successfully build and market iPhone applications:

What type of work were you engaged in prior to creating iPhone apps?

Before making iPhone apps, I worked for a webcasting company called Avacast.

What was your technological background prior to creating iPhone apps?

My family has been involved with computers and software since the 1970s. As long as I can remember, there have always been computers around the house. The first computer we had was one that my Dad built from a kit, which he got from my uncle, who owned the first computer store ever: the Byte Shop. That computer only lit up LEDs on a panel -- not very exciting. My dad eventually opened his own Byte Shop and I got to play with a series of early computers: the Processor Technology SOL, the Exidy Sorcerer, the Commodore Pet, and finally the Apple ][+. I loved the Apple ][+ because it had color and the BASIC programming language.

Do you have to be very technically savvy to create an app?

You don't -- but it helps! There are tools that you can use to build apps even if all you know is HTML.

Almost all iPhone apps are created in Objective-C, which is very technical indeed. If you're starting from scratch, there's a lot to learn.

You can use a tool called PhoneGap to take HTML pages and bundle them into an app that can be sold on the App Store. Apps built in this way can't do as much, but for a beginner it can be a great way to get started. There are other tools, like Corona and Unity, that use simpler programming languages, like Lua or JavaScript, to build iPhone apps. This can also be a great way to get started.

What was it that drove you to get into creating iPhone apps?

Curiosity. I've always wanted to customize whatever cell phone I use. Once I started writing iPhone apps, I got hooked and didn't want to do anything else.

Tell me about your first iPhone application. Was it a success?

My first iPhone app was a game called "Sumo!" It was available on the first day the App Store was open. It was an early top 25 game, and was selected by Apple as a Staff Pick. Apple even installed it on iPhone and iPod touches in every Apple store as a demo game.

In the first month of the App Store, a Top 25 game could mean $25,000 or so in revenue. Thanks to the incredible growth of the platform, nowadays a Top 25 game could be earning millions.

If someone is interested in learning to create iPhone applications, in which direction should they turn? actually has some very good documentation and samples. Also, there are several decent books to choose from: look for the books from Bill Dudney and Dave Mark.

Do you have to have any special licenses or apply for approval from Apple to create an app?

You need to join Apple's iPhone Developer program, which will set you back $99 per year. You can then create any app you like! Although if you want to put the app in the App Store, your app must be approved by Apple. There's many stories of app rejections floating around the web, but generally Apple only rejects apps for bugs or objectionable content. The App Store is like a virtual Apple Store -- Apple is careful about the third-party products sold in their physical retail locations, and they're just as careful about the virtual goods they sell in the App Store.

How long does it usually take for you to develop an app...from conception to launch?

Between one to three months, depending on how big an app it is. The best apps are very focused on a single task; big, sprawling apps that aim to do many things tend to do poorly. So quicker is often better!

Once you launch an app., how do you usually market it?

Developing is easy! Marketing is the hard part. At least, this is how it ends up for me.

I often leave marketing up to my clients, but I always recommend using a good marketing agency. With 150,000 apps it's easy to get lost in the crowd. Marketing is the only chance your app has to be seen.

I recently launched an iPad app, and have hired a PR firm to handle the marketing. I'll have to let you know how that goes!

How many applications have you published thus far?

I have created over 50 applications in the App Store for television stations. I have also created applications for radio stations, like WUNC.

What types of clients do you work with? And how do you keep them happy?

To keep them happy -- do whatever they ask!

I try to work with clients who have a good idea of what they want to do -- an actual mobile strategy or focus, as opposed to someone trying to play catch-up on the platform. People playing catch-up are typically more worried about their competition than their customers, and thus make bad decisions about their apps.

And finally....what is your favorite quote (just something we ask everyone)

Several years of kid-induced sleep-deprivation have erased my internal Bartlett's storage area, so all the good quotes are missing. How about a simple one: "Don't panic."

For more information on Rob's Corporation TouchCentric LLC, visit

- Interview by Jen Engevik of Project BE Bold