The odds of creating a successful app are long, but the rewards are great, as developer Carlos Ribas can attest. Ribas’s app, HoursTracker, has been available in Apple’s App Store since 2009 but it’s still bringing in five figures a month. The income is more than Ribas says he can make from a full-time job and he works just 20 hours a week at his former gig, as a .Net developer at Microsoft.
As Ribas recounts in a Medium post, in early 2009, his former boss cajoled him into creating an iPhone app. The boss, who is unnamed in the post, had just read about Ethan Nicholas, another developer, who struck it rich by releasing a lite version of his game, iShoot.
On July 12, 2009, Ribas released HoursTracker, a sort of virtual punch clock. The app got a positive write-up in Lifehacker. Apple then created the video below for HoursTracker and for a while it was more popular than even Angry Birds.
Reasoning that ads or lack of ads don’t spur upgrades, Ribas prompts consumers to pay for the premium version by offering more functionality. With the free version, you can track up to three jobs and 21 days of entries. A message on HoursTracker tells users than can store up to five jobs with the Personal version ($4.99) or an unlimited number of jobs with the Pro version ($8.99.)
Some people install the app, experiment with it briefly, and know pretty quickly if it suits their needs or not. Others choose to live with it for a few weeks and make their decision slowly, often trying several apps simultaneously. The goal is to make sure the app is a known quantity, just like that morning coffee, before making a purchase decision.
While Ribas claims the success of HoursTracker flies in the face of claims that no one makes money off apps anymore, some commenters on Hacker News pointed out that Ribas had a huge advantage because he released the app in the early days of the App Store. “Yes, it is still possible to make money, even a lot of money, writing an app but that doesn’t mean early adopters didn’t have a big advantage,” wrote one. Others pointed out that HoursTracker shows up high in App Store searches, giving it a leg up over new competitors. Read more…