iPhone apps: The Thinking Man’s1 lemonade stand.
When I announced suddenly that I’d made an iPhone app, I got lots of praise and general pats on the back.2 I also got a lot of the same sort of questions over and over. How’d you do it? What’s it for? And, most commonly…
So here’s the story behind SkyChart: A Perk Calculator for Skyrim.
A few months ago now, I was playing Skyrim.3 On a whim, I decided to search the app store on my iPhone for “Skyrim Perk Calculator.” I had no idea at that moment that I was about to embark, quite accidentally, on a fascinating (and time-consuming) side journey into iPhone app development.
For those who aren’t familiar with Skyrim, let me catch you up a little. Skyrim is a popular video game that came out a few years ago in which you play a hero character. As you progress through the game, you level up and gain new abilities called “perks.” Perks are purchased with “perk points,” and you only gain one perk point each time you level up, so you’ll only ever end up with a fraction of the hundreds of perks available in the game. And perhaps most important, there is no way to revoke your prior decisions; you are stuck with what you invest in as you play.
So to truly maximize the power/badassness of your character, you kind of need a plan from the beginning. That brings us, finally, to our “perk calculator” and its usefulness.
Still here? Good. You’ve got some nerd in you.
Anyway, I downloaded the only app available at that time. It was functional, I guess, at least sometimes. It required an internet connection to run, which was sketchy considering that there was no reason it should need to talk to anything over the internet. And I didn’t love how it looked. And some actions that should have been simple were a pain in the ass. Basically it was an app of a common breed I’m sure you’ve come across: crappy. A crappy-app. A crapp.
Suddenly, an exciting thought burst to life within me. If I had coughed up several cents for this app, and was left feeling dissatisfied, surely there were others out there in the world just like me. Others hungry for a satisfying Skyrim perk calculator experience, and willing to pay to get it.
Behold! A simple and easy mini-entrepreneurial venture, I thought to myself. It was a revelation akin to that which seizes just about every one of us at some point between the ages of seven and nine: The Lemonade Stand. With just a bit of sugared water and some lemons, I shall create an empire! (One quarter at a time…)4
Three months ago, I wrapped myself in a cocoon of iOS design and development. I went from a dabbling programmer to a competent Objective-C hacker and Cocoa Framework tinkerer. Learning as I went, I carefully crafted each piece of my shiny new app, from its gorgeous appearance to its elegantly constructed data model. I manually compiled descriptions and data for each of the 200+ perk ranks in the game. I tweaked and polished. And at last, it was ready for the world to gaze upon it.
Now that I’ve emerged and my mind is clear, empty of all the code, I feel a little silly. On one hand, I have an app that I’m extremely proud to have made, all on my own, from scratch. It looks as sexy as it did in my head three months ago.
But on the other hand, it’s only useful to people who:
- Are one of the few still playing Skyrim after the two-ish years since its release5
- Have the foresight to plan their characters ahead of time
- Think to themselves, “I bet there’s an app for that!”
- Have an iPhone
- Manage to find my app
As you would no doubt agree, it seems like that actually might be a pretty small group of people.6 Yes, the inconvenient truth of the matter is that I’ll probably have to do something else to build my empire. Ah well. At least it’ll prove more lucrative than my high-end lemonade stand did in the 90’s.7
But the coolest thing is that now I know how to make iPhone apps. I can create the next one much faster than I did SkyChart. When the next idea strikes,8 I’ll be ready. In the meantime, maybe my books will rock?
So there’s my iPhone app story. Thanks for reading :)
Or woman’s, of course! ↩
Thanks everyone :) ↩
I was in law school, so I had lots of free time… ↩
Yes, I charged a quarter. I sold only the finest. ↩
If it weren’t such a great game, it would be totally obsolete by now. Even still, I don’t really know how many people are still playing it passionately enough to download SkyChart. ↩
Even after you include the family members that downloaded it out of love (i.e. under duress). ↩
In hindsight, I should have just tried filling up bottles with plain water and selling those… ↩
If I were to release an app like SkyChart right away as soon as a new game came out, I have a feeling my prospects would be way better. Maybe when Skyrim’s inevitable sequel arrives, I’ll pounce! ↩