iPhone App: PocketBracket – March Madness

An article about the process of creating my first iPhone Application - PocketBracket: March Madness. I revisit everything from development to marketing, and the story doesn't end there.

Posted in on March 12, 2009

A few months ago I organized a small group to discuss iPhone Application Development. Each of us had several great ideas. In fact, a few of those ideas were either already in the iTunes App Store or developed shortly after our discussion. We took their success as premonition to our own. So after several more discussions, we decided on which iPhone App we would develop first – PocketBracket.

The App

PocketBracket is an app for March Madness (which put us on tight timeline). It allows users to create brackets and organize pools, as well as get stats, scores, and rankings all with iPhone or iPod Touch convenience. With the ability to create unlimited brackets and share pools, it can reach those without thru the PocketBracket Network.

Development

iPhone Apps at the core are developed in Objective-C. From my perspective, this is basically C with brackets around everything. To begin development, I had to sign-up as an Apple Developer. I was then able to download the SDK, as well as update XCode. Of course, the catch is this software requires an Intel-based Mac. I am sure other tools exist, but I can only imagine the pain in getting everything to work. So if you don’t have a Mac and want to develop iPhone Apps, you may consider making the switch. Actually, you should consider it regardless. Anyway, having a MacBook Pro, I was able to be up and running in 20 minutes. Most of which was the download time for the 2GB package.

Anyone can be an Apple Developer, which provides access to the Apple Developer Connection (ADC). This portal has sample code, videos, and additional references. I found the videos to be great motivation, but unfortunately more of a sales pitch than actual how-to. So I ordered a book on Objective-C and iPhone Development. As much as these helped, they weren’t going to build the app for me. I just had to get down to it. Some people may say it’s easy. I felt there was a bit of a learning curve, but as I went thru more examples from the ADC and books, things started to click. My advice is to just in there and start messing around.

All in all, development took about 2 weeks. PocketBracket was pretty straightforward, only five screens without any advanced features in this first version. We already had a list of features that we planned to leave out of the first version due to timing constraints. We added several to that list during development.

Testing

As with any project, most of the final days of development were spent resolving things found during testing. But probably the biggest thing I learned was to test on the device. I typically built to the XCode iPhone Simulator. So when I finally built the app to a device I found several things:

  1. The connection times were slow across the Edge network.
  2. Gestures appeared less smooth
  3. The App Name – PocketBracket – did not fit.

Some of these were not related to development. Some were unavoidable. The biggest one learned was the App Name. Each app icon and name is allotted a certain amount of space. Depending on the characters in your app name this could be anywhere from 10-13, with 10 being the unofficial recommendation. We got around this by branding our app icon. This isn’t really typical, and although you could say it sets us apart, it was really an oversight. One that won’t happen again.

Deployment

As odd as it sounds this was probably the most frustrating part. Then again, I am a geek, so I enjoy development. So long as I am making progress. Essentially this is one simple step: Putting your app in the iTunes App Store. Unfortunately, it is an involved process. I’ll outline this process below and provide some tips.

The Process

  1. Enroll as a Certified iPhone Application Developer
    • Complete online form
    • Follow instruction emailed to you a few days later.
    • Wait with fingers crossed
    • Get email confirmation
    • Purchase license package
    • Follow instructions in email confirmation
  2. Create Certificates
    • There are several certificates you have to create depending on your role and your distribution plan.
  3. Build App for Distribution
  4. Submit App for Distribution
    a. Create write up, screenshots, app icon, large app icon
    a. Wait with fingers crossed
  5. Complete Banking and Tax Information

Tips

  • If you are developing an app, enroll as soon as possible. Especially if you have any deadline. It took mine 3 weeks for approval.
  • Mess around in the Developer Program Portal once you are approved. It had excellent instructions. However, there are many steps for each process. It can be intimidating if you try to do them all in one sitting.
  • Take advantage of the test devices using family and friends. They can be great for testing and feedback.
  • As soon as you submit the app, complete the banking information and tax information, if not before.
  • When you do get the “Approved for Sale” email, don’t panic if your app isn’t in the store or the Portal. It took mine about 18 hours.

Marketing

As I said before, we were on a tight timeline. Each of these phases was alloted about 2 weeks. Marketing was no different. We had to organize and run a massive campaign in a short amount of time. Our marketing strategy was a bit of a shotgun approach, consisting of:

  • Launch the website
  • Setup Google Webmaster Tools
  • Email family and friends
  • Create YouTube ads and an instructional video
  • Leverage social media

Check out our PocketBracket YouTube Ads, media releases, and business cards.

This is Madness

Currently, we are #3 in Top Paid Sports Apps. By review, we are the best iPhone March Madness application on the market, with a 4.5 of 5 star rating.

Beyond the application, the website has excellent presence. Placement on Google and Yahoo search for our keywords are excellent. We have a following on Facebook. And for their purposes, the YouTube videos have done fairly well. Not to mention the website gets over 10,000 hits a day.

Our download count is not where we want. We are not even close to breaking even. But we do feel confident we are positioned in an excellent spot to be ready for the Madness that will ensue on Selection Sunday once the 2009 Men’s College Basketball bracket is determined. Either way, we are excited to see every download.

In Closing

From the beginning, PocketBracket goes beyond just March Madness and College Basketball. Although we plan to have this application as our flagship, it has potential to lead a fleet of similar applications for tournaments worldwide.

Even without PocketBracket, our list is still out there and it is growing too. So who knows what’s next. This was an excellent experience. One I know we all want to do again. Personally, I am no where near the knowledge level I want to be with iPhone Application development. So a journey lies ahead.

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