How to make an iPhone app

picture-336Ever wonder how the more-than-50,000 iPhone apps in Apple’s App Store get from the drawing board to your screen? For one of them, the brand new Goddess Tarot app, the road was through Flatbush-based author and artist Kris Waldherr. The gilded app is the newest manifestation of Waldherr’s illustrated brand, and her first foray into the world of hand-held software design. Because apps are, well, the thing to do these days, we asked Waldherr to tell us how she went from idea to execution to approval on the digital celestial reader she’s marketing as “The most beautiful app in the App Store.”

How did you get the idea for the app?

I have this $18 tarot deck that sold more than 200,000 copies, and I have a web site which features tarot readings. So, this was kind of a natural segue. Unlike traditional publishing, the distribution for an iPhone app is only in one place, the App Store. So, it’s not like you’re dealing with Barnes & Noble or Borders or independent bookstores—it’s very straightforward. The other thing that happened was that I was approached by a developer who wanted to license my work. And the terms were really not favorable. He wanted to hold on to a lot of the rights. So I thought, Why don’t I just do this myself?

How did you design the app?

Apple has a developers’ network that you can sign up for. You can download what’s called a Software Development Kit, which gives you certain tools and information so you can educate yourself. For example, you’re not allowed to have buttons smaller than a certain size (20 x 20 pixels), because they’d be too difficult for a human to use. Apple also has guidelines about the type of content allowed—you’re not supposed to have obscene content, for example. After I saw what I was getting myself into, I then created what’s called a “use case spec,” which is like a road map for the app, where I put all the graphics together from screen to screen. The most important thing was that I tried to be as detailed as possible with what I put together, so that it would be clear what my expectations were. I really wanted it to be my app.

Where did you find programmers?

I explored learning how to program, myself, but I knew that I was getting in way over my head. I spoke to a friend of mine who’s a developer, and he gave me some referrals, and from there I spoke to other developers. I gave them my use case spec. There are a bunch of Seattle, Washington iPhone app developers. Talking to them was really reassuring because I got very helpful feedback. And they had signed non-disclosure agreements, so I felt a little like a spy, like “Ok, I’m giving you my secret, tell me what you think. And I’m giving you my secret, and tell me what you think.”


Goddess Tarot creator Kris Waldherr.

What did it cost you?

I had developers offer to do it for free in exchange for half of the profits, but I didn’t want to go that route because it would require my giving up too much creative control and I’d have to work on their time frame. If you hire developers in the U.S., a small job is probably about $10,000. And more complicated apps, the average iPhone app is probably about $30,000. I can tell you mine was a lot less than that. Established developers here usually charge $125 an hour, but I wound up finding a great team in India and the labor cost me about a quarter of that. I found them through Elance. I got lucky, because I’ve used people through Elance for other things and they haven’t been as great.

How long did it take to adapt the idea to the app?

Once I had a developer, it took a month. It was really fast, compared to publishing. This was intoxicating. It was like instant gratification. But it took Apple two weeks to approve it, which was a very long two weeks. I was constantly checking my email. You fixate on all these crazy stories of apps not being approved for different reasons. I knew I shouldn’t be reading the stories, but I couldn’t stop myself. Then once they approved it, it was on the market.

How did you decide on the price ($2.99)? What’s Apple’s cut?

I just looked at what other people were charging. Apple keeps 30 percent, but that’s really low. Most wholesale cuts are 50 percent.

What would you do differently in making a second app?

picture-339I did a lite (free) version, and I was so afraid of Apple not approving me that I didn’t make it clear how easy it was to upgrade to the full version. I think I would make that clearer, because I was a little too understated about it—I wasn’t enough of a hard sales person. I notice that on other apps, they make it really clear: “Click here to upgrade and buy.” I was like: “Click here for more information.” I was being too tasteful.

What’s your advice for someone with an idea for an app?

Research, research, research. I think the most important thing is to have a really, really good use case spec. Just be as clear as possible with what you expect [from your programmer], and really interview people. It’s easy to get blinded by the pie in the sky—there are all these articles about people making a gazillion dollars. I sat down and I worked out a P & L (Profit and Loss statement) where you figure out how much the app will cost, what will your profit be, how many you need to sell.

The biggest surprise of the whole process?

The whole Apple approval thing. The process of getting approved is a little mysterious, and there have been apps which have not been approved because Apple thought they were going to compete with them or for other reasons. You start thinking, “ok, what could they find offensive?” You just don’t know. You’re making this big leap of faith in developing the app, and it’s basically up to this one company to decide if it’ll get out to the world.

Any final thoughts?

Hopefully I’ll make some money.

21 Comment

  • I created my first iPhone app, Gratitude Journal for $500 and it’s been downloaded 10’s of thousands of times. You can see my apps at I wrote an ebook explaining everything you need to know to create an app yourself which is available at

  • Pingback: How to create your own iPhone app | Brokelyn | developer

    Please help me guys!!!
    I need help to create an iPhone app!!!
    I have searched in all the websites of the world and i didn’t found nothinggggggggg!!!!!

  • so this Waldherr lady hired someone from India to do her developing? so lame. if she knew what she was talking about i bet she could find people through craigslist, etc., to do the work for well under $10k.

  • The price was right. What does it matter where she found the right people?

  • It is always nice to hear from the professionals. It creates inspiration for the developers. It’s always a bit problematic to get approval from the apple. What I say is there is always place for useful apps. Developers doesn’t have to see any pitfalls if they are considering the value they are offering.

    Now all you developers out there if it helps, I found and took service from a site called is offering service both to the entrepreneurs and the developers. It might workout as an opportunity.

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  • Developing an app and chosing an iphone app developer is a process that might take some time. Make sure you get a few quotes first and always check to verify that the developer is experienced. There are alot of inexperienced developers out there who come from web design and are trying to jump on the iphone app gravy train.

    Anyone looking for experienced, pre-screened reputable iPhone app developers should check out the site They have been featured in the Wall Street Journal among others.

  • Great tips and resources for bringing an idea to fruition. Hope to come up with a very nice idea so I could share it with you guys. In fact, I have a great idea for an iphone app, but I have school and other stuff to do, is there a place to find iphone app developers?

  • Hello. Feel free to post your app idea for free on and let experienced app developers bid on the opportunity to create your app!

    The NewAppIdea Team
    NewAppIdea | App Idea Development

  • Great article on yet another iphone app success story. There have been so many people creating apps and finding great financial success its really a sort of gold rush right now. Check out http://www.phonefreelancer if you have an app idea and don’t know how to create it. This website connects entrepreneurs with iphone developers, for free!

  • @carla: i love the gratitude journal!

  • This is a good start for those looking to enter the iPhone app development industry. I would recommend reading books found on amazon, especially the one for dummers, covers all the basics!

  • For those app developers that don’t know Objective-C and Cocoa Touch and don’t want to outsource development, check out localbeacon (an iphone app builder) at Great for those who want to build just one app or developers interested in white label. Full integration of Twitter and Facebook.

    We’re a new company and would love the chance to earn your business!

  • I will NEVER use your APP because you outsourced your work to developers in India.

  • I’m not sure why people are so against outsourcing. Being independent doesn’t mean that you have to build everything yourself, go to college and take some econ courses and you’ll realize outsourcing actually creates more wealth for all of us. Anyhow I wanted to comment on a positive app dev/outsourcing experience. I recently created an app that I outsourced almost all coding for, and it turned out great. I used some ideas that came up after reading this article and it really helped. P.S. I used taskcity-great site. so much happier after my the last site (which I won’t name) was a mess.

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  • thank’s for sharing your experiences! When it comes to the Apple-approval i really don’t get it, why they are somtimes acting as they do… I would really like to have some “guidelines” what they like to publish… Another think: while I’m trying to get into iphone-app-development i found an interesting article about the big question “what to do with your awesome idea?”.
    It’s a bit of inspiration:

  • Great article! I started developing a while ago and seeing the first sale of your own app is just AWESOME! :)