Is it possible to live as an indie app developer in 2023?
The app business has had practically unstoppable growth in recent years, with more and more people and companies turning to the development of mobile applications as a way to solve problems, entertain people, or as a communication mechanism. Due to this large influx of new apps (more than 3.5 million on Google Play and more than 1.5 million on the App Store), the competition to be able to highlight your application over others is increasingly fierce, making it very difficult for new independent developers full of enthusiasm who only want to be able to make a living from their favorite hobby. Despite this, with the right tools and knowledge, I believe it is possible even today to create a self-sufficient and profitable app business; although I am not going to deceive you: it's possible but this doesn't mean that it will be easy or fast.
The first crucial choice: the selection of the niche
The first important factor to consider is what kind of app you are going to develop and what niche it belongs to. It is well known that there are certain niches that work better than others, for example the gaming niche has seen enormous growth in recent years; it's estimated that the mobile gaming industry already moves more money than the PC and console gaming industry combined. Another type of niche that has also experienced a notable boom is that of well-being and health, with fitness-type applications or applications to learn to meditate. Lastly, the finance-related apps niche is also usually quite a lucrative sector.
Another niche selection methodology consists of trying to monetize very particular and focused knowledge that you may have acquired working in companies in specific industries, for example creating applications for very specific productive sectors. Competition in these types of applications is usually much less, due to the fact that they are not very popular but highly specialized niches, while at the same time they unlock the ability to offer these applications at a higher price, precisely because of the scarcity of alternatives and specialized apps.
Whatever niche you are going to choose for your next app, make sure you know it well and have all the right tools and knowledge to approach it seriously and with enough ability to add significant value to it.
Are you going to publish on Google Play, the App Store, or both?
The next consideration to take into account is on which platforms your application will run. In the mobile application industry we have two great giants: Google Play for Android devices and the Apple App Store for iPhones and iPads. While Google Play has a huge number of users, much larger than Apple's App Store, it is also true that the revenue per user is much lower. One of the mechanisms that usually works quite well to monetize your application on Google Play are ads, leaving in-app purchases in second place, since Android users are not as likely to buy or spend as much money as iOS users.
On the other hand, App Store users tend to be more used to in-app purchases, even just for the sake of removing ads. It must also be taken into account that the paid adquisition in this store is usually more expensive than in Google Play.
Regarding the technical means to develop for both platforms, today there are quite competent cross-platform frameworks to develop for Android and iOS at the same time, such as Flutter, which I talk about a lot in this blog. In case you have enough budget, you also have the possibility to create native apps, which will always have some advantages over hybrid apps.
How are you going to monetize your app?
The way through which your app will generate income is a totally decisive factor to understand its long-term viability. The freemium model is the model that has been imposed in the vast majority of available applications, based on monetization through ads, and then the possibility of making purchases within the application in order to, among other things, be able to eliminate ads.
Regarding ads, it is important to place them strategically so that they do not hinder the user experience. There is nothing more annoying than an ad that appears at the wrong time ruining the experience you were having with that app or game.
On the other hand, you can always add in-app purchases to remove ads, or to unlock virtual items or premium features that paid users don't have. In this regard, it is important to keep the most elementary and basic functions of your app for everyone, and design a set of very specific functions that can motivate a person to buy said access within the app.
Lastly, you can also monetize your app or game through subscriptions. This type of monetization is usually preferred in many cases since it provides recurring income. In exchange for small recurring monetary outlays, users have access to special features or exclusive content within your app or game.
Then, how viable is to make a living as an indie app dev?
In conclusion, earning a living as an independent app developer is difficult and hard, but with the motivation and the necessary tools I think it can be possible. Luckily today we have available on the internet all kinds of guides and tutorials on a large number of subjects, on development, on design and experience of applications, tutorials on how to upload apps to stores, etc. And for all those sensitive areas, such as the legal or tax part of your company, I advise you to contact qualified professionals in the field.
I hope this article has been useful to you, until next time!