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Intro to How to Make an App for the App Store

To target iPhone users, you make an app for the App Store

This article is part of our series on app building for small businesses. Here, we’re focused only on the basics of building and publishing an app for the App Store. We have a related article on the Google Play store, if you’re interested in learning about that.

This article is an overview article. It means we won’t go into details on, for example, which programming language you should use to code your app or whether it makes more sense to build your app in the cloud or on an old-fashioned server.

Instead, we’ll go over the costs involved in each stage of building and then publishing that app in the App Store. We aim to give you enough information about the process so you can make a business decision on whether or not to go ahead and build your app.

Your first step to building an app for the App Store is to sign up to be an Apple Developer.

How to Sign up to be an Apple Developer

To sign up to become an Apple app developer, you…use an app on an iPhone or iPad. More specifically, you’ll need the Apple Developer app, with two-factor authentication turned on.

If you hire someone else to code, you’ll still have to sign up. Apple requires you to submit the app under your business’s account, even if you didn’t code it.

The developer program costs $99/year to join, as of this writing. You must renew your membership every year. If your organization is a non-profit, an educational entity, or the government, you can ask Apple for a fee waiver.

There are two ways to sign up for the program, depending on if you’re an individual developer, single-owner business, multi-owner business, or non-profit organization. No matter what type of entity, you’ll get an Apple ID at the end of the sign-up process, and that ID will be used throughout the development process to sign up for or upload various things.

If you’re a corporation or multi-owner business, you’ll need a Dun & Bradstreet number (D-U-N-S Number) as a part of the application process. If you’ve never heard of D&B, they’re a very established credit rating agency for businesses. You can get a D-U-N-S Number for free here.

For a detailed step-by-step guide on how to sign up, see this Apple page.

The Apple Developer Program License Agreement

As a part of signing up to be an Apple Developer, you’ll have to agree to the Apple Developer Program License Agreement. You can find the most recent versions here.

If you plan to make your app a paid app or have in-app purchases, be sure to read Schedules 2 and 3 of the agreement.

We skimmed the agreement as a part of writing this article. Unfortunately, the agreement can be a little dense with legalese. Still, we think you should at least try to skim the agreement. If any issues arise in the future, you’d be held to the agreement. So, it’s better that you do try to read through it at least once.

Fortunately, if you just follow Apple’s Developer’s Guidelines, you should do quite well without running into issues against the agreement. The Developer’s Guidelines are in plain English, so they’re much easier to work with.

Here are some items in the developer’s agreement that are of interest:

  • The agreement is not just for apps on the iPhone or iPad but also for Apple Watch, Apple TV, and other Apple products.
  • If you have an app idea but don’t know how to code, you can hire a developer to code your app for the App Store. But, if you do this, then you must have a written contract with the developer and the developer must agree to terms in that contract that are at least as restrictive as the Apple Developer Program License Agreement. (Sec. 2.9)
  • You can send Apple your own EULA for the app. But, if you don’t have one, Apple will insert its standard EULA for you.

Apple’s Developer’s Guidelines

A lot of what’s in the agreement is also in Apple’s Developer Guidelines. So, if you just follow the guidelines carefully, you should do OK even if you don’t go check the developer agreement too often.

Apple’s most current developer’s guidelines can be found here. It’s the same place where they stash their legal agreements. Just scroll down to near the bottom of the page.

App Store Review Guidelines

Apple has a lot of guidelines for different aspects of apps for the App Store. But, we think the most important guideline is the App Store Review Guidelines. This guideline gives detailed information on how Apple will review your app before approving it for the App Store.

The guidelines are long, but as long as you:

  • Don’t lie
  • Don’t cheat
  • Don’t steal
  • Don’t break the law

Then you should do just fine.

Be sure to pay attention to Apple’s privacy rules, which you can find under the Legal subsection. User privacy is a hot topic these days, so it makes sense for you to follow Apple’s guidelines pretty strictly. Your main takeaway for user privacy is that you can use the minimum personal information needed to make your app work. Just don’t take more than what you need.

How to Follow the Guidelines without being Overwhelmed

Apple has a lot of guidelines. Most of them are long and detailed. It can seem overwhelming that you have to follow all of them.

To untangle all the rules without being paralyzed by them, we recommend that you design your app first. Before you actually code, go through the guidelines and see which ones might apply to you. Fix anything necessary. Then code.

You may have to repeat this process a few times. But, we think using this iterative process of design-first-check-later will save you the most time developing your app.

App Store Business Terms

The authoritative version of App Store business terms is in Section 3 of Schedule 2 of the Apple Developer Program License Agreement. Here are some key points of Section 3:

  • Apple will collect and remit sales, VAT, or other taxes related to the sale of the apps or in-app purchases, if the law requires it. You’re responsible for giving Apple your correct tax information, so Apple can know if and how much to withhold. (Sec. 3.2 and 3.3)
  • Apple’s commission for app sales and in-app purchases is 30%. But if the purchase is an auto-renew purchase and the subscription has been longer than one year, then the commission drops to 15%. (Sec. 3.4(a))
  • Small businesses that earn less than $1M/year can apply to join the App Store Small Business Program. If approved, the commission drops to 15%. (Sec. 3.4(b))
  • Apple will pay you no later than 45 days after the end of each month, after it takes out its commission and applicable taxes. You’ll also have to meet the minimum payout threshold before Apple pays out to you. (Sec. 3.5)

If your app is a store app that sells physical goods (e.g. groceries), then you’re exempt from the in-app purchase commission. (App Store Review Guidelines, Sec. 3.1.3(e)). Instead, you’ll have to arrange for your own payment processor.

To help you connect up with your payment processor, Apple will make its payment processing API available to you. Other than this, Apple is not a part of this payment arrangement. (Main Developer Agreement Sec. 3.3.42 and 3.3.43) So, if, for example, your payment processor pays out to you late, then you must deal directly with your payment processor.

For other app and in-app purchase do’s and don’ts, see Section 3 (Business) of the App Store Review Guidelines.

After You Sign Up to be an Apple Developer

Once your sign-up process is complete, you’ll have access to the tools you need to build your app for the App Store.

You code and build your app on Apple’s software application called Xcode. After you’ve completed the coding and have compiled your app, you switch to App Store Connect to manage the rest of the process.

You’ll use App Store Connect to manage your beta testing process via a software called TestFlight. Once you’ve completed your testing, you can submit your app for Apple’s approval. Once your app is approved, your app is ready to be published for everyone to download and use.

You’ll be using App Store Connect to manage additional aspects of your app for the App Store. For example, you’ll be able to enter information like pricing, tax information, a description of the app, upload screenshots, and view sales reports.

All future app software updates are also managed through App Store Connect.

Not Every Business Needs an App, so Think Carefully Before Proceeding

Making an app for the App Store is a fairly complicated process. It can be time consuming and expensive too. So, why would a small business need an app?

If your app is your business idea itself, then of course you do need the app. Not only do you need the app for the App Store, you should build a version for Google Play too.

However, if your business doesn’t depend on an app and the app is mainly for customer convenience and marketing (e.g. coupons or loyalty programs), then think carefully before you proceed. An app isn’t a build-it-once-and-done thing. You’ll have to maintain the app too. So, if your small business has limited marketing funds, you might want to try other types of advertising before building an app.

Interested in starting and running a small business? Here’s the beginning of our step-by-step guide: What to do right after getting that great business idea.

Questions? Comments?