Possible for a Newbie to program very basic iPhone app?
September 4, 2009 6:32 PM   Subscribe

Am I crazy? How hard would it be for a non-programmer (but power-user) to create a totally basic iPhone app?

I have no programming experience, although I know my way around HTML and a little PHP (so code doesn't totally frighten me).

I want to make an incredibly basic iPhone app. Basically, a collection of recipes entitled "Japanese Home Cooking for the American Slacker." It would just be a Table of Contents, then text and photos for each recipe.

Given these basic requirements, is it realistic to think I could cobble this thing together myself given the resources out there? Without having to learn C or object programming?

I guess it depends on how many "turnkey" solutions to these basic functionalities are already present.

posted by zachawry to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty hard. Why not just make it an iPhone friendly webapp?
posted by jeb at 6:47 PM on September 4, 2009

I don't know anything about iPhone programming, but two comments --

- This sounds like something that may not need any programming at all, since it's more of an ebook than an application.

- For a simple application you could always consider hiring someone on one of the rent-a-coder type sites... I have some friends that have used these sites with great success.
posted by glider at 6:47 PM on September 4, 2009

Yeah, I'd second jeb here. You need to know you're way around Objective-C, which is itself a bit of a step up from "basic PHP", as it's object-oriented. There's a LOT of base stuff that needs to be done that some frameworks exist for, but more that are outside of the realm of things you want to get involved with for a simple app.

It'd be far simpler to keep a blog and use WP Touch to auto-theme it for iphone use.
posted by disillusioned at 6:49 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far. As for making an iPhone friendly webapp or keeping a blog themed for iPhone use...I would like to make at least a little, tiny bit of money off this endeavor. Even if it's less per hour of work than I could have made working at McDonald's.....
posted by zachawry at 6:53 PM on September 4, 2009

I haven't used it, but some people online have suggested PhoneGap for this type of programming.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 6:53 PM on September 4, 2009

I don't have an answer, but this might help you. How to Make an iPhone App Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
posted by Houstonian at 6:57 PM on September 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Assuming it's not worth it for me to program by myself, any idea on how long it would take a freelance programmer? It's just a list of links to static pages, with me providing all the text and inline images.

posted by zachawry at 7:00 PM on September 4, 2009

I'm a programmer.

The learning curve for getting into developing an iPhone app is not very friendly. In fact, it kind of sucks.

If you've got the patience and dedication, I don't want to shy you away from trying it, but you do sort of phrase your question (tone-wise) so as to imply "if I dedicated a LITTLE time to this, could I knock something simple out relatively quickly?"

For a non-programmer, I'd estimate your project would take several weeks of hard work.

For a programmer unfamiliar with iPhone development, I'd say it's still a few weeks of work.
posted by twiggy at 7:12 PM on September 4, 2009

You do NOT have to know Objective-C to build an iPhone app, despite what Apple would have you think. You only need to build a basic, standardweb app (PHP + MySQL) and then specially skin it for the iPhone using the aforementioned PhoneGap or other iPhone CSS/JS kits (and there are several out there).

You can hide the status bar in the iPhone app so that the user does not realize that you are basically going to a web page using the phone's Safari and displaying it. There are even ways to get info from the phone's accelerometer and GPS into the app using javascript, for things like "shake the phone to refresh the page" or "location awareness" and all that good stuff.

So yes, this is totally doable. Go for it!
posted by Asparagirl at 7:18 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

You might want to look into something called tilestack. It's a hypercard interpreter which will let you make a hypercard stack that's viewable in a browser. For an extra fee tilestack will compile your stack and let you submit it to Apple.

posted by sleepyflywheel at 7:21 PM on September 4, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the info. If I think I can get by with a few weeks of hair-pulling, I might go for it.

And, Asparagirl, did you used to blog?
posted by zachawry at 7:23 PM on September 4, 2009

Seconding glider. This is a project that would require very little programming beyond the basic scaffolding require in a typical iPhone application. Even adding support for additional purchasable "recipe packs" is a fairly trivial exercise for an experienced developer.

I have no experience with RAC, but I am a developer familiar with the iPhone platform and a project like this could take less than a day if your specifications are superb, or a week if they are ambiguous and require several iterations to get it right.

If you need any help with writing specifications that would make a developer jump with joy or even if you decide to embark upon this yourself (highly recommended and very rewarding), give me a shout and I'd be glad to help. I don't have much else to do while Apple reviews my own application. :-)
posted by PuGZ at 7:27 PM on September 4, 2009

If you're going to code an app to host on the iTunes store, remember that the price of entry is $99 for the SDK. Just another consideration.
posted by Aanidaani at 7:57 PM on September 4, 2009

I did, yes. But then I got back-to-back web-related jobs with NDA's attached, and between not being able to talk about what I was doing all day and a shortage of free time, I stopped.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:01 PM on September 4, 2009

Response by poster: I think what I'm probably going to do is "take the middle road." I'll hire someone to just design a very basic template for me: splash screen, table of contents, and pages of text with photos (possibly including photo thumbnails on TOC).

I'll download the developer's kit and learn how to copy and paste my content into this template. That CAN'T be too hard, right? :)

That means that I can also make any additions/changes without having to go back to the coder.

Thanks everyone for advice, and please buy my app when it comes out in a few months!
posted by zachawry at 10:25 PM on September 4, 2009

You do NOT have to know Objective-C to build an iPhone app,

Well, yes you do, pedantically speaking. An iPhone web app can be a bit like a real app, but it's still got a cargo cult feel to it, doesn't respond as quickly and -- crucially -- can't be sold on the App Store. What's more, while you can get to things like the GPS, you can't fix things to the bottom of the viewport, so you can't have a tab bar or a toolbar, which are fairly fundamental to real iPhone apps.

Still, if you know javascript, it's worth pointing out that Dashcode (free from Apple with Xcode) is turning into a pretty nice iPhone web app development tool.

I'll download the developer's kit and learn how to copy and paste my content into this template. That CAN'T be too hard, right? :)
Please make sure the developer knows this is the plan. He can set it up so that you just put plain text or HTML files into the application bundle in the resources folder and the app will load them at runtime.
posted by fightorflight at 4:50 AM on September 5, 2009

Your better of making the App for the PC. Your Idea seems like it would be a perfect canidate for the program MultiMEdia Fusion.

The website is www.clickteam.com you can make games and regular apps with no progaming (its more powerful then you think) . IF you know programming then you can extend the program with new modules.
posted by majortom1981 at 6:21 AM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

doesn't respond as quickly

Quickly enough for most uses, in my experience.

can't be sold on the App Store

Yes they can. Apple greenlit PhoneGap.

you can't fix things to the bottom of the viewport, so you can't have a tab bar or a toolbar

Coming very soon.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:22 PM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a programmer. I think you would find objective-c obtuse if you haven't programmed before. I certainly do at time. More so, the entire build process can be a bit daunting if you have never programmed before. I'd make a fancy web page. There are all sorts of features in webkit to make them viewable offline to boot.
posted by chunking express at 11:38 AM on September 9, 2009

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