App Portfolio - Your App, Your Portfolio, Your $$$

by Paul L. Richman, Ph. D.

December, 2011


The iPad Cometh 

Apple's iPhone with Retina display and iPad created a revolution in mobile devices.  Their displays are beautiful, and their owners want imagery that shows this beauty.  Unlike most Android owners, Apple device owners view even their mobile phone devices as software platforms, and they want and buy apps to enjoy on them.   

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Photographers, like most computer artists, tend to be Mac oriented.  When Apple released these mobile devices, many photographers dreamed of a global presence on these devices.  This article is about realizing that dream. 

"But there are half a million apps!  I won't even be noticed." you say.  Well, there are currently about 425,000 iPhone apps, and 125,000 iPad apps total (see Appendix A & B).  Under 3,000 are in the iPad Photography Category.  Most of these are photographic tools of some sort.  Only a small percentage are photographer's portfolio apps.  Your app portfolio will be noticed, especially at first, as it will get free advertising by appearing in a section on the main page of the iTunes Photography Category which lists new apps.

When a friend started writing apps for Apple's iDevices, I thought:  "Wow!  He's a rock star!"  Now, after a 3 month learning curve, I'm a rock star.  If you want to be one too, read on.

Development Approaches

There are basically two choices for developing your app portfolio:  do it yourself, or work with an app software developer.

 Comparison of development approaches  Do It Yourself Work with a Software Developer
Receive 100% of app revenue (after Apple’s 30% cut)  Yes  No
 Freedom to enhance your app, as desired  Yes  No
 Freedom to do multiple apps, as desired  Yes  No
 Paid directly by Apple  Yes  No
 Time consuming  Big Time!  Yes, but much less

Table 1:  Comparison of Development Approaches

No matter which approach you take, you will still need to prepare device optimized imagery for your apps.  Imagery should be at least the size of the device screens:  960 x 640 pixels for the iPhone 4, and 1024 x 768 for the iPad.  A small amount of sharpening, after size reduction, is essential to make imagery look sharp on these devices.  Digimarc watermarking will help alert you to imagery theft.  Photoshop's Save for Web & Devices… saves the smallest sized files.

The iPhone screen has a 3x2 aspect ratio while the iPad is 4x3.  You can use the same imagery for both devices, but it won't be a perfect fit for one of them.  My approach has been to mostly use 3x2 imagery for both devices, as most of my images are 3x2.  But most of my apps allow the user to expand imagery to fill the screen.  With this approach, I can simply use the aspect ratio that is best for each image.  I do sometimes make choices in favor of 4x3 as the iPad is the preferred device for viewing imagery.

Development Approach 1:  Be a Software Developer

If you register as an Apple developer, and you write and submit apps yourself, then you'll receive all the profits, after Apple takes its 30%.  

But I'm not a software developer!  you say, with some intimidation in your voice.  Well, it is indeed a major effort to learn to develop software.  And even if you do, development is very time consuming.  If you are retired, with time on your hands, this can actually be a benefit.  It will fill those retired hours and days with focused, exciting challenges and rewarding results.   If you are a working professional photographer, this can give you a new source of revenue and referrals, so it may be worth the time it takes.

There are many books out there to get you started, my favorite of which is:

Beginning iOS 4 Application Development by by Wei Meng Lee

Programming courses are available at local collages, although you're unlikely to find a specific app development course.  Still, a good starting point is coursework to learn the basics of the C programming language, object oriented programming, software design, development and testing.  Once you've done this, there are many web-based resources to help you with more advanced issues, if and when you get stuck.  Simply google a question or post it on the Apple Developer forum, and you're likely to find good answers.  You are not alone out there.

To write your app, you'll need to learn at least some of C, Objective-C, and Apple's Cocoa framework, upon which apps are built.   As a one-person shop, you'll design your application's user interface, build any 3-D components it requires such as buttons, design the implementation software, write the code, author a help file and any included descriptive text, and then thoroughly test the resulting application.  

Fortunately, Apple's developer website and the XCode development environment contain a ton of good (but often too brief) documentation.  XCode itself is a wonderful tool.  Building 3-D buttons would be another special challenge were it not for the lovely little app, Art Text 2, available from the Mac App store.

Once your app is ready, there's the Apple submission process to deal with.  Development and distribution certificates must be generated and installed.  iTunes artwork and screen captures must be generated and uploaded, along with the app itself and a marketing description.

App development is a highly focused, Zen-like activity.  During development, the rest of the world fades into the background.  One forgets death and taxes.  Each step naturally leads to the next step in a seemingly endless journey.  But then, eventually, and with great satisfaction, you have your first release, a working app.  If you're ambitious, you'll want to refine your app, based on your thoughts and customer feedback.  Dreaming up new features and then realizing these dreams in code is most delightful.  

If you develop your own apps, you will be able to see daily sales reports in iTunes Connect.   Which apps sold?  How many?  In which countries?  Daily answered questions that add zest to awaking each morning.

Apple reports are rather limited, though.  They don't tell you how much revenue you're generating across various countries and currencies.  They don't tell you which apps are selling best over various periods of time.  More insight into your sales can be gleaned from Mac Apps like my favorite, AppStar (don't get the lite version that's in the Mac App Store), or AppViz, or the much less expensive iPhone / iPad app, Sales & Trends  Visualizer.  If your app does extremely well, you might be able to justify the superior but extremely expensive appFigures.  

Apple will deposit your sales cut into your bank account each month, running about 30 to 45 days in arrears. 

Following are some notable examples of portfolio apps written by photographers.  Click on them to see their descriptions in iTunes. 

Bill Atkinson Bettina + Steinmueller
Ilya Genkin Steven Bushong

The Atkinson app is very sophisticated, offering a wealth of features and fine photographs, as well it should.  Bill was a member of the original Macintosh team at Apple Computer.  He designed much of the initial Macintosh user interface and wrote the original QuickDraw, MacPaint and HyperCard software.  He was a pioneer of the graphical user interface.   Bill offers both a free ("Lite") version and a paid, full version of his app.

Bettina and Uwe Steinmueller, fine art photographers and the team behind the Digital Outback Photo website, have produced a portfolio of their photographs as an app for the iPad and other Apple mobile devices. Called Fine Photo Show and available now for free, it's a pleasing way to view their landscape and interiors work and a good example of the usefulness of the iPad as a photo presentation platform.

There are many other examples.  My own app portfolio is self-written and discussed below.

Development Approach 2:  Work With a Software Developer 

Most portfolio apps in iTunes were done this way.  Various software developers have platforms they use to develop portfolio apps for photographers.  You can find them in iTunes just by looking at portfolio app descriptions.  Find an app you like and contact that developer.

Developing, submitting and maintaining new apps is time consuming, and developers must be paid.  Hence they typically take 50% to 80% of the revenue generated by your app(-s), after Apple's 30%.   You'll have to rely on your developer to get sales reports and payment.  If you're profit driven, the best developer to work with will be the one that can garner the most revenue:  20% of a much larger sales volume may be better than 80% of a tiny sales volume.

I worked with Dating DNA, Inc. for awhile, and was very happy with them.  They have an excellent server-based platform, along with an administration tool that let's the photographer add content, modify content organization, and add comments.  While their revenue sharing was at the lower end, their market acceptance was high, and we did well, until I decided to strike out on my own.

Developers are unlikely to implement features that are not consistent with their platform directions.  Hence you may have difficulty getting any pet ideas implemented.

There are a number of excellent apps of this type:

Mangelsen George Steinmetz
Vincent Laforet Elizabeth Carmel
Robert Granoff

From the app descriptions in iTunes:  

 "Thomas D. Mangelsen is recognized as one of the world’s premier nature photographers. Mangelsen’s accolades and critical acclaim range from being named BBC's "Wildlife Photographer of the Year" and the North American Nature Photographer's "Outstanding Nature Photographer of the Year", to being the recipient of a Royal Photographic Society Honorary Fellowship. He was named "One of the 100 Most Important People in Photography" by American Photo Magazine, one of only two wildlife-environmental photographers selected for the list."

 "George Steinmetz is a National Geographic photographer whose imagery reveals a world that otherwise would never be seen.  For the past 25 years he has brought to his work the eye of a master photographer, the mind of a Stanford-educated geophysics major, and the determination of an adventurer willing to risk his life in a motorized paraglider in search of natural beauty invisible from the ground."

 "Vincent Laforet’s career has taken him around the world multiple times.  He was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Photography” in 2005 by American Photo.  Vincent's work has been featured in National Geographic, Vanity Fair, Time, Newsweek, Paris Match, Stern, The New York Times Magazine, Wired, CNN, and Good Morning America among others."

 "A collection of stunning and inspiring wallpaper images from fine art landscape photographer Elizabeth Carmel, based on her books: "Brilliant Waters - Portraits of Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, and the High Sierra", and "The Changing Range of Light, Portraits of the High Sierra"."

  "The Robert Granoff Photographer app showcases the professional and personal work of Robert Granoff, who is a New York based photographer specializing in interior design and architecture. The app functions as a multidimensional business card, showcasing everything one would expect to see on a website, with the added advantage of taking it offline and placing it in one’s pocket, purse, or briefcase. Developed by Kilu Design."

Portfolio Types 

There are basically two major types of app portfolios:  server-based, and all-inclusive.  Server-based apps do not include any imagery within the app.  Instead they require an internet connection, and download imagery from a server as the user attempts to access it.  All-inclusive apps contain all imagery within the app, and thus require no internet connection.  Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages:

Comparison of Portfolio Types

All-Inclusive Apps

Server-Based Apps

New content is immediately available to app owners without requiring an upgrade


User must have an internet connection to view images  No  Yes

Fast, immediate display of content

 Yes   No
Small app download size (for original purchase and updates)  No  Yes
Lower usage of device memory  No    Maybe

Table 2:  Comparison of Portfolio Types

With all-inclusive apps, a new version (an update) of your app must be prepared, submitted and reviewed (by Apple) in order to add imagery.  Update reviews take from a day to a week.  Server-based apps make new content available to users as soon as it is installed on the server.  The real disadvantage of the app update process is not the delay; it's the effort involved.   Depending on how your app is designed, it can take significant time to prepare, test and upload an app update. 

Server-based apps not only require an internet connection, they require a fast internet connection.  WiFi is usually fine, but 3G can be too slow.  Server-based apps can cache some of the content, to mitigate speed problems, but not all content will be cached so problems remain.  Attempting to show a portfolio to clients with such delays can be frustrating.  Clients don't like to wait for slow display.  Server-based apps are typically tightly integrated with server-side code, so most won't work at all if an internet connection is unavailable.

While a server-based app may only be 5 - 10 megabytes (sans imagery), all-inclusive apps can be anywhere from 20 - 800 megabytes or more.  App purchase and update download delays are not that big of an issue, as they are done on WiFi and in the background.  The real problem with large apps is the amount of memory they take on devices.  Users may not want to devote large chunks of precious memory to picture apps.  While server-based apps can have an advantage here, their cache sizes can be large, mitigating the advantage.  Users can always enjoy several viewings of a new app, save the imagery they like to their Photos album, and then remove the app from their device.  They can easily reload the app anytime they desire through iTunes.  So, size may not be that big of an issue for many users.

Free or Paid? 

Some photographers have chosen to provide free apps showcasing their work.  This gives them broad exposure and can bring in new clients.  The Bettina + Steinmueller and the Robert Granoff apps above are examples of this.  Free apps can get 10 to 100 times more exposure (download volume) than paid apps.

Others want revenue from their apps.  If that is your goal, be forewarned.  Few developers strike it rich in this category.  Fine apps in other categories like Games, Weather, Navigation and Utility are likely to have far more sales.  

Most of us can expect to sell just one of each app every few days, to a few of each app every day, worldwide.  And that's at $0.99 a copy.  Charging more generally means fewer sales.  And remember, you only get 70%  of the proceeds, if you write the app yourself.  Doing the math, you'll see that this is not a highly lucrative endeavor for most of us.  However, if you are building a business, then every different type of income helps.  And referrals can lead to new indirect revenue.

When apps are first released, they have an automatic market presence in the third section of the app store Photography Category.  Sales or free downloads will be at their peak during the first few days, but then will likely dwindle over ensuing weeks and months. 

Apps with something truly special to offer will do better.

My App Portfolio

As of this writing, my own app portfolio consists of the following 23 apps: 





Misc and Macro: 

Tap on them here to open them in iTunes.   Content ranges from about 50 photos to under 200 photos in each app.  My apps show up on most of the currently 11 pages of iPad Photography Paid apps in iTunes on a Mac or PC. 

I did the development so that I could reap the advantages listed above.  My apps do not require an internet connection.  Each app is tuned with innovative features specific to its content.  All of them are universal apps, running on iPads 1 and 2, iPhones 3 and 4, and iPod Touch.

I have found app development to be just as rewarding as photography itself.  Like photography, it is a creative endeavor which can produce satisfying results.  Unlike photography, few tools and little expense is involved.

Your App Portfolio?

Are you intrigued?  Will you start this rewarding adventure, and get your portfolio out there for others to enjoy?  If so, good luck, and good coding….

APPENDIX A:  Total iPad Apps as of This Writing

Taken directly from the App Store app on an iPad 2 on September 18, 2011: 

Books  22,035
Business   5,258
Education  15,575
Entertainment  10,085
Finance    1,961
Games  19,178

Health & Fitness

Lifestyle    8,107
Medical    2,450
Music    4,127
Navigation    2,145
News    4,009
Photography    2,725
Productivity    3,571
Reference    5,170
Social Networking    1,382
Sports    2,838
Travel    5,661
Utilities    5,133
Weather    492
                 Total  124,265

You can also find over 200,000 books in the iBooks app's Store, available on both iPad and iPhone 4.

APPENDIX B:  Interesting Statistics 

According to an article in PadGadget back in May:

  • Upon the iTunes App Store launch on July 10, 2008, there were 500 total apps
  • 500,000 apps have now been developed by 85,569 unique developers
  • 37% of apps are available for free
  • The average price for paid apps is $3.64
  • Games represent 15% of the available apps, books are second most popular at 14% – a balance of power that continues to shift back and forth from month to month.
  • You would need 7.5 TB of storage to hold all of the apps from the App Store
  • It would cost you $891,982.24 to purchase all of the apps from the App Store
  • There have been over 10 billion total app downloads
  • The app to spend the most time in the #1 popularity spot is Angry Birds, for 275 days

Note that the 500,000 count for apps in the store represents those apps that were approved.  There are only about 400,000 live and available apps in the store right now (May, 2011) – the subtracted amount accounts for those apps that were abandoned by developers or violated App Store terms and conditions.

These statistics are remarkable. The investment into iOS development is considerable and market adoption is responding with enthusiasm and interest.

By comparison to Apple’s news, Google’s Android Marketplace was released 8 months after the iTunes App Store and it now contains 294,000 apps and has had 3 billion total downloads.