Like many college students, Donnie McMahan was struggling to keep track of his assignments and due dates for different courses. But instead of heading out to buy a nice leather-bound planner, he decided to design an app.
McMahan, who graduated with a degree in computer science in May, enrolled in the new iPhone App Development course with Mark Johnson, professor of mathematics and computer science, in the fall of 2011. Their semester-long project was to design a useful application for the iPhone. McMahan chose to create an assignment manager to help himself and other students organize their work by course and due date and check them off as completed. His application, called Due Something!, was accepted to the iTunes App Store in April.
The approval process is tough, and many developers don’t receive approval the first time—or ever. Apple is dedicated to keeping the market free from dysfunctional, ugly applications, and they put developers through a rigorous process in order to achieve that. McMahan had to go through months of certificate signing and code signing to make sure his application was up to standards, as well as paperwork for the IRS so that he could get paid for any sales.
But learning the basics of app development was even harder than getting approved. “No one in my class had ever developed on an iPhone before, so there was a big learning curve,” says McMahan. It was the little things he thought would be easiest that turned out to be the most time-consuming.
Johnson guided the class through the semester until each student had a workable application based on their original idea. One student created an app that archives random information to be saved, like software keys. Another made a drawing app where the picture would disappear if the phone was shaken, like an Etch-A-Sketch. So far, however, McMahan’s is the only app to be approved for the iTunes Store.
Due Something! is selling for $.99, though McMahan is working on a free version that will be supported by ads. Dozens of people have already purchased the application, and McMahan hopes to make back the $99 fee he paid for the approval process. But for now he’s focusing on his career. In May, he started in the information technology department of Mahaska Bottling Company in Oskaloosa.
McMahan says he’s not expecting Due Something! to become another Angry Birds. But he enjoyed stretching his computer science skills and practicing in a growing, if still unformed, field. The ever-changing nature of mobile applications leads him to repeat a common refrain among web developers: “It’s still a work in progress.”