How to Make an iPhone App

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The heavily-hyped iPhone has been out for over two months now, and it’s still going strong. If you’re a developer, you may be wondering how you can get in on the party.

Read on to find guidelines, tools, and other useful resources that will help you get your application on Apple’s newest creation.

The Lowdown

Due to security and stability concerns, Apple hasn’t made it terribly easy for developers to get on the iPhone. In fact, they’ve officially ruled out any native applications, even though there are unofficial ways to get around that.

That does not, however, mean that there’s no hope for third-party iPhone apps, as applications can run on the Safari web platform. There has been speculation that this arrangement may change in the future, but for now, you should develop with the assumption that you’re relying on Safari.

See What Others Are Doing

You’re not alone. There are quite a few third-party iPhone app pioneers out there already, and for the most part, they’ve done a great job.

For a little inspiration, take a look at some of the successful iPhone apps that are running right now.

  • ApolloIM: ApolloIM puts AIM-style instant messaging on the iPhone.
  • Scorekeeper: Keep score with this simple us vs. them app.
  • Loud is Relative: Users can look up events in their zip code. This app is integrated with Google Maps and phone call features.
  • Tip Calculator: Maybe you’ve had a little too much to drink, and you’re just not up to doing math in your head. With the Tip Calculator, all you have to do is worry about hitting the right numbers.
  • MyBudge: With MyBudge, you can track your spending and budgets on the go.
  • Car Payment Calculator: Do your own math when you’re at the dealership with this useful application.
  • gOffice: With gOffice, you can create Word documents, email, snail mail, and more.

Development Guidelines

When developing an app for the iPhone, there are a number of things you should keep in mind. Apple has put together an extensive guide for iPhone developers. Here are the highlights.

  • Be Safari compatible: This one’s pretty obvious, as web-based apps will clearly run on iPhone’s Safari browser, but remember that this compatibility is essential.
  • Design for fingers, not mice: iPhone users tap, not click, so make sure you keep this input in mind. Leave room for fat-fingered users and consider designing for different capabilities, like pinching.
  • Throw windows out the window: iPhone’s Safari has no windows, so users can’t resize or move browser windows. Instead, content is automatically scaled down, and users can zoom in.
  • Double taps: When an iPhone user double-taps, Safari finds the closest block and responds appropriately. Because of this, you’ll need to consider your layout carefully, focusing on columns and organized sections rather than wide text blocks.
  • Go with what you already know: If you’re ambitious enough to design an app for the iPhone, we’re going to assume you already know the basics of web standards. Stick with what you’re currently doing and you’ll be well on your way to looking good on the iPhone.
  • Take advantage of integration: Make your app play nicely with others by adding code that activates phone calls, Google Maps, email, and other useful features.
  • Consider style sheets: You can create a style sheet just for the iPhone, but make sure that you set the query as “screen,” because the iPhone will ignore print and handheld media queries.
  • Ditch your friends Java and Flash: The iPhone does not support Java, Flash, or downloads, so forget about it.
  • Stay small: Resources must be less than 10 MB, whether they’re CSS, JavaScript, HTML, or anything else. Also keep in mind that JavaScript execution times out after 5 seconds.

Useful Tools

Get a boost from these helpful tools that make designing for the iPhone just a little bit easier.

  • iPhoney: With iPhoney, you can get a 320 x 480 pixel canvas to see how your app will look on the iPhone’s small scale.
  • Scriptor: Morfik’s Scriptor utility, which is built into the WebOS AppsBuilder platform, can be used to develop iPhone applications.
  • Firebug Debugger Plugin: Firefox users can take advantage of this tool to extract style sheets from iPhone apps.
  • QuickTime Pro v7.2: With QuickTime’s Export command, you can prepare videos for iPhone’s Wi-Fi and EDGE networks.
  • Aptana IDE with iPhone Development Plugin: Get preview support, starter files, Ajax library imports, and more with this plugin.
  • iPhone Interface: This JavaScript tool lets you see how your app will perform on the iPhone.
  • JavaScript and Spec Benchmark: While not a “tool,” we’re sure you’ll find John Murch’s information very useful for iPhone testing.

Get the Word Out

Let people know your application exists by listing with these popular iPhone app communities.

  • Applists: Users can find and save their favorite iPhone apps using this website and tool.
  • How to Create an App and Make Money: Good section on advertising and selling your app.
  • iPhone Widget List: Join the ranks of other feed readers, launchers and games on this list of iPhone widgets.
  • iPhone Phinds: Like a Digg for iPhones, this site brings social media and iPhone news together better than ever.
  • iPhone Application List: Get added to this list and discuss your creation on the forum.

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