Writing a Throwaway App

2 minute read

As I was mobilizing late last year (in mid-to-late December), I had an idea of an easy, simple app that I could write for the iPhone. It would serve a purpose both my wife and I had (tracking the length of my deployment in a single pie chart à la the Deployment Donut or Donut of Misery), and once written, I would not need to maintain it. It was a to be a throwaway app.

I think I first heard the term throwaway app on the MDN Show in 2010. A throwaway app is an app that is written with comparatively little investment in the intention that it will require no maintenance or commitment, while possibly generating a little income. So I had this throwaway app that I submitted to Apple while sitting on an upper bunk in a 50-man tent over a sporadic wifi connection in Manas. If Apple approved it, I had a throwaway app, knew I could develop an app, and could contemplate writing other more complex apps that required commitment.

Well, maybe not. After Apple approved the app and I got it into the App Store (almost the day I arrived in theatre on my deployment), I quickly got a number of emails offering to review the app from questionable operations, and a week later got my first review.

One Star. Negative comment. The app disappointed. Additional reviews were equally negative.

I had failed. I doubted that I could write an app. Even a simple one. Eventually I relaxed enough to think that I could recover from this, that I could fix the issues in the app, and at least get a positive comment about it.

In a few weeks, I managed to release the first update, which addressed not only the initial negative comments, but also a few issues I had noted over time and which managed to provide a revenue stream (an In-App Purchase that eliminated adds and allowed the app to display multiple pie charts).

I got positive reviews. And people actually upgraded the app—enough so that the app covered the costs of developing it (excepting my labor), and revenues from the app increase every month.

Since then I’ve released two updates that address bugs. I am preparing an update to introduce some new features. Clearly the App is no longer a throwaway appI am now committed to the app. Now if only I can figure out how to market it on the cheap…

Incidentally, the App in question is Doing Time, is currently well rated, and other than a support page for it, this is the first mention I’ve made of it other than on the App Store itself. I deliberately attempted to avoid describing the app while writing this, since this essay is about a throwaway app that no longer exists, since it receiving active maintenance.