You thought of a great idea, got excited, open up Xcode and proceed to code it. And after a while... "Wait... what if someone already did this?" , you then did a quick search and bam, there's already dozens of similar apps. "Ah snap, well my idea isn't that original, someone surely could've thought of it earlier than me, right? 😢"
If the scenario above sounds like you, no worries! I have been there before (multiple times) and I understand it can feel devastating 😅.
The short answer for "Is it worth making an app where similar apps already exist in the App Store?" is Career wise, yes, it is worth it.
This post will explain why it is worth it to do it and how it can help your career.
If this is your first app, just do it!
If this is your very first app, just do it. Having an app in the App Store demonstrate that you are able to start an app from scratch, develop its feature and design (stock UI from Xcode drag and drop is fine), and most importantly, ship it to the App Store. Being able to ship is an important skill, this shows a lot of self-motivation / passion (Having an app in App Store says a lot more than just putting "passionate about coding" in Resume when applying for jobs) and also demonstrate coding ability to your employers. If you are a hiring manager, would you hire a self-proclaimed iOS developer without an app in the App Store?
I shipped two apps (Foxkana and uPush, now defunct) to the App Store before graduating University. These two apps are not unique and there are already dozens of similar apps in the App Store, I gained some iOS development experience (learned Objective-C, Delegate, calling API andparsing JSON etc) while developing those apps, stuffed these into my resume, and managed to get a decent iOS developer job right after graduating. During the interview, I showed my app source code to the interviewer and explained how I did those features, she got impressed and hired me without asking much technical questions.
Having an App in App Store (and also the source code to back it up that it's done by you) shows proof to potential employer that you actually know what you are doing.
Would you learn something new from making this app?
Ignoring existing competition in the App Store, would you learn something new from making this app? Say you don't have prior experience on calling HTTP REST API and parsing JSON and you want to make a weather app (there's hundred of these in App Store already), should you give up on making this app because of the competition? Of course not! By making this app, you might learn how to use URLSession to call API, parse JSON using Codable , how to get value out of closure etc, these are valuable skills as an iOS developer as majority of iOS job requirement requires this. Same goes to if you want to make a game using Spritekit, photo editing app using Core Graphics etc. If you can learn new library / framework / design pattern by making this app, you could increase your technical competency and perhaps check off more requirement boxes when you apply for your next job.
When I was developing Komuter, I wanted to learn how to implement In-app purchase. There are already two competitors doing the same app, and their apps are free (supported with advertisement). I worried a lot on "Will people use my app if my competitors are giving their app away for free?" during the development, but still proceed to finish it and submit to the App Store anyway because my aim was to learn how to implement In-app purchase that time, I didn't expect to earn any profit from the app. This experience helped me to get my second iOS dev job, which required experience in handling in-app purchase and validation check since the company's app is dealing with in-app subscription.
If you can learn something new from making this app, be it technical skill (eg: Core Data, In-app subscription, backend etc) or complementary skill (eg: design, copywriting, marketing etc) that can help your career progression, why not?
But what if I want to earn money from it? Do I stand a chance?
Now we're talkin'. Making money on App Store is an entire field of study of its own, there's business model (paid app, in-app purchase, subscription, ads), pricing, marketing, App Store search result optimization etc.
Before worrying on marketing, ask yourself that does your app solves a genuine problem? What is the app's target audience ('everyone' is too general), would using your app make their day better? Would you use your own app one month from now? These can be summed up as "Why would the user download your app?" , there's no chance of earning money if the user is not interested to download your app, so asking these are crucial.
It's not necessary to offer distinct feature to stand out from your competitors, your app can offer the same exact feature as competitor but better user experience, or cater for a more specific audience. Here's a great post on designing great software.
After confirming that your app do bring values to the user, the next question will be discoverability. How will user discover your app? Does your app appear in App Store search? What keywords do user search and what should you put in the keywords field during app submission?
There's also paid advertising, App Store search ads, Adwords etc, there are professionals who do these for a living. I don't have any experience on these hence I won't elaborate further.
App Store is a very competitive market, making a good app is almost a given, the important question would be how to make people aware of your app existence? I don't have a good answer for it, but here's some suggestion :
- Promote your app at r/apple on Saturday, they have self-promotion saturday to promote your own app
- Promote your app to relevant subreddit, provided you abide to the subreddit rules
- Submit it to Product Hunt
- Make your own landing page and collect interest with mailing list
- Similar to above, start a blog and post relevant articles to attract audience
- Buy advertisement?
Making money from app will mostly be 30% app development and 70% marketing. If you are not sure about whether it's worth to spend precious time on developing an app, I would suggest focusing on researching your app's target audience first (what problem do they have? Are they willing to pay money to solve a problem?) and how to reach them (p/s: getting their email might be the easiest way).
Once you are confident that your app can solve their problems and have a way to reach them, it might be worth it to spend time and effort on developing the app.
You might ask "hey! there's many people doing X kind of app, surely it is profitable right? else why would they do it?" . Hah, I have worked in a startup which their app offered coupon redemption (exactly the same as Groupon), and around that time there were at least 5 other startup doing the same thing, and my manager always said the same phrase "hey! there's so many company doing X kind of app, surely it is profitable!" , I bet the manager at the other startup probably said the same thing too. If there exist many apps with similar functionality, it might or might not be an indicator that it's profitable. The only way to know if it is profitable is to either do it yourself or read their Profit/Loss statement (if you can get access to it).
Indie app development is hard 😅, there's a reason why most programmers are happily employed in companies.
Career progression wise, it's definitely worth making an app and submitting it to the App Store despite existing competition.