Category: Business

Limiting an iOS App to Friends and Family

I sometimes see questions on forums from people who have developed an iOS app and want only friends and family to be able to install the app. Apple does not currently allow you to restrict an app to friends and family, but there are two alternatives that will allow you to effectively reach that goal.


Apple now has unlisted app distribution for releasing apps that won’t appear in App Store listings.

Put the App on the App Store

The simplest solution is to just put your app on the App Store. Many of you think this is a bad idea, that putting your app on the App Store will allow anyone with an iOS device to install the app.

Technically you’re correct. When you put an app on the iOS App Store, anyone can install the app. But no one will know your app exists. The only people who will install your app are the people you tell about the app.

In early 2017 I released a free word game for iOS and Mac, LetterMiner. When I released the game I got a few dozen downloads on the iOS App Store due to the game being new. But then the downloads dried up. In almost three years, I have had fewer than 100 downloads of the iOS version. And I wanted people to play the game.

As long as you don’t publicize the app, your app will effectively be limited to your inner circle of friends and family. You may get a few outside downloads when you first release the app, but after that the downloads will trickle down to zero. There are so many apps on the App Store that people are not going to stumble upon your app by browsing the store.

Keep the App Perpetually in Beta

A more complicated solution is to keep your app perpetually in beta and add your family and friends as beta testers in TestFlight.

The advantage of TestFlight is that no outsiders will be able to install your app. The disadvantage is that you have to submit a new beta build every 90 days. That’s why I recommend putting your app on the App Store. Release your app once and as long as you avoid publicizing the app, you will reach your goal of limiting your iOS app to friends and family.

Why Make Mac Apps?

Why would anyone want to make Mac apps? Apple sells way more iPhones than Macs. Why not go where the people are and just develop iOS apps?

But there are valid reasons, especially business reasons, to make Mac apps.

  • You don’t have to pay an annual fee to Apple.
  • You can distribute apps from your website.
  • You can make what you want.
  • Mac users buy apps.
  • Less competition.

Not Paying Apple’s Annual Fee

Have you ever wanted to make an iOS app for your personal use? You have to join Apple’s paid developer program, pay Apple $99(US) each year and put the app on the App Store. The only alternatives are to jailbreak your iOS device or reinstall the app every week with a fresh provisioning profile.

You can make a Mac app for your personal use without paying Apple every year. Download Xcode, create a Cocoa application project, develop the project, and run it on your Mac.

Distributing Outside the App Store

Suppose you want to start a business selling software. If you want to sell iOS apps, you have to pay the annual fee, get your app approved by Apple, and have Apple take 30 percent of each sale.

To distribute and sell a Mac app, all you need is a website and a payment processor, such as Paddle or FastSpring. Upload your app to your website and create an account with a payment processor. Payment processors usually take around 10 percent of each sale. With a Mac app you can keep 20 percent more of each sale.

Make What You Want

You don’t need Apple’s permission to distribute Mac apps. If you want the freedom to make the apps you want, make Mac apps instead of iOS apps.

Mac Users Buy Apps

Mobile users want apps to be free or cost a few dollars at most. That’s a hard way to sustain a business.

Mac users are willing to pay more for software, especially if it’s an app they use to get work done. It’s going to be easier to get a few thousand people to pay $50(US) for a Mac app than to get tens of thousands of people to buy an iOS app at any price.

Less Competition

Apple sells way more iPhones and iPads than Macs. But there are also lots more iOS developers and iOS apps than Mac apps. Good luck getting someone to stumble upon your app by browsing the App Store.

Apple sells millions of Macs each year. Presumably some of these people are also buying software for their Macs. A market with millions of potential customers and relatively few competitors is easier to reach.

Want to Learn About Making Mac Apps?

I wrote a book on Mac development.

Building a Product Business: the 30×500 Method

Many Swift developers dream of building a business developing their own products. I found a realistic method of building a product business, the 30×500 method, which was developed by Alex Hillman and Amy Hoy at Stacking the Bricks. The method is geared towards people with full-time jobs who want to start a product business on the side and build a full-time business from there. This article provides an introduction to the 30×500 method.

Choose an Audience to Serve

Instead of choosing a product idea and hoping that people will buy it, start with an audience to serve. Research the audience, find what they need, and come up with a product that serves one of their needs.

A good audience has the following characteristics:

  • They hang out online.
  • They buy things.
  • They share information.

If you’re not sure of what audience to serve, start with an audience that you already are in. Most of the people reading this article are Swift developers making apps for Apple platforms so I will use Swift developers as the example audience for the rest of this article.

Find Your Audience’s Watering Holes

After choosing an audience, the next step is to find their watering holes, where they hang out online. Some examples of places where Swift developers hang out online include the following:

  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Slack chat rooms
  • Stack Overflow
  • Apple’s developer forums
  • Mailing lists
  • Blogs
  • GitHub

The best watering holes are places where people have discussions. That makes Reddit a better watering hole than Stack Overflow.


Finding Swift developers on Twitter is going to require some searching and use of hashtags. The following are some search terms that will help you find Swift developers:

  • #swiftlang
  • Xcode
  • The names of Apple frameworks, such as UIKit and Core Data
  • The names of classes in Apple’s frameworks
  • Apple developer conferences, such as WWDC and AltConf

Either follow the Swift developers you find through your searches or build a list so you can see what they’re talking about on Twitter.


The following Reddit groups are where Swift developers congregate:


The following Slack chat rooms are where Swift developers congregate:

Slack chat rooms require an invite to join.

Sales Safari

Visit the watering holes and research what people are talking about. When you find an interesting discussion, create a new text document with the URL of the discussion so you can go back to it in the future. Add sections named Pain, Jargon, and Recommendations in the text document.

Write down any phrases that express pain and frustration in the Pain section. The original question will be the major source of pain.

Write down any jargon in the Jargon section. Examples of jargon for Swift developers are the names of Apple’s classes and frameworks. The term massive view controller is another example. You can use the list of jargon to search the watering holes and the Internet for more discussions and data.

Write down any recommendations in the Recommendations section. Many of the answers to the original question are going to be recommendations. If someone suggests doing something or avoiding something, write it down.

Sales safari takes a long time to generate data, 30 hours or more. But when you gather the data you will have a better understanding of your audience and its needs. Patterns will emerge.

Participate in the Community

While you do the sales safari, participate in the community to build trust. If someone asks a question that you can answer, answer the question. When people see you helping other people, they are more likely to trust you.


E-bombs are educational blog posts or videos. If you find multiple people asking the same question during your sales safari, answering that question is a good topic for an e-bomb.

When someone asks that question in the future, you can answer the question and link to your e-bomb for more detailed information. Doing this lets you get the word out about your e-bombs without being seen as self-promoting. Answering a question with a link to your e-bomb is going to be more effective than posting links to the e-bombs on Reddit or Twitter.

Develop a Small Product

Once you gather data on your audience, know what they need, and build a following with e-bombs, you can start building the product. Start with a small product that you can finish in 2–3 months. If you pick something too big, you may never complete and ship the product. You’re more likely to ship a smaller product.

Additional Information

The Stacking the Bricks website has numerous articles and podcasts on the 30×500 method. They also have a free email course.

If you have two thousand dollars, you can enroll in the 30×500 class that walks you step by step through the 30×500 method. They have signups every 3–4 months.