I’ve been doing mobile app development for several years now. I started over 4 years ago, to be more precise. In 2009, I started iOS app development. I had a first generation iPod Touch and a decent idea. About the only thing I didn’t have was a Mac, which was a big missing piece. Without a Mac, you can’t develop for iOS… sort of. In reality, you can get around the issue or at the very least, you don’t have to fork over over a grand for a shiny new Macbook Pro. On the other side of the fence, Android development is cheaper to start but presumably you would want a latest generation Android device to test your apps on. Again, you have options. Here’s a list of tips for getting into app development on a tight budget.
- Consider getting a used Mac. I purchsaed my Macbook pro for $550 on Kijiji. It was 2010 when I purchased it and it’s a 2009 machine. Yes, I got a great deal on it, but there are many great deals to be had on Kijiji. You just want to ensure that it’s an Intel based system. iOS development is only possible on Intel based Mac’s. That’s an important thing to note. The other thing to be aware of is that many good deals for Macs have some caveats. They may be missing a power adapter or the battery may not work. After you purchase, if you need a new battery, don’t get one at the Apple Store. You might want to go to the Genius bar at an Apple store to confirm that yes, it just needs a new battery, but buying one there could run you nearly $200 in some cases. That’s absolutely outrageous. The last Macbook battery I purchased was from eBay and I paid a paltry $40 for it. It wasn’t OEM, but it has lasted quite a while.
- If you fear getting things used, consider purchasing a Mac Mini. In Canada, the price starts at around $599.
- The third alternative to getting a new Mac is to build a Hackintosh. This is possibly not the most legit way of getting things done, but would work. You may even already own a compatible system. Work your Google-Fu to get more info on building a Hackintosh. I’ve done it several times in the past. It’s a bit of upfront effort and there is also the fact that you would probably be best to avoid Apple OSX updates or be incredibly careful with them. An OSX update that modifies the kernel or kext files is the ultimate “Doh!!” for Hackintosh users. This also unfortunately means that if a new version of xcode comes out and you would need to update your system to use it but you don’t want to break your system, you kinda get screwed.
- iPod Touch is your friend. If you don’t have an iPhone, just get an iPod Touch. And even consider getting one used. There are plenty available. Go low capacity as well. Unless you’re developing an app that takes > 16gb to run, what’s the point?
- If you’re looking at Android development, fortunately you can work in Windows, Mac or Linux. So you probably already have a dev system available. If it’s a device that you need, again, don’t go and purchase a new Samsung Galaxy S4. Consider instead one of these alternatives: Purchase used from eBay or Kijiji or Craigs List. Used Android devices abound. Be careful though. You will want to get something that supports the latest and greatest of Android OS’s. Often times, even though the official Android device manufacturer doesn’t support new Android OS’s, you may still be able to wrangle it on by way of an unsupported ROM.
- The alternative to purchasing used is to look overseas for a cheap manufacturer. http://www.DealExtreme.com is awesome for this. In the last year or so, this Chinese gadget website has started selling many many Android devices. As of today, you can pick up a quad-core 1280×720 resolution 4.7 inch Android phone, packed with features, for well under $200!! I just ordered a brand new dual core 7-inch Android tablet that supports Jelly Bean for less than $100, all in, free shipping. The caveat here is that it generally takes 3 weeks to ship from Deal Extreme, but if you’re just getting going, no need to have an actual device. It will take at least three weeks before you have something decent that you need to test on an actual device. One of the drawbacks to not having a physical Android device is that the emulator typically doesn’t run well on a PC.
- Windows Phone 8 and now perhaps even BlackBerry 10 may be a little more difficult to procure hardware for. Again, however, I’d check for used devices. I’d also consider just asking on Twitter for a dev device. Who knows, maybe one of the dev relations folks will be nice to you?
There’s also the cost to get into the various developer programs. Apple and Mircosoft both charge $99 per year. For someone who is just doing this for a hobby, $99 (annually) isn’t cheap. Android is a little less expensive (well, over a number of years significantly less) with only a one time $25 fee to get apps on Google Play store. Here’s where BlackBerry is cheapest because it’s actually free to submit apps to BlackBerry World.