How to create an app – Not programmatically

A fellow coder asked:

“How does one go about developing an app from scratch?  Where does one start?”

Blueprint iOS App Design by Marcio Valenzuela
Blueprint iOS App Design

My response follows:

Some will say its a matter of style and you have to find your own. And eventually you will, after a lot of copy-paste programming. I started in 2009 and my first app was a copy-paste of a few different projects. All the app did was connect to the Internet, download XML and parse it into a uilabel.

Then I decided to look into more complex app samples. So I downloaded a few from Apple. In particular I remember iPhoneCoreDataRecipes. In hindsight, it was too complex for a beginner but I’m very visual. So the variety of viewcontroller objects made it easier for me to understand. I intentionally stayed away from the coredata logic and took it for granted. I focused on how data was created, passed around and manipulated in the program. I remember I printed out the main class files, about 10 classes in all. Then I started making drawings of each object and tried to decipher who called who and how. That’s when I learned about delegates and protocols. That’s also when I learned to use breakpoints because I went crazy trying to follow NSLogs. It was a great learning experience.

Then I tried following a Stanford course…it helped but it was confusing. So a funny thing happened…I bought Learn Cocos2d by Ray Wenderlich and Rod Strougo.
This is when OOP sank in! Oh yeah, everything is an object!

This was a real eye opener for me. Then I started using SO and the Dev forums which taught me to read the documentation. I learned because for the most part they would all say “Read the docs!!!”. So I was forced to learn how to read documentation. After that I was able to read other docs like Twitter and Cocos2d and many others.

So now when I start a project I grab a pencil and a lot of paper. I start with the business aspects, marketing namely; who is the app for, what others exist, how will they use it, what would the app need to have for those users to like it?

Then I draw viewcontroller objects. Kinda like a huge storyboard with viewcontrollers. This forces me to visually see where the user will start, where data will be created, manipulated and consumed. This way I know which view controller objects need access to data and how they will receive or send it.

Finally I start to write method names of what each view controller will do and how it will interact with other and the data it needs, right below each object in the pencil storyboard.

Only then will I start to code classes. And even when I DO code classes and their methods, I will usually create all empty methods with just comment lines of what a block of code should do. I’ve picked up some personal ideas along the way such as adding an Empty File to be my Journal of what I did each day and what to do the next time I open a project. I also use #warning #PENDING lines to call attention to the comment lines which say what to do but needs to be done in each class.

When in designing the pencil storyboard I’ll usually google for third party libraries that can do certain things that perhaps apple’s native ios sdk won’t do.

Looking at sample code helps a lot. It teaches you some basic patterns like how to use singletons to connect to resources or synchronize data stores and use blocks or protocols to communicate efficiently.

In the end you will develop your own style and procedures. I believe time is the answer you’re looking for. 🙂


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