Chris Russell is the creator of the Corona-powered Cost a Cake and Cost a Cake Pro for iOS. Created for cake makers, Chris’s business apps have soared to #1 in the Food & Drink category of the US and UK App Stores, and reached the Top 10 in a number of additional stores around the world.

Chris initially started the project as an Xcode-based iOS-only app, but quickly transitioned to Corona SDK for the cross-platform capabilities of the platform. Today, Chris shares his experience developing a successful business app with Corona SDK.

Cost a Cake Pro iconBuilding business apps with a games creation toolkit is a bit risky, isn’t it?

I have to admit, that when I started to code Cost A Cake, a paid-for big sister Cost A Cake Pro, with Corona SDK, I wasn’t totally sure that it would be a success.

Glancing through the forums there was little support for anyone in the ‘serious’ app market. Sure, if I wanted to produce a cake balancing game with Box2D physics, parallax backgrounds and online high score tables I was in luck, but for an app that would allow business owners to price up cakes and produce quotes, was I biting off more than I could chew?

The last 12 months have been a real eye-opener to the possibilities that Corona SDK offers. It’s not perfect, but it’s orders of magnitude better then any of its competitors, and the results have been pretty good, as our customer feedback can attest.

Compared with games, business apps can be tricky beasts. There’s a structure to ‘serious’ software that requires insight into databases, workflows, page designs and all kinds of things that would normally make you shudder with fear, but the single biggest takeaway I’ve found with Corona SDK is that it CAN be done, if there isn’t an out-of-box solution, then you can take the box, duck tape a few extra flaps on it and you’re ready to go!

It sounds simple, and sometimes it is. On other occasions you have to strike out in new and unknown directions, try something different and wait for feedback. In Cost A Cake Pro, I implemented a custom keyboard. It was quite a cool module that allowed the keyboard to be skinned and colour-coordinated to the app and it was configureable to a stupid degree. I was very pleased with it. Sadly, the paying customers weren’t and wanted to use the native keyboard of their phones and tablets so there was nothing for it but to start work on an immediate update swapping new and groovy for old and familiar. I have to admit to being disappointed but, as the old store saying goes “the customer is always right.”

It occurs to me after 12 months of late nights and hard work there are some things that could improve for serious app devs – some form of scene layout tool (think XCode’s design tool) could seriously reduce development time, but for any shortcomings in the software, it’s the initial planning and prep BEFORE touching the keyboard that can make the difference: Is there a market for the app? How big is that market? Have you considered marketing? What about social media integration? Do you understand the requirements for the target market? And so forth. It’s these kinds of issues that will make or break your work and determine whether you’ll make money or lose hope.

It strikes me that Corona provides plenty of opportunity for business app development as well as for game developers but from what I’ve seen on the forums (three posts in the ‘Business Apps’ sub-forum!) there are few taking on the challenge – care to join me?

Chris Russell

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Guest post: Building a #1 business app with Corona SDK