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I have a client that wants me to post a competition for a large group of student freelancers to build an iOS app for an alumni group. The problem is that I have looked at the basic spec and it really doesn't fit an app. It fits a good mobile website. His prize is also a trip to the iOS developer conference and a 3-year personal iOS developer license.

My question is in three parts:

  1. If there is no actual device hardware interaction, wouldn't a mobile-optimized website inside an appframe be the best option, not a dedicated app?

  2. How do I politely convince a non-technical client that he is requesting something that is somewhat bad practice?

  3. I don't think the prize is really going to convince many college students to put serious effort into this. How should I get this across to the client?

  • The bigger question is which platform the app would be on: iOS or Android? There is no cost to entry for developing Android apps (as far as I know), but the same can't be said for iOS apps. That would make it cost-prohibitive. – Chris Forrence Jul 30 '14 at 22:01
  • @ChrisForrence My mistake meant to include iOS – ford prefect Jul 30 '14 at 22:06
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    Contest in general result in hobbyists submitting hobbyist work. No one dedicated to solid, professional, work is participating in a "contest" especially when the prize is far below market level for the work. I'm sure you've considered this, but I'd convince the client that a "contest" won't yield viable work. – Scott Jul 31 '14 at 8:27
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Simply tell him your feelings. If he doesn't understand, turn down the work.

I don't know enough about the situation, but it looks like he's simply trying to exploit the eagerness of students. As you said, the prize is hardly worth the effort.

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I think a contest such as this is a bad idea in general, because no-one, not even students should be subjected to spec work. http://www.nospec.com/ explains this very succinctly, but it's geared more to graphic design than coding, but the principle is the same.

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It's usually impossible to tell a client who is set on a project and is unwilling to listen to other viewpoints that something is A Bad Idea™. In that case, you can either go with a client's insanity (but if they're being unethical, you should usually just get out of there fast)

In this case, however, I'd argue that your client's idea is actually decent.

Firstly, it's an excuse for student developers to spend their day learning/working on iOS projects (they're both students and developers; if they're not enjoying programming at this point they made a very bad career choice). That alone is a decent enough incentive.

The prize itself is actually fairly nice for an iOS developer, too; a WWDC ticket is usually for media and big tech companies' employees, and students (especially when I was a student) would give limbs for a ticket there.

Student competitions can also be a very good way to find new ways for anything. Just ask Microsoft Students UK; they run events every few months and give away a ton of freebies to students, with bigger prizes for winners (disclaimer: I've participated in these competitions).

The whole point of this is while that the concept itself may seem like bad technical practice, it could actually be a way of finding decent potential iOS developers from a group of students, and encouraging them to become better at what they do. The spec is essentially meaningless - if it's that bad, help the client improve on it!

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  1. https://xkcd.com/1174/

  2. See #1. Also, a good way to talk a non-technical client out of anything is through budget and headaches. Explain that it will be more expensive and frustrating in the long-run to make a mobile app instead of a website, as you will be slave to Apple's policies, paying $99 a year for a developer license, forced to update to keep up with human interface guidelines for the latest version of iOS, forced to update to satisfy new constraints on the binary file, etc. You are pitching freedom on the open seas of the net, vs. tyranny under the oppressive Apple navy and their harsh laws and tariffs. He'll see reason.

  3. Three free years of the developer license isn't a good prize, but the developer conference might be exciting. A better approach is explaining that qualified and self-respecting developers won't waste their time on a contest, and the best results he'll get are from unqualified amateurs who will give him an unmaintainable app.

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Personally, I wouldn't want to touch anything that victimizes naive up-and-coming developers. Seems like he wants this app to sell, and wants to pimp the college kids out of their time. The prize likely doesn't match what he'd pay YOU to do it, which is why this approach is being taken.

This may haunt you in the future if you decide to take on the work!!! :)

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Seems like most of the answers are geared toward "who would want to do that?".

But there other questions asking about ways to gain experience. So, I would think there would be at least one person interested.

To answer your parts:

  1. Mobile-optimized website vs. dedicated app.

It all depends on the goal of the client. Perhaps he just wants an app listed in the app store. Seems legit enough.

  1. Convince him.

In your opinion it is bad practice, but that doesn't make it so. Your opinion may be correct and valuable to him and you could share it with him. If he opts to disregard your opinion, then you may choose to pass on the project. I have done many things in my professional career that in my opinion were not the best option, but I did them anyway.

  1. Prize as incentive

Again, this is your opinion because YOU would not participate. There are many different interest out in the world. I don't have interest in working on public open source projects, but there are MANY folks that love it. I, like you, would not spend time working on a project for a prize, but someone else may love the idea.

Again, share your opinion and then either do or do not.

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