Indie dev made $20,000 a day turning iPhone into a frosty beer

Indie dev made $20,000 a day turning iPhone into a frosty beer

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iBeer app on iPhone
Who could have thought drinking beer from an iPhone would be such a hit?
Photo: Hottrix

Steve Sheraton is one of the App Store’s original success stories. He was crashing on a friend’s couch when he first got the idea of making a funny video that made it look like he was drinking beer out of his iPhone, and a little while later, he was pulling in up to $20,000 a day in App Store revenue.

Here’s how Sheraton’s “iBeer” app, which celebrated 90 million downloads in 2014, became one of iPhone’s most popular apps and made a ton of cash.

iBeer started out as a silly YouTube video

There was no App Store when Sheraton, founder of Hottrix, had the idea of turning iPhone into a frosty beer, he said in an interview with MEL. So, instead of making an app, he put together a video that showed him “drinking a beer” on Apple’s new smartphone — then uploaded it to YouTube.

The video was inspired by an earlier clip Sheraton made that showed him drinking coffee from a Palm Pilot. And, to his surprise, it was wildly popular in 2007, attracting millions of views. “People were begging me to get this ‘thing’ on their phones — they didn’t even have a word for ‘app’ yet,” Sheraton said.

At the time, Sheraton was “dead broke, just trying to get by,” and living on a friend’s couch. So, he turned the video he’d created for iPhone into a download and sold it for $2.99 to make a little cash. That ended up being surprisingly popular, too, and Sheraton was pulling in $2,000 a day “for the longest time.”

But that’s nothing compared to how much Sheraton would be earning when the App Store opened its doors.

An early App Store success

Apple reached out to Sheraton, who was in his late 30s when iPhone made its debut, before the App Store was announced to the public. Cupertino wanted him to turn his beer drinking video into an app “because they obviously thought it would show off the phone pretty well.”

Sheraton set about doing just that. He took the looped videos and image sequences he had created — from real beer, which is why the foam looks so real — and turned them into assets that could be baked into an app. He also added accelerometer support so that the beer would respond to movement.

iBeer was ready for the App Store’s launch in 2008, and boy, was it a success. It originally sold for $2.99, and according to Sheraton, it was the number one download for about a year. At its peak, iBeer was “making $10,000 to $20,000 a day,” allowing Sheraton to rent out exclusive apartments in cities like Barcelona.

Hottrix also made $12.5 million when it sued Coors — and won — for releasing a near-identical app called “iPint.”

‘A good joke can only be told so many times’

Sheraton admits that earning so much money so quickly was a recipe for disaster. In addition to renting expensive apartments for $6,000 a month, Sheraton also blew a lot of cash on antiques to fill them.

“The app’s sudden massive popularity and that lifestyle — coupled with all the publicity and stress that comes with it — is an avalanche that can destroy people,” he said. “And when you have a problem with alcohol, all those problems are exacerbated.”

Of course, it was only a matter of time before the novelty of iBeer wore off and people stopped buying it. “A good joke can only be told so many times,” Sheraton, now 52, said. He eventually stepped away from Hottrix and relinquished the rights to the app.

The whole experience was “great fun” overall, Sheraton admitted, but he had to move on. He now lives a much simpler life on a farm in Spain, while iBeer is still available to download from the App Store. It’s now free, though users can pay to remove ads — and to unlock additional beverages.