Mobile app development is a complex, costly, risky but highly popular process. With the rise of smartphones, most businesses nowadays have their own mobile apps. Mobile apps have many plus points. The first one is their reach. These handy little tools find a home in the smartphones of users and are always in front of their eyes. Secondly, they are useful. From booking concert tickets to ordering food, these apps are capable of doing everything. So it only seems fair that this industry should thrive as much as it is. And if you are thinking of getting a mobile app developed for your business, or if you have an idea for an app which can help people, then we have created a simple step-wise guide for you to get you started.
So get set and go!
0. It all starts with an idea
Before the first steps, comes the step zero, which is basically where everything starts. The fundamental block of any business, the point where it all starts, is an idea. It all starts with one simple thought- why this and why not this? This need to constantly improve and make our lives a little easier, it is what drives our community forth. Most great ideas are spawns of needs. For example, take beverage can opening mechanism. In 1959, when the first aluminum cans were introduced, Ermal Fraz invented the pull tab mechanism for opening the beverage cans. The idea was so simple and yet so sufficient that it still dominates the market. Now if you look at this invention a little closely, the need behind it, the big WHY is quite simple to identify, Ermal felt that there was a need for an easier way to open cans. So he applied a little brain and the rest, as they say, is just history.
For you to create the next big app, this is something you need to have. The WHY behind the app, the reason for it to exist, the soul behind your smartphone app. The idea must be inspired by a need which you may have faced in your life or someone close to you have. Once you have zoomed in on this need, you can work on how you will satisfy it. For example, take the example of the can opening mechanism again. Ermal first felt the need for an easier way to open beverage cans. So, he went looking for it. This is what you need to do as well.
Once you have the need and a way to meet it, you are ready to move on to the second step.
1. Research, Research, and Research
Once you have an idea, the real work starts. The first step in the mobile development app development process is to conduct extensive research about multiple factors. The reason why research is so crucial is that what you learn in this phase will form the basic knowledge pool for your app. So make sure that you don’t rush this phase and do it right.
The first thing you need to research is your competition. The biggest source of knowledge for you will be the apps in the market that are doing the same thing you plan on doing with your app. What you need to do is take a look at top five or top ten apps in the field and then conduct a thorough study on them. Learn everything there is to know about them. From the platform they run on to features they provide and tools they were crafted with, you need to know everything about them.
Then start targeting their customers. Learn about what they like about a certain app and what turns them off. This will help you in two ways- the things customers like in your competitors’ apps, you need to adopt in your own as well and then things they hate, you need to avoid. So basically, this lays down a path for you to walk upon, the checkpoints you need to meet and the ditches you need to avoid.
To gather customer sentiment about apps, you can snoop on their app store pages and see what users have to say there. You can also conduct face-to-face interviews with their customers and do a kind of survey to gather better intel. Ask them what they look for in an app of a certain type and what should be avoided.
#2. Target Users
The second thing to research is your customer base. It is common knowledge that a certain type of app is developed by keeping a specific group of customers in mind based on their age, ethnicity, and gender. So you need to be sure of who your target users are going to be. For example, apps like Instagram and Snapchat are the younger generation’s tools, so anyone above the age of fifty is barely seen using them and so they have to keep the younger generation in mind while releasing updates and do things that they like. Similarly, you will need to find your users early on in the process because every decision you make during the development process will be greatly influenced by it.
#3. Trend Research
Then comes the last part of the research phase. Our world is ruled by trends, if you look at the human timeline, then you will realize that it is just us jumping from one hot trend to another. So you need to be sure of what is hot in the market right now. From the look of your app to its functionality all of it should be in alignment with trends because nowadays, people want to be updated on all fronts. From the mobile they use to the apps they use on it, all of it needs to be trendy. So you are not doing yourself a favor by developing an out-dated product. Also, make sure that you gain some foresight as to where the trend is headed and will be in the next couple of months or years as well.
2. Plan it out!
Once you have done your research and have gathered all the information, it is time to plan out your app. The first step of the planning is making a blueprint of your app. There are multiple phases involved with this step, let’s go over them one by one.
#1. Plan an MVP first
The first thing that you need to create is a plan for an MVP or a minimum viable product. An MVP is a smaller, more concentrated version of your app with only fundamental features in it. The idea behind creating an MVP is first and foremost getting clarity of the goals of your app, to figure out what will be the features which will work as an engine for your app. The other reason to develop an MVP is to create a buzz about the entire project and gather vital reviews about the app and its functionality in the early steps.
When you release an MVP, what you are doing is giving your users a glimpse of your solution. You are giving them a chance to experience the features and functionality of your app and then review it. It will get customers excited about the final product for one thing, and secondly, it will provide you with valuable reviews. These reviews will be harsh, naturally, and will tell you what works for your app and what doesn’t. So don’t be discouraged by them, ponder over them and take the valid inputs into consideration. This will not only appease your users but improve the quality of your app as well.
Select your basic features very carefully, they should make the functionality of your app and what you stand for, clear to your prospective users.
#2. Select a platform
There many smartphone OSs in the market, but only two of them dominate it on a broad scale. The first one is Google’s Android and the other one is Apple’s iOS. Both of these platforms are celebrated among their users and both of them have their own pros and cons. Let us see what Android app development has to offer first.
For Android, the biggest pro is the elaborate customer base. Statista shows that 88% share of the global market is owned by Android while iOS holds 11.9% as of the second quarter of 2018. So by sheer numbers, the market seems to be favoring Android. Furthermore, because it is open source, there are a lot of devices running on this OS. This further enhances its customer penetration. And smartphone manufacturers are releasing cheaper and cheaper smartphones to put a device in the hands of the most economically challenged sections. And moreover, there are over 2.1 million apps available on Google Play Store as of the third quarter of 2018; this only goes to prove that other businesses feel that Android is vital for their businesses as well.
But the problem with Android is basically its reach itself. Because it is so cheap and so easily available, people who don’t have a lot of money, can afford it too. So naturally, as an app it is a concern because it is a commonly accepted notion that Android users are not that willing to spend big bucks, on phones and on in-app purchases. So there an app loses a lot of business.
The case for iOS is the complete opposite of Android. It holds on 11.9% of the market and yet it gives Android a tough competition because its customer base contains the richest of the richest who could afford to buy expensive iPhones. Apple is known as a brand which puts quality on the top, for hardware and software both. So by developing an app for iOS and getting it accepted by the Apple App Store, which is incredibly snooty at times, gives you a certificate of authenticity and quality. Furthermore, since Apple is used by people who have money to burn, they are more likely to pay for in-app services.
But the problem is the small customer base. Since it is an Apple product, it is only available for iPhones, which are ridiculously expensive. So most people can’t afford them and an app developed for iOS exclusively suffers.
After learning about both platforms, one thing which gets clear is that it is not sufficient to develop an app for just one. Because targeting both groups have its benefits, we need to develop an app for both of them.
But the problem arises when there is a shortage of money and you can’t get both of them developed. What if you are a small investor and can only pay for one app? What in that case? Which one should you choose?
Well, before we answer that, we would like to make it clear that in order to run a business properly, you need to have an app on both platforms. If you are alienating out such a large portion of the market, then you’re not exactly doing what you set out to do, reaching the maximum number of people. That being said, if you are just beginning, then getting an MVP developed for iOS is the best way to go. The reason is simple- Apple apps take less time and money to be developed because the testing phase for them is shorter than Android. So if money is an issue, you should go for iOS but keep in mind that soon you will need to expand to Android as well.
However, there is another option that you can choose if you are a budgeted customer. Hybrid apps are basically web fronted apps which work on both platforms. They require a steady internet connection at all times to work and don’t need to be downloaded in the users’ devices at all. They work the way a website does with features of an app. They are cheaper and take a lot less time to be built. Basically, in the cost and time of one app, you can get an app that runs on both platforms. Some great examples of hybrid apps are Instagram, Uber, Gmail, etc.
But the problem with these apps is rigidity and low visual quality.
#3. How deep is your pocket?
This is the phase where you get real with your expectations. You can want to buy a Boeing, it is not going to do you any good if you have the money to buy a small model plane. What we are trying to say is that plans have a habit of being too big to turn into reality, for many reasons. And one of the biggest dream crushers of all time is money. Developing an app is costly. And in the end, even after doing everything the right way, there is not guarantee that you will achieve the desired results. So step into this field if you’re really ready to put in the money and a lot of perseverance.
Most development firms charge on per hour basis and until and unless you explain your project to them, you will not be able to know how much all of this is going to cost you. So a majority of the cost depends on the development firm you hire. But still, it is a good idea to have a fixed budget in mind.
There are multiple ways to fund your project these days. The first one is the riskiest of all, investing your own money. This is a really bad idea until and unless you have so much money that losing your investment on the mobile app won’t even put a scratch on your wealth.
The second way to fund your app is by finding investors. There are people out there who are known to sense potential in a business venture and invest money in maturing it, they can be very generous to really good projects. But at the same time, they can completely turn down your project. It suffices to say that investors are hard to find.
That is why there is a third way to fund your project- Crowdfunding. Sites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, etc. are basically platforms which let you gather money from strangers over the internet. What you have to do is upload your business proposals on these websites,
THE WHAT, THE WHY, AND THE HOW? Of your project. If people like it, they will make a pledge. You will be required to create a target. For example, you plan on raising $100,000 dollars in three months for your project. Now people start donating to your project and you start seeing progress. But you don’t get the money yet. You get your hands on that money only if you are able to meet your target, that is if you are able to collect $100,000 in three months. And if can’t, then you will get nothing.
Different crowdfunding platforms work differently though, so you might want to conduct a small research phase here as well, see which site suits you the best.
3. Hiring a Developer
Once you have conducted research, planned out your app, and have sanctioned a budget, you are ready to get on with the development phase. Now, there are two ways you can go about it, the first one is developing your app yourself.
You can assemble a team of developers, designers, and marketers and set up a development team which will work on your app only. But the biggest obstacle that you will face in this approach is that it will require a lot of work, and a lot of money and great leading skills. This approach is not very well suited for people who are developing their first app. So for them, the second option is more prudent.
You can hire a smartphone app development firm to develop your app. There are countless firms in the market who develop other people’s software, websites and apps. They serve multiple companies at a time and charge on an hourly basis. You can hire a development company as well for your app. But be wary, there are companies in the market who con their customers, charging too high and providing low-quality results. So make sure that before you reach out to them, you research a company’s past extensively. Check out their websites and read their portfolios. Most companies like to flaunt their achievements and customers, so if a firm hasn’t showcased its work on its site, then something is not right.
You can reach out to their former customers and ask about their services, too. The aim here is to hire a developer which is punctual, experienced, skilled and maintains good communication with their customers. To help you find a developer, you can take help of sites like Clutch which work exclusively in bringing customers closer to developers.
Once you kick off your project, you will need to keep in regular touch with your firm. Ask your development firm if they use platforms like Asana and Slack where you can monitor their tasks and their progress. Also, most development firms these days work on the Agile methodology so never go for one which doesn’t. Moreover, a development firm will make use of a communication channel like Skype, Google Hangout and iChat to organize calls with you. Make sure that you attend these calls and never leave a doubt hanging. Remember that it is your dream and money which is on the line. And lastly, you must only pay your firm on milestones. To get in touch with the jargon, you should study a bit about the Agile process before the development process starts.
Also, development is only half of the picture, once it is done your developer will run an extensive testing phase in which all the bugs will be identified. After the bugs have been fixed, the app will be deployed on major app platforms. But your work in not done here yet, once the app is out, you will be required to update it on a continuous basis as well. So hire a development firm which provides post-deployment support services as well.