Apps are big business nowadays. Almost 200 billion downloads are believed to have taken place since Apple ushered in a new way of using smartphones a decade ago. The total number of downloaded apps is expected to double in the next five years, despite a simultaneous growth in voice-controlled chatbots like Siri and Alexa.
Each self-contained software program performs specific functions in a preordained way, often acting as a shortcut to functionalities found on websites or other online resources. Their effectiveness as ecommerce tools is beyond question, and a well-designed app can provide additional marketing and publicity to a willing audience. With most internet traffic carried on mobile devices, and time-poor consumers looking for near-instant answers to questions or problems, businesses have to go mobile or go home.
If your brand doesn’t have an app yet, it may well be costing you market share and new custom. Rival companies might have stolen a march by introducing their own apps, while third-party products may be meeting your customers’ needs. Although apps aren’t suited to every industry or service, they’re great as problem-solving tools. And whether your customers depend on your business for goods, services, information or entertainment, apps are often crucial for success in today’s smartphone culture.
For people unfamiliar with coding, starting this process may seem daunting. How do you decide what to include in an app, and the best way to design a robust yet user-friendly interface? Depending on whether your app is intended to be database-driven or entertainment-oriented, can you customize existing frameworks or is a completely new piece of programming required?
This is 100TB’s guide to launching an app capable of doing everything you – and your customers – would like. As with so many aspects of modern business life, we begin with market research…
#1. Conduct competitor SWOT analysis.
Even if you have a brilliant idea for something completely unique, look at existing apps to see how they perform in their own fields. How many seconds do they take to load and do they require registration? Are they free, paid-for or a freemium hybrid? Study the text accompanying app store listings to see which features are deemed most important, and read customer reviews to determine how glitches or limitations have been received.
#2. Define the app’s purpose.
It’s pointless investing significant sums of money into app development without a clear set of objectives. If you have a responsive website but a low volume of traffic, production costs alone would negate any business case for going ahead. Think about the apps you’ve got on your phone now, and consider why you use them rather than websites. Do they store all your data to make purchases or searches easier? Do they aggregate multiple data sources into a single view for simplicity, or do something a website struggles with on a small-screen device?
#3. Consider how to achieve key objectives.
Apps are great for expediting sales through discounts and promotions, offering customer support and providing information. However, as with point #1 above, you need a clear plan to accomplish these objectives. Over and above basic brand recognition, any app has to guide users along a linear route towards a predetermined outcome such as making a purchase or interrogating a database. If it doesn’t benefit your clients, they simply won’t use it. However, if it tackles pain points and makes their lives simpler, downloads will be easy to come by.
#4. Set a budget.
Now you know what your software is intended to do, consider budgetary constraints. App development costs anything from a few thousand dollars to a few million, so drop non-essential functionalities and focus on core objectives. Consider whether it’ll be realistic to charge a fee for downloads (typically ranging from $1 to $10), or whether in-app advertising might offset startup costs.
Advanced functionalities like in-app purchases raise revenue but cost more to include, while the advanced coding required for ecommerce tools makes these uniquely expensive to create. It may be cheaper to reuse an existing app framework, akin to using a WordPress website template rather than getting a bespoke site created as a one-off. These budgetary constraints also affect the next decision…
#5. Choose platforms.
An app isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Although much of its coding will be shared between different platforms, you need to consider which markets you’re pursuing. Android and iOS devices require separate coding, and so will a Windows version to target desktop users. Each extra platform increases the total cost, but in isolation, iOS and Android apps are only accessible to around half of smartphone users.
Like other points in this list, the ideal solution depends on the demographics of your target audience. Market research helps to identify trends among users, ensuring software is targeted at specific groups rather than the public in general. Making your app available internationally might require accepting foreign currencies, or displaying content in other languages.
#6. Prioritize aesthetics.
There’s always a trade-off between style and substance. However, beautiful graphic design elevates even a basic app into something classy that people are more reluctant to delete. Examine existing software – some use simple icons like Twitter’s bird logo, while others have stylish multi-color logos which stand out on a home screen. If you don’t already have a dynamic corporate logo or a Pantone color scheme, seek inspiration from a graphic illustrator or branding expert. App stores are crowded and ruthlessly competitive, so bland interfaces won’t cut it in 2018.
#7. Agree on the level of interaction and personalization.
Apps can be customized in numerous ways, from login screens and user accounts to search functionality and geolocation. They can provide push notifications and support automatic updates, with user interactions including chat functions and a ratings or review system. Some of these functionalities may be irrelevant – an app for an auto repair center won’t benefit from allowing users to change their avatar. However, GPS directions to the nearest branch would be worth incorporating.
#8. Choose a developer that meets your needs.
This sounds obvious, but it’s easy to choose the wrong app development partner. A freelance programmer could take ages to complete a project, whereas large agencies often charge a premium to cover their overheads and staff costs. Yet these polar opposites could deliver very similar apps for hugely different fees.
Each option has its pros and cons:
- Freelancers are the cheapest option and offer one-to-one account management, but they often struggle with complex functionality and require a long lead time.
- Smaller agencies combine a blend of skills with a real commitment to do their best, but again, they may struggle to produce larger or more complex apps.
- Big agencies charge big bucks for the wealth of knowledge among their workforce. They’ll do the job quickly, but might regard your business as just another project.
When choosing a developer, pay attention to the professionalism of their early interactions with you. Have they been recommended by someone you know, or got loads of positive online reviews? Have they amassed a track record of successfully completing similar projects? Are they enthusiastic about working with you, and are they willing to trust your judgment rather than insisting they know your audience better than you do?
#9. Set a realistic timescale.
App development doesn’t happen in a single stage, and 17% of new commissions take over twelve months to reach the market. Each project involves a number of key stages, usually including the following:
- Ongoing maintenance.
Each stage should have an approximate timescale agreed at the outset, so every party knows what’s expected and when. Perhaps there’s a key event or product launch in a few months’ time where an unveiling is scheduled to take place, or maybe there’s a need for something to be brought to market as quickly as possible. Don’t be tempted to take shortcuts by skipping a stage – testing is crucial for identifying glitches before they’re able to frustrate end users, while an effective design will improve the user experience for years to come. Insist on regular updates during the programming and testing stages, which often highlight a potential design or functionality issues. These can usually be easily resolved if they’re identified early on.
Established apps often benefit from periodic revisions, to eliminate glitches and implement changes based on user feedback. Ensure your chosen designer is happy to provide ongoing tech support and occasional code improvements. If they’re not, you’re likely to end up with a sealed-unit program that can’t be edited or improved in any way.
#10. Promote your new product.
Depending on which platforms you’re marketing your app with, the promotion might begin by persuading Apple or Microsoft to include it in their online stores. Then you need to pique the interest of target audiences through marketing and promotion. Few people will find your program by chance, so proclaim it in email signatures and social media campaigns. Advertising is useful if the budget permits while encouraging user reviews is a great way to forge a reputation for quality and reliability. This is where your market research from point #1 comes into its own, ensuring your app doesn’t repeat any mistakes made by its predecessors…