With more than5 million apps available across Apple and Google’s app stores globally, you’d expect there wouldn’t be too many lessons to be learned around the building an app. However, there are always lessons to be had and, based on what we – and our fellow app developers – are asked most every day, here are three things every first-time app developer should know but, usually, doesn’t…
That if you build an app, you’re probably not going to get rich quick!
While Uber and Facebook are actual billion-dollar ideas, such apps are few and far between. Yes, your idea may well be the next SnapChat or Instagram (and we certainly hope it is), but million and billion-dollar apps, no matter how simple, require a lot of work.
“Most people can’t see the countless hours of development time and, in some cases, millions of dollars that have gone into building the world’s biggest and best-known apps,’’ says Guy Cooper, Wave Digital’s Managing Director.
“And, that’s the thing: Developing a successful app is about more than just an idea, it’s more about the implementation of that idea and the other unseen work that goes into making a successful app successful. It is, often, more about all the work you don’t see than the app you do see!”
“Most overnight successes are anything but,’’ adds Guy. “Many of them have years, if not decades, of work behind them, so, be sure to keep that in mind when you’re thinking of turning your brilliant idea into an app.”
That you can just jump in and build your app… without any research
“I think one of the biggest mistakes first-time app developers make is that they don’t do any research with potential customers before approaching an app developer,’’ says Guy, who has overseen the building of hundreds apps since he took over Melbourne-based Wave Digital in 2013.
“It’s not a terrible thing because so many first-time app developers are so passionate about their idea, they truly believe everyone else will be, but that isn’t always the case and, by doing a little research, they can find that out before they spend any money.”
Of course, adds Guy, any app development agency can help first-timers with the research phase of their app development, but it is best if clients do some market research before approaching an app developer.
“It doesn’t have to be a survey of 1000 people, but even knowing the basic numbers within your industry or what problem your app idea will solve will help. You should also ask yourself if someone else has already solved the same problem and who is having the problem you think your app will solve.
“You just might find that the problem you’re trying to solve isn’t one that’s big enough to warrant the time, effort and money that will go into developing your idea,’’ says Guy, “or that someone else has already solved it, but, hopefully, this initial research will actually show that the problem is big enough – and you’ll be the first to try to solve it!”
That the first version of your app has to be perfect
No, really, it doesn’t. The first version of most app won’t ever be the final version.
“App development is iterative,’’ says Guy, “there is never a straight line to a solution.
There are learnings to be had along the way so you should approach your app development from a long-term perspective and with the knowledge that you will learn as you go along and improvements will need to be made, especially once your app is in the hands of real users.”
Some apps take months to gain traction, while others may take years and, sadly, there are plenty that never will.
“It’s a long process,’’ says Guy “and app development is not suited to anyone who expects immediate results or an overnight success. It’s really important to be realistic about your timeframes and your expectations.”
Finding an app developer isn’t difficult – but finding the right one to build an app for your specific business or your specific idea can be more challenging.
Why? Because app developers come in many flavours, with varying levels of experience and expertise, as well as vast differences in their understanding of all other aspects of app development, such as customer research and marketing.
Choosing the right developer can make the difference between your app being a hit with your customers and it being something they’ll never use and, of course, choosing the wrong one can affect your reputation and, ultimately, your bottom line.
So, it’s crucial to take your time and perform a little research before putting your business and its reputation into someone else’s hands. After all, this due diligence could save you a lot more than just money.
Here are nine questions to ask yourself – or your potential app developer – before signing on the dotted line.
What experience do you have developing apps?
It may sound obvious but does your prospective app developer have any real experience developing native apps? Anyone who has completed even the most basic online app development course can dub themselves a mobile developer, but be sure to ask them to show you what apps they’ve built.
If a developer’s repertoire comprises mostly template rebuilds or smaller apps on a platform other than the one you wish to build on, they may not have the experience necessary to properly pull off your job.
That’s why you need to look for an app developer who has experience building mobile solutions for trustworthy brands, a developer or team of developers who have credibility because they’ve developed complex apps before.
Have you worked in my industry/category?
While you wouldn’t necessarily discount a mobile app developer who hadn’t built an app similar to the one brewing in your mind or within your industry, it’s always wise to ask this question. If they have worked in your industry or category, it means they’ve likely tackled some of the same problems that you’ll be trying to solve or that they’ve worked with others in that industry and, therefore, have proven ability in that sector.
It also mean they can hit the ground running faster than someone who hasn’t worked in the industry and that they have a better understand of the space you’re entering better than a developer who has never worked in it before.
What about their experience with your platform/s of choice?
Though there are a number of third-party app development platforms that allow developers to write code once then deploy it to other platforms, writing code native to the iOS and Android ecosystems is always the preferable option if cost permits.
Writing code-native to the iOS and Android platforms allows developers to design a seamless user experience and properly leverage the device’s operating system and the device hardware, something which is difficult, if not impossible, if you use a cross-platform development tool.
An app developer that specialises only in iOS apps may not have the grasp of the Android platform your app will require, though this won’t matter if you’re only developing an app for, say, Apple devices, of course.
Who’s on their team?
There will be projects that can be ably completed by a single developer, but if you’re creating a bigger app or, perhaps, looking to digitise your business practices or aggregate confidential data, you’re going to want more than one experienced person working on your app and this question is where most of the field of potential developers will fall away… very quickly.
Where have their team members worked? What positions have they held? What qualifications or experience do they have? How long have they been in the industry? What apps have they built?
While we would never discount computer science students and newly minted graduates (think Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg), it’s not terribly likely that the duo of computer science graduates offering to build your app at a bargain basement price (because they’re actually working out of their basement ) will be bound by the same legal, intellectual property or security considerations that a dedicated app building company or full-time app developer that is registered as a business would, so be wary.
If they don’t, watch out! Yes, some of their work may be confidential, but it’s unlikely that everything they’ve ever built was confidential. If that is the case, however, get them to walk you through the apps in person so they can show you what they’ve developed and you can get a feel for their products and quality of work.
If you do get hold of apps from their portfolio, play with them. Don’t just download them and peruse the first few screens, use them! Try to break them. Think about what you like and don’t like about their work and think about how this style would translate into your app, if they were chosen to build it.
How do their apps look?
Consider how the products they’ve developed look visually. How are they represented, not just in their apps, but on their websites and walk-throughs? How do they present their work? Do you like the look of it? How would you feel if your app looked like the apps in their portfolio?
The quality of their app and the quality of its overall look and feel are crucial. Modern customers are very savvy and work with products like Facebook and Google’s products every day, so they’re used to high-quality, easy-to-use software and they know intuitively when something is off visually. This is particularly try when it comes to users of each platform who are used to different usage patterns, and if you want to impress your audience then it is advisable to design for each platform separately. Does your app developer have an in-house designer or does the programmer create the designs themselves? Think about all these things because if the interface is ugly or unusable, your customers won’t give you a second chance, they’ll just delete your app or leave a potentially damaging review!
Where is the team located?
This is another really important question. There are plenty of skilled and talented app developers located in cities and countries outside your own but what is important is will you have access to them, even remotely? Outsourcing your app development may seem cost effective in the short term, but in the long term, it can be problematic. For example, will there be language barriers? What about security of your code? Whose IP and consumer laws will your programmers be bound by and, should anything go wrong, is your code safe or will you get your money back? What about timezones? Will you have access to the programmers or do you have to go through myriad Account Managers scattered across the globe or those whose mother tongue isn’t the same as yours? Something always gets lost in translation, and different time zones can lead to lengthy delays.
Designing and developing a successful app requires a close collaboration between experts in your business and the app development agency. Your app agency side of this collaboration includes product, design, creative and technical experts. The ability to have those experts in a room side-by-side with stakeholders from your business is invaluable and something you can’t achieve with an offshore team.
Building an app always includes a trade-off between time, cost and quality – you can only ever choose two, so the question to ask yourself is which of the three is likely to be impacted if you choose an offshore team, and are you happy with the impact of that decision on your brand?
Will they provide references?
Will your prospective app developer provide you with references from previous customers? If not, you need to ask yourself why they wouldn’t do so. Do they have something to hide about the way they work or how they handled previous projects?
Random testimonials on the developer’s website are one thing (and they’re only any good if there’s a verifiable name and company attached to them anyway), but being put in touch with a customer you can talk to offers a whole other level of assurance for your future investment. Ask references about the developer’s previous work and their interactions with them. Were there any issues? Did they make deadlines? Did costs blow out? How would they rate their experience with the developer overall?
Better yet, ask them if they’d ever choose to work with the developer again. The answer to that question will tell you everything you need to know, but always keep in mind that there are two sides to every story.
How much will it cost?
Of all these questions, this is the one every single potential client will ask at some stage, but even though price will always matter, the fact is you’ll always be able to find someone who can build your app (or says they can do it) within your budget.
Frankly, you’ll probably even be able to find someone who will do it for less, but cost shouldn’t be your only driver when it comes to building an app for your business. In order to cut costs your potential app developer will also, likely, have to cut corners, whether that’s the size and experience of the development team or the time they can spend writing your code, securing your app or designing it.
Never, ever be driven solely by price because when it comes to building an app, you really do get what you do – or don’t – pay for.