App developer. It’s a job title that, even a decade ago, didn’t exist, yet, today, app developers – and myriad roles associated with bringing an app to market – are among the most in-demand by companies in just about every industry. And Australia is no exception. More than 113,000 people are estimated to be working in our exploding ‘app economy’ and, says Guy Cooper, Managing Director of Melbourne app development agency Wave Digital, “it’s not unreasonable to expect that to double over the next few years.”
A new research report by the Progressive Policy Institute, shows that the figure of 113,000 is up 11 per cent since 2014, which means app-related employment in Australia makes up .9 per cent of all jobs. In Europe, that figure is .8 per cent, while in the United States, app-related employment (dubbed ‘app intensity’) is responsible for about 1.1 per cent of all employment.
According to the July 2017 report, entitled The Rise of the Australian App Economy, the ‘app economy’ is made up, mainly, of roles related to designing, developing, maintaining or supporting mobile app development, but it also includes allied roles such as those in finance and marketing, which support these core app economy jobs.
“New South Wales leads Australia’s app economy with 56,100 of all related jobs,’’ says Guy, whose own business has tripled its team in three years, “but here in Victoria we come in second and are responsible for 29,000 app-related roles.” According to the report, next in is Queensland with 14,000; Western Australia with 4,400; the ACT with 5,200 jobs; South Australia with 1,600 roles, Tasmania with 1,300 and, finally, the NT with 400 of all app-related roles in the country. “Most of these workers are employed by app development agencies such as Wave Digital,’’ says Guy who, 10 years ago was working as a Chartered Accountant and wouldn’t have imagined that, a decade on, he’d be running one of Australia’s most successful app development agencies. “The PPI’s report also shows that many of these app economy workers are employed by software or media companies as well as financial and retail companies and non-profits. “But I think the list is a lot longer because I doubt there are too many companies that haven’t had a discussion – or at least thought about – creating an app for their own business or their industry or their customers. “Every single day we have people from business of all sizes, from small one-person businesses to gigantic government departments, contact us about how mobile apps can help them or their customers because, as the market matures, they are all seeing an even stronger demand from consumers for better quality apps,” he says.
There is, he adds, an even greater demand for improved design and better user experiences as well as a focus on human-centred design processes as customers become more sophisticated and demand great experiences that truly enhance their lives and genuinely save them time, effort and money. “Building such intuitive apps can only be done by a great, well-rounded team and that can only come from hiring great people who ‘get’ that building an app is about more than just cobbling together features that a client wants,’’ says Guy who says, when hiring, he and his team look for well-rounded people with a little life experience, not just those who fit the job description on paper. “It’s about creating something that makes life better, whether you’re a company wanting to streamline your business processes or a small business needing to increase engagement amongst your customers.
“There’s no such thing as just building an app these days. You have to build experiences.”
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.