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.”
Choosing technology for your business is a bit like checking out the menu at your favourite restaurant: Everything you could possibly want is at your fingertips – you just have to decide what’s right for you.
And, though a website and social media presence is mandatory for many modern businesses, increasingly, so too is a mobile app.
But do you actually need one?
“The answer,’’ says Guy Cooper, Managing Director of award-winning app developer Wave Digital “is that apps are not for everyone and though there are lots of ways your business can benefit from building an app, either for your own business of for your customers, there are times when you just don’t need one.
“The first question is to look at what you’re trying to achieve and whether an app can be part of the puzzle or the whole solution,” he says. “It’s about pinpointing the problem and looking at how you can leverage technology to solve it.”
“If an app isn’t part of that solution, then don’t go down that route. However, nine out of 10 times, apps are not only capable of solving a business problem, they can actually benefit your business or your customers in other ways.”
And here are just some ways you can do that exactly that:
Apps can help solve your customer’s needs
If you just want to produce and communicate information, websites and social media are generally still viewed as the way to go. But where apps shine is when you want to leverage mobile technology to answer a specific challenge or solve a unique need or problem.
And their biggest advantage comes from hooking into mobile devices that constantly move with people and also offer significant capability in their own right, from hardware to location tracking, camera phones and beyond.
“This not only removed the physical burden of filling in a logbook,’’ says Cooper, “but it also made it easy for the drivers to complete their recording requirements and engaged them in the process through technology that was well within their comfort zone.
“The results were instant – and accurate and all they had to do was download the app and they had access to their logs anywhere at any time. No more hunting for pens, logging their kilometres driven or lost log books on the customer’s side and no more time-consuming manual inspections of figures on the client’s part.”
Apps can save time and streamline business processes
There are multiple examples of businesses that have capitalised on apps to streamline day-to-day services for customers, including the one above with RACT’s app, but another notable example is that of Uber, which gives people the convenience of being able to hit a button and have an Uber pull up, “without having to speak to anyone, wonder whether the vehicle will arrive, or even figure out how to pay at the other end”, as Cooper notes.
It’s totally reinvented the way we think about transport – disrupting the taxi industry in the process – and it did so by engaging the customer in a new and positive way using mobile technology. Nor does it show any signs of going away, with the service already present in more than 600 cities worldwide.
Other examples of how such mobile technology can enhance customer convenience are apps that allow diners to make instant reservations (which not only benefits the customer, but also streamlines the process for the restaurant and saves time for both), and also the UberEats delivery service, which taps into the existing availability of Uber drivers to service the demand for takeaway food, and it can all be done with a few taps of the app stored in a customer’s phone.
Apps can help you deliver (quickly and painlessly) services your clients are asking for
When thinking about whether your business needs an app, Cooper says you need to be very clear about what the motivation behind it is. And a crucial focus is identifying the problem or situation it needs to address.
One terrific example of this was VicRoads, “which needed a way to answer customer demand for real-time information and updates on emergencies across all kinds of devices, not just desktop,’’ adds Cooper.
Other info streams included how heavy traffic was on main Victorian roads and also travel times on major motorways, all using responsive design principles to ensure equal functionality on all devices. And the results so far speak for themselves, with more than half a million downloads, echoing its precision customer targeting and also adding credibility to a government agency and its brand.
Apps will help to evolve your market – or to create new ones for your business
For the right business, apps can also be a terrific way to target a potential new market or sector.
In some cases this could be an avenue to reach a new demographic, such as tech savvy youth customers who mightn’t visit a bricks and mortar store but will engage with a label digitally. But it can also create opportunities for B2B.
But by building in a white labeling feature, they allowed for re-branding with personalised logos and colours, creating a product that could be adopted by other real estate clients, and thus creating a ready-made sales opportunity that itself turned into a stand alone business. So, the key message here is to identify a need and find a way to address it in a way that might be attractive across your wider industry and, if you’re really lucky, across other industries, too.
Apps provide an avenue to expand into mcommerce
Mobile commerce (mcommerce) capabilities offered through an app can serve as a powerful tool in the retail space, particularly with the way products are presented.
However, this isn’t just about offering a mobile version of the website, but instead about taking the opportunity to do things differently, from harnessing the power of swipes and pinch-to-zoom when showcasing items for sale, to setting up push notifications that offer a discount when items are placed in a wish list.
The key is to understand context, and to know, for example, that the customer could be on a bus while using the app, or watching TV on the lounge. So, the idea is to design for why people will use the app, where they will use it and how they will interact with it. If you can match with all these points, you then have a prime opportunity to leverage a sale.
Apps can drive and increase engagement
Sales channels, customer contact points, business efficiencies and targeted information delivery can all springboard app development, but for some businesses, engagement can be both the means and the end.
One example of this is the membership-driven Victorian branch of the ANMF (Australian Nursing and Midwifery Foundation), which was looking for a way to better engage with a younger audience. Part of this approach was a decision to move away from traditional printed diaries at the request of members, who instead wanted digitisation – a move that also offered a cost benefit for the organisation. But the major plank of the strategy, in consultation with Wave Digital, was to create an app that would engage with this younger audience – one that carried a phone, not a diary – in part by providing them with tools to simplify their working days, such as a shift planner and dosage calculators.
The vision was to create a product that members would pull in and out of their pocket all day. As Cooper says, “it wasn’t to produce, or to tell them about an event, but to build engagement among its 76,000 members.
And the app worked brilliantly, with the ANMF reporting over 20% of its members have downloaded the app so far.”
Apps can be new and lucrative assets for your business
Although app development can sometimes be perceived as mainly for the big end of town, it’s actually relevant to any business that can justify the investment.
“The trick is to understand that success isn’t only measured in the traditional way” says Cooper.
“Yes, it could be about saving money or boosting sales,” he adds, “but it could equally be centred on developing an app that makes it easier for suppliers or staff to engage with a business, or to help improve service delivery. “
In these cases, then, it’s not about serving as a marketing tool but about creating business efficiencies. It can also be about keeping the business relevant.
“Many companies are apprehensive about the digital space,” says Cooper, “but it’s still incredibly important for them to keep up, and an app can be one way for them to innovate and leverage technology to do business better, for employees, for suppliers and customers.”
So here, it’s about creating an asset, one which is not tangible but which will give a return on investment when done correctly. It just needs the right mindset.
Other advantages of apps can be a visibility boost (apps being more immediately visible on a device than a website) where the download enjoys ongoing engagement, an avenue for direct marketing (where data is used properly to offer personalised, contextualised and relevant information when it is most appropriate to the customer, not the business), and the perception of more immediate contact with brands than something like an online content form.
“So,” says Cooper, “the question is not why you need an app, but what an app – preferably custom designed to offer something more than what everyone else has – can do for your business.”
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.