According to a recent App Annie report, the total number of mobile app downloads (from Apple App Store and Google Play Store) shot up to just a shade under 25 billion in 2017 Q1 – marking a ~15% YoY increase. Global revenues from apps is expected to reach $190 billion by the end of this decade…up by 171% over the 2015 figure. App availability is increasing all the time, with Apple and Google combining to offer more than 5 million downloadable applications. User-spending on app-usage is going up as well (in 2017 Q1, there was a 45% YoY jump).
The above stats might make the task of developing and launching mobile apps seem just about as easy as a walk in the park. However, a look at the number of frequently discarded/uninstalled apps and the lowly engagement rates (across the world, 24% users use an app only once) would prove that things are not as straightforward. You need to frame and follow smart, informed strategies to make your app launch a success. We will here provide some useful tips you should make note of, before releasing a mobile app:
Thorough market research is vital
A new app won’t exist in a void, and you need to do all the necessary homework carefully, before releasing it. Study user-opinions and trends (you can also conduct surveys online) to find out about the things/functions for which a new application can be built. If you already have an idea about the nature of app you wish to build, check out similar applications from the app store. Find out what the successful apps in that category are doing, and try to come up with ideas on how you can improve on their functionalities. Make it a point to study a couple of the failed apps as well – to know (and stay away from!) the mistakes/problems in them. Identify your target audience first, before proceeding to make an app. Mobile app development needs to be an informed decision, always.
Note: The various ‘Top XX…’ app lists serve as a great reference point for competitor analysis. Monitor the reviews and ratings these apps receive, to get an idea of their best features and/or probable shortcomings.
Chalk out your budget
You should know something from the very outset…making a mobile app involves significant costs. A basic, no-frills MVP (minimum viable product) with only the most essential features is likely to cost you around $8000-$10000 – and as more features and functionalities are added, the cost figure goes up. To keep the expenses from going out of hand, you need to frame an app development budget from the very outset. Follow the budget at all times, and keep a record of all the expenses during the various stages of the project. If availability of funds is an issue, you can always list your app idea on a crowdfunding site (Indiegogo, Kickstarter, etc.).
Note: Keep in mind the trade-offs involved between the ‘app quality’, the ‘time of development’ and the ‘development costs’. Think of these as the three vertices of a triangle (the so-called ‘App Triangle’). Never try to cut corners in terms of costs – since that would have an adverse effect on your app’s quality.
Hire developers for your project
Even the best of app ideas can go to waste if the execution is poor. The onus is on you to find and hire a professional mobile app development company that would be able to create the app in just the way you want. Do some research on the web, prepare a shortlist of app agencies, and request for free quotes from each of them. Hire the one that seems most proficient, and get everything (terms of service, contracts, agreements, etc.) in writing. Make sure that the company you delegate your project to has separate teams working on iOS and Android platforms, and expert in-house graphic designers, animators and app testers. In case it is a 2D/3D game app you wish to make, look for app-makers who have ‘relevant experience’ in working with the different game development engines.
Note: If required, the company should be prepared to provide you with non-disclosure agreements (NDA). Also, make sure that the development team can be contacted at any time, and they are willing to work according to your feedback/suggestions. Stay away from app companies that ask for huge upfront payments.
Features of the app
This one is a tricky affair. Release an app that has only a handful of run-of-the-mill features, and it would be dismissed as ‘too simplistic’. On the other hand, if a newly launched application has too many complex features and controls, most people will not bother to ‘learn’ how it works. As a rule of thumb, include all the ‘must-have’ features of your app in its introductory version (v.1.0) – and schedule the other ‘nice-to-have’ features in the future updates. Understand the precise nature of your app and the likely requirements/behaviour of your target-users, to get an idea of the set of features you need to include in the first version of the app (for example, in a mobile shopping app, the presence of a secure payment gateway is an absolute must). The app should have some uniqueness about it, to get the early-users interested.
Note: There should be a single ‘core purpose’ of your app. It should satisfy the need(s) of your target customers in a better manner than the already existing rival applications.
Decide the platform
With Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android combining to make up more than 99% of the global smartphone market – you need not think beyond these two platforms while determining the compatibility of your app. However, you need to take a call on which of these platforms your app will be available on first. With a projected ~90% market share, Android is the no-brainer choice if you are primarily interested in getting out your app to as large an audience as possible. However, in case you care more about revenues, you can go with the iOS platform first (last year, Apple made nearly 3.5X more money than Android, with less than half downloads). There are advanced cross-platform app development tools (like React Native or Xamarin or PhoneGap) already available in the market – but you should ideally keep things simple, and start out with one platform first…and then move on to the other.
Start marketing from well in advance
A jaw-dropping 180 billion apps have been downloaded from the Apple App Store alone (as announced in June). The average smartphone user launches 30+ apps in a month, and around 9 applications every day. Given the fiercely competitive nature of this domain, it makes a lot of sense to start marketing/promoting your app from several weeks before its actual launch. Hire professionals to design an optimized, responsive, user-friendly website for your app – which would provide detailed information about the main features and use cases of the application (include a FAQ section). Publish short, engaging blog posts on the website. Publish news and teaser updates about your app on the various free and paid press release sites. Be diligent with your social media marketing efforts as well. Create dedicated Facebook and Twitter profiles for the app, and post updates/share tweets on a regular basis. Plan out email marketing campaigns. The app marketplace is crowded – and you need to be proactive in making people aware about the existence of your app.
Note: For app marketing on the web, you can also connect with professional bloggers from the relevant category. Find out whether you can do a guest post about your app on such blogs, and/or if the blog-owners can feature your app (and do a short review). Link back such blog pages to the app website and, after the app launches, to the store page.
Monitor app size and battery usage
If you feel that incorporating as many features and graphic elements as possible in a new app will be a surefire way of increasing its popularity, you might well be very wrong. Too many features typically make an app ‘heavy’ (i.e., too large in size). Smartphone-owners are generally reluctant to install apps that are very big (size running into hundreds of MBs), particularly for two reasons: a) they are perpetually running out of storage space and b) if the connectivity is weak, the download might be interrupted. The average sizes of iOS and Android apps are 34.3 MB and 11.5 MB respectively, and you should ideally keep your app’s size within those limits. Also, pay attention to how your app affects the battery life of the target devices. It is very easy to track the battery-usage of apps installed on a phone/tablet – and if your app causes too much of battery drain, it will be uninstalled soon enough by most users.
Note: Make sure that your app does not eat up too much of bandwidth and mobile data either. You might want to make your app usable offline as well (that would, of course, depend on the app’s nature).
Monetization and analytics
Unless it’s a college research project, you will want to make money out of your mobile app, right? Before the launch, you need to be very clear about how the application should be monetized for the best performance. In both Apple App Store and Google Play Store, an overwhelming majority of the listed apps are free – and ideally, you should start off with a ‘freemium’ revenue model as well. In other words, your app will be free to download, and users will have the option to upgrade to a ‘premium’ or ‘pro’ version by paying a token amount (say, $1.99). This ‘premium’ version would have more features, zero ads, and other such attractions. In a free app, you need to decide whether the monetization will be done with the help of in-app ads or in-app purchases (IAP), or a combination of both. In case you do go with ads, make sure that the advertisements are not inappropriate for the potential audience, and they do not interfere with the user-end experience (UX) in any way. What’s more, you also need to have a built-in analytics feature for your application. That would enable you to study the behaviour of people while using your app, and the points (if any) where most drop-offs occur. The information would help you in improving the app later.
Note: The average price of an iOS application is $1.02, while that of an iOS game is $0.49.
Stay updated on the latest store/platform updates
The upcoming iOS 11 platform will not support 32-bit apps. ‘Android Instant Apps’ were announced at this year’s Google I/O conference. While the actual development and coding will be done by the app development company you hire, you need to stay abreast with all the new updates, tweaks and changes in regulations in the Apple and Google platforms. Make it a point to abide by all the clauses mentioned in the Apple ‘App Store Review Guidelines’ and/or Android’s ‘Developer Policy Center’. Ask the developers working on your project to carefully follow the design regulations. Remember, any violations of the app store rules is likely to result in your app submission being rejected.
Note: Since 2015, Android apps are being manually reviewed. The average app review time at the Apple store is 2 days.
10. Testing and quality assurance
Prior to launch, you need to be absolutely sure that your app has no bugs or performance issues whatsoever. Problematic applications are not likely to be approved (Apple’s regulations are more strict regarding this) – and even if a buggy app makes its way to the store, the consequences can be dire. Early users, on discovering the issues, are likely to leave poor ratings and unfavourable reviews – creating a negative ‘word-of-mouth’ publicity, and hampering its download potential in the long-run. No matter how quickly you release bug-fix updates, this initial damage cannot be undone. In order to stay away from such problems, it is extremely important to test all the features of your app before its submission. Apart from using simulators and emulators, beta versions of the app have to be tested on actual devices, to detect any probable glitches. Your app needs to be of uniformly high quality…otherwise, it is bound to fail.
Note: For beta testing iOS applications, Testflight (with the new 10000-users limit) is the most suitable platform.
11. App store optimization
On average, 6 out of every 10 app downloads happen through search activities in the app store. That, in turn, implies that if your app is not easily ‘discoverable’, its download figures will remain low. This where the importance of app store optimization (ASO) comes into the picture. Find out how the top-ranking apps in your category are listed, and the keywords targeted in their app store descriptions (in the Play Store, an additional ‘short description’ is required as well). Select the app name carefully, and select an optimized, interesting app icon. If possible, add a tagline to the name of the app, with a keyword included in it. Identify the most relevant search terms likely to be used by people while looking for an app like yours, and use them as keywords (use them in a natural manner in the app descriptions). For Android apps, upload a short, engaging introductory video. Use high-quality screenshots, showcasing the most important screens of the application. Avoid adopting an overtly promotional tone in your descriptions – and highlight the key features (the elements that would motivate people to giving it a try) of the app instead. Getting featured in the App Store can increase the download-count of an app by more than 90% (downloads can jump by 500% in South Korea), and for that, excellent ASO strategies need to be in place.
Note: The name of an iOS app can contain 30 characters, along with a max. 30-character subtitle, 170-character promotional text and the app description. For Android apps, the title can contain 50 characters, the short description should be of 80 characters (max) and the long description should not be more than 4000 characters.
12. Build the virality of your app
It would be a serious mistake to consider app marketing as a ‘one-shot game’. Promotions have to be done constantly, and offline channels have to be factored in as well. You can plan a ‘beta launch’ or a ‘soft launch’ of your app in select markets – before going ahead with a full-blown release (you will be able to gauge initial opinions, reviews and feedback that way). Provide promo codes for your apps to the ‘power users’ and ‘influencers’, launch referral programs and content-based campaigns to raise the buzz about the application. On social media channels and portals (Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, etc.), share the concept of your app and actively seek the opinions/suggestions of your peers/potential users. The trick lies in building up huge hype about your soon-to-launch mobile app…and more importantly, being able to actually live up to that hype.
Work with your app development partner agency to finalize how the automated notifications system of your app would work. Find out how user-queries and complaints will be handled from the backend – and how frequently updates will be released. There should not be any uncertainty over the platform versions (backward compatibility of your app has to be decided) and the devices that the application should work on seamlessly. Follow the above points closely, and enhance the chances of your newly-launched app becoming a big hit significantly.