The degree of competition among mobile applications is, to put it mildly, intense. In January this year, a whopping 50750 new apps were submitted at the Apple iTunes store (along with more than 19000 game applications). According to App Annie estimates, the value of the global app economy will nearly double by 2020 – going beyond the $100 billion mark in the process. For app developers, believing in that old adage ‘let’s build it…and there will be takers’ is a big mistake. The focus HAS to be on ensuring that your app has its own unique value proposition – something that would motivate smartphone-owners to use it, something that would help it to stand out in the crowd of 4.3 million apps (Apple App Store and Google Play Store combined). Here are a few extremely important tips to make a great mobile application – one that would survive and thrive in this insanely competitive sector:
Look for problems your app will solve
An approach like ‘everyone is making apps, so let us make one too’ won’t work. You need to have a sound, workable idea – that can actually be transformed into a piece of software. In order to ensure the practical utility of your app, try to think of common problems (and worry not, there are plenty of problems everywhere!) that a new mobile application might be able to solve. Form a clear concept about the core function of the app, and the target audience it is going to serve. All innovations are made to solve one problem or another, and a mobile app should not be an exception. Clarity of thought will help in the creation of the application later.
Note: Keep in mind that, a mobile app that helps users to while away their spare time is also of value. In fact, that is precisely the logic behind the creation of mobile games.
Research well and gauge the demand
With so many apps – belonging to so many categories – already in existence, it’s tricky (next to impossible!) to stumble upon an entirely unique app idea. Instead of trying to design a concept that would be too novel for its own good, check all the apps that belong to the same/similar genre that you are interested in. Find out what the highest grossing apps are doing well, and how your app can be an improvement over them. In addition, perform a demand analysis for your software separately. Jot down all the keywords closely related to your app, put them on any reliable online keyword research tool (e.g., Google Keyword Planner), and find out what their average search volumes are. Unless your app idea belongs to a category that has sufficient demand, developing it won’t be worth the resources.
Note: Examine the failed applications – the so-called ‘zombie apps’ – very carefully. Find out the reasons behind their failures, and don’t repeat those mistakes.
Get down to wireframing
Put yourself in the shoes of the prospective users of your app, and try to decipher their behaviour flow (user flow research) and overall in-app navigation. Draw up (and yes, rough sketches will do) the screens you would like to have, sequentially…in the manner the users would be likely to move through them. In the wireframe, include all the features that you wish to include in your app. Make sure that there is a logical flow from each screen to the next one. Once the low-fidelity wireframes are ready, create a mockup (i.e., a high-fidelity visual representation) of your application. Drawing a flow-chart will help you understand the overall function-flow of your application.
Note: The importance of storyboarding in this context cannot be overemphasized. Professional mobile app developers typically use the storyboarding technique to get a proper feel of how the different app screens will be connected to each other.
Features are good. Too many features are not
Feature mining is one of the most important tasks, during the conceptualization stage of a new iOS/Android application. Resist the temptation of including as many features and functionalities as possible in the app – which would only end up confusing users. Draw up two lists – of the ‘must-have’ and the ‘nice-to-have’ features – and include only the former in the introductory version of an application. Your app should have one core purpose, and one feature to fulfill that purpose. Additional features can be included in subsequent updates.
Note: As a rule of thumb, make sure that your users do not have to tap more than 3 times, to reach the section/screen they are interested in.
Keep the ‘App Triangle’ in mind
Balancing between cost, time and quality of the app is a challenging task – one that you have to handle very, very carefully. Think of these three aspects (quality, budget, time) as the three vertices of a triangle. For instance, if you wish your application to be of optimal quality, be prepared to invest the necessary amount of time and money for it. Never compromise on the quality of an application, in a bid to save a few dollars. A sub-standard app will never gain popularity among users, there will be negative reviews and ratings, and the application will soon be lost in the crowd.
Note: There is a popular adage in the mobile app development community, that developers/coders are generally not good designers (and vice versa). If you are coding for a new app on your own, do not try to design it yourself. Hire indie designers/professional app designers for the purpose.
Design the app well
Brilliant app ideas and high-level coding can all go to waste, if the application is visually sub-par. Remember that software designing is not only about how the app will ‘look’, but it also includes how the technology ‘functions’…what type of end user-experience (UX) it manages to deliver. Use the wireframes you had drawn up earlier, and get high-resolution versions of the same designed (preferably by an expert graphic designer). Create the layouts of each screen (also known as ‘skins’) very carefully, and always give prime consideration to the convenience of final users. Every tappable element should be properly designed, the main tabs/sections should be easily visible, and the overall in-app navigation must be user-friendly. A mobile app that ‘seems’ complicated is almost certain to be discarded.
Note: Do not make your splash screens completely static. That might easily create the impression among users that the app is slow to load and/or there are some issues with it. Add some basic animations, or a progress bar, to indicate that the app is getting ready to be used.
Start with native. Cross-platform can come later
There are plenty of powerful cross-platform mobile app development tools (for instance, React Native or Xamarin) currently available. However, new developers should certainly start off by building native applications first. In addition, it is also advisable to create customized versions of the app for different devices (phone, tablet, web…maybe even smartwatch and smart TV). That would allow users to enjoy the app’s functionality across devices – a feature that is often sought after by people.
Note: The iOS vs Android dilemma is one you need to think out carefully. The potential revenue capacities of iOS apps are significantly higher – but if you are looking to give maximum possible exposure to your software, Android will be the more suitable platform.
App analytics and monetization
How many people have downloaded your app? What is the app’s average engagement level and what is the behaviour-flow of users while using the application? These are issues that you need to monitor on a continuous basis – and for that, implementing a reliable analytics system is of paramount importance. These metrics can also indicate the scopes of improvement in the application (that you can fix in later updates). What’s more, your app has to be monetized – either with advertisements or with in-app purchases (IAP). In case you are planning to launch a paid app, do all the essential research to find out what the ‘correct app price’ would be.
Note: Ideally, the free version of an app has in-app ads. Users should be given the option to migrate to the ad-free premium version, by making a certain payment. Even in the free version, make sure that the ads are positioned in a way that they do not hamper the app-experience.
Pay attention to the backend
That’s where application program interfaces (APIs) come into the picture. You can either create your own APIs, or use the custom APIs already available – depending on the requirements of your application. Efficient APIs facilitate smooth cloud-connectivity of an application – and allow apps to fetch important information, as and when required (e.g., Uber fetching the location of users with Google Maps API). In most cases, instead of spending time on creating a custom backend, app makers prefer deploying a mobile backend-as-a-service (mBaaS) architecture. Proper utilization of APIs add a lot of efficiency to a mobile app.
Note: While working with APIs, you should prepare a systematic API documentation. That would help in avoiding confusions at a later stage during development.
10. Test your app. Test it well
App testing is an iterative process – it has to be done at several successive stages. Such an approach helps in identifying bugs and code mistakes quickly – problems which would have been tough to detect during the time of final testing. In addition to the simulators/emulators available in the iOS and Android integrated development environments (IDEs) respectively, apps also have to be tested on actual devices, by real people. Pay attention to all the feedback and suggestions you receive, and make the necessary changes accordingly. Only after thorough testing and removal of all bugs (if any) can your app be considered ready for submission at the stores. Never be in a tearing hurry to release your product, compromising the testing phase in the process.
Leading mobile app developers opine in favour of adopting a grid-based design approach for new applications. You should ideally divide the entire mobile app development project into several separate milestones. If you feel that you do not have the time and/or the technical expertise to build the app – avail the services of any good mobile app company. Making a great app is no rocket science, you only have to follow the above tips and be smart about the whole process.
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