Because mobile devices aren’t as internet-friendly as desktop computers, apps were created to simplify specific processes. Usually performing a single function or service, these proprietary programs streamline applications to suit diminutive phone screens. And they’ve been a roaring success, with Google Play now stocking almost three million apps.
Given their runaway popularity, apps have become vital tools for modern businesses. Financial institutions, retailers, content providers and entertainment brands all rely on dedicated software rather than asking consumers to visit websites on mobile devices. Yet to a startup business, having to create an app often seems like a daunting and mysterious process.
In reality, knowing how to create an app involves a blend of imagination, common sense, diligence and outsourcing.
These are the twelve key steps involved in building a mobile app that’s sure to impress:
- Identify a need. It takes time and capital to create an app. There’s no point doing this unless the end product will serve a purpose, solve a problem or simplify people’s lives. In a marketplace with millions of apps already circulating, it’s vital to find a ready target audience in a niche that hasn’t been saturated yet. It’s also crucial to ensure that your concept is technically viable, which may involve expert counsel.
- Research the market. Having established the potential for your app to succeed, look more closely at likely rivals or firms operating in related industries. Investigate how their apps work, and what level of functionality or personalisation they’re offering. This is the point where innovations can be developed, but there’s no shame in aping successful design attributes or functionality you’ve seen elsewhere.
- Consider marketing. It might seem odd to suggest this at a preparatory stage, but a poorly-marketed program will vanish in today’s crowded marketplace. What will make your offering stand out in an app store with millions of programs clamouring for attention? What can you do to ensure the development costs won’t be wasted? Think about how you can make current and prospective customers aware of its existence.
- Weigh up funding. There are several options here. Some apps are free to download and use, through self-funding or advertising revenue. Others are free to view but encourage in-app purchases. The freemium model is gaining traction, where a basic service is provided without charge while advanced functionalities are unlocked with expenditure. Charging an up-front fee is risky if you’re not a well-known brand.
- Sketch out ideas. This is a literal instruction. Use a wireframe mockup tool like Balsamiq, or draw out rectangles on paper to represent a smartphone screen. You can then consider possible interfaces and structures. What information will be displayed or requested, and how will users navigate it? This is a quick and easy way of establishing whether the concept will be stylish and effective on a four-inch screen.
- Consider aesthetics. App stores are full of colourful logos and self-evident names. How can you make your logo look compelling when it’s the size of a thumbnail? Should the user interface (or UI) have sound, what skins and fonts work best, and does it need graduated transitions or parallax scrolling? Style should always be secondary to substance, but a visually dynamic app will be more desirable – and more used – than a bland one.
- Choose a developer. Unless you’re a C++ programmer or a Java wizard, it’s advisable to let professionals create an app. Development costs aren’t insignificant, but it might be possible to harness an existing framework in the same way WordPress blogs offer customisable templates. Choose a company whose portfolio impresses you, providing they have the expertise and infrastructure to realise your vision.
- Integrate analytics. Your chosen developer partner might do this automatically, but it’s vital to incorporate analytics into any app. These measure everything from the number of downloads to how people use it. Packages like Localytics and Flurry are the Kissmetrics of their industry, tracking every click and studying how people interact with the app. This can be used to add features or reduce bounce rates.
- Beta test. As well as using platforms like Dribbble and Pixate, ask everyone you know to rigorously test the app prior to launch. The more devices, screen resolutions and connection speeds it’s trialled on, the better. Ask for constructive criticism; if your family and friends find any elements are unreliable or unintuitive, other people will too. Take any comments on board, polishing and optimising the user experience.
- Announce the launch. Few people will find your app by accident. Promote it in email signatures, sales literature and online advertising. Encourage reviews, which build trust among other users. Start discussions on social media platforms like LinkedIn, and proactively look for scenarios where your product can solve someone’s problems. Download pages on existing websites may attract new audiences, along with YouTube tutorials, blogs, press releases to relevant media and competition entries.
- Engineer in long-term value. A quarter of apps are deleted after one use, while three quarters will be erased within 72 hours of installation. Development costs will be wasted if audiences aren’t returning, and every repeat load reinforces brand awareness. It’s advisable to periodically update the app with new features, expanding its appeal and encouraging repeat usage. Advertise improvements widely and loudly.
- Encourage feedback and revise accordingly. Pay attention to comments and feedback once the app is live. Even rigorous beta testing will be less informative than real-world usage, so look for criticisms of functionality or reliability. New audiences will emerge all the time, so even if early adopters encounter issues, there’s plenty of scope to introduce additional features and refine it over time…
We wish you happy app-ing!