Do You Really Need an App for That?

On the 5th anniversary of its AppStore in July 2013, Apple announced that over 50 billion apps have been downloaded since it opened. When you remember that Apple devices have around 20% of the European smartphone market, it gives you a sense of just how crowded the app marketplace has become.

It also means that if you’re thinking about developing an app, the bar is already set high. So how do you ensure that you don’t spend a fortune on building a bug-ridden, unresponsive app that could damage your company and brand? How do you market it? Do you even need an app in the first place? Here are the 10 key points you should consider before embarking on app development, to help give your app the best chance for success.

1. An app for app’s sake?
The first step in app development is to identify exactly what it’s for, and what you want it to achieve. Is it to enhance the way customers interact with you, to increase customer engagement, improve your brand presence, or generate revenue directly through paid downloads, in-app advertising or in-app purchases? These are all good reasons for developing an app. However, if you just want your website available on a mobile device, create a responsive website. An app should enhance and complement what your existing website offers, not just copy it.

2. Understand your target users
Will the app’s users be web-savvy or novices? What will their usage patterns be? When do you expect them to use the app, and for how long? Where will they have connectivity and what mobile platforms and devices do you expect them to use? The answers to these questions will help you to define and design your app to ensure it’s both useful and usable.

3. What will it do?
The keys to a successful app are simplicity, usability and reliability. It should be developed to meet a specific need, perform a specific task and complement your existing website and brand. It’s better to launch a simple application that does one thing well, rather than one that does lots of things badly. So the more detail you can add at this stage, the better: it will help the development team to provide more accurate costings and delivery plans.

4. Content matters
Apps are generally used in two ways: either consuming content, or creating it. If you’re consuming content, it is vital that you know where that content comes from, and how it gets into your app. Whether the content is embedded into the application, or downloaded from a server has a massive influence on the size of the app, and the complexity of the code. Embedding content makes apps harder to update, but simplifies the code. Downloading content remotely makes the code more complex, but updates easier.

5. Design an intuitive UI
A good user experience is critical to success. Expectations are high: users are accustomed to well-designed, functional apps, so counter-intuitive design will only hinder adoption. It’s quicker, cheaper and easier to test a paper or HTML-based mock-up of a UI than to fully-develop the application and then discover that the UI doesn’t work with real-world users.

Also, remember that users of an Android device do not expect apps to behave in the same way as they would on an Apple device. Each platform has certain idioms which users become used to – so ensure your app fits users’ expectations on the intended platforms.

6. Choose your partner
You may have a compelling idea and a detailed brief but, if you’re new to app development, making it real can seem daunting. You need to establish if you need to bring in a partner to undertake some, or all of the project.
When choosing a partner, remember that developing an app is more than just programming. The partner should be able to take you through concept creation and definition, user interface design, development, app testing, launch, social media integration, analytics and ongoing support to fix bugs and ensure compatibility with new platform versions and devices as they launch.

Look at the partner’s experience, their customers and references, and ask how they will work with you: this interface will be a key factor in determining the app’s success. Also, be clear on what is and what isn’t included within the overall budget.

7. What’s yours is yours
Unless agreed up front for “commercial reasons”, it’s critical that you launch the app under your company name, not the developer’s, to avoid confusing users and future complications. If you create a great app, it should have your brand all over it.

8. Source code
Again, unless agreed up front, ensure that you own the source code. You’ve paid for it, after all! Also make sure you actually receive it, as this gives you more options when it comes to maintenance and future releases.

9. After the launch
An app is not just for Christmas, unless you want it to be. It could have a lifespan of several years, but will need updating to keep it fresh and functional on the latest devices and platform versions. Ensure you have a roadmap for the life of your app, including support for new devices and releases. Also, review your app’s app store rating to gather direct feedback from users – this will give you valuable input to decisions on future updates.

10. Marketing & monetisation
With hundreds of new apps launching each day, it isn’t enough just to launch a great app and hope it gets downloaded – it won’t unless people know it exists. Plan the launch and promotion of your app with a strategy that fits within your overall marketing plan. You will need to consider how you get your app to your customers – just via app stores, or by other means too? Also consider pricing: inevitably, free downloads are more popular than paid ones, so you should only charge if the app truly adds value through content or functionality.