Smartphones are ubiquitous these days; almost everyone has one, and almost everyone uses it constantly. This has resulted in an explosion in the popularity of app development, and of businesses wanting to have their own app. In fact, many businesses feel that they need to have an app in order to attract and keep customers.
But it’s important to understand that creating an app is not the same thing as creating a website or other digital content. Apps are more than information databases and marketing materials (like many business websites). In order to be successful, apps need to serve a purpose – they need to solve an existing problem for users, or offer something that makes the users’ life easier in some way. And with so much competition in the market, it’s no longer enough to come up with what you believe is a unique idea – you have to have some way to make your app stand out from the millions of other apps or it will never be seen.
All of this means anyone wanting to develop an app should take the time to make sure they’re prepared for the process and pitfalls before spending time and money. We’ve put together five questions you’ll want to ask yourself before you make the leap into the app development pool.
Why am I developing this app? / Why does my business need an app?
What is the motivating factor behind deciding you want to develop an app? Deciding you’re going to create an app simply because you think your business should have one is not necessarily a good reason to embark on app development. A motivation like this doesn’t provide for any clear goal for the app itself. Remember; first and foremost, your app must have a purpose: it must actually do something.
Assessing why you’re thinking of developing an app may lead you to ask a follow-up question: Do I really need an app? How will having this app help your business to operate more efficiently and/or effectively? This will help you determine how your app will fit in with the rest of your business, and how your app will find its place in the broader app market. If there’s no clear answer to this question, a re-think of your idea may be in order.
What problem is this app going to solve for the user?
Clearly defining what your app will do means deciding what problem your app will solve for the user. Just as you need to know how the app will make your business better, you need to know how the app will make the user’s life better. How will your app give value to the user?
Answering this question will help guide you to your target audience – and it may not be who you originally thought it would be. For example, developing a video game app for young children actually means marketing to their parents or caregivers.
Are there other apps already on the market that do the same thing? If so, what will make my app unique and different from the rest?
How is your app unique? What will make users want to use it instead of another existing app? There are literally millions of apps already on the market, so you need to know how your app is going to be different – how it will stand out – from similar apps.
What’s my budget?
How much money are you able to spend on development? Can anything be handled by members of your staff, or will you need to hire third parties for all aspects of development?
Aside from the purely technical issues – the coding, testing, and initial deployment – who will be creating marketing and advertising materials, such as web pages, your demo/explainer videos, and any tutorial videos and other instructional materials users will need?
Don’t forget to budget for providing ongoing customer support – is this something you’ll be able to do yourselves, or will this also need a third party? And how often will your app need updates, or new content added?
Another important part of the “budget” question is whether the app will generate any revenue of it’s own. Some apps are essentially marketing or outreach tools (like a retailer’s app-based catalog), while others are money-makers in their own right (like a subscription-based weather app). If you’ll make money from the app directly, be sure to factor that into your budget calculations.
Which device(s) do I want to develop my app on?
Your budget may answer this question for you, as you may find you only have the finances to develop and deploy your app on one platform. In that case, you’ll want to do some research to determine which platform your users are most comfortable with – Android or Apple. Apple’s iOS is generally considered less expensive to develop for because of the limited number of devices you need to support (a handful vs. thousands of Android variations).
You may also want to look at the possibility of a web app or a hybrid app versus a purely mobile app. A web app can save money, and also means you don’t have to develop separately for each OS. But can be sluggish compared to a native mobile app, and may have issues with offline access.
App development can be daunting, but taking the time to talk with your team about these questions before you begin will help you start your app development off on the right foot!