What you need to know to get your app idea from drawing board to finished product.
There are three elements involved in the creation of a successful app:
Failure to properly consider any of these areas will almost certainly end up costing you money.
Look and feel
Don’t make the mistake of leaving design to the end. How your app looks is what distinguishes it from any other app in the store. Furthermore, how it looks affects the coding (and vice versa).
Yes, there are bargain basement coders out there. But if you choose this route, take every precaution possible. Try to make an informed decision: research the developer’s background and ask questions.
Who will you be dealing with on the project? Will it be the same person throughout? Will you be able to contact them within a reasonable amount of time if you need to? Make sure you implement milestones so you can review and pay according to actual progress. Or you will find yourself back where you started after six months of false promises with a much diminished budget, a shortened timescale and nothing to show for it. (Good developers get asked to pick up the pieces after disasters like this all the time.)
You risk having your brand new app sink without trace if you don’t think about how to promote it. You should embark on a marketing plan long before your app is finished. Think about potential audiences, approach relevant blogs and forums, research where to send your app for review. Involving potential users in the early stages not only helps with testing, but means you’ll have an audience lined up and waiting when it launches.
Consider creating a webpage to promote and support your app and build a community of users.
How do I begin?
Begin by turning your idea into sketches (wireframes). In a sense this is the most important part of the project. It takes time and effort to get your plan right, but it’s worth it. Ambiguities cost money. Changes halfway through cost money (and may be more difficult than you think – imagine asking a builder to swap the kitchen and living room after the plumbing and electricity is already in place).
You need to ensure that your idea is even technically feasible, and also that it falls within the guidelines set by Apple or – in the case of an Android app – Google Play. (Certain things will never make it past the reviewers – anything from using a famous person’s name to affecting functionality outside the app’s own boundaries.) If in doubt, ask a developer before you invest time and money in an idea that will never come to fruition.
You don’t have to be an artist to sketch out your idea.
Start with the basics:
- What does it do?
- Who is it for?
(Note: not all apps are written for the general public – it is possible to create an app for your firm’s in-house use only, if that’s what you need.)
- How should it look?
- How should it work?
- Which devices will it run on (bear in mind the restrictions and opportunities posed by the various different screen sizes and resolutions).
- What is its pricing structure? For example, you might decide to make it a free app with in-app purchases or advertising to generate income.
- Will it contain data which needs updating (in other words, will there be a server component)?
- Sketch each screen, showing how they connect with each other.
Don’t forget, you don’t have to create the ultimate version of your app first time round. Planning for future revisions can be a good idea. After it’s been out for a while, you’ll know more about which parts are successful and which need tweaking. You’ll also be able to tweak marketing elements (including store elements like screenshots and keywords). And every time you enter a new revision in the App Store or Google Play, your app benefits from a brief period of increased exposure as a New Release.
Speaking of the App Store or Google Play, now is probably the time to open a Developer Account.
You’ll need one yourself, even though you’re not doing any coding, because the revenue from your app will go to the Developer’s Account which submits the app.
Apple Developer Account
You will need either the Individual or Company iOS Developer Program (each at $99 a year) unless you want to create an in-house app, in which case you’ll need the OS Developer Enterprise Program at $299 a year.
Google Developer Console Account
There is a one time $25 registration fee charged for a Google Play Developer Console account.
During the development process
First of all, implement milestones. Don’t allow months to go by without touching base with your developer. A milestone is a mutually agreed measurement of progress or phase completed, which should demonstrate to you that the project is proceeding according to plan. Payment should be connected to milestones. Expect to pay a small proportion up front (there are costs involved in commencing a project) but do not agree to pay the entire sum at once. Organise staged payments, which you release bit by bit as milestones are achieved.
Secondly, ask your developer about how to format any content you are providing. You can save time by ensuring that everything you provide has been checked, proofread and is in the correct format. It costs money to have your developer comb through a spreadsheet looking for invisible spaces or zeroes mistyped as capital Os.
Also, make sure you own the copyright to the data and media you plan to use in the app. Recent developments in image matching technology have led to a huge rise in copyright lawsuits. If you don’t know where the image came from, or you aren’t completely sure that you are licensed to use it within an app, don’t use it. If in doubt, ask your developer to recommend a legitimate source.
When The End Is In Sight
You’re coming to the end of the project. Now is the time to think about testing, and then finally submission to the App Store or Google Play.
Your developer will be able to give you an ‘ad hoc’ copy of your app to test. You should try to involve testers of different ages and levels of experience (assuming they’re within the demographics for your final product).
Consider using Test Flight (a free beta testing service for mobile developers, managers and testers).
All you need for Test Flight is an email address. It’s a very user-friendly system. In fact, it’s so easy your granny could use it!
Submission to the App Store or Google Play
You’re almost there. Not long now till your app hits the shelves!
Your developer will prepare all the files for submission, and will then turn them over to you for submission.
Remember, this stage needs to be carried out from your Developer Account because the revenue from the app goes to the account which submits the app.
Don’t worry – your developer will have plenty of experience of this process and can walk you through it. Alternatively, you could give your developer temporary access to your account to carry out the submission, and once it’s done you can change your password.
How long will it take for my app to be accepted?
It can take anything from 2 days to 3 weeks, particularly if you’re submitting during holiday periods.
Bear in mind that not all apps are accepted first time round. Talk to your developer about including provision for revisions and bug fixes.
Your brand new app is up there on the App Store or Google Play!
By now your marketing plan should be in full swing. You want word of mouth to spread, you want industry journals reviewing it, you want likes on Facebook and retweets on Twitter.
Expect to receive some bug reports. Don’t panic – there can be any number of reasons for people to experience issues, including using old unsupported devices or even illegally jailbroken phones. If somebody reports an issue, make sure you ask for a description of the issue and when and how it happened, plus full details of the device they’re using including version of operating system.
Your arrangement with your developer should include some provision for bug fixes, but bear in mind that major rewrites – unless included within the scope you originally agreed – will probably mean setting up a fresh project.
Your app’s been on the shelves for a while. You’ve received revenue, you’ve received feedback.
Now’s the time to review the experience. Make notes, because by the time you come to do this again, you’ll have forgotten some of the detail.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
How is the marketing plan progressing?
What have you learned about your customer base? Are they ready for more? Or would you be better off tweaking your demographics?
Would your app benefit from a minor or major revision?
What’s going to change in version 2?
Are you ready to start again and launch a whole new idea?
Well, now’s the time. Statistics show that mobile use is set to overtake fixed internet access by 2014. In fact, more people now own a mobile phone than a toothbrush, according to Ian Carrington of Google! There are more mobile phones on earth than television sets. The app market is only going to get bigger.