5 Steps to Success in Mobile App Development
So, you are building a mobile app. Unless you are a seasoned veteran of app development, you have probably already encountered challenges of both a technical and strategic nature that are different from those you would face in web or desktop application development. The reason is simple: the mobile app platform is different – far different than other client platforms in terms of possibilities and limitations. Fortunately, there are steps that even the uninitiated can take to successfully navigate this unfamiliar territory.
Step 1: Know the customer experience you want to create
When it comes to mobile applications, customer experience is a make-or-break opportunity. The customer ultimately makes the decision as to whether or not the application actually gets used. If you can deliver an experience that is accessible, attractive, and efficient, they will feel empowered using your app and will be likely to open it on a regular basis and share it with others. Conversely, if your app presents as counterintuitive or sluggish, users will avoid it altogether.
You should have a clearly defined purpose for your mobile application. Is it a front-end to a service? Is it for entertainment? A utility? With this key purpose in mind, can you describe the features that help achieve this purpose? Until those questions can be addressed with clarity and detail, there is a considerable risk lurking in the shadows that can potentially undo the entire effort at practically any time.
A strategic approach to elaborating on the customer experience is with a series of graphic comps, interface wireframes, or even a non-functional version of the app or web UI that defines what the app will look like and how the user will interact with it. Once these pieces of the puzzle are created, this gives companies the opportunity to try out the look and feel of the UI with potential users of the application and provide feedback – all from the perspective of someone who isn’t invested in the success of the app.
Step 2: Develop the mobile application roadmap
At some point, the technical aspects of your app ambitions will have to be realized. Before jumping right into mobile development, it is a good idea to determine if (and specifically how) those technical goals are going to be possible to achieve. There are cases where what you are intending to accomplish via mobile are things that are tried and true, such as uploading images, integrating a map, or contacting web services. In these cases, it is at least advisable to have a grip on the technical level of difficulty involved so that the cost/benefit of features can be weighed.
Then there are potentially cases where the features you intend to include are not feasible, they may depend on protected/inaccessible APIs, or they will require a much greater investment of resources than expected. If you are able to tease out and identify those scenarios up front, you can re-evaluate your strategy and adjust before your development effort is knee deep in a quagmire.
Step 3: Build around mobile features
Presumably, you’ve already answered the question “Do you really, REALLY need this to be a mobile app?” You’ve already determined that a mobile-friendly website doesn’t quite deliver the experience that you want to deliver, and you need to harness the power of personalization, the mobile form factor, or hardware… right?
So, now that you’ve identified those features and capabilities, you should set out to define how you will utilize them to the greatest possible effect. Have a detailed strategy for how you will implement your mobile features – this is what will set your app apart from services on other platforms, and is ostensibly the raison d’être to begin with. Workflows and technical specs should include well-formed points on how things like notifications, location services, video/photo integration, and/or personalization play into the overall user experience.
For example, notifications are an integral feature of most mobile apps. A poorly conceived plan for notifications, however, could mean that your app either fades into disuse due to a lack of engagement or becomes another unwelcome notification noise factory.
Step 4: Create an engaging promotion strategy
Once your app does all the things that it was intended to do, it’s time to make sure those features are being used. It’s certainly possible to back-burner any concerns regarding promotion and distribution until after all the grueling work of development is completed, but in doing so you may miss out on some real opportunities to make your app release a resounding success.
To illustrate, you can always buy real estate on the internet to promote your app or push it via traditional marketing channels after it is packaged and ready to download from an app marketplace, but how does that compare to built-in social features such as the ability to share a useful app experience to Facebook from within the app, or invite other users directly from a user’s contact list? If the latter sounds like an enticing prospect for your app (and in most cases, it really is), then it is likely worth making those features primary concerns during the planning phase.
Step 5: Possess the knowledge and expertise to execute
Once the concepts have been refined and the assumptions have been checked and the strategy has been plotted, success will come down to your ability to execute on all that elaboration. It comes down to you to determine if you possess that ability yourself or in-house, but if you don’t have a proven track record of delivering products using the technologies required to realize your mobile app ambitions, you may want to involve somebody who does.
Development in general is full of pitfalls that lie below high-level ideas and business cases, and those can be expensive – if not entirely prohibitive – risks that can torpedo your project before it even gets on its feet. There are usually considerations such as security, testability, performance, multi-platform compatibility, resource utilization, and extensibility that aren’t necessarily primary aspects in your vision of the app’s functionality but can become first-order problems overnight if ignored.
If you or your team’s ability to architect and build on a mobile platform hasn’t been proven, it may be wise to seek out other professionals in the industry with the relevant expertise to analyze your specs and design, provide assistance in hiring qualified developers, or even to provide design and development services directly. This can give you a powerful leg up on the problem and launch your efforts towards a successful completion much more so than by going to school on a search engine and beating out the kinks as time wears on.
On the mobile app development path, there are plenty of opportunities for your project to veer off track. While mobile development is similar to development on other platforms in this regard, it is by fully appreciating the unique challenges presented by mobile apps that you will be most prepared to handle them. There is no reason that success should be difficult to achieve so long as your approach is tempered by the wisdom of experience and attention to detail.