As the world is wobbling back to the pre-COVID life, does it need another app? Absolutely! As long as the app entertains, enables remote work, or offers on-demand, fintech, and healthcare services, it has a fair chance to succeed.
The virus did put a dent in venture capital funding, but life still goes on. Especially if you are based in the Bay Area.
As you can see in the chart above, startups in Silicon Valley saw only four percent decline while the drop in NYC and Boston is more noticeable: 29 and 22 percent.
Yet, the app economy is going strong: Statista forecasts $582B (yes, that’s billions) of mobile in-app advertising and paid app revenue in 2020. And if the forecast is completely wrong and we get zero growth this year, 2019 stats are still convincing:
So how do you develop an app that gets the attention it deserves? We’ll answer this and other questions bound to pop in your quest for building a winning app.
Table of contents:
1. Think Marketing First
- How will my app reach customers?
- What’s the average CAC (customer acquisition cost) for my app?
- What marketing budget do I need to start getting traction?
Companies often leave these questions hanging in the air until the app is ready. However, we recommend starting your app journey by answering them. Without users, your app will plummet to the bottom of the app stores.
That’s why first, you need to find out what budget will get you early adopters.
Starting with marketing also makes sense from the technology perspective. How you promote your app will dictate the integrations you’ll need to support.
- Will my app need deep linking?
- Do I want to include mobile ads?
- Do I make content searchable outside the app?
Deep linking is a technology that has been on the market for a while. Yet, not many companies have embraced it. Put simply, deep linking allows you to bring customers to a specific place in your app where they can get immediate value.
Let’s say you’ve built a recipe app, and a customer taps on your ad of a tuna sandwich recipe. That tap should take her to the app store and once the app downloads, directly to that recipe. That’s the whole purpose of deep links.
Mobile SDKs integrated into your app will let you furnish users with ads that you may offer to turn off with an in-app purchase. That’s a decent revenue model, and there are plenty of services to choose from, e.g., AdMob and AdColony.
Many mobile ads providers supply you with everything you need for deep links too.
Make app content searchable
Both Apple and Google have tools to index your in-app content, so it becomes available through search. If we continue our example with the recipe app, a search result for make a tuna sandwich could take the user right to this recipe in your app.
Search results linking to apps appear in Google Search (on Android) or Spotlight (on iOS).
2. Know Your Users
You will have to picture your ideal user after you’ve started on your app marketing strategy.
- Who are my app users?
- How often will they use the app?
- Is my app’s USP enticing enough?
These and a slew of other questions about your target audience will leave you with lots of assumptions. It’s then your job to go out and challenge all these ideas by asking people that match your ideal user profile.
You’ll end up with a detailed profile of the ideal app user (the more details, the better) and a bunch of assumptions about how they will use the app.
3. Build a Rapid Prototype
Now it’s time to really test your assumptions about how the app will serve your target audience. To do that, one of the first steps towards custom mobile app development is an interactive prototype that users can click-through in a browser or on their mobile devices.
An app prototype can be low- or high-fidelity. Its purpose is to always check if you’re creating an engaging experience for your users.
There are plenty of tools to develop a prototype (like Invision or Adobe XD) and to field it with customers (like UserTesting.com or Userbrain).
We wrote at length on rapid prototyping but to give you the gist, its beauty is:
- you preserve your development budget while experimenting with UX
- it allows you to iterate and get to market faster
- you can use it to get investors to listen
Just make sure you’re gathering feedback from your target audience. That also means saying no to packs of bells and whistles that don’t add value.
4. Develop an MVP
Once you’ve validated the UX, you’re ready to move from a prototype to MVP. The MVP will include just enough features to justify releasing the app into the wild. The feedback that will follow will help you iterate your app further.
Setup continuous delivery
To get into this mentality of constant change, you need continuous delivery.
Continuous delivery includes tools and methods that allow your app development team to ship updates non-stop. All features and bugs that have been verified automatically become app updates with minimal effort from developers.
As a result, users get to play with new features as soon as they have been tested.
Use competitive technologies
To keep your app evolving, you want to ensure it’s backed by modern technologies that give you an edge. For instance, Android apps used to be developed in Java, but today Kotlin is a clear winner, allowing coders to create Android apps faster.
To make sure your tech stack is competitive:
- Glean from your competition by using tools like Appfigures
- Use SDKs that boost development of boilerplate features, like authentication
- Seek advice from your app developers on native vs. cross-platform vs. PWA
Protect customer data
Of course, churning out app updates and using the latest technologies shouldn’t come at the expense of security. Customer data privacy should always be your focus, especially if you’re developing a healthcare or financial app.
A few things you should keep on the radar when considering data security:
- Privacy legislation knowledge, e.g., HIPAA, GDPR
- Using privacy-as-a-service solutions
- Adhering to best practices (e.g., data encryption & support for https)
I still remember the days when well-known startups, like the social networking app Path, used an insecure connection to upload user contacts into the cloud. Today, mistakes like that could cost startups a business.
5. Make Your App Stand Out
Despite all iterations, there always remain some core features that make your app unique. And there are many ways to make sure your app has them.
Use the full potential of a mobile OS
Successful apps always make the most of the latest features in iOS and Android. Supporting new features helps you smooth out user experience as people hop between system apps and your application.
For example, in Android 10, you can add a seek bar to an audio notification to control playback. Other welcome additions are the dark mode and access to system settings right within your app.
Have you also considered instant experiences that users can access without installing an Android app?
iOS 13 lets you optimize your app for the dark mode and use Apple Sign-in – these are just a few options that your app can benefit from. You may also choose to integrate with Siri or Google Assistant to let users access the app with voice.
Integrate with other apps
Another way to beef up your app is to integrate it with third-party apps. That way, users can access your app’s content, e.g., photos, from other apps, or jump straight into your app to perform some action.
For instance, if you are developing an iOS photo editing app, you can make your photo filters available in the native photo app. The idea is to make your app’s main feature accessible from other apps.
Log issues and user actions
As you keep iterating your app, it may help to have logging functionality in place. App logs help identify bugs and expedite the whole QA process. And analytics (like Google Analytics) services give you a decent picture of how people use the app.
6. Pick a Distribution Model
Depending on whether you’re developing an app for the general public or for internal use, it will have a different distribution model. You can develop an app by uploading it to an app store or make it available as a download from your server.
App Store Distribution: ASO
One thing you should remember when making your app available via an app store is ASO. App Store Optimization is a huge topic. Let’s just say there are quite a few things that influence your app visibility in the app stores:
- screenshots and videos
- description and keywords
- icon and the name of the app
We’re barely scratching the surface of ASO here. You may opt for one of the app store tracking services, like Sensor Tower or App Annie, to track the competition and execute on your app marketing strategy.
Some of the services for app store analytics will also allow you to A/B test the description and other elements of your app store listing to drive conversions.
In-house App Distribution
If the app targets only your employees and doesn’t have a demo account, you can still make the app available via a link.
You will need to procure enterprise licensing for such in-house apps and make sure the app has periodic access to the internet. Plus, you will need to set up an MDM (mobile device management) solution at your place.
Ad-hoc and Custom Apps
These distribution models are for app testing and for some advanced in-house app management. In 99 percent of the cases, you’ll be distributing your app via an app store. Reach out if you have questions about what model works best for your app.
7. Listen to Your Customers
Once the app is out and people start using it, you need to be ready to handle reviews. It certainly helps if you’ve hooked the app with a user feedback SDK during development. There’s plenty to choose from: Braze, Apptentive, UserVoice.
These platforms help you answer your customers’ concerns before they voice them through app reviews. You can also help customers better understand your product by setting up a knowledge base with one of these solutions.
8. Educate Yourself on App Development Cost
App development cost, just like ASO, is an intimidating topic. We’ve covered that in detail in a blog post about understanding the true costs of developing an app. Let’s recap what people often miss when budgeting app development:
- failure to include a web admin app into the budget
- underestimated yearly maintenance cost
- overlooked quality assurance
For modern mobile apps, it’s critical to be always on, serving fresh content to users. If you want to remain in control over the content and users, you need a web interface where you can review flagged content, block certain users, etc.
And by the way, you can use bootstrap admin dashboards to lower the app cost.
In our practice, yearly maintenance takes 15 to 25% of the total app cost. That includes fixing any issues with the app, server, hosting, etc. The problems may arise after an external library has been updated.
We’ve discovered that mobile development teams often ignore QA hours necessary to deliver a customer-ready solution. In that scenario, all testing is carried out by a client who may not be best equipped to catch all issues.
The more use cases an app has, the more testing it needs. If you have to test yourself, remember that a negative use case is also a use case. Let’s say someone is trying to sign-in with a wrong email and password. What error do you show?
Do you let them know there’s no such email? Do you offer to restore a password?
Testing all of that tends to add up.
9. Follow Your Users Cross-Platform
Have you noticed anything particular about apps that become popular? How they become available on smartwatches, tablets, TVs, and other devices? I think it’s safe to say that this tendency has become everybody’s expectation these days:
My app should follow me to every device I use.
Look at the Continuity feature in the Apple ecosystem: you start a document on an iPhone and pick it up on a Mac or iPad.
As soon as your app starts getting some traction, we recommend building separate versions of the app that support those other devices. Make sure to include only those features that make sense on each particular platform.
There’s no use in a calendar app on Apple Watch if you expect the user to add events on a tiny interface. However, calendar notifications and even agendas make total sense.
What you’ve read is an outline that will get you through major pitfalls of developing a mobile app. What should you expect when you actually start your app project? A myriad of nuances. Let’s say you are thinking about developing a mental health app:
- Should we support voice control to get user attention off the screen?
- What SDK should we pick for video calls?
- Should we optimize UI for seniors?
Questions like these start accumulating pretty fast. How about we start answering them together today?