Thinking up workable, unique app ideas has got nothing to do with technical knowhow. If you feel you have chanced upon an idea that can indeed be transformed into a mobile application, never hesitate to follow your heart. Here are some broad steps you should follow.
What’s that ONE thing you simply must have for making a mobile application? The answer isn’t ‘programming expertise’, for you can always hire professional mobile app companies to look into the coding aspects. The correct response to this query would be ‘a viable app idea’. Note the importance of the word ‘viable’ here. There are more than 3 million apps (iOS and Android combined) available for download – and it is almost impossible to think up an app idea that someone else has not already thought up before. In case your idea is too unique, its target audience would also be too niche – and it won’t translate into a revenue-generating application. You need to focus on coming up with ideas for apps that are a) workable, and b) will transform into a new application which serves its core purpose better than other apps in the same genre. If you indeed have an idea (yep, anyone can have them), make an app by following these steps:
- Decide who’s going to do the coding – If you are proficient in Objective-C and Swift programming (required for iOS applications), or Java (needed for Android apps), you can work on the app idea on your own. For those from non-technical backgrounds (most people are), there are plenty of good mobile app development companies which can handle the project. All that you need to do is prepare a shortlist of the best app companies, have a chat with their in-house developers, ask for free app quotes, and delegate your project to the agency that seems the most capable.
- Sketch out your idea – Yes, the app company you hire can do this on your behalf too. However, it would bring greater clarity to your idea (as well as help the developers), if you prepare a rough pen-and-paper sketch of your idea, depicting the screens that the app would have, the features you want to include, and the overall ‘flow’ of the application. In the lingo of mobile app development, these low-fidelity drawings are called ‘wireframes’, and they come in really handy for real-time testing, making modifications, and building high-level mockups later on.
- Know your target end-users – Are you planning to create an iPhone app for kids? Is a mobile finance app on the Android platform on the top of your mind? Depending on the nature of the application you wish to develop, your target audience would vary. In turn, the required UI/UX designs, the features and in-app navigation structure, animations (if any) and requisite app security levels would change. Ask yourself: “Will my app indeed help users?” If you are not convinced it will, it would be better to put that idea on the backburner for a while. The app you make should have ONE principal purpose.
- Determining the right platforms – Windows Phone is still struggling, Samsung has not been able to make Tizen take off yet, and Blackberry (while not dead yet) is not showing much signs of a recovery. Hence, iOS and Android are the two platforms on which you should ideally consider deploying your idea. If your app would be targeted towards users in the US, UK or Australia, go with the iOS platform. On the other hand, in case you want your app to be downloaded by as many smartphone-users in Asia as possible, hire Android app developers. Remember: once your app succeeds on one platform, creating a custom version of it for the other platform is not at all difficult.
- Native app or Hybrid app? – Intuitive user-experience (or the lack of it!) can make or break a mobile application. If time is not a factor, you should transform your idea into a native smartphone app – on the platform(s) you have chosen in the previous step. Going for hybrid apps (which has features common to native apps as well as mobile web apps) is also an option, particularly if you want the volume of users to be as large as possible. Stay away from the web app-only approach though – they do not generally rank high on user-experience, and cannot have as many high-end features as a native app can.
- Determine the ‘right’ notification system – In most cases, an in-app notification system (i.e., sent only when the app is active) is opted for mobile app development experts. The nature of your app idea might, however, warrant the presence of push notifications in the actual application (say, in a live scores app, or a news feed app). Push notifications are a common feature of most popular email applications as well. Unless absolutely necessary, sending out notifications via SMSes or separate emails is not advisable. After all, an app should not ‘disturb’ a user too much!
- Find out about the backend infrastructure – A perfectly good-looking and apparently well-functioning app can have serious bugs in the backend, leading to problems like excessive battery drains, inaccurate displays, and even random freezes. Even if you are not familiar with coding methods, inquire the app developers working on your project about the APIs (application programming interfaces), data flow structure, and the server functionality that would power the app. Make a note of the memory and bandwidth requirements of the application as well (after the wireframing and storyboarding). Make sure you know how databases are being created and maintained in your app.
- Get the app skins created – The term ‘skins’ seems unfamiliar? Worry not, they refer to the individual screens of your Android/iOS app. Provide clear, pointwise instructions to the graphic designers and animators about the visual features that you want to be present in every screen, how the content would be laid on the screen, the precise locations of the images and animations (the latter is particularly important in mobile games). Most app companies have separate teams of prototype-testers, who test alternative versions/builds of the same app, and pick the one that seems the most user-friendly. If you feel any modification is required in the designs or navigational flow, request for the changes to be done immediately. You are the one paying, and you have every right to make the app just as you want it.
- Design for the bigger screens – The relatively small screens of iPhone 4S (3.5”) have become more of an aberration than the norm at present. The screen of iPhone 6 is 4.7”, that of iPhone 6 Plus is 5.5”, while the screen of the much-hyped Samsung Galaxy S6 is 5.1”. The next set of flagship iOS and Android smartphones is rumored to have even larger screen sizes. Your app needs to be customized for all of these latest handsets. Instruct the UI/UX designers and developers to prepare the layout and use such hi-res images that would look nice on these phones. If the app is not properly viewable, people would uninstall it from their handsets (or keep it but never use it – which is equally bad). More significantly, your ambitious, promising app idea would go to waste.
- Which monetization strategy should you go for? – Every mobile app developer creates applications to earn money (only a small fraction actually manages to make profits, but that’s another story). For that, you need to add a proper revenue-earning strategy to your app idea. Do not think of making a ‘paid app’, since they typically have low download counts (in any case, the ratio of free apps to paid apps is heavily skewed in favor of the former at both iTunes and Google Play Store). Consult with the app-makers you are working with, and decide whether in-app purchases or mobile advertising would be better suited for your app. In kids’ apps, digital games and storybooks can be offered via in-app purchases. On the other hand, you can go with a free version of the app with ads…and give users the option to upgrade to an ad-free ‘Premium’ version.
- Don’t be too finicky about deadlines – Theoretically, it is important to release a ‘Minimum Viable Product’ (MVP) at the app stores as soon as possible. However, this should never be done by compromising on quality. Given your budget (as specified in the app quote), there is a direct tradeoff between the quality assurance of an app and the speed at which it can be developed and released. Your focus should be more on the former. Who wants their very first app to turn out to be a dud?
(Note: You, of course, have the right to ask the reasons for inordinate delays. Leading mobile app companies have backup manpower to pitch in, when such risks of delays crop up).
12. Make arrangements for monitoring user-behavior – Is your dream limited to seeing your idea being transformed into an app and being showcased at the App Store? If yes…well, you have to dream bigger! In the long-run, what matters is whether people are liking the app that has been created from your idea. Find out from online Android and iPhone app development forums about the mobile app analytics tracking software that are generally used (there are a whole lot of them, ranging from Flurry and Google Analytics, to Preemptive and Localytics). You should be aware of how people are using your application and frame an idea about the improvements required. Via social media channels, you can actively seek feedback on your mobile software as well.
13. Test the app before submission – Even though prototype-testing was constantly going on during the app development process, it is imperative that the app is tested thoroughly once again – prior to its submission at the app stores. Apple’s app review guidelines have always been stringent, and recently, Google has also started manually reviewing each app submitted to the Play Store. App rejections can, and will, happen from time to time – but careful testing on simulators, on the cloud, and on actual devices can minimize such risks.
14. Plan upgrades regularly – And we are not talking about mere bug-fix updates here. Once your app is approved at the store(s) and has found acceptance among targeted users, start thinking about the additional features that can be included in its next version. If your app idea is fairly elaborate, consider including only the basic features in the initial release of the app, and add more features in the subsequent versions. Not releasing upgrades for long periods would lead to your app being viewed as static.
15. Include wearable technology in your plans – Apple Watch is off to a fast start, and companies are increasingly getting into WatchKit app development. In the upcoming Google I/O 2015, news about the next generation of Android Wear is expected. Wearable technology is well and truly the ‘next big thing’ in the domain of mobile tech. Hence, it would be a mistake if you do not plan for a custom version of your smartphone/tablet app for wearables too. Look for a company that makes apps for Apple Watch/Android Wear – it will handle this responsibility.
There’s no saying where, and under what circumstances, an app idea will strike you. It might be while hurrying for office. vacationing at an exotic island, or even during a frustrating wait at the airport for a delayed flight. Do not sit upon the idea, and let it go to waste. Make an app out of it – your idea might very well turn out to be a winner!