In this article we will discuss three core considerations before starting the design phase of developing a mobile application. These considerations are often overlooked during the pre-design phase in our excitement of coming up with the next "great" app idea.
Before reading this article, we recommend reading our 7 Steps of App Development to make sure you are up to speed the general process of app development.
This is the big one. Phrased differently, "what is missing in the world that this app provides?"
Sometimes what we think is a "great" app idea might actually seem pretty pointless to others. People finding value in your app is the most important factor to its success. This is not to say apps that aren't unique can't succeed — it is just very important that you understand what your app brings to the table.
For example, in considering developing a clone of a hugely popular app with some minor tweaks, you have to ask yourself, "Why would anyone use my app, instead of the currently popular one?" This seems like such a fundamental question to ask, but a lot of people forget this key consideration. The reality is, unless you have a significantly better offering than the already-established, successful app, people will be resistant to change and the success of your app will suffer. People will generally stay with what they know works for them, unless there is a CLEAR advantage to doing something else.
On the flip side of that, if you see a trend in how people are using the existing popular app and the app developers are not following that trend, or perhaps some of your friends are really yearning for feature X, this may be an opening opportunity for your app.
Determining what gives your app value is an important consideration in the early stages of app design. Value is usually used in the context of what a user gains by using your app. For example, in an app lets users look up nearby restaurants, the majority of the value for the user is in the convenience of finding restaurants near them.
Another way to describe this is with the pains and gains terminology.
Pains refers to the inconveniences or annoyances that the user (or the world) is experiencing that your app can relieve. Gains refers to what additional value the user receives from using the app. Simply creating a list of your pains and gains can provide a lot insight into the potential of your app.
When we're ready to confirm our "great" app idea with others, it's time to begin market research and feasibility studies. At a very high level, these tasks are ways of assessing the market to see how feasible your app idea is in the real world. This might include talking to many segments of people and gauging how they receive your idea. Not only that, but if the idea is well-received, are they actually willing to shell out cash for it?
Another important question to ask. Is there any point to your idea being implemented as an app? Could it function just as well as a website? Do you need to support both iOS and Android devices?
Discussing platforms may seem rather technical at an early stage in planning, but it is an important consideration since it hugely impacts 1) your potential competition and 2) your cost.
Ideally, a feasibility study should be performed in terms of each platform you are considering. For example, if you think your idea would work as an iOS app AND a website, it is important that you look both for similar apps AND websites. If you are just considering developing for only a mobile platform, then it might not matter if there is a website that does what your app does. While there is overlap in the audiences, there might be enough of a mobile-only audience for your app to thrive.
Spend a lot of time getting to know your competition's offerings relevant to your platform. If you have a "great" app idea but discover during your market research that popular apps exist which already relieve the same pains and provide the same gains as your app, your app's feasibility may be reduced.
How much will the app cost to plan, design, develop, and maintain? The classic case is vastly under-estimating the cost of your app and finding out you are three times over budget... and you forgot about the maintenance costs.
To avoid falling into that group, it makes sense to invest more time into the planning and pre-design phases of app development. Make sure that there is a niche for your app. Make sure that there are people willing to use your app (and pay for it). Decide what is your minimum viable product, how much it will cost to build, and the talent you need to build it. Ask yourself what it will take to maintain the finished app.
Oftentimes when we think up a "great" app idea, we get caught up in the excitement of the idea and want to start programming immediately. Ironically, this is one of the worst things you can do in many cases. A structured, logically driven approach must be used to assess how much is at stake with your app.
Invest more time into planning and thinking — at least two times as much as you think necessary. If you plan on investing 40 hours, invest 80. This is a minor investment compared to spending hundreds or thousands of hours developing an app that fails due to lack of market interest.
If you start writing code before asking the right questions and your app does not succeed, your code has essentially no value (except in the case you reuse the code in a similar app in the future, and this similar app IS actually successful). However, if you invest your time in understanding the market the first time around, even if the app doesn't turn out to be a profitable idea, that time investment hasn't been without value. You now understand that market segment and you the process of pre-design planning.
1) Determine why your app needs to exist and what problem it solves in the real world.
2) Determine your competition, relevant to your platform. Do similar apps already meet the needs of your anticipated users?
3) Calculate your development and maintenance costs. Spend time (and money) up front to determine the feasibility of your product - before writing any code!
In our experience, these three main points will help guide your app planning phase and help avoid common pitfalls of new mobile applications.
Want to learn more about why apps commonly fail? Read our article 3 Reasons Apps Fail.