8 Steps You Must Take Before Starting Mobile App Development
Coming up with a unique app idea, no matter what goals you want to achieve with it, simply isn’t enough anymore – the app market is simply too competitive. It is getting harder to stand out, and the investment is large, both considering your time and budget.
Going into the mobile app development stage unprepared can result in costly, frustrating and brand-damaging mistakes.
However, if you invest your time to piece these building blocks together, you will make the development process fundamentally easier and give yourself lots of competitive advantage. It takes some effort, but it’s incredibly worth it.
Let’s get started!
1) Deeply research your market
The first step to inform everything you do moving forward is a thorough market research. You need to know the current offering on the market and use this knowledge to find a gap your app will fill and serve a fresh, complete solution to the problem you’re solving.
Extensive market research should help you discover:
- Who are your competitors?
- What is their strategy?
- What are their strengths and weaknesses
- What are their customers saying in the reviews and on social media?
- What is their unique selling point?
When you have the answers to these questions, you will be able to avoid your competitors’ mistakes, double up on the strategies that work, and clearly define your unique take on the problem and the path to solving it. There are millions of available mobile apps, and this is your opportunity to ensure yours stands out.
2) Define your elevator pitch and target audience
Can you articulate your app’s specific purpose? Can you name its difference from your website and its specific use cases? This is probably the trickiest step for business owners and marketers. Boiling all your ideas down to one or two sentences of clear purpose is hard, but it’s also one of the core steps to ensuring the success of your app.
This is the time to define:
- What will be the app’s key functionality?
- Why would people want to use it?
- What is the added value compared to a mobile website?
- Which business goals will it help you achieve?
- What audience will benefit from it?
- What does that audience need and crave?
Being honest when answering these questions will ensure you don’t waste resources on redundant app features or targeting the wrong groups of people.
By now, you should also be confident about your elevator pitch. If you accidentally found yourself in front of a potential investor and they asked you about your project, how would you convey your mission in only a couple of sentences in less than a minute? Again, strong focus and clarity this early in the process can amplify your success in so many ways, so don’t miss your opportunity to be precise and clear with your app’s purpose early on.
3) Choose between native, hybrid and web app
There are a couple of technical decision to make early on, and this is a crucial one. Choosing between native, hybrid, or a web app carries many implications for your later development and maintenance. This is why it’s key to leverage your market research and the core purpose and functionality you’ve just defined, so you can make the best decision.
The core differentiations between native, hybrid and mobile apps are:
- The programming languages they are built in. This affects and depends on your budget, desired time frames, and available expertise.
- Access to native device APIs. This will depend on the device’s functionalities that you want your app to access.
- Distribution method. This will largely affect the way you market your app and define your promotion strategies.
- Multi-platform support. This will be based on your target audience and the market you want to penetrate; most often, you will want to be present both on Apple’s App store and Android’s Play store.
Native apps are perfect for heavy-duty tasks such as gaming or the use of photos or videos. On the other hand, web apps are best for solutions that require easy updates, but don’t require any access to device’s native abilities.
These two types sit on the opposite sides of the spectrum, with native apps being most expensive to develop and findable through app stores, while web apps are quite quick and low-cost to develop, but you can’t amplify them through app stores or have your users download them to their device.
The best of both worlds are hybrid apps: they use the same code base for both platforms, they can access device’s features and they live in both app stores. They are also an ideal choice for most app goals and purposes, including productivity, utility and enterprise apps.
Once you’ve decided on your app type, you will much more easily allocate your resources and plan your entire development project.
4) Know your monetization options
An app can play many different roles for your business and your bottom line. Generating revenue directly off the app is an obvious one, while others may simply be serving as a resource for your audience, or indirectly assisting other phases of your sales funnel and increase your brand’s reach.
What role do you want your app to play in your business model? If you are planning to make money directly from your app, this is the time to look at the app monetization models:
- Freemium apps – These apps are free to download, but certain features and contents are locked, and they can only be accessed through a purchase.
- Paid (premium) apps – The user needs to purchase the app from the app store in order to use it. Because of the cost barrier of this model, a mobile marketing strategy is critical to demonstrate the unique, superior value compared to the free apps.
- In-app purchases – This model works by using the app to sell digital or physical products as a mobile commerce sales channel.
- Subscriptions – This model is similar to freemium apps, but brings a benefit of a recurring stream of revenue.
- In-app ads – This is possibly the simplest model of all because there is no cost barrier for the user. As with any advertising space, it’s important to never sacrifice user experience in order to gain more ad space.
- Sponsorships – This model usually becomes possible when you achieve a solid user base, as it allows you to partner with specific brands and advertisers. It is a win-win situation because brands pay for user actions, and your app generates further engagement for the user.
As with any other choice, each path as benefits and disadvantages. While your decision now can be changed later, it’s important you gain a solid understanding of all the models first, and steer your mobile app development based on what aligns with your business best.
5) Build your marketing strategy and pre-launch buzz
If there is an element that so heavily affects your app’s success, it’s the preparation to market and amplify it, including your branding, PR, pre-launch efforts, outreach, and simply overall web presence.
Now, you might think it’s too early to think about marketing before you’ve even begun your development. However, your efforts will multiply in the long run if you start creating the buzz around your app before it’s in the app stores.
This is the right time to start with the following:
- Define your branding. How will your name, colors, logo and the tone of your content set you apart from the millions of other apps and businesses? Ensure consistency of all these across your app and all platforms you exist on.
- Find your channels. Where does your target audience mostly hang out? Are they easier to reach through social media or email? Do they prefer video over written content? How much time are they spending on their mobile device?
- Create content. Based on your answers in the previous point, you should now know what content your audience craves and where to reach them. Start mapping out your written and/or video content and sharing it on selected channels.
- Kick off your outreach. What people are influencers in your industry, both small and large? Put some effort into reaching out to them in a personalized manner and provide them lots of value for putting your app in front of their audiences.
These steps will make promotion easier when the launch time comes, and you will have a warm community to launch for.
6) Plan for app store optimization
Many steps you’ve done so far, including your market research, your app’s unique purpose and your marketing strategy, largely affect your app store optimization strategy. This is the key to discoverability in the app store; over 60 percent of all apps are found through this organic search.
It’s important to respect both app stores’ requirements and best practices, and use this as a brilliant opportunity for your app to shine with its visuals, features and distinctive purpose.
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While you won’t be able to complete all the ASO tasks this early in the process (nor should you), this is an ideal time to start sketching out your final app store look and feel, and ensure that the development follows your ideas.
The key elements for app store optimization are:
- App name: make it easy to spell and pronounce, unique, and descriptive, fitting within the length limits (50 characters for iOS, 30 for Android)
- Keywords: this is only applicable to Apple, and it’s an extra space to specify the search terms relevant to your app
- Icon: use a clear color palette, avoid using lots of small details, and opt in for contrasting colors and a simple, clear concept
- Screenshots: make sure to use all five screenshots and to leverage caption texts to tell a story and highlight benefits
- Description: focus on the first three lines (before the ‘More…’ link) to clearly convey the key points, use bullet lists, and have a call to action
- Preview video: it should be short and go straight to the point, with a clear and universal message that will work in any localization
7) Know your resources
Ideally, you’ll be able to announce your launch date ahead to create the buzz around your launch and make people excitedly wait for it.
For this to happen, you need to be aware of the development time frame in front of you. According to Kinvey’s report, most businesses need between 7 months up to over a year to develop and deploy a mobile app.
This is why you need to start conversations with your developers and technical teams as early as possible. This will help you guide your entire project more effectively and allocate appropriate due dates to various planning and development stages, including:
- Use case(s) definition
- Mapping of required functionalities
- Programming language/platform selection
This is the best time to also revise your budget. Depending on app’s complexity, features, infrastructure and many other factors, the full development price can vary between under $10,000 for simple iPad apps all the way to six-figure budgets for a more complex, full spec app. Keep in mind this will also vary between different agencies and developers based on agency size, expertise, required and available time frame, and more.
Another costly factor is the ongoing support of the app. It will require continuous monitoring, crash logs review, optimizing for user experience based on comments, and keeping up to date with the operating system updates.
Knowing what resources you’re working with early on will prevent any emergencies and delays further down the line.
8) Ensure security measures
The benefit of taking this step so early is to give yourself plenty of time to get any legal consulting you may need, as well as plan and implement safety measures within the app.
The security of your app is one of its key points, and you must ensure it is being built early in the development. Your users’ data is your most valuable asset, and you should ensure you have processes in place to collect, handle and store this data, as well as to manage any potential security risks.
Once you go through these preparation steps, you will be ready to dive into your app development without distractions and lead it to a successful deployment and launch!