The best apps change the world. Whether upending urban mobility or reinventing hospitality, a moment’s inspiration can turn an industry on its head. However, the success of the apps you use today is not the result of a single ‘good idea.’
The idea itself is the tip of the iceberg. Any resulting success stems from a careful focus on the four core stages of app development; strides that take your big idea and break it down into smaller, but no-less-powerful steps.
Grasp the importance of these four stages – and you too could soon change the world.
The majority of founders we meet would rather avoid step 1 – it’s a ‘time-waster.’
Yet, it’s the most important of the four. If you wanted to build a house, you’d spend weeks— months even—planning, long before you contact a builder, negotiate contracts, dig foundations. So why, when people grasp the concept in construction, does it disappear with technology?
Instead, we’d rather:
- Have an idea
- Draw the basics on paper
- Get on and build
…then, the house collapses.
In truth, it’s because building your idea is exciting while exercising patience is hard.
And we get that: but if you first evolve your app concept as far as possible before you consider development – if you invest time upfront – you could save as much as fifty-percent of costs down the line.
What does it mean to plan? Let’s dive in.
In the days, weeks, and months after your idea, you need to specify as much of your app’s detail as possible. This stage is hyper-critical as you are laying the groundwork for what comes next.
But you can still keep it painless:
- Find applications you’d like to model your concept on
- Create a portfolio of designs that catch your eye
- Describe your features with high-level specifications
Evolve your concept and consider what makes your app unique, as this guides your next step.
You will always love your own ideas. Customer research avoids bias in what you think people want. So, get out, talk to potential customers, validate your ideas from pre-planning, then brainstorm some more.
At the very least, use your research to answer these four questions:
- What problem does your app solve?
- Who is your target audience?
- Which platform (iOS, Android) will you target first?
- How will your app make money? Free, freemium, paid?
If you’re struggling for answers, try competitive analysis. Studying your competition highlights what you’re up against as much as how others approach the same problem. Moreover, it shows the features other apps have and, more importantly, highlights those they lack – that you could build.
A focused planning stage forms the basis of what comes next: Design.
Understandably, you want to know the cost and timeframes of your project as early as possible.
However, given the unknowns of development, the reality is you cannot get an accurate estimate until you have suitably evolved technical specifications, which start to become more evident during the design process.
Mental prototyping is the first detailed scoping exercise. Here, you collaborate with a design team to illustrate your thoughts via ‘whiteboarding’ – sketching and critiquing your ideas on a whiteboard.
It worked for Steve Jobs; it can work for you.
Mental prototyping helps develop ideas, spot design flaws, and create a visual overview of what you are looking to build. It is also vital for uncovering usability issues early, which – if undiscovered – could derail your entire project during the development cycle.
Moreover, presenting your ideas on paper invites valuable feedback. It’s crucial to get a broad perspective on ideas to validate assumptions on a continuous basis.
Much like the architect must check her ideas with the builder, so you must assess yours. A technical feasibility assessment analyzes you can technically build your app, and what back-end functionality you need to support your proposed functionality.
The most effective approach is to discuss your idea with a technical partner who can:
- Check if public API’s support your required feature set;
- Recommend whether to go native, HTML5 or hybrid;
- Ensure your app can work across devices.
Once you know it can work, it’s time to prototype.
An app prototype offers a barebones showcase of your idea for a hands-on experience that puts user flows to the test. Insights gained here help guide, and refine, your approach: focus on basic functionality that shows off the core features, worry less about minor details or high-fidelity wireframes.
At this stage, invite stakeholders to try the prototype to encourage buy-in.
Waiting until after the app prototype phase to dive into the detail lets your team capture only relevant user flows, now they properly understand what a user expects.
Plus, it avoids wasting time on pointless functionality.
Moreover, the approach gives designers plenty of time to validate how the app should work, rethinking user flows at a critical moment rather than altering elements later. Redesigns are simple, and cost little; the same changes introduced mid-development, however, could hurt your budget.
Consider yourself warned!
You know the features you want, you know how they should look – now is the time to develop!
At this point, only try to build your MVP, or minimum viable product: the version of your product with the minimum number of key features able to satisfy the needs of your early customers. As once you release your app, your users will tell you exactly what functionality they want next.
Hence, Redvike recommends adopting an…
Typically, the user needs only become evident once you start development. Moreover, your minimalist app invites user feedback on features to scope, prioritize, and build.
An Agile approach helps you accommodate requests:
- Adapt your roadmap in line with customer needs;
- Add new features on the fly;
- Evolve your product as trends appear.
The Agile Methodology offers a dynamic structure that maximizes velocity while focusing on development cycles that add customer value quickly. Sprint meetings help developers further understand your vision and work through features that lack clarity.
As such, professionalism, patience, and a willingness to collaborate go a long way within the Agile framework – the astonishing output enabled by the approach presents an attractive ROI on time invested.
First up, your development partner will focus on building the back-end: that’s everything relating to what makes your app work – from infrastructure and architecture to both private and public API’s.
Typically, you can expect backend development to take up to 10 weeks for an MVP.
With the backend in place, developers bring your app to life by implementing the front-end – or, everything your users see. Front-end development usually takes around eight weeks, bringing the MVP development timeframe to 18 weeks in total.
Although if you’re highly-focused on just a few key features, an 8-week launch timeline is achievable.
With the product seemingly ready, many first-time founders want to launch immediately. Please, remember to take a breath: nothing spells failure quicker than a frustrating, bug-filled app experience – user testing your software is crucial.
Software partners should offer in-house User App Testing, as well as Beta Testing, to ensure everything works as expected. The best-resourced software houses have automation tools to run comprehensive testing across your apps – hopefully guaranteeing the smoothest of launches.
Ready for lift-off, your app is complete, and you’ve submitted it for app store approval. But while your app launch might be imminent, in truth, your journey has only just begun.
The second users have your app in their hands, they will request features, they will want upgrades, and every app needs a tweak here and there – just to squash the bugs.
So, prepare to…
Launch, Test & Learn
Listen for user feedback, then get back to work. Iteration allows optimization, which is the only path to success in the uber-competitive world of app building.
The next development cycle begins the moment you launch v1.
If you plan to bring development in-house, make sure your software partner can provide the relevant documentation to guarantee a smooth handover between teams. If you hope to continue the collaboration, check your partner has the available resource to continue to handle both product development and support.
As you can see from this article, app development is as much about the preparation – Step 1 and Step 2 – as it is about the build; only work with a software house willing to collaborate from the start.
You need a technology partner that not only knows how to develop an app but can:
- Work with you to evolve your initial concept;
- Then, work with designers to bring your visions to life;
- Then, prototype, redesign, and refine.
All the while advising on technical feasibility, complexity and, of course, cost.
Do not underestimate the complexity. However, it’s nothing the right level of communication can’t overcome – start now by sharing a brief overview of your idea.