What’s the process for developing an app idea?
Smartphones (or phones, if you were born after 1950) have developed at an astonishing rate. They’ve transformed the way we conduct day-to-day tasks, both personally and commercially. Never before in society has a low battery warning caused so much panic, as it would seem our lives depend on the device we keep in our pocket.
Although somewhat melodramatic, there is substance to this dependency. Alongside making and receiving phone calls — do people even do that anymore? — the smartphone is now entrusted with an array of important tasks. From booking flights and checking your bank balance, to writing emails and listening to your favourite podcast, the phone can do it all. Mobile apps have changed the way we live, which is why their popularity continues to skyrocket.
According to app analytics and market data authority App Annie, the app economy will be worth a staggering $6.3 trillion by 2021. Trillion! Needless to say, a solid mobile app is pretty much a necessity for for most businesses these days — brand awareness, customer engagement, and revenue growth all excellent examples of what an app can provide.
What’s the catch? Well, there isn’t one as such, but the process of turning a great idea into a tangible application is a complex one. But don’t worry, we’ve got you. Just follow these steps.
Note: There may be some overlap in these areas so they’re for general guidance only. Every project (just like every client) is unique, so we might agree to do things very differently!
The first stage of the process is to establish a shared understanding of the project. We need to know things like:
- What problem does it solve? Take Shazam, for example. Prior to its conception, identifying music playing in a public place was virtually impossible, unless you asked somebody in close proximity and they happened to know the answer. Even then, you had to take their word for it and write the song name down somewhere. Shazam allows you to tap a button and within seconds the name (plus album, artist etc.) pops up on your phone. It does this by listening to a short audio sample via the microphone on your device.. It even links out to Apple Music, meaning you can stream straight away. Amazing. Definite problem solved.
- Who is it for? You have an incredible app idea, but do you know your target audience? Let’s use the EasyJet app this time. Frequent/occasional flyers of the budget airline are the target here. EasyJet aren’t expecting one-off users to download the app (a North American tourist visiting the UK for a wedding, for example). They probably don’t anticipate users among the oldest demographic either. However, a broad range of flyers including business people, holidaymakers, stag-do revellers — most of whom are comfortable using their phone for everyday transactions and tasks — this is who the app is for.
- Why would they use it? This is the most important question. An app can solve a problem, have a potential audience, and look amazing… but is it necessary? Does it warrant being downloaded and used? EasyJet customers benefit from using the mobile app for a number of reasons. Within the app, they can:
- Book flights and manage bookings on a far more user-friendly platform compared to the website.
- Use Apple Pay for faster, easier payment.
- Add passport details using their phone camera.
- Store up to 8 boarding passes per flight offline, removing the hassle of check-in desk queues or sourcing a printer.
- Access a real time flight tracker direct from easyJet’s control centre.
Of course, each project is different. We might need to learn about your specific industry or area of knowledge, or maybe we need to identify some new technology that can help realise your dream. When Gravitywell designed Gaku — a system for Pilates instructors to create personalised video lessons for their students to work on at home — we invested time researching the pilates industry, speaking to instructors and asking their thoughts on the project. We also invested in lycra, but let’s not go there.
All of this learning is done via meetings, workshops and various forms of research. If the project is particularly complex and there is a lot to be done, we might propose a ‘Discovery Phase’, incorporating the Design and Cost estimates stages as well. Ultimately, the Understanding phase is extremely important and will set us on the path to a successful project.
This is the stage where we apply what we’ve learnt. What are all the different ways we could solve the problem… or provide the solution? In the design process, UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) are the two key factors. UI focuses on what the user will see, whereas UX speaks about the multiple interactions or ‘journey’ the user will have with the app.
The design stage may include multiple aspects:
- Wireframes offer a rough visual layout of key screens within the app.
- Mockups showcase the visual design of the app.
- Prototypes present essentially a rapid version of the app as originally intended.
Not only are these great ways to test an idea, but they also help in communicating that idea to others. Explaining something that will eventually be a tangible product is a lot easier when you throw visuals into the mix. Just ask Anthony Weiner.
Once we’ve narrowed down a concept and approach, we can start to estimate costs more accurately and develop a timeline for production and delivery. You can read in more depth about how app development costs are calculated in our previous article, ‘How are app development costs calculated?’ It’s worth bearing in mind that if there’s a lot of complexity involved, we may need to document functionality in great detail which will likely increase the cost.
Methodology - we might plan to use the Agile methodology, the Waterfall methodology, or a combination of the two. This will typically depend on the project, as both methods have their pros and cons. Agile suits a more conceptual idea, allowing for flexibility throughout the process. Waterfall, however, might be preferred for a more defined idea, where a structured process benefits the end result.
We’ll also agree deadlines and important dates so that all stakeholders know what’s required of them, and when.
Development is usually the largest part of the process, where the actual coding and realisation of your app is covered. This stage is obviously extremely important. We’ll agree what tools, libraries and technologies we’re using and then split up tasks between different team members, whilst collaborating tightly throughout. If content needs to be added, then this is the time to do so.
A mobile app project typically requires work in these kinds of areas:
- Back-end / CMS / Admin
- 3rd party connections / APIs
- Front-end / UI / Styling
As these stages are completed, testing can begin. This is where the quality of the app is scrutinised, where any defects can be highlighted and resolved. The testing process might be a mix of internal, third-party external, and automated. The project manager will then give the green light to proceed.
Time to get excited! The launch marks the start of the marketing stage for your app. To launch, the app has to be published in an app store like Apple’s App Store or Google Play, and sticking to the required guidelines for the respective store is crucial in order to guarantee that the app is listed. (The App Store can be… a little difficult.)
I’m sure you’ve heard this before — you could have the best product in the world, but if nobody knows about it then who cares? Well, the same applies to your new app. You can’t rely on word of mouth to promote. Or your friends on Facebook. Or your mum (sorry mum).
Ideally there should already be a plan in place for a robust marketing strategy. Boxes you might want to tick:
- Paid ad campaigns
- Social Media
- App store optimisation
- Press releases
As with other app marketing agencies, this is something we can assist with. When the time is right we can then hand over to your team. Check out how Gravitywell designed and delivered an online marketing campaign to promote Western Power's Power Cut Reporter apps.
If required, we can assist with updates, fixes and improvements for the lifetime of your app.
And that’s a wrap! Developing a mobile app is a long journey. However, when done correctly it can be an extremely rewarding process which produces great results. If you would like to chat about your project or learn more about the Gravitywell process, get in touch.