In July of 2008, the App Store opened with over 500 titles available. By the time you read this article, it will probably have surpassed 250,000 apps. Many businesses and software developers find themselves in the same situation they did with the Internet in the early nineties. Back then, most companies knew they needed to create a website, but they weren’t sure where to start or what to do with it. Now, many organizations are eager to create an iPhone or iPad app, but don’t know what it needs to do or how to build it.
Defining the app
The first step in creating an app is to understand what you want to create and how you will measure its success. Make sure the idea is well vetted and there is a solid business case behind it. There are roughly 600 new apps submitted to Apple each day—what is going to differentiate your app from the thousands that are already available and being launched each week? Here are some questions you’ll want to ask when vetting your app idea:
- What do you want the app to do? (Be specific.)
- On what platform will the app run? (iOS only; multiple smartphone platforms)
- Who is the app for? (Describe the user.)
- Why will people download/use the app?
- Does your app need to be profitable, or is it a value add for your organization?
- Will your app have a Web component?
- Will it connect to a database?
- How will people find your app?
- How will you measure its success?
- What name will you give your app?
Map out your idea
Once the initial vetting is done and you have decided to move forward with your app, take some time to define its functionality:
- What does it need to do?
- What is the basic functionality of the app?
- What features must it have?
- How do you want it to work?
- What buttons do you want?
- Are you going to integrate ads with your app?
Go over everything and plan properly. Consider the cost and benefit of all features. Remember that spending some extra time in the planning stage will really help the project move smoothly and give you exactly what you want.
Create wireframes to clarify functionality and layout
After the initial planning is finished, have your design team create wireframes of the application to give you a better idea about its functionality and layout. This step is the beginning of the app design and layout.
Wireframes are typically black and white representations of the app designed to display functionality, not aesthetics. Each screen is laid out showing how the app flows and to make sure the desired functionality is there. Adding buttons, changing how the app flows, or adjusting concepts can be made here without a great deal of effort.
Create “comp” images to flesh out the design
This is often the most exciting step in the process, where the app really starts to take shape. Using the wireframes as guides, create “comp” images that show how colors and graphics will be used to brand the app. These comps showcase the look and feel of the app, and should include your color palette, integrated graphics, and text.
Remember that images used in the comps should show how the app will look and feel to the user. Images can be pulled from stock photo websites or provided by a photographer. If you are developing the app for a client, they might provide the graphics.
In this stage, design concepts are developed by the design team, which may include the client. Consequently, it is the phase with the largest potential for slow-downs. The problem is that there are many subjective decisions that need to be made (color, images, aesthetics, etc.). Input needs to be limited to keep the project on track and avoid any slowdowns from a “design by committee” approach.
Develop the app
During the actual coding of the app, the various pieces of the design are created and hooked together. The desired functionality is added, links and database connections are built using Web services, and additional functionality (GPS, mapping, accelerometer, etc.) is integrated. All coding is performed and the pages of the app are linked.
Throughout this phase, the development team needs to remain in constant communication with the project manager and/or client to make sure that the desired functionality is built into the app. Demonstrations and reviews of the app should occur at each major milestone of the project. At this point in the development, most of the major decisions have already been made, so this phase can move rather quickly.
Why apps fail
Learning from others’ mistakes can help you succeed. Here are some of the more common reasons apps fail:
- You didn’t do enough research and planning in the beginning. Make sure that you thoroughly think about how your app will be successful and how you will measure that success.
- Your app development project has no “Champion.” You must make sure that there is someone at your organization that will champion the project. The champion can be from the developer or client side.
- The members of the development team are not on the same page. We see this most frequently when clients take their projects overseas, especially when culture or language barriers are in place. Working overseas may be less expensive, but you may end up with communication problems.
- There has been no attention to marketing. Simply posting an app to the iTunes store and hoping that people will find out about it is a recipe for disaster. You need to think about marketing well before your app is launched. You need to create buzz before, during, and after its launch.
- Your app was rushed to market without being fully developed. This happens most often when the testing phase is cut down or eliminated. A poorly functioning app will die a quick death. Avoid bad reviews—test your app thoroughly!
Test it… and then test it some more
Testing is an important step in the process that should never be compromised. Is the application layout proper? Does navigation within the app work properly? Do all the links work? Is the data being pulled/pushed to a database correctly? If your app relies on network connectivity, don’t forget to consider what happens when that fails.
You’ll want to test across multiple platforms and on all the devices that the app may be used on. During this phase, take a thorough look at the following:
- Database integration
- Power consumption
- Web connections
- The complete user experience
Submit your app for approval
Once you have tested and retested your app and corrected any problems, you’re ready to submit your application to Apple for approval. Remember that once it’s submitted, Apple will also test it. Any problems they discover will delay approval and inclusion in the App Store. Be thorough in your testing! When you go to submit your application to Apple, you need to include the following information:
- Unique application name
- Application description
- Application keywords
- Application category
- URL for your application feedback
- E-mail address for support
- Icon of your application in 512×512 size
- Signed application binary
- Main picture of your app in 320×480 or 320×460 size
When you submit your app, be prepared to wait 6-14 days for final approval. Note that, unless you resubmit the app, the app name and keywords cannot be changed once an app is approved by Apple. You can change pricing, screenshots, and descriptions at any point without having to resubmit.
Don’t forget to tell people about your app
Good marketing is probably the most important step in developing an app. You need to make sure that people know about your app and download it. Here are some of the ways you can market your app:
- Submit it to app review sites.
- Post about it on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
- Share information about it with your existing customers and business contacts.
- Purchase a domain for your app and create a website for it or build a page on your existing site where you can drive traffic to find more about the app.
- Run ads about it with mobile advertisers like AdMob, iAd, and Millenial Media.
While there are many stories online about apps going viral and succeeding without any marketing support, those successes are few and far between. Remember that there are 250,000 titles in the App Store. You need to get your app noticed!
[Note: I’d like to thank Runner’s World for allowing me to include graphics showing the steps they took when creating their SmartCoach app ($0.99, app2.me/3180).]