Part 2: Testing Your App Idea

This is part 2 of the From Inception to App Store series that teaches you how to take an app from the idea phase to final release in the App Store. In my previous post, I gave an overview of the Robot Tic-Tac-Toe app I created for this series, which you can download for free from this link.

Doing the Research

I have worked with many companies creating mobile apps, and I'm often surprised at how little research some developers do before deciding to spend a tremendous amount of time and energy creating an app. Performing advance research helps ensure you have a viable app idea!

Checking Out the Competition

One of the challenges of creating an iOS app is getting noticed among the 1.5 million apps in the App Store. However, this can be used to your advantage, because it allows you to test your app idea against your potential competitors. Unless your app is completely and utterly original (very rare) there are other apps in the store you can examine to decide if you should pursue your app idea.

Ultimately, if you discover there are multiple apps similar to your own that are highly rated and selling well, but you don't have anything new or exceptional to offer in your own app, it's best to abandon the idea and search for a new one.

However, if you find there are mostly poor-to-moderate reviews of similar apps, or if you have something unique to offer that will make your app stand out from the crowd, then you should go for it.

For example, when I thought about creating the Robot Tic-Tac-Toe app, I downloaded and purchased every Tic-Tac-Toe app on the market. I played with each of them, writing down their strengths and weaknesses. I decided I could improve on the existing apps, and offer several features that would make the app stand out, such as:

  • A character (the Robot), which the user could play against.
  • Entertaining animations of the Robot that play after each game
  • Offer the app on new platforms such as Apple Watch and Apple TV
  • Include color themes that match the latest Apple phones and Apple Watch wristbands, as well as colors for sports teams, countries, and famous artists.
  • Include a variety of sound themes. This includes sounds that are played as each player makes a move, as well as a short song tht plays at the end of each game (the song varies based on whether the user wins, loses, or ties the game).

Learning from User Reviews

There is much to be learned from reading user reviews of competing apps. They allow you to discover what users like and dislike, and you can design your app accordingly.

For example, I read a number of unfavorable reviews of one Tic-Tac-Toe app where users complained that whenever they made a move, the game made its move "at the same time." Ultimately, the game was calculating and making its move after the user made their move, but it happened so quickly, it appeared to happen at the same time. It was easy for me to add a delay between when the user made their move and when the Robot made its move to avoid this user complaint! I learned this, and much more by reading user reviews.

Monetizing Your App

One of the biggest questions you should decide before creating your app is, "How will I earn revenue from this app?"

Apple offers several options:

  • Charge for the app up front (users pay before they download)
  • Offer In-App purchases (users pay when they purchase something in your app)
  • Include iAds in your app  (you earn revenue when the user taps ads)
  • Offer a basic app for free, and a more advanced version for a fee
  • Offer an app that includes ads for free, but charge for a version that has no ads

Choosing the best option often depends on the type of app you are creating. If your app will be used infrequently, the best option is to charge for the app up front, or include In-App purchases. If your app is designed to be used more frequently, then any of the above options (or a combination of options) can work well for you.

In the Robot Tic-Tac-Toe app, I chose to offer it for free (especially since I want you to be able to download it free of charge), but included the following In-App purchases to demonstrate how these work:

  • Additional color themes
  • Additional sound themes

I find it best to offer a subset of In-App purchases for free. It allows users to try different free options, which can then lead to In-App purchases. For example, Figure 1 shows free color and sound themes the user can select in the app.

Figure 1 - Free color and sound themes

If you tap the More Color Themes... button, it takes you to the screen on the left in Figure 2.

Color theme In-App purchases

If you select a color theme from this list, it takes you to the scene on the right in Figure 2, where you can see the full set of colors and the price for the color theme set.

Plugging Into Social Media

One of the best ways to get the word out about your app is to include social media features that are easy to discover and use.

For example, Figure 3 shows the Results scene after playing a game of Tic-Tac-Toe.

Social media integration

In this screenshot, the player has won five games in a row. Notice the Twitter and Facebook icons at the bottom of the scene. If the user taps one of these icons, it takes them to a dialog that allows them to post their winning streak to social media. It includes an image of the app icon (for branding purposes) and a link to the app's web site where potential users can check out and purchase the app.


Now that we have a basic layout of our app's features and a reasonable level of confidence that our app is marketable, we're ready to move on to the technical details of the design and construction phase. I'll covering a wide variety of iOS technologies in detail in upcoming articles in this series, so stay tuned!


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Author Details

Kevin McNeish's picture

Author Details

Kevin McNeish

Kevin McNeish is author of the new book “Learn to Code in Swift” as well as the “iOS App Development for Non-Programmers” book series (, winner of the Publishing Innovation Award. Kevin is also an award-winning app developer, software architect, and conference speaker in the U.S. and abroad. He has spent much of his career making difficult concepts easy to understand. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @kjmcneish.