How to Get an App Built

When Apple first launched the iPhone App Store, they sparked a gold rush where developers from all over the world were racing to create the next big app. As the number of apps grew from the hundreds to the hundreds of thousands, it became very important for developers to carefully and strategically evaluate their new app plans. Here are some of the steps you should follow:

Have a clear idea of the app you want to build

Whether it's a completely new concept, the combination of two or more existing concepts, or just an improvement upon an existing app, it is very important to have a clear idea of the app you want to build. Maybe you want to take an exciting Web or desktop application and port it to a mobile platform. Maybe you want to create an app that will help you market your product, service, company, ideas, or even yourself. In any case, the first step to any successful app is a clear vision of what the final app should be.

Thoroughly research the competition

Once you've clearly articulated the concept, it's time to do your market research. Identify all competing apps as well as those that don't directly compete but are similar. Check for these apps in your app's designated category as well as other categories. Pay special attention to apps that are successful and those that are not. Look at the apps' descriptions in their App Store listings, check out the apps' screenshots and the developers' websites. Install the apps on your iOS device, play with them, and figure out their strengths and weaknesses. Finally, identify elements in the apps that you want to emulate, improve, and eliminate.

Create an initial design

The next step is to put together an initial app design. Unless you have a lot of experience developing iPhone and/or iPad user interfaces, work with simple paper prototypes and focus on the major design elements. Subtler elements of the design can greatly increase the complexity of developing the app. At this phase, it's much better to document the high-level user experience and not get into the details.

Prototype your app

Usability is the most important aspect to any successful mobile application. To gauge usability, you have to have actual users and they have to have an app to use. Descriptions and mockups just cannot compare to a functional prototype. Whether you're developing the app yourself or hiring a third-party developer, you should have several iterations of functional prototypes to test usability before you attempt building the final app. Prototypes should be developed with quick and dirty coding, not full-fledged implementations that are expensive and time consuming to change and evolve while you're still refining the application concept.

Build your app

Once you have finalized the user experience through a series of iterative prototypes, it's time to start building your app. If you're a developer yourself, this is the step where you start writing code. (And you really should wait until this step to write code. Although the temptation to start much earlier is very great, it will almost always cost you a lot in time and money if you start coding too early.)

If you need to hire a developer, understand that the quality and cost will vary widely based on experience, expertise, and specialty. Note also that developing games requires different skills than developing data-driven apps. Make sure the developer has the skills you need and ask to see comparable apps they've written,

Distribute and market your app

You should probably be thinking about a marketing strategy before your submit your app to the App Store. Remember that rankings within the app store are based on a rolling 24-hour sales cycle. It's often very effective to "bunch" your marketing and public relations activities to help jump-start your entry into the App Store.

Take care to jump into app development with both eyes wide open and have a clear vision of where you want to end up. Good luck in your ventures, and please feel free to drop me a note to let me know about your successes!

Taking an idea from conception to app store
May-June 2011
At Work
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