5 Steps for Creating a Successful Mobile App (Part 1)

The inspiration and motivation for creating a mobile app usually falls into three categories:

  1. You want to use it as part of a promotional strategy for an existing business
  2. You are certain you have the next killer app, which does not yet exist among the nearly 3 million apps already available for download
  3. You have never written a mobile app before but want to try it for your own amusement

The first are concerned with making money indirectly or directly. The third one is for hobbyists, whose feelings would not be hurt if the app was actually monetarily successful. While not trying to sound overly discouraging, you may find that even if you consider yourself in one of the first two categories, you may be telling your friends you were actually in category 3 by the end of your first mobile app development experience.

To simplify the discussion below, however, let us assume you are serious about making money from your activity. If you truly are only interested in creating a mobile app for entertainment purposes, then skip the first section about making your business case.

1 – Make a Business Case for Your App

The mobile app development game has greatly matured in recent years. The competition is ruthless, while writing apps has become easier. The latter means that it is more feasible than ever that you or a hired gun can create the app quickly. However, you must now invest far more attention to marketing and promotion than 10 years ago.

The first priority is to see if you can make a solid, market-based business case for your app before writing a single line of code:

  • Clearly state the specific problem your app solves. If it is a game, then identify how its entertainment value competes with the million other mobile games in app stores. If your app is supporting another business, say, a donut shop, then the business case is straighforward. You are making a portal for local customers to view your menu, promotions and location. For anything else, identify tangible benefits such as productivity increases, revenue increases or improvements in convenience or safety.
  • Quantify the app’s potential market size. Look for how many downloads related apps receive. Use services, such as compete.com, to determine how many web sites are related to your app’s niche and Google’s keyword analytics to gauge the volume of searches relevant to your idea.
  • Armed with rough ideas of market potential, consider tweaking your app idea for greater acceptance by prioritizing its features based on the value they bring to customers.

Hold your business case out for scrutiny from other people with objective viewpoints. It is essential that you maintain an attitude of objectivity yourself when accepting constructive criticism.

Test your app’s market potential directly by creating several smaller apps around the same theme and see how well they are received before painting your masterpiece. Many successful app developers make good money by creating large portfolios of smaller, leaner, niche apps.

2 – Designing Your App

Since mobile app customers have so many choices, they are naturally picky consumers. App design, usability and performance must be superb in order to grab their attention and hold it. They have little tolerance for awkward app-flow, clunky graphics and anything that distracts from the purpose for which they acquired the app in the first place.

UI Design

Fortunately, there are now well-defined standards and guidelines regarding app UI layout that result in a pleasant appearance, optimize user interaction and allow UI scaling to different screen sizes and orientations. An example is Google’s Adaptive UI guide – http://www.google.com/design/spec/layout/adaptive-ui.html#

You should also reference sites that illustrate UI design patterns for various classes of applications such as cataloged on the Mobile Patterns website: http://www.mobile-patterns.com/. It hardly pays to reinvent the wheel when it comes to finding interface patterns proven to work well.

Prototyping the Design

Just as a beautifully architected bridge needs to withstand heavy traffic loads and high winds, your mobile app not only needs to look good but must perform its tasks and perform them well.

For instance, a key annoyance for users are delays. Most often, this happens when an app depends on back-end server communication and network connectivity is flaky or when heavy calculations are required for which the mobile device’s processor is inadequate. Some delays are unavoidable, but they can be mitigated by step-wise animations that impart a feeling of progress to the user.

There are many prototyping tools available, such as http://xiffe.com/ that you can use to create your mobile app mock-up before writing any code to test the look-and-feel, UI flows and identify where performance bottlenecks might exist. Upfront design testing is much more efficient within prototypes than with actual app code.