“I’ve got an idea for an app. How do I develop it?” is a question we get every week from entrepreneurs, businesses and anyone with an idea for an app.
With 1.5 million apps already on Apple App Store, 1.7 million on Google Play Store, thousands of internal enterprise apps distributed privately and other apps under development, the answer could be “don’t even bother”. The fact is that most apps fail if success is measured in making the developer lots of money. But there are also many new apps every day that succeed. With the right idea and approach of making it a reality your idea could be one of the success stories.
So how do you ensure that your app* is one of the success stories? Here’s how to assess the idea to ensure that it’s good and some tips on how to make it a reality.
*Note that this blog uses app in the wider sense to mean native appstore apps, hybrid apps, web apps and responsive websites.
Describe the Problem You Are Solving
Before jumping to the solution you must understand the problem you are solving.
- What’s the customer need/insight that you are helping to solve? Dig deep into the need and problem until you feel really sure that you understand it.
- Who, how often and how many people have this need? This will help you size the opportunity.
- Can the need be fulfilled/substituted by something else? Existing services, apps, etc.?
A Swedish app developer identified sleeping patterns as an issue for most people in industrialized countries. Instead of waking up at the end of a sleep cycle the alarm wakes us up randomly at any time. Therefore there’s a high chance that our sleep gets disrupted and we wake up feeling tired. If we wake up at the right time of sleep cycles we generally feel better. This was the core insight for what became the successful app Sleep Cycle.
Define the Concept and Keep It
What is the service that will solve the problem or meet the user need? Define the user journey for the concept and prioritize the minimum scope to test the service with users. Minimum scope is usually defined as MVP and should be something that can be delivered in a couple, or maximum 5, months. Don’t try to match existing competitors’ functionality/features from the start unless you really, really have to as you will probably fail as time to market will be too long. If it’s going to take more than a month to develop then it may be good to start with a design prototype that you can test with users to get the concept right.
The original version of hot or not was created in about 3 days and launched the 4th day before the services crashed on the 5th because of the amount of users. Magic which allows users to order anything via text message was created over a weekend based on the insight that e-commerce is complex on mobile. Twitter was originally created as a simple solution to send text messages with updates to a group of people on the web and on mobile.
Don’t Be the First, but Don’t Be the Last
Has someone solved the problem before? Were they successful? Why is your solution better?
Being first is often not an advantage. You have to prove the technology, educate the market, convince investors that there is a business model and experience all the initial technology issues. Delivering something that is faster, cheaper or significantly better can be sufficient to differentiate and disrupt a market.
Facebook was not the first social network or photo rating app. Google was not the first search engine or the first webmail service provider. Apple didn’t develop the first touchscreen phone, mobile payments, app platform or much else for that matter. Compaq and Palm were pioneers in PDAs but where are they today?
Set the Success Criteria
Set a target/objective for what you will consider a success in terms of solving the problem. Timeline, users, expected revenue, savings, customer loyalty, etc. for the first year. Define metrics that are measurable.
Tinder’s launch model was to first build critical mass in San Francisco and they built a loyal following early on through parties, events and local ambassadors. User base and engagement was the primary success measure, not revenue.
Deliver the Solution
Finally it’s time to define the solution to the problem and concept. How can the concept that solves the user need or problem technically be delivered? What technical enablers do I need? Web service or native app? What’s the best technical platform? Are there existing cloud platforms that I can leverage? How do I ensure it’s secure? Who can design it for me? Who can develop the service? Should I hire people or will I save time and money by bringing on an expert agency?
There are successful examples of all models. The important thing is that you have a flexible working model with your team because the scope will and should change over time.
Test, Test and Test…
Read our previous blogs about the importance of user testing and user centric design. Without testing with users you will most likely fail.
There are of course lots of other tips and tricks that will help you succeed, including many on this blog. But in conclusion, always ensure that you are solving a real problem for users that you can do better or cheaper than what’s already available. Once you’ve got the concept right you can start focusing on how to do it. Good luck!
Magnus Jern, President Mobile Application Solutions