Three Stages of App Development

“You know, I have this great idea for an app.”

I get told this, a lot (particularly when it is late at night and a couple of beers may have been consumed). Like writing the next Great American Novel, I think we all have ideas for apps. The concept of touch technology is now central to how we use computers. We get what apps are all about.

So, yeah, you have an idea. And that is brilliant. But taking the idea and making the app requires you step through three stages. Each stage is:

  1. Communicating what your App Idea is
  2. Developing your App
  3. Marketing your App

Can you make it through these three stages? Then your idea will be real.

Three Stages of App Development

Communicating what your App idea is

You have your App idea. Now you need to get it down on paper and communicate what it does. To be clear, you don’t have to spend weeks drawing up amazing concept art, sometimes a napkin and a permanent marker are all you need. I spent one lunch time with a client drawing out what his app would look like, how it would function and where the data would go with napkins on the table.

There are also tools you can use to sketch out your app. Here are tools I use to rapidly sketch up my ideas:

  • Google Docs (drive.google.com) – it is free, easily shared and available at any Internet connection
  • Sketchy (iPad App) – very cheap and very easy to use on your iPad
  • SwordSoft Layout (Mac App) – cheap app to layout the flow of an app
  • OmniGraffle – really expensive, but, heck, full of cool features

The goal for using any of these tools is to communicate your idea. This is the first stage of a Minimal Viable Product (check out Eric Ries’ book Lean Startup), the fastest way of getting your idea in front of people.

Next, line up who you want on your team. A small, cross functional team is the best way to get a product up fast.

When you have your team lined up, you then need to go and get funding. Funding can come from many areas: a VC, a relative, a loan from the bank. What is very likely to happen, however, is that you are getting funding for an app you are developing for the company you already work for. The leaders of your company need to understand the value of the investment in building your solution. Develop a high level business plan illustrating proposed costs, returns and benefits.

Developing Your App

Every day there is a new way of developing solutions. Should your app run on a phone? Is it better to view on a Tablet? Do you get into the Wearable market early? All of these decisions are important to make and come with Pros & Cons.

The next step is to define what type of technology platform or platforms you will target. You have a choice:

  • Responsive Web
  • Mobile App for Apple’s iOS
  • Mobile App for Android
  • Windows Desktop App

There are also an increasing number of additional platforms that are gaining popularity. My experience has shown that you start with one platform, such as Android or iOS, and port your solution to other platforms when you have seen how successful you are.

Choosing the development tools is also not easy. The choices you have include:

  • Native Web/HTML5
  • Hybrid – Using Web Technologies to build native app experiences
  • Native Development

There are plusses and minuses for each approach. I have used all three and what I have found is that you need to really understand who is going to use your app to determine which programming language to go with:

  • Web/HTML5 App – this type of app needs to reach a broad audience (such as an app to check your bank account)
  • Hybrid Apps – your app needs to target multiple platforms such as simple game or eBook
  • Native Development – your app requires complex integration with hardware on the phone/tablet such as access to contacts, camera, native APIs

When you have chosen your platform start the work. I have found that short, iterative internal releases every two weeks really works. The sponsor sees progress, the team sees progress and problems can be caught very quickly. Think about a public release every 8-12 weeks.

Marketing Your App

You had the idea, your team built the app and now it is ready to publish your work. This will be your biggest challenge. Success stories such as Flappy Birds are rare. There are more than a million apps in the iTunes App Store and Google’s Play app store. When it comes to promoting your app you want to consider the following:

  • Make sure you app has a snappy name
  • You need a good icon and not all icons are created equally – I have used apps to generate icons (check Google.com for a search on icon generators)
  • Spend time on the description for your app
  • Create awesome images your app working – in many ways this is the most important feature as we all do “judge a book by it’s cover”
  • Create a short video outlining what your app does

The next step is to choose which app stores you are going to publish to. They include:

  • Apple’s iTunes App Store
  • Google Play
  • Amazon App Store
  • Barnes and Noble Nook App Store
  • Microsoft App Store
  • Your Own Private Enterprise App Store

Each store comes with its own set of guidelines. Remember that this is not the open web. Many of the app stores will review your app before publishing. Amazon, I have found, is very hard to get apps approved. Apple is no walk in the park, either. Google Play is still very easy to publish too.

When your app is published (anywhere from 2hrs up to several weeks) you need to get the word our on your blogs, social media accounts and even good old fashioned email. It is Marketing 101 time, folks. Promote, promote, promote.

These three stages represent a lifecycle every app goes through. They are not always sequential and, you will find, when you have your app completed for Version 1.0 that you will start to run all three stages at once (while version 3 is being ideated, version 2 is being developed and version 1 is being promoted – repeat with version 4, 3 and 2).

Let me know how your app ideas have come to life in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Three Stages of App Development”

  1. Matthew, thanks for your timely post, concise and to the point. Your step #1 is such a minefield that it will be the topic of our next event at Mobile Monday Belfast in June 2014. We’ll have Mobile App Developers and startup founders share their experience of “writing & understanding the brief” about what the app should do and be. So much miscommunication occurs at that stage: the founder has a clear vision of what the app should do or look like, yet it is difficult to transfer that clear vision to the app developer. The best examples I’ve seen of a successful development – from idea to app store publication – is when the founder can do a storyboard or even better, screenshots (requires multimedia skills) of the app for every step of the user journey. That helps the developer tremendously. But we’ll hear more of this at our next event, if you can’t make it to Belfast then, we’ll look at streaming or doing a Hangout (June 16).

    1. Let’s plan on doing a Hangout! Would love to join the group. The focus of Step 1 is the area I get pulled into most.

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