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Mobile apps are everywhere. The sharp increase in mobile usage has made app development a growth industry. Chances are that if you run a business, the thought of having a custom app built has crossed your mind. You have a great product or service and you want them available to your customers on their mobile devices. So what happens when you decide to jump on the app express to Richville?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You may have a great idea, product or service, but there are a few questions you should ask prior to jumping into the deep end of the app pool. Getting answers to these questions could save you a lot of time and money.
1. What The Heck Is An App?
You’d be surprised how many prospects I meet that want an app, but don’t know what that means. It’s an important question because an “app” can be an ambiguous thing. At its simplest, an app is a software program that can be used by a person. Apps can be used by people in many ways, not just on mobile devices. Apps can run on your desktop, on your phone or your laptop. In fact, because “app” is just shorthand for “application”, even the word processor you use every day is an app.
It’s important to know the above because apps can be built to run everywhere or they can be built to the specification of a specific device (e.g. an iPhone). There are tradeoffs and limitations regardless of which path you go down, but understanding how your app will be used and by who is probably the most important place to start.
Apps can be built in house (a bad idea if you are a landscaper with no programming experience) or outside freelancers or agencies can be hired to provide the labor. Either way, the convention I use in this piece is to refer to you as the app builder. Skilled labor is implied.
2. Do You Want To Be In The Software Business?
So you are in the service sector or perhaps a manufacturer. You are very good at what you do and you want to create an app. Maybe the app will sell or promote your product or service. Maybe it will be a tool that you sell to businesses in your industry to help them leverage your insight. Either way, once you develop an app, you are in a new business; the software business. Building an app isn’t simple. Maintaining it isn’t simple. Supporting it isn’t simple. You may hire a company to provide the labor in building the app, but the business of the app is on you. Simple tasks or processes that you have in place for your business may not suit the needs of maintaining software. Often businesses try to make their software ventures conform to their brick and mortar business to ill effect. I advise anyone who wants to build an app (who is not a developer) to read up on the subject. There are good books that are about the business of software development such as Jason Fried’s Rework that should be required reading before starting on an app project.
3. Do You Have Gobs Of Money?
Building an app is expensive. It requires specialized, high quality labor and lots of time and energy. Building the app is only one small piece of the puzzle. The app must be tested. Bugs must be fixed. If you want it to look pretty, you’ll need a designer to work with the programmer. If you want to market it, you’ll need some rudimentary elements such as a logo or perhaps a mini site or landing page. You’ll need to adapt to improvements in technology and perhaps forgo certain devices or platforms because of the expense of building on that platform. And once all is said and done, you’ll need to support your customers. Oh, and while we’re talking about money; I hope you have a good lawyer. Those terms of service screens that you never read don’t write themselves and could get you out of a great deal of hot water later on. This app is your baby. It’s your responsibility. When it’s good, you’ll get the praise. But when it’s bad, you’ll get the privilege of having to pay to fix it.
4. How Come Apps Have Version Numbers?
If software was perfect, there would never be a version 2.0 of anything. But software is a reflection of its imperfect creators. Even with the best of intentions, software can have bugs and glitches that range from minor to catastrophic. And that’s only counting the glitches that are inherent in your app. Then there are outside pressures such as browser updates, changes in programming or scripting languages, revisions to mobile operating systems and the invention of wholly new devices. Having a plan up front for cataloging problems will go a long way towards helping your new software business in isolating and resolving problems in the easiest most cost effective fashion. Version numbers are sometimes an expression of new features, but they also create a system of tracking improvements and bug fixes. There is no universal versioning methodology, but they all imply the same thing; higher version numbers are better than lower version numbers.
5. How Much Time And Money Should Be Invested In Planning?
Planning is the single most important thing you can do before you start building an app, but alas the planning does not always work as planned. Most apps begin to take a life of their own once they are begun and often times the app will lead you in a direction that you had not intended. You may find that a good idea once implemented does not perform as expected. Recently I built an app that created charts and visualizations based on data from third party devices. Turns out the charts and graphs always turned out to be wrong because the manufacturer of the third party devices had mistakes in their documentation. Since we used that documentation for planning, their mistakes were inherited by our team. The fix turned out to be simple, but it did cause a ripple in the plans that caused the team to abandon those plans and devise new and better ones. Planning is important, but so is adapting.
6. Can You Work With Your Developer? For, Like, Ever!
Can you work with your developer? And I mean for a long time. Software takes a while to develop, but maintaining it will go on until the app is retired. Having a good working relationship with your developer is important.
So that’s it for now. I have a few more questions that you should ask brewing in my mind, but I’d love to hear about your app development success stories or horror stories first. What have you learned? What would you do differently?
Let me know in the comments and while you’re at it, share this article with your friends and colleagues. Especially if they are considering building an app.