Where to Start When Building Your First Mobile Application
The first question you should ask yourself is why do you want to build a mobile app? Are you chasing after a trend in the hopes to make use of someone else’s success formula or did you come across an idea no one else implemented before? Will your solution stand out from the crowd? How? There are so many questions, it’s crucial to have answers to before you start the development of your mobile application.
Mobile app development is a very complex process that requires a wide range of business and technical skills, experience, and thorough research that will shape the fate of your mobile application before you even get to the coding phase. With millions of competing apps on Google Play, Apple App Store, and other digital distribution platforms, you have to understand the importance of discovery, market research, and other pre-development processes. You have to learn how to set the objectives and overcome challenges along the way, how to conceptualize and strategize an app that will take its market niche and fulfill your marketing goals.
With that said, here’s a short, general step-by-step to get your app development project on its feet. Following it to the hilt may not work for everyone, so take from it what suits your business goals and marketing strategy best when starting on your first mobile application.
Identify a Problem
Already have a solid idea for your mobile app? Move on to the next step. If not, the first thing you need to do is identify a problem you want to solve with your app. Mobile applications, every successful product or service out there, were all created to solve a problem. Do you want to get from one place to another the fastest? You get a navigation app that builds you the most optimal route. You don’t want your music library to be limited to the albums you purchased? You get a music streaming app and explore whatever music you want.
Some apps succeed because they solve a problem better than their competitors, and some pioneer a unique niche no one else could have imagined before them. Either way, problem analysis plays a pivotal role in the mobile app development process. If you fail in understanding and defining the problem to be solved, you risk setting the wrong requirements for the project and ultimately delivering the wrong solution no one will ever use. This first and most important step trivialized by entrepreneurs is where the high rate of app development failures comes from.
It’s also important to note that our needs and problems are not permanent. What might have been a considerable problem yesterday, may not be such a big deal tomorrow. Therefore, you should consider the long-run viability of your solution when thinking about problems to take on. Going deeper into the problem and finding the root causes may help you ensure the longevity of your solution.
Validate the Need
The problem you defined and the solution you ideated will be the core for your entire mobile app development project. Now that you have that covered, it’s time to identify a specific niche your mobile app falls into and validate if there is a demand. You need to dive deep into research: identify your target audience, analyze your own business, and that of your competitors.
Depending on the scope of the problem, your solution will affect certain groups and numbers of people with different needs and concerns you have to consider. These affected people are known as stakeholders. And identifying them is your first step in the validation process. This list should include every group interested in the finished product from business owners, investors, and the development team to the very end users your mobile solution is being built for. The diversity of your target audience depends on the kind of product or service you want to create, whether it’s B2C, B2B, B2B2C, etc.
Talk to your stakeholders. It’s possible to engage with your target audience directly and indirectly through many various channels. There is no concrete system to it. You can:
- build a landing page that highlights your idea and gather feedback from email signups.
- describe your idea and run polls on your business website and social networks.
- start topical discussions on forums and platforms such as Reddit.
- use keyword research tools such as Google Trends and Keyword Planner to validate the need by analyzing search volumes and forecasts for a given problem.
At the same time, you define and engage with your stakeholders, you need to research the competition. What are your competitors doing? Do they have their own mobile apps or ongoing app development projects? If so, what solutions do they offer? Solid preliminary research will help you understand how many existing solutions to a given problem there are on the market and identify their strengths and weaknesses, assess their performance and marketing strategies. Thus, you will be able to see whether there is a niche your mobile app could occupy and if your idea has a competitive advantage to attract users. If not, you will be able to refine your idea to get a competitive advantage or even reshape your concept and shift your mobile app development project into a direction of higher demand and lower competition. Otherwise, you risk entering an oversaturated market or unknowingly implementing the exact same concept of already existing mobile solutions.
Layout the Solution and Get Feedback
Now that you’ve validated the general need for your idea, it’s time to make your solution into something your stakeholders can review and provide feedback on. Even though concise documentation with your product vision, wireframes, and storyboards might do just fine to start work on a small, simple mobile product, it never hurts to go the extra mile and make a kind of an app mockup, a mobile app prototype, before you start the development of an innovative or complex mobile solution.
With a clickable mobile app prototype, instead of looking at pictures and reading solution descriptions from paper, your stakeholders will be able to experience a (possibly) slightly simplified yet actual user journey. They will see firsthand all the features envisioned and how the problem-solving process of your mobile app works from start to finish. Even with only basic functionality introduced, a clickable prototype helps everyone involved to see and understand the scope of your mobile app development project. It provides you with valuable stakeholder insights and feedback that should help you manage user expectations more effectively.
Based on their experience from using the prototype, each of your stakeholder groups will provide your project with their unique perspectives on your future mobile app, including their personal considerations and needs. This enables you to reasonably and effectively address the issues found and eliminate drawbacks before the actual development starts. This will also help you identify extra steps and barriers to solving the problem, giving you an opportunity to improve the user experience. Remember, good UX/UI design means good discoverability, especially, when you have all the platform design standards well considered in your mobile application.
Following the data analysis and stakeholder feedback with all the twists and tweaks introduced into your designs and software requirements specification, you can finally move on to the actual mobile app development process. Depending on your business needs, time-to-market expectations, and the complexity of your solution, you will have to decide whether you’re immediately going for a full-fledged mobile application or turning your clickable app prototype into an MVP first.
Starting with an MVP is always a better and safer choice as it provides you with an additional layer of validation and improvement. You build a version of the app with only the core functionality introduced, leaving all the extra flare and non-essential features for later. This enables you to capture important metrics (such as a number of downloads, session lengths/intervals, etc.) and gather more feedback on the quality of your mobile solution before you dedicate more resources to your app development project. Then you can turn this aggregated data into an actionable list of adjustments (in case your MVP needs any) or, if your MVP was well-received as is, you can confidently continue building it up, introducing the remaining features that were left out in the initial version.
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