Every year, many companies decide that “this is our year to do X”. In 2013, it’s likely that X means making their first mobile app. Here are some lessons to take with you if you are about to start making your first app.
Lesson 1: Do your homework
There’s quite a few things you should expect when you decide to make an app. One of the first things that comes up is how to get content into your app. Yes, you can include this when you submit to the AppStore, but doing a release every time you want to change content is not terribly efficient. The best way is to get content from a server. Apps typically communicate with a server through the use of APIs. Not all servers have them, but even if yours does, expect that some work will need to be done. Why? We’ll get to that in a moment.
Design/UX is another piece that needs to start before the first line of code is written. How the app functions will impact how the app is developed, as well as how the APIs need to be used. UX is especially important here because it will determine when each piece of information is needed, which will affect when API calls are made and what data is needed.
Design is important because all those little customizations, a fade effect here, a bounce animation there, add up in the time it takes to create your app. Those little additions usually make the most difference, so be sure to plan ahead.
Lesson 2: Your app wasn’t built in a day
Apps are software. The important thing to remember is that this is a new piece of software for which your company has to take responsibility and it should go through the same planning and development channels that software normally does.
An app may be smaller than the rest of your software, but that doesn’t mean it will take a shorter period of time to create. The more you want to customize the look and feel of your app, the longer it will take.
It is common for an iPhone app to be released before an iPad app. Users with an iPad can still download and use the app while you can focus on making that iPad experience great. Don’t be afraid to take your time. For example, Etsy, an e-commerce website focused on handmade items, had over a year between when they released their iPhone app (Nov 11, 2011) and iPad app (Nov 26, 2012). Both apps are a success, with several million downloads. Making an app is an investment, so give it the time it needs to become truly great.
Lesson 3: So you can start tomorrow, right?
Hopefully by now you’ve seen the value of taking your time when making an app. Let design and UX go through their necessary processes and come to a natural end point. Then, and only then, should you start programming. Now, that’s not to say that developers should be isolated during the process. In fact, it’s best to get developers involved as early as possible. They know how different components work and can guide design and UX if there is a time constraint.
When investing in a new technology, there’s always the question of how it will fit in with the rest of your stack. The biggest challenge will be engineering resources, since app development is an uncommon skill. Whether you are using a third party or in-house developers will greatly affect the speed at which your app can be built, especially if you plan on hiring. This is something else for which you should prepare.
People love apps and they can tell when they work well. Are deadlines important? Of course. But that doesn’t mean that the end product should suffer. You want users to love your app, not think that it’s just “okay.”