Everyone has a novel inside them. It appears that everyone has a great App inside them too! Today, I am going to focus on iOs (iPhone / iPad) Apps only to simplify the discussion. The same guidelines apply to Android, Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows Phone, Blackberry etc too
When you have a great idea, the first thing to do is to check to see if anyone else has done it already! There are lots of apps out there that make humourous noises and the world does not need another. If your idea is similar to someone else’s existing App, why would anyone want yours? What is your Unique Selling Point?
If no-one else has already created an App that matches your idea, we can move on to the next stage which is research. Start with your friends and family or, if your app is targeted at a specific group, find an organisation or public forum dedicated to that specific group. Discuss your idea and see if there is genuine enthusiasm. The Internet is always a good crucible in which to full bake your idea. Your friends and family may be courteous, but the Internet trolls will freely tell you how dumb your idea is! Obviously, if you have the money, you can go down the Focus Group and more traditional product development route.
Next you need to read the guidelines for your target devices / platforms / app stores. Apple have strict guidelines for that which they will and will not allow on the App Store. For example, if your idea is to put your web site into a frame and make it an App, you can forget it. Apple will not permit it. If your app is called “Angry Ostriches” or is a close copy of an existing App, Apple will not permit it. If your App offloads most of its processing work to a web site / web service, Apple will not permit it. There is a whole lot more that they won’t permit too! The Apple guidelines for Apps can be found here:
They are not too technical, so take some time to read them!
If you are uncertain about whether or not your App idea contravenes the guidelines, assume it does. You should contact Apple before going any further!
Once you are happy that your idea seems to match the App guidelines for your chosen platform, it is time to scratch some ideas out on paper. You should draw out the key screens for your App. Be prepared to go through a lot of revisions at this point. You are not trying to get it perfect, you just need to draw enough to able to communicate your idea effectively to someone else. Again, you should refer to your platform / app store guidelines on user interface whilst doing this. Violating these rules will mean that your App cannot go on your chosen App Store. Apple’s guidelines can be found here:
Once you have your ideas reasonably well thought through, you should try to draw your screen ideas using a software tool like Balsamiq. This is purely neatness exercise which will give you credibility when you present the idea to other people. I recommend the paper step before this one because I find working on paper more fluid and open to change than working with a piece of software.
One you have your ideas neatly drawn up you need to do a little bit of writing. A short description of each feature is a good starting point. A feature is something that your App does. A good way to start thinking about this is by writing down all the interactions a user can have with your App (e.g. all the button presses, gestures etc). A good feature could be something like “Recalculate the Body Mass Index” or similar.
Once you have a nice set of screen images and a short feature description you are ready to find yourself a developer! My company, McKenna Consultants, is an App developer. Finding a development partner is very tricky. Try to get a recommendation if you can. Try to find someone geographically located close to you so you can have regular face to face reviews. Do not pick a developer who does not want you to have the opportunity to review progress regularly! You will want to and need to make changes to your idea as you see your App being created. Make sure your App Developer has the flexibility and adaptibility to cope with changes.
You should also not expect your developer to fund your App creation. We regularly get asked to fund the development of an App for free in return for a share of the profit! Your developer will not have an investment fund and will not be interested in paying for development.
You should develop a flexible working arrangement with your supplier. All good ideas are fluid during the development stage. This means you are unlikely to be successful by insisting on a fixed cost. If you want a fixed cost, your developer is highly likely to ask for a fixed set of features. This means you lose the critical flexibility needed during development.
It is also a good idea to quiz your developer closely on who will be doing the work. There are a lot of design agencies out there who do not have the in house expertise to create Apps. Find out where they are outsourcing too and what impact that will have on the implementation of your idea.
In order to develop flexibility, it is necessary to prioritise. You will want to have every feature under the sun in your App – it’s your baby after all! However, you should be realistic and develop a minimum feature set for your first release. This is critical to the learning process. Your users will not use your App or respond to it in the way in which you expect! You need to get this feedback early on before you have invested a lot of money going down the wrong path. Microsoft started business as an application developer before they shifted their business to operating system when the opportunity came along. You need the ability to react rapidly to feedback from your users.
You should facilitate feedback from your users to guide your App’s feature development. You may set up an online community (ask your developer for help with this). You may be able to organise a face-to-face focus group. Think creatively about how you can gather feedback.
Finally, I should mention lawyers. Sadly, we are living in an age of software patents and copyright. I would be remiss if I did not suggest that you run your App idea by an intellectual property lawyer before you spend too much money on it. The patent trolls are everywhere these days and will pounce if they feel you have infringed an archaic software patent that they have bought…
So, to summarise, the App creation process is broadly:
- Find out if your App already exists
- Do some research
- Check the App guidelines
- Brainstorm screen ideas on paper
- Draw up screen ideas neatly
- Write up a rough overview of feature
- Find an App Developer
- Prioritise and develop your initial features
- Release your App and adjust your ideas based on feedback
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like any further information on developing your App idea!