Unravelling the misconceptions around app development

App development isn’t as long and complex a process as many would imagine, and it can provide huge long-term benefits to your business. By Ritam Gandhi, Founder and Director, Studio Graphene.

For businesses that previously enjoyed meeting their customers and clients face-to-face, the obstacles posed by coronavirus have been devastating. A company may have invested thousands into ensuring that their premises signal the highest quality offerings possible, be it through a contemporary high-street store or luxurious client meeting room, but now find themselves denied full use of those very same spaces due to COVID-19.

Fear not – it is still possible to ensure that anyone engaging with your business can have a fantastic experience. App-based solutions mean that anyone wishing to utilise your services, buy your products, or simply speak to your staff can enjoy the same level of care and attention that they would have enjoyed in person.

SMEs that previously conducted most business affairs on-site might initially overestimate the effort developing an app requires, while underestimating the huge benefits it may bring.

In a world of social distancing, increasing your online presence has the potential to offer a new and engaging customer experience while at the same time building brand loyalty. Importantly, developing a sleek mobile app is not the large undertaking it may have been when smartphones first entered the market. It is now an option that is accessible to businesses of all sizes and should be considered by anyone who wants their services to be accessible by as many means possible.

To emphasise this point, I want to dispel the three main misconceptions I believe decision makers may have about mobile app development.

You don’t have to start from scratch

As anyone who has ordered food delivery online will know, apps use a variety of pre-existing resources to build a high-quality product. The maps displayed on such apps are rarely designed by, for example, Deliveroo or Just Eat. Rather, these popular applications function on Apple, Google, and Bing map services which have been integrated into the software.

Similarly, developers don’t need to spend weeks designing a fraud-proof online payment system as there are established companies who have ready-made solutions that can be used to facilitate payments. Stripe is an example of an American company that you have probably already used to pay for a service or product online. If you’ve ever used Booking.com, Lyft, or Shopify, you’ve already paid through their system without even knowing it. This goes to show just how seamless it can be to incorporate pre-existing digital solutions into your own app. There’s also one significant advantage to relying on trusted technologies: they have already been proven to work, so you don’t have to invest too heavily in ironing out potential issues that may crop up.

When you are building something completely new, every aspect of the build becomes more complicated and, by extension, development becomes more time-consuming generally. Integrating existing solutions into your app and conducting a test-run before launch will tell you whether these ready-made resources could be a good fit for your app, and if they will enable you to seamlessly deliver your intended services.

Before you launch to market, it is therefore worthwhile to lead with an MVP (minimum viable product), which will allow you to test the functionality of the app and better understand the user experience. Not only is this a way of testing market demand for the product, but it will also enable you to gather feedback in the shortest time possible. If the integrated services are proven effective, this will save you time and money developing the core features and allow you to focus instead on tailoring the customer experience.

Of course, it may prove difficult judging which technologies are best to include in your company’s application – every one of the solutions mentioned above have their own unique qualities, drawbacks and competitors. Thankfully, such decisions can be outsourced to experts; third party organisations can cut through technical jargon and assist to whatever degree you need. Whether it’s taking on the entire task of creating your app or just choosing which specific tech to use in powering an aspect (payments, map display, etc) of the product, remember that such tasks don’t need to be taken alone and that there are a multitude of agencies available to help.

Complexity is not necessary

If you’re a company that delivers one service or one product in your local area, there’s no reason that your app has to be capable of anything besides that. Simplicity is key, and the best apps are those that recognise this and don’t bog down their users in unnecessary features.

Decision makers should remember this when thinking about how to proceed with their app, if they choose to do so. While it might be attractive to try and replicate the features you may have seen on other company’s apps, doing so risks alienating the customers who are seeking simplicity and functionality above all else.

Instead, you should define what exactly your app needs to do and work from there. Don’t be afraid to pick one feature and nail it. Many developers make the mistake of masking the primary purpose of their app by integrating unnecessary features and over-complicating the user experience.

Take time to establish the difference between ‘must have’ features, which are instrumental to the functionality of the app, and ‘nice to have’ features – those which could make the user experience more enjoyable, but are not strictly necessary in order to deliver the app’s core offering. While it may be tempting to try to include extra features, beware of overload: have a clear vision that steers the design process and brings value in the long run. This will ensure your product is clean, easy-to-use and serves its primary purpose.

Once you’ve established the necessary core functionalities needed, you can then plan out your UI (user interface) accordingly, which will help you discover the features that will be essential, those which may be desirable, and those which will simply clutter the display of the user’s phone. The design process should not be overlooked; the UI is arguably the most important part of your app, as people are naturally attracted to visually appealing designs and apps that have a logical flow.

App development is an ongoing process, even after launch

If you are preparing to embark on the development of a new app, keep the following consideration in mind: app infrastructure must be constantly updated to meet the evolving needs of users and their devices. Constant software updates will undoubtedly be needed to ensure the app’s full functionality at all times and for all users, regardless of the model of phone that they are using or the strength of their internet connection.

A robust, high-quality app should not encounter many problems with bugs or glitches, however it is still something worth bearing in mind: indeed, even the world’s most popular and established apps like Instagram and Twitter occasionally experience technical issues that need to be ironed out.

To minimise the risk of bugs cropping up, apps will need to go through a stringent round (and ideally, multiple rounds) of testing. It might be helpful to think of the ‘beta test’ phase as a soft launch for the app, whereby the product can get real-life exposure in the hands of early users. This quality assurance (QA) testing is a process of ensuring that your product is of the highest possible quality before it becomes available to the end-users.

Ideally, manual tests should be performed by highly skilled and experienced testers – again, a 3rd party company can help here. An extra pair of eyes is always helpful, as specialists will be able to spot issues that the developer may not have noticed. After all, you wouldn’t expect an author to proof his own work.

Once any glitches and issues are flagged and addressed, you can be confident that your app will work flawlessly once it launches to market. When this time comes, user feedback becomes key to continuously improve the functionality and appeal of the app. Indeed, the user should be at the heart of your long-term strategy, and seeking regular feedback from your customers will help to pinpoint what is working well, what needs improvement, and how the app should progress with time.

In-app feedback can provide insight into ways you can improve the usability of a particular feature, and generate new ideas for product improvements. Could the app benefit from new features, or is it time to remove an existing feature from which users are not deriving any real value? You need to know everything about how your app is performing both from an operational and user perspective. Don’t shy away from the critics; rather, seek out constructive criticism that will allow you to fine-tune your app and make tweaks where they’re needed.

In summary, then, companies of all sizes should consider building an app. It’s always a good idea to be present on as many digital frontiers possible; it increases the accessibility consumers have to your business and allows for an easy transition when in-person footfall becomes unavailable as a means to attract customers, as it has during the current pandemic. App development isn’t as long and complex a process as many would imagine, and it can provide huge long-term benefits to your business.

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