6 Tips for Beginning App Developers
Test and Monitor | Posted June 06, 2011

Making a transition to mobile application development isn’t just a matter of adjusting to a much tinier display screen. If you want to get your software noticed on the Apple App Store, Windows Marketplace for Mobile, Android Marketplace, or other site where consumers and businesses look for mobile applications, you should keep these points in mind.

App stores have drastically changed the traditional view of how to market software. User ratings and reviews can steer a mobile application in a completely different direction than the developer originally intended. The community has never had so much direct control of the development process of proprietary software. Here are some tips for developers starting in the alien environment of app development.

Start with a minimum viable product.

Your approach should be: release early and often. Releasing an minimum viable product allows you to assess demand while minimizing time spent coding. “Some of the best apps in the marketplace do very simple, singular tasks. Before you create an entire complex suite, spend a weekend sprinting to do one thing very well,” says Daniel O'Leary, vice president, Global Solutions at LincWare LLC, publisher of LincDoc Mobile.

Your hard part is deciding when the app has reached the viable stage. Functionality and reliability are not the only prerequisites. Releasing an app with an ugly, clumsy UI may kill it in the ratings. It is important to launch with a clean UI that you can build upon. Major changes to the UI after initial  release can frustrate users. Many apps get negative reviews and ratings because of unfavorable changes, despite the fact that the users are otherwise pleased with the product.

Many complex apps release a free or reduced price beta. Users willing to try beta versions are often more tolerant of minor bugs, especially if they are reassured that the known bugs will be fixed in a timely manner. Changes to price are also more easily accepted. Beta testers feel like they get something of value as a reward for helping you test. That creates a more loyal user base.

Use several testing techniques.

Virtual devices are incredibly helpful for development, but it is still important to test apps on the actual devices before launching. This helps minimize bugs on launch day that could result in permanent negative ratings. Users who give horrible ratings are unlikely to check back later to see if the app was improved.

We all are biased to see our own apps as incredibly intuitive. After all, we know how it works. You should get a pre-release version of your app in the hands of friends who are less technically knowledgeable. Ask them to test the UI (ideally without you hovering over them; tie your hands behind your back!) and see if they have trouble navigating your app. Ask them for comments and suggestions.

Early feedback is important.

Feedback helps you determine if there is a demand for your app, as well as what users expect from the app. Users don't hesitate to say what they want. They may ask you to add features you never intended to add. Don't be afraid to allow the users to steer the app in a different direction. Over-attachment to an idea may cause you to miss the market entirely.

“Ask for ratings and reviews,” says Hwee-Boon Yar, an independent software developer with MotionObj. “Play with price, with advertising and marketing to maintain your ranking.” Make users feel like they have a more active role in development, Yar suggests. This leads to app improvements and satisfied customers.

Tailor advertising toward your target user. Apps aimed toward businesspeople may appear less professional if they have flashy advertisements. Business users may be willing to spend more for an ad-free version. Casual users and consumers tend to be hesitant to spend any money on an app. Keep any competing apps in mind when making pricing and advertising decisions.

Recently, there has been some backlash toward location aware advertising. Some privacy-conscious users refuse to install apps that use GPS location when the app has no obvious use for it. Unfortunately for these users, apps whose core features use GPS could get away with location-aware ads without the users’ knowledge.

Keep the updates rolling.

Apps aren't like fire and forget missiles. There is no such thing as a finished product. Users expect constant updates, and they will flock to competing apps if they sense a project is dead. Whether you are adding features or fixing bugs, regular updates are important. Maintaining high ratings from current users keeps ad revenue up and attracts additional users.

If you make significant changes, be sure to display the recent changes listing in a prominent location on the market page. Another short, sectioned list of major changes should also show up on the first launch after updating.  Added features may go unnoticed if they are not highly visible. You don't want users downloading other apps because they don't know your app has more than one feature.

Promotion is a big part of success in app development.

“Most new developers tend to think they should only concentrate their efforts on making a good app, and let the App Store take care of the sales,” says Renan Lobo, an iPhone developer for Arphix Games, publisher of Mini Wars and Star Wings. “They could not be more wrong. In fact, a commitment to an integrated marketing plan is not only helpful, but crucial to increase your visibility in the marketplace.”

“Launch with a big bang. If you are going to put any effort and money into marketing and advertising, focus that for day one,” agrees Yar. High rankings early on can get a lot of attention from outside sources like technology news sites. New apps are practically buried under a mountain of more established apps in the market. If potential users aren’t searching specifically for your new app, they are unlikely to stumble across it without outside help.

Traditional learning can be helpful.

“Take a few classes in developing for iPhone, Android, and Blackberry if that's what you're getting into. It will make life a lot easier,” suggests Kavi Turnbull, cofounder of AppCanny. Self-taught learning can leave holes in your knowledge without a structured approach; you won’t know what you don’t know. Classes can help prevent knowledge gaps, as well as create friends and business contacts in the field.

Purchasing development books is another option. Typically the same material is covered, but the cost is significantly less. The Internet is a good reference source, but nothing beats having the book you originally learned the material from. A mentor can also help an app developer get started. Their experience can help with coding, development of new ideas, or career advice.

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