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Having a good idea for a really great app is the easy part, but having the knowledge and skills to turn the idea into reality is another.
There is a lot to consider when developing a mobile app, aside from actually building it: there’s app marketing, a website landing page, and gaining useful user feedback, among other things.
While it’s possible to just jump in and pick skills and knowledge up as you go along, most first-time app developers might admit that they could have launched their app more quickly if they’d been methodical and followed a process.
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This simple guide has been put together to show you the nine steps of the process that will help you to bring your app to life.
How to make an app:
- Map out your app idea
The first step you need to take is drafting out your idea.
- Market research
Market research is a very important step in making your app and will save you time and effort in the long run.
- Create mock-ups
This should contain a rough sketch of the layout of your app together with flow and user interfaces (UI).
- Graphic and UI design
The design for your app should include pixel-perfect visual details, image assets, graphic effects and in some cases motion design.
- App landing page
A landing page is your first impression, the opportunity to connect with potential users before you have even launched.
- Using Xcode and Swift
Now you can begin to build your app. You have done all the groundwork, so this should make building the app much easier.
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- Launch your app
Now your app is built you are ready to launch. This process is very straightforward.
- Marketing your app
App marketing is important. Whilst some people might find your app, there is potential to reach those that don’t know about what you can offer.
- User feedback
Your users are your best critics and can give you vital criticism that will help you improve your app.
1. Map out your app idea
In order to create an app, you need a good idea to work with. The first step you need to take is drafting out your idea.
You can do this with a pen and paper, and it does not need to be any more complicated than that. Consider how your app will work and what features you would like it to include.
Be realistic when considering the features that you would like. There are those that your app must have – the ones it will need to function properly – and there are the ones it would be nice to have. These would be a good addition but are not vital to its functionality.
Ultimately what you are aiming to map is an app that is as uncluttered as possible. That is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP); the simplest version of your app. You need to ensure that you are focusing on those elements that matter the most. This will speed up the app development process and help your app to adapt to setbacks.
Think about the following:
- Which features can you leave out?
- What feature is your unique selling point (USP)?
- Are any of the features that could make your app bloated?
A good app is one that achieves its main purpose well. By adding in additional features from the beginning, you are making it harder to find that thing, and may ever deter people from using your app.
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Top tip: you can still plan your future features to further develop your app later.
2. Market research
This is a stage that some app developers skip, but we’d strongly advise you not to be one of them.
Market research is a very important step in making your app and will save you time and effort in the long run, so do this at the beginning.
Research indicates that a staggering 80 – 90 percent of apps are abandoned after just one use, and this is likely to be linked to the developer failing to deliver what the customer was looking for.
In order to make a successful app you need to find out if your idea is viable so consider:
- Are there other similar apps and competitors out there?
- What are the needs and desires of potential customers?
- What price should I be considering charging for my app?
Doing the right market research before you create your app will ensure that you avoid making lots of costly mistakes early on. Ensure that your market research includes finding out what mistakes your competitors are making and what potential customers want from an app like yours.
Market research will give you a better understanding of your potential customer base and will allow you to have a clearer idea of the problem your app should solve. This will help you to create the best app you can for the job in hand.
You may also want to create an app business plan at this stage.
3. Create app mock-ups
Before you begin to build your app it is a good idea to create a mock-up. This should contain a rough sketch of the layout of your app together with flow and user interfaces (UI). At this stage you do not need to include fine-grained UI elements, the exact position of any UI elements and any effects and colour schemes.
A mock-up is not about aesthetics, it is all about how your app will look without too many distracting details. What is should do is give an indication of what happens when an action is performed, and how you get from one screen to another.
This step is important no matter who you are creating the app for as it will allow you to get an insight into the end result before the app is built. A good mock-up will help you to fix any UI/UX issues before you really begin.
4. Graphic and UI design
The design for your app should include pixel-perfect visual details, image assets, graphic effects and in some cases motion design. If you do not feel this is something you can do yourself then you may want to hire a professional to help.
Occasionally, it is important to accept that your strengths lie elsewhere and that outsourcing an element of your project is the best way to get the results that you need.
If you choose to do the design yourself then keep it simple. There are design templates readily available for iOS apps that can save you a lot of time, use one of these as a base and, if you need to, customise it further down the line.
Think about copyright and licensing and assume that when a usage licence isn’t explicitly offered you should not use an image. There are tools you can utilise such as Sketch and Photoshop that will help you with the graphic design elements of your app.
What you are aiming to achieve is a collection of images that you can use as a basis for your app.
5. App landing page
We have already mentioned that app developers often forget market research, but they often overlook app marketing as well. If you want people to find your app, you need to market it and in order to do this you should at the very least create a landing page. Do this before you start to create the app.
A landing page is your first impression, the opportunity to connect with potential users before you have even launched. On it, you should let people know what you do and why they might find the app useful.
A good landing page should include:
- At the top of the page, a clear headline
- A paragraph with a brief introduction OR an explainer video
- An iPhone mock-up or a screenshot of the app
- A short explainer video
- A call to action
- A breakdown detailing the benefits and features of the app
- A brief “About Us” section
Whilst you can play around with the order of these items the headline and the call to action should appear above the “fold” of the page.
This landing page is somewhere for those who are interested in your app to find out more, and whilst you are still building your app it will help attract those potential customers.
When you do get an App Store page you will not be able to use that to contact the people who were interested. This is where your simple web page comes into its own and if you have asked for email addresses then you can initiate contact when you are up and running.
6. Use Xcode and Swift to make the app
Now you can begin to build your app. You have done all the groundwork, so this should make building the app much easier.
iOS apps are built using Xcode and Swift. There is a project manager included in the Xcode IDE, as well as built-in documentation, code editor, debugging tools and an interface builder. Swift is an intuitive and powerful programming language and a very good one to learn.
You will need a Mac computer if you want to run Xcode as it only runs on macOS.
You should divide your development into two parts:
- Front end – the parts of the app you will be able to see, layout, graphics, navigation, animation, user interaction and data processing.
- Back end – the parts that you do not see, databases, data storage, networking, and user management.
It is your role as the developer to combine the front and back ends. There are a number of tools that can help you during the app development process. You do not need to be able to code everything yourself.
In addition to those already mentioned you may want to take a look at:
- For graphic design: Sketch and Balsamiq Mock-ups
- For databases and storage: Parse Platform, and Firebase
- Automating your app publishing workflow: Fastlane
Learning how to build your iOS app can be challenging, but there is plenty of help out there. Whilst most things can be learnt online, there are also courses that can be very helpful in helping you learn how to implement all these new skills in the best way possible. You may also want to practice as well.
7. Launch your app
Now your app is built you are ready to launch. This process is very straightforward:
- Register your Apple Developer Account
- Prepare the title and meta data for your App in App Store Connect
- Upload your most recent app version
- Wait for Apple to review your app (App Store Review Guidelines)
- Once your app is approved it will appear in the App store where people can download and install it.
This is only the first step; however, you have not finished yet. There are changes that you will want to make to your app along the way and market research and feedback will offer you the information that you need to make these changes.
8. Market your app to your target audience
Marketing can sometimes have something of a bad reputation, but is should not. One thing you need to avoid is falling into the trap of believing that a good app doesn’t need marketing.
App marketing is important. Whilst some people might find your app, the potential to reach those that don’t know about what you can offer will only be realised with the right marketing techniques.
Think back to your initial landing page. Now is the time to return to that list of emails of people who wanted more info when the app was up and running. Let them know how to find it and ask for feedback.
What you want to ensure is that you are doing is getting your app out there and noticed, because without the feedback that this will gain you will not know if it is fulfilling a need or if there are things you need to change.
9. User feedback
When it comes to making an app, user feedback is vital. Your users are your best critics and can give you vital criticism that will help you improve your app.
There are a number of ways you can gain such feedback, but the simplest one if to send them an email and ask them. Ask them how they are using the app rather than if they like it and you should get answers that will help you.
Feedback via surveys or focus groups does not work as well in these cases as it put people in a situation where they are thinking. Feedback that comes from being in the situation itself is much better.
The same can be said about using analytics. If they are all you use to look at how your app if doing, then you are unlikely to be able to produce a realistic picture. Numbers will not tell the full story.
Once you have some feedback use it to take a look at what is working, and what is not working well for your app. This will allow you to fix those things that are clearly errors; including bugs you might have missed before. Once you have corrected these, look at those items that are easy to fix and tackle them next.
If you want to beta test your app before you make it live then you can use something like TestFlight.
All you need to do is invite people to test the app and send the next build of your app to them. You can invite as many as 10,000 people so you should gain some useful feedback that will really help you to improve the app before you go live.
Now you have all the information you need to go ahead a create your own app, why not start getting ideas together. It may take some time and you may need some help along the way, but these steps show you the process you need to go through to get a usable, desirable app.
Of course, there’s an awful lot of work to do here, and for many businesses it’s more cost-effective to hire a professional app development agency to create an app for them (and the results are usually better when the app is designed and built by professionals). If you’d like to discuss creating an app for your organisation, drop us a line.
Follow our 9-step process to make an app yourself, or hire an app development agency to help you. Either way, you should follow a process of research, design, development and launch.
You can hire an app development agency to help you, or you can begin to learn for yourself. The main programming language used by Android is Java, so this could be a good place to start.
It can be entirely free if you do all the work yourself, but you’re likely to need some professional help. App development companies could charge anything from £1000 for a very simple app, and upwards of £50,000 for a more complex app. Read our full guide on this topic.
There are a number of tools and products available which help you to build apps using their interface, or you can code the app completely from scratch using native programming languages.
You will need to choose between learning to build an app yourself, or getting some professional help from a digital development company. If you want to try for yourself, you could start by learning some Objective C and Swift, which are the dominant native programming languages for iOS.
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