Our Company Needs an iOS App: Start With This Checklist for Managers
(Two Checklists, Actually)
Scenario: Front and center at Monday’s 9:00 a.m. marketing meeting. You’re the CEO or Product Manager, or maybe VP of Something-Something. The discussion turns to your company’s web presence: the website is responsive and it looks good and does what it’s supposed to do, but everyone agrees that it’s time to go next-level and get the ball rolling on building an iOS app. There is data to support this move, and either e-commerce or other growth-related goals are calling for a sexy + efficient iOS app. Everyone’s on board, and then somehow, you either volunteer or someone else volunteers you to hire and work with the dev team. You’ve never done this before, you’re not in the tech department, but that’s okay — you’ve got your game face on. Here is a two-part checklist to help get you started.
Checklist I: Pre-Game
1. Legal. If your company is in a regulated environment or is a large corporation, you’ll need to clear the red tape. The dev team will need to look at the company’s existing APIs. Make sure this is not a policy violation, and if it is, then get it fixed so the developer can work without unreasonable constraints. It’s important to note that if your data contains customer information or PII (personally identifiable information), then you’ll want to create a dummy database for development. Never share actual customer data during the development cycle before things are fully secure.
Find out in advance if there are any other potential legal or policy hurdles you’ll need to navigate, so there will be no surprises from that zone.
2. Infrastructure. If your app will have an authentication/login or will be receiving information from users in any way, make sure your company has a secure server to store data. Being prepared with an accurate answer to the server question will go far in the eyes of a developer.
3. API Integration. In order for an iOS app to communicate with your server, even before creating the app, the developer will need to create APIs for the application. This is a very complex, critical step, and even though you can’t see it like a website, it’s the way machines talk to each other. There are a lot of variables involved in this phase, depending on whether your company already has public or private APIs in place, or whether they will all have to be created by the iOS developer. If you’re lucky, your company has a well-documented set of APIs already, and all you need to do is hook up your developer with documentation and access to your back-end developers. They may still have to create additional APIs to support the mobile app, but it should be a good running start in the right direction.
Checklist II: Game
4. UI Design. Overall, you need your home team to realize that great iOS design is constrained . It’s best to spend time on the scope and design before the developer begins coding, because changing these things midway through app development is much more difficult than it is in website development. For example, you’ll need to decide whether to use standard interface components or customized ones (which will need to be decided upon, themselves, down to color and placement). Another thing to consider is that planning the design in advance can help keep development costs down.
5. Process and Timeline. Give the dev team enough time. Design, programming, and testing phases should all be factored into the timeline. If you’re starting from scratch and building out APIs, the process can take 3–6 months, possibly more. Set a realistic launch date with achievable milestones for the dev team, documenting missed deadlines and calculating delays. Learn how to create and store SOPs with screencasts and documentation for accountability and reporting.
6. Minimize Coding Changes. Unlike the flexibility of just adding new pages to websites, iOS app coding is hard-wired, with changes causing potential, unforeseen changes elsewhere that can be really hard to untangle. This item really goes back to the whole UI checkpoint: make sure your entire home team has signed-off on design, features and functions before the coding phase begins. Even the smallest change, such as adding a Facebook Like button to a page that’s already coded, can take a long time.
7. An iOs iPhone App is not an iOS iPad App. Beware this additional feature in web dev contracts. iPad apps are typically more complex than iPhone apps, requiring different interface and interaction mechanisms. They may look similar on the surface but underneath the coding is usually different, including API requirements. All of this to say, just be aware that adding an iOS iPad app to your dev project will add to the length of the project and the cost.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it doesn’t include branding, marketing, or launching, but if you give some thought to these items before sitting down with your dev-shop candidates, it will help get you off on the right foot and minimize non-tech person vs. tech person conversational frustrations, so you can get that sexy + efficient iOS app built and launched.