Apps are very desirable to create, they have the possibility of reaching millions of users, making big money, and in some cases, becoming famous. While it is possible to achieve these three things, it is highly unlikely. It is estimated that around 1 out of every 10,000 apps succeed. There are roughly 6 million apps available on the App Store and Play Store combined, that means there are about 60,000 successful apps. Out of this 1%, an even smaller percentage achieve the big three dreams that I just mentioned.
In this story, we are going to look at the top questions that you should ask yourself before building an app. If you can answer every question in detail, then go ahead and create that app, if not, then you should think twice before proceeding. I have built multiple apps in the past, only one of which was marginally successful. I have learnt the hard way to properly think through an idea before executing it so that I don’t lose both time and money. I am writing this because I wish someone had asked me these questions before I started creating my first app.
Will your app solve a problem?
This is arguably one of the most important questions because at the end of the day if your app doesn’t solve a problem, then no one will use it. What this problem is could be anything from boredom to helping the hard of sight. When you answer this question, the more specific, the better. For example, boredom is a widespread problem, and you could narrow this down to keeping people entertained while commuting. Specifics are essential because your app will most likely need to be different for entertaining commuters than it would for users in their own homes.
How will your app solve the problem?
Now that you know your app solves a problem, have you figured out exactly how it will solve the problem? Again specificity is essential, because if you don’t know in detail how to solve the problem, then you can’t answer the rest of the questions accurately. You can’t even know for sure if the app is possible to build in the first place, let alone if you should make it.
Are you building the app for yourself?
The answer to this question can be both yes and no for you to go ahead and build the app. The main thing here is that you understand the risks. Building an app for yourself is not necessarily a bad thing because if you have the problem, then the chances are there are plenty more people that have the same problem. One of the risks is that you will build the app too inline with your specific problem. Even though other people may have the same general problem, the problem itself may vary slightly and what your users want in the way of solving it will also vary. If you are building the app for yourself, you will need to make sure that you put the user's needs before yours. Otherwise, no one will want to use it. If anything, building it for yourself can be positive because you most likely have a passion for the product, which will help you out in the long run.
Who will your users be?
If you don’t know who your target users are, then you can’t know how to build the app. If your target users are young adults, then the feel of the app will be very different than if they are middle-aged. If you are aiming for creative users, then they will value different things to people who are more tech focused. Understanding not only who your users are but what they want is perhaps the most crucial aspect of building an app. However, it can also be one of the most challenging parts. One thing you don’t want to do is get so focused on one specific user group that you alienate everyone else. You need to find and decide on the right balance between appealing to your target users and the general public. If you don’t find the right balance, then your app will have a limited ability to grow.
Are you doing it purely to make money?
If your answer to this is yes, then you should stop working on the idea immediately. Rarely do people who do things just for the money succeed in making any money. Depending on your app, money may be important. For example, you may need to cover the running costs of servers. Even though money may be necessary, it should never be the primary goal.
Can you afford to build the app?
Speaking of money, the next big questions is, can you afford to turn your idea into a finished product. Developing apps can be both time-consuming and costly. You need to think about the costs involved in researching, designing, developing, and marketing the app. You may be doing some of the stages yourself which is cheaper, but I don’t recommend that you do them all yourself. No single person can do everything well. If you genuinely want the app to succeed, then you will hire people who are much better at, for example, programming than yourself so that you end up with the best possible product.
Before you start, I highly recommend sitting down and writing down all the costs that will be associated with your project, everything from a domain name, to a marketing budget. Do your research, find out how much a designer costs, don’t just estimate a number out of nowhere. This way, you will go into the project knowing how much you will need, and won’t be surprised when someone tells you how much they charge.
Do you trust people to work with you?
This is important because like I said, no one can do everything themselves. Building a great team around you will lead to the best chances of success. But, you need to trust your team. If you don’t trust the people working with you, then they won’t feel comfortable and will not put everything they have into the project. The question states people are working with and not for you. This is on purpose. You want people to feel part of something, input their ideas, and to feel like those ideas will actually be appreciated and possibly implemented. You don’t want to dictate and micro-manage people, making them feel like they are just a cog in the wheel.
Will your app require support?
Before starting the process of building the product, you need to think about whether the app will require ongoing maintenance and support. If it doesn’t require any form of continuing involvement from you then great, you don’t need to worry about it. However, if support and maintenance will be necessary, then you need to think about the costs and processes involved. If you don’t think about this from the start, then your users may end up finding the support process a bit inefficient or maybe even incomplete due to the implementation of it at a later stage.
What platform will you choose?
In other words, what devices do you want to be able to run your app? Do you want to build for iOS, Android, a Progressive Web App, or combinations of them? Each platform has its advantages and drawbacks. With PWAs, anyone with a browser installed whether it be on a phone, tablet, or computer, can use the app. However, there are many native features that you won’t be able to use, such as sensors and geofencing. PWAs also aren’t able to be submitted to the App Store or Play Store. iOS is known for having higher quality apps, a more useable and curated app store, more consistent and downloaded software updates, better accessibility, and better security. Android is known for having more compatibility, a lower development entry level, easier and more accessible app submission, and a much larger quantity of users.
The pros and cons of each platform need to be weighed up before you decide which one you want to target. If you target the wrong platform, then you may end up with more troubles during development, and find it harder to market your app.
If your app is relatively simple and you aren’t sure which platform you should focus on, then you could use something like Flutter. Flutter allows you to build for both iOS and Android using the same code base and development environment. Using Flutter will enable you to release for both platforms at the same time and then gauge the responses to decide which one you should focus on.
Are you aware of the competition?
Now that you know which platforms you are targeting, have you researched your competition? Knowing the competition is an integral part of every product and business. You need to know what others are doing, how they are doing it, and how successfully they are doing it. Without this information, you will struggle to build something that stands out.
There is nothing wrong with building something that someone has already made, as long as your app does something better, simpler, or cheaper. You don’t want to just straight up copy someone else’s idea, firstly because you won’t be respected for it, and secondly, if your app is too similar to another, then users won’t have any reason to switch.
Are you ready for more research?
If you have made it this far, then you most likely know what you are building, how you are going to build it, who your users will be, what platforms you will use, and who your competition is. The research doesn’t stop there though. Research is something that will be a regular part of your app building journey. As trends change, technologies evolve, and new competitors arise, you will need to adapt to stay ahead of the game. Adapting partly involves pre-empting these changes, and this is only possible through continuous research. Without seeing the changes coming, you risk being left behind in what is quite a brutal and very competitive industry.
Do you understand the privacy and security implications?
People have never valued their privacy and security more than they do now. There seem to be new scandals involving big tech companies daily. Sometimes they are about data breaches due to inadequate security, and sometimes they are about leaking users information. It doesn’t matter what the scandal is about. Once the information is out, there is no going back, at least some portion of the users will have lost trust in the product.
You need to be planning for the best possible privacy policies and security features from the start to make the risk of having your own scandal as low as possible.
Privacy is the easier of the two as you have much more control over this. The best way to keep your user’s data private is to only store what is absolutely necessary. By only storing what is essential, you limit what data can be retrieved in the event of a breach, or leak. For example, if your app uses the user’s location, do you need to store the location? The answer is most likely no. Storing data like locations means you quickly build up a picture of a users movements, something that is highly desirable and can make you a target. This is for same for storing data that identifies users interests, devices, contacts, activity times, and anything else that someone with the data can sell.
Security, on the other hand, is much more complicated. New vulnerabilities are found regularly in hardware and software that many applications are reliant upon. These vulnerabilities give hackers new ways to gain access to data and systems that they shouldn’t be able to use. Your apps security will continuously be evolving, and you should always stick to the well documented best practices, one of the most basic of which is enforcing strong passwords. If you are app requires users to create accounts, or interact with both proprietary or third-party APIs, then I highly recommend at the least having a consultation with someone experienced in the field of security.
Will your app be usable?
You might think this a strange question, but if your app isn’t usable, then you will have no users. What do I mean by usable? Your app needs not only to look good, but it also needs to efficiently perform the tasks that you say it can in a way that is simple for the users. I always go by the motto “Functionality before design”. In other words, your app should work well before you start focusing on making it look good. This, however, does not mean that you should ignore good design completely. Users very quickly decide if they like something, and this choice is greatly influenced by how the product looks. All I am saying is it is all well and good having a great looking app, bit if it is slow, has annoying and unnecessary animations, is always displaying errors, and not doing what the user expects. Then the app will never become successful.
Are you prepared to receive honest feedback?
For some people, honest feedback can be the most challenging part. The products that humans create tend to become their babies, even the smallest bit of negative feedback can deeply affect you. I know receiving feedback about my creations is something I have struggled with in the past. Over time I have learnt to view the feedback objectively and not take it so personally, because they are only opinions about the product and not the creator.
Being able to read negative reviews and comments for what they are is essential to your app’s growth as it allows you to resolve the problems much more efficiently. I say this because instead of reading one bad review and focusing just on that one opinion or experience, you can instead look for patterns throughout all the reviews. Looking for patterns allows you to determine how genuine the feedback is. If out of, let’s say fifty reviews, you have ten bad ones, nine of which contain similar concerns, and one which is unrelated and possibly quite emotionally written. Here is a pattern, instead of focusing on that one bad review, you can now focus on addressing the concerns of the other nine. You may have come across this before without being aware. If, like me, you look through reviews before buying something and you see a load of four and five-star reviews, and then maybe ten one and two-star ones. If the bad reviews are all unrelated and say things like “this product is terrible, don’t buy it”, then you tend to ignore them. If on the other hand, they have similar problems, then you tend to consider those problems before going through with the purchase.
The same goes for positive reviews. When you read lovely feedback, you can’t let it go to your head. You always need to be able to look at your app objectively, both the positives and the negatives.
Are you willing to wait for organic growth?
Lastly, do you have the patience to let your app grow without forcing it? Organic growth is the best way to build a loyal user base that uses and care about your app. Paying for adverts may get you significant amounts of downloads quickly, but the majority of these users will use the app once and then either stop using it or uninstall it. The key to creating a successful app is user retention, not the number of downloads. It is far better to have 500 downloads and around 400 active users than 2000 downloads and maybe 100 active users. Both the App Store and the Play Store look for quality, not quantity to determine their search rankings. Don’t let yourself forget that building a successful app is just like creating a successful business, it takes time. Yes, overnight successes happen now and then, but they are extremely unlikely. If anything, being an overnight success cause more headaches because you have to very quickly scale and adapt to support your suddenly increased user base, something complicated and difficult to do.
If you can answer all of these questions with certainty and specifics then go ahead and build your app, you may be onto something. If you are unsure about some of the questions, then I recommend taking a step back and doing some more research. Just because you can’t answer them all, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a great idea. It just means you likely aren’t ready to start making that idea a reality.
I wish everyone the best of luck with their apps.