Beware the hazards of mobile app development
Potential pitfalls lie in wait, threatening to derail mobile app development projects at every turn. But the same old problems don’t have to impede your progress. Here are 15 of the most common roadblocks that drain resources and budgets, and easy ways around them.
1. Not enough planning
Whether you’re one guy working out of his garage or a member of an enterprise team, you need to know what you’re doing. What type of app are you building? What does it aim to accomplish? What problem or inefficiency does it solve? Who will download it? How will it work?
Detailed planning is even more crucial if you work for a startup or larger corporation. Align your mobile app’s purpose, design and functionality with business objectives or you’ll get stuck in a developer’s worst nightmare plagued by project reboots and missed deadlines. To save yourself a world of hurt, know your use cases, outline user flows and get buy-in from stakeholders at the very beginning of your project.
2. Over planning
There comes a point when you have to stop talking about your app and start building it. We’re big fans of working from a minimum viable product (MVP), launching the smallest, most targeted application you can while still delivering value to users. To define requirements for your MVP, sort features into these buckets:
- Core features and functionality the app must have to work properly and meet established business requirements. Be sure to include what will make the app unique.
- Wish list of nice-to-haves to include if you have time after core features are built out.
- Parking lot of fun or useful whistles and bells you’d like to see in the app at some point.
3. Scope creep
By focusing on core features, an MVP allows you to get your app in front of users quickly. Feeling tempted to work from your wish list or pull ideas out of the parking lot? Want to run with an idea from your impromptu brainstorm session at lunch? Stop. Too many developers add too many features, especially in early app releases.
The point of having an MVP is to prioritize the needs of your desired users, track how they interact with your app and enhance your app based on what they like. A truckload of underdeveloped features won’t win you any fans and will only bloat your app, so don’t waste your time.
4. Tackling too many platforms
We’re not going to debate Android vs. iOS (you have your preference and we’re not going to change it). What we will do is point out that releasing an app for multiple platforms increases budget and development time, so it’s best to tackle one at a time. To find out where your users are, research the market to see how similar apps perform. (You may find it’s in your best interest to put any personal biases aside.)
5. Trying to please everyone
Do you want to attract users or users who will champion your app? It’s impossible to create the perfect app for everyone, but you can do everything possible to please a well-defined group. So, go back and ask, “Who will download it?” Are they a specific gender? Age? Where do they live? Are they bodybuilders or movie buffs? Define your ideal user and it’s much easier to develop features and market to them.
6. Going low res
Low-resolution imagery looks awful on Retina and other high-resolution displays. Design for the highest resolution and scale down (e.g. with scalable vector graphics) to ensure your app always looks its best.
7. Reinventing the user interface wheel
Users don’t want to read a manual to figure out how to use an app, which is one reason developers are encouraged to follow the latest navigation design principles. By all means, include simple instructions at the start of a game, for example. However, keep in mind that a gentle (or non-existent) learning curve will typically win over a complex UI.
8. Deciding to DIY—on everything
Embracing the right tools can shave hundreds of hours off average app development times. We’re especially partial to mobile backend as a service (MBaaS) that let you add a scalable, reliable mobile backend to your app in minutes. Not only do you get built-in social integration, data management, push notifications and geolocation, but also skip the hassles of spinning up servers and managing databases. The biggest benefit, though, is being able to hone in on your front-end design and user experience—the stuff that makes users happy and drives downloads. (Try our solution, Kii Cloud, free and let us know what you think.)
9. Not testing on devices
Assuring app stability and fixing bugs requires quality assurance (QA) and testing prior to launch. While it’s not realistic to test on every possible device, it is important to do on-device testing in some capacity.
Also, if you go through the trouble of bringing in a focus group, be sure to put devices in users’ hands. The experience of using an app is completely different from watching someone else tap and swipe. A font or button treatment that bothers users from afar may not even register as a complaint when they’re interacting with an app.
10. Skipping app store optimization
A good number of users will find you in the app store. Make it easier for them through app store optimization (ASO) techniques such as choosing the best category and keywords, writing a great description and uploading compelling screen shots.
11. Brushing off user feedback
Positive and negative reviews are great ways to learn about what your users like and dislike. Ratings and reviews also heavily influence downloads, so it’s in your best interest to demonstrate that you’re listening and willing to improve your UX to earn higher ratings.
12. Putting too much stock in user feedback
As important as it is to listen to users, keep in mind that you’re hearing from a vocal minority. It’s not practical, nor is it wise, to execute on every suggestion. Fix any bugs as soon as possible, and if you’d like to see if an idea is valid, A/B test using a control before rolling out a change to everyone.
13. Ignoring analytics
Users generate massive amounts of data every time they use your app. Analytics help you interpret that data in a meaningful way. For example, take a look at where drop-off happens, see if users prefer video or graphics or find out which types of ads monetize best.
Not convinced you need analytics? Don’t knock it until you try it. Take Kii Analytics for a spin for free through 2013. It lets you define custom metrics so you can gain insights tailored specifically to your app. You can slice and dice any data stored in the Kii Cloud or send data to our cloud for analysis, and use charts and graphs to visualize your results.
14. Iterating at a snail’s pace
Fresh content and features keep users engaged, giving them reasons to engage with your app again and again. This expectation puts the mobile app iteration cycle on a fast track where quarterly updates may not be enough. Additionally, a backload of bugs will only alienate users and slow you down. So, iterate fast and often, using analytics to drive your decisions.
15. Being too modest
You’ve put the time and effort into creating an awesome mobile app, so don’t skip the all-important step of telling people about it. Do some marketing, publish a press release, post a link on your website and blog, promote on social media and ask anyone you can think of—bloggers, reviewers, friends, family, members of communities where you’re active—to check out your app.
Did we leave out any mobile app development hazards you’re careful to avoid? Share your experiences in the comments.