5 Lessons I’ve Learned As A Professional In Developing Apps
It’s embarrassing to admit, but when we set out to develop our first app way back in 2009, sugar plum dreams of app store fame and fortune danced through my head. And why shouldn’t they? Every day seemed to bring with it a new headline trumpeting the success of an indie entrepreneur going from rags to riches on the back of this newfound thing called an ‘app’. If some schlub can make a million dollars off a farting app, then how hard could it be?
(You see what I did there? That’s called foreshadowing)
Well, all these years and numerous apps later, I’ve learned that making money from apps is tough and that you face all sorts of app development issues that I wasn’t seeing. While still very lucrative (Grand View Research predicts app revenue will grow from $154 billion in 2019 to $336 billion in 2027), it is by no means easy. If you are looking for the easy path to get rich, then there’s an alpaca farm I am ready to sell you.
Lessons I’ve learned from building apps
1)Building an app is easy, getting people to notice it is much harder
If you think the only thing stopping you from app glory is hunkering down and powering through “Building Apps for Dummies”, guess again my friend. Building the app is actually the easy part. It doesn’t matter if you are a programmer, non-programmer or anything in between, you can find lots of shops and people ready to build your app.
The hard part is getting people to use your app once it is built. There are over 4 million apps in both the Google Play Store and the Apple Apps Store combined; I guarantee that your app upon release is going to be a needle buried in a sea of needles. Challenges in app development are one thing to overcome, getting your app noticed is something entirely different.
To get people to download your app, you need to get your app in front of their faces. The best way to do this is by finding a niche and creating an app targeted for that specific niche (i.e. Instead of building another general-purpose social networking app, why not build a social network for hairstylists?) Once you have a niche, you can then target your marketing and promotion efforts to the trade publications, magazines and other press which have the eyeballs you need.
2) App users are fickle
A Localytics survey reported that 20% of apps are only opened once. Smartphone users are a notoriously fickle bunch – just ask yourself how many times you’ve downloaded an app only to have never opened it at all? To get users to come back to your app, you need to connect with them the first time they open your app and create enough of a hook to reel them back into your app. This is where an understanding of human psychology and clever uses of push notifications, email communication and social sharing can be used as mechanisms to remind people about your app and get them to come back.
3) Ideas are easy, creating a product is tough
Ideas do not make products. In fact, your “game-changing” idea isn’t worth the paper it’s written on until you’ve executed it. Ideas are where you start from, but you then need to create an engaging product that is also monetizable and marketable. There is no sure-fire recipe for productization. The reality is that you need to experiment and adapt your product based on how people actually use it. Go into the app process expecting your idea to change and be ready to iterate. It might take 3 or 4 releases until your app has developed into a product that people want, but that’s ok.
4) Sometimes, less is more
It can be tempting to load apps up with features and onscreen elements that catch the eye. This can be especially true when a new feature is released for the OS. As a developer, you get excited about the new features and want to experiment with them. You also want to show users what you can do and impress them with your abilities to build an app that uses every feature and function possible.
While it might be tempting, it is an impulse you need to resist. Sure, you want to use exciting features like AR, but you have to ask if the app really needs it. When you go overboard on features or clutter your app screens with different elements, it can make for a less than satisfying experience for the end-user. You might make the app glitchy or it might use up a lot of battery when it runs. It could also result in an app that has a confusing interface or complicate the process of achieving the goals of the app. This can make an inability to limit yourself one of the biggest problems in app development.
Focus the app on what it needs to achieve. Figure out which features will help it provide a better experience and don’t add anything just for the sake of the wow factor. Users tend to appreciate simplicity. You can also make an app and consider adding or experimenting with new features in future updates.
5) It isn’t all about what I want
It can be easy to get hung up on an idea that seems great to the developer. You might also think that you would really love an app that works in a specific way or offers a certain service. When you find that it is not catching on with users or that they don’t like a feature you really love, it can be difficult to accept that you may have missed the mark. In these situations, you need to be willing to adapt.
Of course, if you are building apps as a hobby with no care for making money, you can build your dream app and not care if anyone likes or uses it. But if you want to make a business of building apps, you need to consider what other people may want. Ideally, this means starting the process with market research to get a feel for what users want. After the app is released, you need to be open to feedback. Don’t take it personally and try to incorporate some of the suggestions from users. If you are trying to make money, you have to accept the fact that you are not making apps for yourself – you are making them for regular people who probably don’t have any experience with app development.