I’ve noticed that many people have a love–hate relationship with apps. Since I moved to the United Arab Emirates, that observation has been confirmed several times. For instance, the gym app I use only allows me to book a mere 48 hours in advance. It is notorious for crashing, hanging, and not always accurately recording when people cancel their bookings (big up to all the people who took the time to warn the rest of us via Google reviews). In South Africa, my gym app allowed me to book a week in advance and was reliable. Scheduled maintenance took place in the early hours of the morning (before we were all up at 04:00 to book our favourite spinning bike) and we were warned of this well beforehand.
The gym instructors here keep asking me if I’ve bought the device the gym uses to track calories burned and heart rate zones. When I respond that I use my Fitbit for the same purpose and that it actually tracks even more important information, they can’t understand why I wouldn’t purchase their device too. “You can track everything on the app,” they repeatedly tell me. Yes, but I already have an app that does that.
To get me to switch or use any app, you need to convince me that it’s really worth my time and effort. What’s my pay-off for using it? Is your app:
Perhaps most importantly, does it relieve a significant pain point?
There is a peculiar but prevailing perception that if an idea is good enough, novel enough, or popular enough it can be put to practical use. If it can be put to practical use, then it can be transformed into an application. It’s as simple as that, isn’t it?
Unfortunately not. Software developers (programmers) are left to break the news that as wonderful as an idea may be, technology simply cannot support it. It isn’t necessarily that the technology doesn’t exist, or that the product can’t be built. It’s often a case of the process and the timeframes not being understood or well thought-out by startups and entrepreneurs wishing to build applications.
While an idea may seem unique and interesting to your startup or enterprise, have you done enough research (and a preliminary SWOT analysis) to determine whether it is a) financially viable, b) in demand, and c) technologically viable and sustainable?
A developer will assist you with assessing whether your plan can be supported technologically. What may seem like a no-brainer to you may present significant challenges to the person, or team, building the product. Let’s look at two examples:
- ‘I want to build an app that identifies local parks and automatically gives you information about things to do, where the recreational activities are, etc.’
- ‘I want to build an app that automatically identifies the bird species I have just taken a photo of.’
Bradley Cowie, Founder and CTO at Giraffe, outlines the level of difficulty involved in each: “In the first instance, someone could probably build a prototype in an afternoon. This is a relatively simple exercise because most smartphones have a global positioning system (GPS) installed, and the data required for the application already exists (i.e. the locations of parks are known and the types of activities and locations available at these facilities are also documented).”
The second instance is more complex. He explains: “In order to build this app, a large team of experts is needed as well as significant funding. It would take about three years to produce a presentable prototype, because a photograph is a collection of pixels (colour information in a grid), and the pixels themselves cannot indicate what an object is – to build the capability required for this application, you would have to carefully mark thousands of photos into training sets.”
Another consideration is cost. Once you have a satisfactory prototype, more work will be required to transform it into a finished and usable product. Most consultancies bill hourly as software is iterative – that is, you don’t always get what you want the first time around. Indeed, the notion of “Build it and they will come” is a myth.
If you are determined to build an application make sure you:
- Have a clear, well-defined, and preferably small niche.
- Gauge interest (and settle on your market) by using tools like Facebook marketing, Google Forms or SurveyMonkey.
- Test your ideas intelligently.
There are many other aspects you will need to consider when building an application, so consult as many application developers as possible. You should also seek the advice of people who have built successful apps in, and for, a country- or region specific market. Not sure how to do this? Click here.