With more than a decade of experience designing and developing mobile apps for businesses around the globe, we have seen our fair share of app ideas come and go. Some proved themselves industry-defining concepts. Others didn’t make the cut. Over that time, one thing became clear. You need to put a lot of work into streamlining and refining your app idea before you ever near the development phase.
In the app development world, we often refer to this process as the “ideation phase.” It is the stage of the app development journey where you do the leg work and try to work out whether you’re sitting on a multi-million-pound app idea or something that will never come to fruition.
In this article, we drew on all of The Distance’s app development experience and expertise to create a quick guide to streamlining your app idea. If you think you’ve got a game-changing app concept that could help launch your business, read on to learn how you know if you are right.
1. Do the necessary research
First up, do your research. A lot of research. Developing an app is a significant investment, so you need to be sure you’re making a sensible decision and not taking too many risks. Start by browsing the Android and Apple stores.
Does your app idea already exist? If not, that’s excellent news. But it should also make you stop and consider why that is. If there is a similar app on the market, check it out in greater detail. Does it fulfil the same function? Is the app well-developed and enjoyable to use? Could you do better or would your app bring something new to the table?
At this stage, you are looking for validation. Conducting extensive research enables you to work out whether there are any clear and obvious reasons why your app would not or could not work, before you invest significant time, resources and energy. This research should be diverse and wide-ranging. You are still in the big-picture phase, so don’t get too bogged down by details.
2. Establish your value proposition
Having conducted your initial research and established that there are no immediate reasons you shouldn’t pursue your app, it is time to think more deeply about your app’s value proposition. Specifically, what is your app’s basic purpose? What problem(s) does it solve?
This is easier if you start simple. Don’t go into app mechanics yet – think of the app as a service or product. For instance, you could describe Uber’s value proposition as providing customers with quick, easy and affordable transport options. You could conceive of WhatsApp’s value proposition as facilitating instant communication between mobile device users.
Note that neither of these value propositions touches on how the app will achieve this. Right now, you need to understand what value your app provides. This will underpin everything you do going forwards and help keep you focused on the app’s core function and purpose. If you can’t express your app’s value clearly, concisely and without using technical jargon, you need to push reset and go back to basics.
3. Conduct competitor research
We get it – you have already spent a lot of time conducting research. But it is not over yet. Market research is where you get stuck into the nitty gritty and get to know both your target market and competitors inside out.
Referring to your initial research, go back and highlight those apps that you consider your closest competitors. At the same time, look for any apps in other, non-competing industries that do something similar to your idea. Pull up every bit of information you can find on these apps. This includes (but is not limited to):
- Performance data – how many downloads does the app have? What is the review feedback like?.
- Financial model – how does the app make money?
- Core functions and features – what problems does the app resolve and how?
- Audience – who does the business target their app at?
- Platforms – where can you download the apps?
While your initial research was broad, this is narrow and detail-oriented. Compare and contrast your app idea with competitors’ efforts, look for gaps in the market, and seek to understand what other apps do well and where they fall down.
4. Understand your market
Of course, your competitors aren’t the only important factor in the equation. You also have to think about customers. At a fundamental level, this is about answering the question, who will use my app?
First, you identify your target audience. Who do you think your app will appeal to? Next, find real individuals who fit that profile. Ask them about your idea and whether it appeals to them and whether they think they would use the app. Listen to their feedback and try to establish whether your initial assumptions ring true.
You may have hit the nail on the head. Or you may find that your initial target audience is not interested in the app. But in the process, a different target audience can emerge. Maybe you mistakenly believed 30-40 year-olds would want to use your app but, in reality, it is 20-30 year-olds that are most interested.
Finally, create a customer persona. This is an idealised version of your target user – a representation of the type of person who will benefit from your app. Consider demographic details, such as age, location, gender and profession, then move on to character traits. What are their likes and dislikes? Where do they hang out on the internet? Facebook? Reddit? TikTok? How do they spend their money? What motivates them? What are their pain points?
5. Refine your business concept
Next, it is time to examine your business model. Coming up with a great app idea is one thing, turning it into a sound business is another. Essentially, you need to establish how your app will make money. There are several common business models to consider:
- Paid apps – apps you pay to download
- Freemium – apps that are free to download but include features you pay for
- In-app advertising – apps that generate revenue by selling in-app ad space
- Subscription – apps that users pay a subscription fee to use
- Data monetisation – apps that sell user data for profit
- In-app purchases – apps that include physical or digital products you can sell
Does your app idea naturally lend itself to a particular business model? Or could it utilise a combination of models? Is that model (or models) sustainable and capable of generating sufficient revenue to make the app worth your while?
6. Consider design, aesthetics and features
Having spent a considerable amount of time streamlining and honing your initial idea, you are now at the stage where you can begin to think about the actual app design. How will your app look? How will you make it stand out? What core features help you deliver value to users?
A lot of the app mechanics will be dictated by design best practices and development processes. But this comes later and requires development expertise. However, you still need some idea of how your app will look, feel and engage users. If you already have a business brand in place, you have something to go on. If you are starting from scratch, the world is your oyster! The Distance does offer a service oriented toward the initial discovery phase, in which we help conduct UX and UI research, plan the wireframe and design the app. If that’s something that interests you, let us know.
Once you have streamlined your app idea and are ready to take it to a developer, you will need to create a development project brief. We will cover that process in an upcoming blog, so keep your eyes peeled for that one. The other main challenge is finding the right developer for your project.
Here at The Distance, we have developed apps for small startups just setting out on the path to greatness and large, multinational organisations with an established business model and customer base. We have created more than 100 apps and worked with companies in the manufacturing, healthcare, energy, transport and sports industries. So we know exactly what’s required to take the seed of an app idea and make it a reality.
If you are interested in learning how The Distance can help you develop your app idea, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and talk to one of our experienced team members.
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