You don’t have to be a programming wizard in order to create an app – there are plenty of resources and tools to help you, and it doesn’t mean handing over your entire project to a third-party designer either; you can still have a great amount of input to make sure the outcome is exactly what you hoped for.
The Research Stage
First, check the market for existing, similar mobile apps. Beyond the good practice of knowing your competition, you can use your competitors to learn what works well and what doesn’t in their mobile apps. Don’t be put off if somebody’s already done something similar – remember, there are a lot of apps out there.
Your mobile app might be an extension of an existing service you offer to your customers, as in the example of an online magazine or news website. In this case competition doesn’t really matter, what you offer is original content for a specific audience that knows and trusts your brand.
You should also think about monetisation – are your profits going to come from selling the app, advertising, in-app purchases, subscriptions, or some other source? In some instances you may define success differently, such as in terms of increased brand awareness among your audience, or number of mobile app users accessing your content.
Mobile App Design and Requirements
If you’re building from scratch something new, with original functionality specific to your idea or service, then our recommendation is to start by creating a ‘wireframe’ for your mobile app – a simple sketched design of what you’re looking for – then find several app developers and approach them for quotes based on your designs and the requirements you’ll draft. A wireframe is the best possible way to communicate your ideas to a developer. It’s also a great exercise to clarify your concept and start testing out design ideas. It can be as simple as a drawing on paper, which you can turn into a functioning prototype using an app like POP.
An user interface designer can take your input and improve it, add to it and finally design a real, detailed UI. Read the awesome tips for wireframing an app from our friends at Speckyboy.
Once your app design is complete, put it down in text in the form of requirements. The approach we prefer and recommend, typical of agile development, is user stories. Essentially, you take the perspective of the users of your app and describe the actions they will be able to perform in your app, focus on each individual task they want or need to complete and don’t worry about the details of how they will perform it (i.e. describe the problem, not the solution). Once you’ve completed your user stories, you can put everything together in a more detailed requirement document. With a quick search you can find many great guides online on writing user stories and requirements.
Building Your Mobile App from scratch
When it comes to getting your mobile app built, you have a number of options.
If you’re building mobile app with original and unique functionality, then only custom development is really an option. For this type of work, you can can look for either a design studio or freelancers.
App design studios might seem like the best way to get a top-end app developed, but you can expect to pay a top-end price too – anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 is quite normal for a mobile app. If you’re going native, roughly multiply the cost for every platform you want to cover.
Freelancers can be found on sites like Upwork.com (they can be a low-cost option, but one where the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ also applies), peopleperhour.com and LinkedIn. Look for experience in iOS SDK, Objective C, Cocoa for iPhone/iPad and Java/Android SDK for Android development. You can expect to pay between $30 and $60 an hour for a good developer. On the higher end of both skill and cost, you can find quality developers on the Crew freelance marketplace, which screens developers and agencies before letting them onto their platform.
If you’re a small business or content publisher with relatively common requirements for your mobile app, then you can look into using an existing mobile app platform or mobile app builder service.
DIY app-builder services have been around for a while, and are an economical alternative to hiring an agency to produce a simple app for you. This type of solution can be a good fit for a small business that only needs functionality like coupons, product catalogs, reservations for restaurants, and similar.
Mobile Apps for News websites
Our own Mobiloud News platform is somewhere in between a app builder solution and the option of getting a high quality mobile app built by an agency or developer. This is because it offers the performance and design of a native app, with the ease of use and quick result of an app builder service.
Where’s the compromise? Functionality is specifically designed for a content publisher using WordPress and includes features like article browsing, pages, user favorites, offline reading, sharing, push notifications and more. It’s not for everyone.
Turning an existing website into apps
Over the years running Mobiloud we kept hearing from site owners and developers there was just no easy way to turn all the work they had already done on their mobile site into a mobile app you can quickly publish to Google Play and App Store.
After months of development, we’re accepting customers for our new MobiLoud Canvas service. The Canvas platform lets you turn your existing mobile optimized or responsive website into a mobile app.
Everything starts with your mobile site. All that works on the web will also work in your app. Your app will add push notifications, native navigation elements for improved speed and ease of use, caching and offline support, a presence on Google Play and App Store and, even more important, on your users’ home screens.
Hope this provides a brief introduction to what it takes to start building your app, even without any programming knowledge or skills. You’ll find there’s many options out there, especially if you’re willing to rely on the support of an agency or using an app builder service.