Mobile Apps Q & A

mobile

Q. How do I know if my company needs a mobile app?
A. If you’re in business, you need a mobile app. Period. It’s not a question about technology or what platform you should be on, but rather a look at where your customers are today. And customers are definitely doing more and more tasks through their mobile phones in their daily personal and professional lives.

If you want to capture a new audience, keep your existing ones engaged with your brand, or provide a value add to your customers, you must look at building a mobile app.

Q. How long does it take to develop an average app?
A. It takes anywhere between three weeks to two months to develop a complete mobile application. The timeframe depends on what features you want to build and the components that will constitute an app. These include components such as a web-based backend, an administration interface to manage content, etc.

Q. How can someone with a non-programming background develop an app?
A. Ideally, you shouldn’t. If you do not have programming knowledge, you can certainly learn and develop an app. But if you’re running a business or want to build a business based on the app, your focus should be on exactly that. Building the business, rather than coding. In today’s day and age, you can simply outsource the development of the initial version of your application to a company. Once you attain product/market fit and gain traction, you can always hire in-house developers to take over.

Q. What makes for a successful mobile app?
A. There are two parts to this question. One relates to the technical side and the other relates to business. From a technical point of view, every successful app that you see in the market today offers a fantastic user experience. What that means is that they are easy to use, highly functional and bug free. The design shouldn’t just be aesthetically appealing, but should be customized as per the target audience. For example, you would design a kid’s app very differently from an app targeting older men.

On the business side, you need to solve a problem. Every successful app solves a big problem for their customers. It’s not about the idea, but the execution. Google was not a unique idea. It was actually the 24th search engine. But what made it different was its execution of that idea. So first, identify a customer need and then build something that they would be happy using.

Q. How does one effectively market an iPhone app?
A. There are only a few ways or channels that can help you scale user growth or market your iPhone app.

Not every marketing channel (Social, Ads, SEO, etc) or platform (Facebook, Google, Pinterest, etc) may be relevant to your app and your audience. First, spend time understanding where your customers hang out. Then, test various channels and platforms at the same time, in order to get a hold on the ones that give you the maximum return on your investment (time, money, or both)

Focus all your energies on just one or two channels that work best for your app. Chances are, you will always have one channel/platform that will have the biggest lead. You can use the second channel or platform to supplement your overall marketing efforts.

Q. How can you get your app featured on the App Store / Android Market / App World?
A. If you know an answer to this one, please do tell me as well! Jokes aside, there is no science to getting featured. There are no guidelines released by any of the platforms either. But, through several experiences of entrepreneurs who have had their apps featured, one could conclude that you need to have some or all of these conditions met to be considered for being featured. These conditions are: excellent design and usability, mainstream press coverage and a huge number of consistent downloads per week.

Q. What are the most ingenious ways to monetize apps?
A. The most popular monetization model across app stores and platforms is the freemium model, where you offer the app for free and then convert free users to paid through in-app purchases. While this is certainly popular, there are many apps that generate consistent revenues with the paid model, where the user is required to pay to download the app.

Test which model works best for your app. If you’re able to communicate enough value to the user even before they download and use the app, you can charge an upfront fee to download. If an app requires the user to go through the experience before they can pay for premium content, then freemium might work for you. But there still isn’t a right or a wrong. You have to test what works best for your app.

Don’t be afraid to change a pricing model at a later date, even if you have existing customers. WhatsApp, an app that was sold recently to Facebook for $19 billion, tested several pricing/monetization models throughout its history.

Q. What should the monetization plan be for a free mobile app?
A. Typically, apps are free for two reasons. One is when it is of a social nature and monetization cannot be built into the app’s ecosystem. The other is when the user needs to experience the app before being convinced of the value.

You can offer premium content in your free app through an in-app purchase. This is by far the most popular way to monetize a mobile app. But if this doesn’t work, look at putting ads on the app to generate revenue. However, you will not earn significant revenues from advertising unless your app is used consistently day after day for at least 10 minutes at a time.

Q. What are some new/emerging trends in app development?
A. There are many trends emerging across the app landscape. In my opinion, one clearly stands out. That is bringing health care and fitness closer to the ‘everyday joe’.

The integration of technology (specifically apps), is being seen across medical devices. You can now record your blood sugar levels, connect to the heart rate monitor and more, right on your app. The information is recorded and processed into meaningful charts to tell you about your current health status and whether you need medical attention.

Similarly, helping people understand the result of their physical activities helps to keep them fit and motivated!

Q. What is the best platform for mobile app analytics?
A. There isn’t just one analytics platform, but there are analytics for every stage and every aspect of the app’s lifecycle. I can’t stress the importance of analytics enough. Analytics allow you to analyze user behavior in your app, in order to gain insight into what features are being used and which parts are driving conversions. They are also helpful in building an efficient marketing strategy.

Flurry is a free tool that gives you insights into your users and app performance. You can track every menu tap, understand the user path, create funnels to optimize conversions and create user segmentations.
Intercom lets you chart the entire customer behavior while using your app and you can also communicate with your customers using this tool. Crittercism helps you pinpoint and troubleshoot issues within the app, such as crashes.

Q. What is the best way to rapid prototype a mobile app?
A. Prototyping your app gives you clarity on its every aspect, feature and the user flow. You need to have this bit sorted before you approach a developer for building the application. The more clarity you have on your requirements, the more precise your timeline and pricing estimate for development.

Proto.io lets you create a full mobile-app experience without coding. What you get is complete user flow and navigation of your app, with interactive elements such as gestures and touch events.

InVision is another tool that allows you to create a fully interactive app prototype. The free tool also allows you to interact with your team members through a collaborative framework.

POP helps entrepreneurs, designers or even students to transform their pen and paper ideas into a prototype. If you started by sketching on a notepad, simply import it into this app by taking a picture.

Q. Are mobile apps the new bubble?
A. Before we can pronounce apps as the new bubble, we need to first understand what exactly a bubble is. Paul Graham of Y Combinator best describes a bubble as, “…a very specific form of prices being high where people knowingly pay high prices for something, in the hope that they will be able to unload it later on some greater fool.”

This is what happened in the late 90s. But that is not what is happening today. Prices and valuations are certainly high, but that doesn’t always constitute a bubble, as prices of commodities always go up and down throughout the period.

If you take price out of the equation, then there is no question of a bubble either. Mobile apps are certainly integrated into our lives today. The first thing most people I know do when they wake up is check their emails, their social profiles (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and then begin their day with a run or some form of exercise where their physical activity is tracked on their mobile phones through an app. They use phones for productivity tools and even entertainment.

It’s definitely not a bubble.


Rahul Varshneya is the co-founder of Arkenea LLC,  a mobile app consultancy that helps businesses and entrepreneurs by creating experience-rich mobile apps; and co-founder of Foster, a content marketing platform. Rahul is also a mentor and mobile strategy advisor. http://arkenea.com