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What Are Your Options for Business Mobile App Development?

Julia RichardsDecember 2020
What Are Your Options for Business Mobile App Development?

It seems that every brand, large or small, has a mobile app these days. But when one starts looking for solutions to building your own mobile app, the results can be daunting.

New businesses that are low on a budget can sometimes be put off mobile app development by the costs involved in getting your own mobile app developed.

Some try to go at it alone, only to become confused by the number of platforms out there as well as the complexities to getting an app put into Google Play or the App Store.

Mobile app development terminology is another standard stumbling block to getting your mobile app developed. The world is rife with cryptic nomenclatures such as “native” and “UX” and other seemingly meaningless terms which only leave a newcomer feeling befuddled.

What does that even MEAN?

What does that even MEAN?

In this post, we’ll cover a wide range of topics to help you figure out:

  • If mobile apps really are that important for your business.
  • Who to hire to build a mobile app for your business.
  • The basic mobile app development landscape, so you have some basic direction on where to go.
  • How to build a mobile app with no coding skills (if you really want to go that route).
  • And a bunch of other essential tips.

This article won’t teach you how to build a custom mobile app for your business. But it will give you a basic understanding of the mobile app development arena so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not it is for you. And, if you do decide to build an app, you’ll be far better prepared to do it as a result of the knowledge gained in this post.

Let’s get to it.

 

Understanding basic mobile app development nomenclature

This is by no means a complete list of terms, but it covers some of the most common and difficult ones. (We didn’t include any extremely advanced terms here on purpose.)

Alpha Version and Beta Version: Alpha versions are highly unstable versions of apps that still need testing in-house. Beta versions are versions which have been thoroughly tested in-house and are ready for “closed beta” (limited number of users) or “open beta” (released to the public).

Beta versions are expected to still have bugs that must be fixed.

How long can software stay in beta version? Well, Gmail was famously in beta for five years!

gmail

Bug: This is a flaw in some computer code. It is the bane of every programmer’s existence. If you do develop and release an app, you will become extremely familiar with the term “bug” as users start using your app and reporting any and every bug they find.

Believe it or not, the origin of this word goes back to an actual bug (a moth, to be precise) found by Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper at the Harvard Faculty in the Computation Laboratory where she was working on the Navy’s “Mark II” computer. She kept the bug, and that first bug now resides at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

That was way back in 1946.

bug

Native code: We are going to keep this very simple!

Basically, “native” code is code which runs directly within the phone’s operating system and which can interact more deeply with the phone’s hardware.

(For those programmers amongst you, we know that the above definition is not entirely correct. But if you’re already a programmer, why are you reading this section!?)

OS: Operating System. This is, basically, the software that runs the phone. The two biggest OSs on the market these days are Android (from Google) and iOS (from Apple).

Apps need to be developed independently for each OS.

When you use a development system like Start My Business’s Build Your Own Mobile App tool, you only develop using one interface. But the system then takes your code and separates it in the background and provides a version that is compatible with the Android OS and iOS.

Nifty, eh?

Push notification: These are notifications that the user receives when the app is not running.

UI: The user interface. Essentially, what the user sees when they interact with the app: The buttons, the graphics, the screens, the text, the font, etc. This has a strong relation to the “UX”, which we define next.

UX: “User Experience”. This is also often used in web design. It embraces the overall experience of the user when using the website or mobile app and can include factors such as:

  • Latency period from the time of clicking a button to completing an action.
  • Aesthetics of design (colour contrast, size of buttons, etc.).

Understanding where mobile apps run

Okay, we talked about OSs (operating systems) and “native code” above. (If you didn’t read the above and are unsure what those terms mean,, please have a quick look. We defined them very simply, just for you!)

Apps written using native code can only run in the operating system for which they were written.

For example, if you want to write an app that utilises Android-specific push notification features, you’re going to need to create the app using something like Android Studio (which is an extremely advanced tool made for programmers).

If you want to build for Windows, you would need to use something like Windows Visual Studio.

For iOS, you need a Mac and XCode.

Sheesh. Overwhelmed yet?

Yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous. All these proprietary companies have gone and developed their own stores and their own code and made life difficult for the rest of us.

proprietary companies

This is one of the reasons businesses avoid getting into app development altogether. To create an app for all those platforms used to require knowledge and skills pertaining to each one, as well as separate tools for each one.

This is the reason so many companies hire out agencies to develop their apps for them.

Fortunately, using a system like Start My Business’s Build Your Own Mobile App tool, all you need to do is build your app on one platform, and then our system takes care of the rest for you behind the scenes.

 

What are Native vs HTML5 vs Hybrid Apps?

One of the attempts at standardising this proprietary mess has been to create apps using HTML only.

HTML5 (HyperText Markup Language, Version 5) runs in the browser — in any browser, in fact.

Basically, an HTML5 app is really just a glorified web page. Essentially, people design a mobile-friendly web page that does specific things, and then they “package” it in a specific way that it can be installed as an app on the target OS.

The details of this are difficult to explain in an article of this nature, where we want to keep things simple.

But the most important things you need to know are:

  1. Native apps are, basically, “full-featured” apps and can make full use of the internal functions of the operating system itself (push notifications, email functionality, GPS, you name it).
  2. HTML5 apps are really web pages.
  3. Hybrid apps are a blend of HTML5 code and native code.
  4. Writing apps in native code used to mean having to learn (and invest in) various disparate tools to develop on.
  5. These days, this problem is best solved by either hiring an agency to develop the app for you or using an app development system that takes care of the internal plumbing on its own, letting you design the app on one system only.
  6. NOW we’re learning the good stuff!

  7. NOW we’re learning the good stuff!

Who to hire for mobile app development?

Agencies

Only a few years ago, hiring an agency was really your only option. Windows had just come on the market, and a bunch of companies got on the bandwagon and started developing Windows Store apps. That added even more pressure to companies wanting to bring an app to market because they needed to invest even more heavily in development tools and resources.

But Windows never really took off. In fact, as of 2020, Windows market share is pretty much sunk in the gutter.

Windows has a phone?

Windows has a phone?

So, that left iOS and Android.

Still, those two platforms are wildly different from each other, and it’s rare to find a freelancer that can do a stellar job on both.

The choice, therefore, came down to agencies.

The rule of thumb with agencies, however, is that they’re pricier. They have a full team behind them. They have specialists in each of the different platforms. Goodness, some of them probably even still have Windows Phone developers!

Many agencies offer additional services to add value to their usually hefty price tag.

If you’re a massive company or have just secured £100 million in seed funding, an agency might be the way forward for you. Although their prices can be heavy, the best agencies do deliver stellar apps.

But, yes, price, price, price. As your business grows and your app needs more and more features, or perhaps even fundamental modifications, working with an agency can start to take its toll.

You said it costs HOW much!?

You said it costs HOW much!?

 

Freelancers

Professional freelancers are generally a pleasure to work with. As with agencies, however, they have their pros and cons.

Our advice to you when searching for a freelancer to deliver any service is:

  • Stick with the pros. These pros will never be the cheapest.
  • Have a discovery interview with them and try and “feel out” what it might be like to do business with them.

The problems with freelancers for mobile app development are:

  • The best freelancers get busy very quickly. They might not be able to handle your issues as a top priority if ten bugs from four different clients came in at 9:00 AM that morning and the freelancer has six Zoom calls scheduled for the day.
  • Excellent Android developers are rarely also excellent iOS developers.
  • The best developers are generally cheaper than agencies, but they can still carry a hefty price tag in themselves.

Yourself?

Sure. Why not? Now that there are tools to develop your own app.

Yes, absolutely, you could build your own app.

Of course I can code.

Of course I can code.

Of course, what you don’t pay with money you will pay with time — there is always a learning curve, even for the simplest of systems.

But, on a long-term basis, developing your own mobile app for your business means you’ll be able to save valuable coins that you can invest elsewhere, such as in marketing the app.

It’s important when starting your own business, to progress in easy steps and to make steady progress along the way. It’s far too easy to get carried away when looking at titans such as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk or Steve Jobs. Entrepreneurs rightly want to get their ideas out there and show the world what they have to offer.

But Bezos started off delivering packages himself in his garage, and Elon Musk developed cars to drive on roads before he developed spaceships.

Someone delivering packages

Instead of investing heavily and trying to make the best app ever known to mankind in the first launch, rather start small and build on from there. Developing the first version of an app yourself might be the best way to do it.

 

How to promote your business’s mobile app

Even the best apps need to be promoted. And they need to be promoted in such a way that the promotion picks up momentum and then eventually starts to promote itself.

Here are some common mistakes people make when working out an app’s marketing plan:

  • Apps don’t sell themselves. Yes, we’ve said it a few times. But it’s important to understand that, even if the app is spectacular, you do need several hundred — or possibly even several thousand — early adopters to start using the app and generate some buzz about it.
  • Your competitors are also building apps. You need to keep your ear to the ground for what your competitors are doing. Ideally, your app falls into a disruptive field, offering something that has never been offered before. If you’re building, say, a new social media platform, you’re going to have a far steeper climb than if you were building something that hasn’t been done before.

Some ideas on how to generate buzz for your app include:

  • Open sourcing the app. Building a community is a great way to generate interest in an app. It’s also a great way to have the app developed at no cost. This option only makes sense, however, if you have some proprietary service that the app connects to in order to function.
  • Spending a little bit of money. Leaving marketing up to the Fates is never a great idea if you’re serious about succeeding. An essential lesson in business is to be intelligent about what you’re spending on and to spend it effectively. Never spending a penny on promotion is folly.
  • Amazing internet banners. Internet banners have been around since the dinosaurs. Okay, fine, but they’ve certainly been around for ages! An excellently designed internet banner is a fantastic way to generate interest for your new mobile app.
  • Social media ads. It’s important to choose the right social media platform to advertise on. This depends on your market and your budget. A properly executed social media advertising campaign can mean the difference between an app taking off or flopping.
  • Your imagination. If we had all the answers, you wouldn’t be an entrepreneur. Newcomers disrupt the system every day. So, come up with your own ideas and then let us know what you did!

How to deal with bug reports

Bugs will make or break your app’s success.

bug2

It’s impossible to get only five-star reviews for your business’s mobile app. In fact, we can warn you right now that, if you want to offer an app to the world, you had better develop some thick skin.

App users are notoriously difficult creatures to please. The slightest error in an app often means that some reviewers believe they have the right to lambaste the creators of that app publicly until, dunno, they get their feet massaged, or something?

It really can get pretty ridiculous. Internet comments and reviews are often something mostly to be laughed at.

But!

You do need to read through that public lashing and dressing-down to ascertain if there is some common thread in the comments and reviews you’re getting for your app. Silly reviews written by idiots who can’t spell is one thing; an actual bug or disappointment in UX which is reported by multiple people is something you need to pounce on and deal with immediately!

It’s a tough pill to swallow: Either your business’s mobile app is brilliant, or it isn’t.

Forget the silly one-star reviews. Your most pleased users probably won’t even leave a review. The only real metric you should be following for your app is how many downloads you’re getting each week.

A sudden surge in advertising spend for a month can spike that number, but a steady increase in the number of users means your app is getting popular and that it is being recommended to others.

There’s always an initial inertia to get this going, but if your app has been on the market a few months and you do not see regularly increasing adoption, you need to dig into those negative comments and reviews like a bloodhound!

[cute image of dog (bloodhound) sniffing something out]

Then, if you discover a common theme of negative reviews, handle that bug immediately.

 

Which development paradigm to use when developing mobile apps

Software development has come a long way from the early punch-code systems of yesteryear.

very old computer

Even as recently as just ten years ago, programming projects were usually carried out in agonisingly slow steps, requiring approval at every step of the chain.

First, a systems analyst designed the system which was set down in stone. This was then laid out in flowchart diagrams or other types of diagrams with very fancy names.

The design would go back and forth and, eventually, sometimes years later, it would finally get down to the programmer level.

Obviously, such a slow-moving paradigm simply cannot work within the mobile app ecosystem of today.

The best software development model for mobile app development is a “Release Early, Release Often” paradigm which has been adopted by the majority of apps out there. As LinkedIn’s founder once said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

 

Is it even worth it?

As you can see, releasing an app can be an enormous proposition but it can be simplified tremendously if you have the right tools and knowledge.

Building your own app on a reliable system is the most economical and effective way we know of to do it.

And, if you do want something custom-made because you need really advanced features, or because your time is more valuable than your money, we offer a neat mobile app development service with packages to suit both small and large budgets.

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Julia Richards

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