It’s clear that developing an app isn’t something you should take lightly, but how can your company create something your customers love? We’ll walk you through every step.

By 2021, app revenue is projected to hit $693 billion globally. Understandably, more companies want to grab a slice of that pie, but in their haste, most just end up getting burned. Resist the temptation to rush your app. It’s not a cheap solution — it’s an investment. And going to market with a half-baked idea is like putting everything you have into Blockbuster circa 2009. It’s not going to turn out great for you. The post-launch statistics are sobering. After download, 21 percent of users abandon apps after only one use, and 71 percent delete apps within 3 months. According to an Oracle study, 55 percent of users also claim a poor app experience would put them off of a company’s other products or services. It’s clear that developing an app isn’t something you should take lightly, but how can your company create something your customers love? Keep reading, we’ll walk you through every step.


Do You Really Need a Mobile App?

Sure, there are a ton of benefits, but building an app is a big commitment and investment. Whether or not you should build an app is something you need to answer with your team after extensive research into your target audience and careful consideration of your software development budget. Don’t worry, we’ll get to all of that. But if you’re ready to move forward and need to convince a key decision-maker, there are a few things to ensure they understand. First, people are spending more time on mobile devices. The average user logs an eye-watering 3 hours and 15 minutes per day. That’s time they could be spending with your brand. ‘But wait!’ you say, ‘we already have a stunning, mobile-optimized website!’ I’m so glad you brought that up. You can’t get the time you want with your audience through Safari or Chrome. Roughly 90 percent of smartphone time is spent in apps, and if you don’t have one, you automatically miss out on that time with your customers. People just like native apps more than mobile websites — it’s what they expect, and most companies need to meet this expectation to remain competitive. Plus, that little icon that sits on your user’s home screen? That’s free ad space, exposing customers to your brand day after day...after day. And once your customer opens your app, you have far more control than you do on your mobile site. You can take advantage of:

  • Real-time location data
  • Personalization features
  • User engagement tracking
  • Custom recommendations and updates
  • Push notifications (which feel less intrusive than pop-ups)
  • Offline features
  • The full array of mobile gestures (e.g. tap, swipe, drag, pinch, hold)

To be clear, we’re not against mobile websites. We make them all the time. The best option for most businesses is a mobile app and a responsive mobile website. There’s also a hybrid option — progressive web apps — that companies can use as an intermediate step. Progressive web apps can take advantage of many of the features of native apps while minimizing spend. But that’s a topic for another article.

How to Validate Your App Idea

In creative writing, there’s one piece of advice continuously passed down from tweed-clad professors to young hopefuls: kill your darlings. The abridged version of this philosophy is that you’ll get so attached to some of your ideas that you won’t be able to see their faults. Blinded to what’s wrong, most of us keep trying to push square ideas at round people and convince them they like it. They’ll never like it. As much as it hurts, you need to listen to your audience. Shove that square darling in the shredder, and start looking for an option with a few more curves. To validate your app ideas, start by making sure you’re solving a problem people actually have, even if it’s the desire to be entertained. Next, learn everything you can about your market. How big is it? Who are they? You need to understand:

  • How they feel about the problem you’ve identified
  • What solutions they’re using to solve the problem now
  • How satisfied they are with the current solution
  • How likely they are to pay for a better solution

If you have existing customers, survey them. Gauge their level of interest in your idea. You can also look at reviews of your current products or services. Are people asking for something to supplement your offering that doesn’t exist yet? Expand your research through social listening. What are people talking about online? What gets them excited? What makes them mad? Take a look at the app store. What’s trending in your category? What keywords do they use? What features do they have in common? When you have an idea supported by cold, hard data, create a ‘coming soon’ page on your website that encourages people to sign up for news about your app’s launch. This is one more way to be sure your audience really cares. If at any point, you don’t get clear support for your idea, this is your chance to pivot. Iteration is much less expensive now than it ever will be again. Use this time wisely. When you’re racking your brain for ideas, don’t box yourself in. Your app doesn’t need to be a simple extension of your website or store. Get creative if it makes sense. For example, we created an app called Book Breaks for Harlequin that gives romance lovers access to hundreds of free serialized stories by their favourite authors. What unique features do your customers want?

How Much Does it Cost to Develop a Mobile App?

Asking what an app costs is like asking what a t-shirt costs — it depends. Do you want a $5 shirt that falls apart after you wear it once or are you willing to pay more for one that lasts? Like everything, you get what you pay for. According to a Clutch survey, the median cost of an app is between $37,913 and $171,450. That said, you can expect to pay far more or far less depending on the complexity of what you want to build. Each additional screen, feature, and integration will add to your total. Three phones showing the cost difference between simple, moderate, and complex app development The price is also impacted by:

  • Extent of research, analysis, and strategy
  • Type and location of your development team
  • Backend infrastructure (the part you and your team interact with)
  • Branding and design elements
  • Development approach (native, mobile web, hybrid, etc)
  • Number of platforms you want the app to live on (iOS, Android, Windows, etc)
  • Accessibility planning
  • Security considerations
  • Hosting platform
  • API Integrations

There are also a few costs you’ll run into after you complete your app. First, it costs money to submit something to the app store. It’s $99 for Apple, $25 for Google Play, and $12 for Windows. It doesn’t sound expensive, but it can be a nasty surprise at the end of a long project with a tight budget. You also need to factor in what it costs to market and maintain your app. There’s no real benchmark for marketing costs. You can do a lot for free and work with your marketing team to develop an appropriate budget for ads. Conversely, maintenance will cost you about 15-20 percent of the original cost per year. Do you really need maintenance? If you’ve ever been jarred by a piece of software that feels like a perfect time capsule of 1995, you understand the importance of frequent updates. You can design a flawless app today, but it will start to fail in various ways as tech continues to evolve. And if you don’t keep up with update requests from the App Store or Play Store, they will eventually de-list your app, blocking your user base from growing, even if the app still technically works. Another major factor for your budget is whether you outsource the project or do it yourself. Before you decide, take a careful look at your internal team. Do they have enough experience with similar technology solutions? Do they have time to take on a project of this scale? Are they comfortable with design and app psychology? Are there enough knowledgeable team members to get it done? Working with an end-to-end development agency that can do everything you need will generally come with a bigger price tag upfront. But a talented team can prevent you from stepping on landmines that will shatter your wallet in the future. Good developers will also take time to explain what you can get for your budget and how you can expand functionality over time. They’ll help you determine the minimum viable product (MVP) you need to get into app stores and start building a user-base. That level of efficiency is hard to replicate unless you’re already a tech giant.

How Long Does it Take to Develop a Mobile App?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are apps. At least, no apps worth making. Like your budget, the time you need to allot for app development depends on its complexity. A basic MVP can take as little as 16-18 weeks, but larger, more complex apps can take several months or more than a year. Android native apps tend to take longer than iOS native apps, and developing for both takes roughly twice as long. However, some elements can be developed in a staggered parallel between the two platforms. So if you know you want your app on iOS and Android, you can save some time by letting your developer know this upfront. Depending on your budget and audience, your developer may suggest starting with an iOS MVP and branching from there. Focusing can save time, money, and gives you an opportunity to further validate your concept or show something tangible to investors if you need to raise money. It’s not just about development time. Companies frequently forget to build in time for quality assurance and testing. Every bug found should be fixed and retested, which can rack up additional hours you aren’t expecting. Development projects always take longer than you think, so build in buffer time. You never know when an unexpected operating system update, third party integration change, or a host of other problems can throw you off track. You can use this guide as a starting point: Table depicting time estimates for various development activities But is your project simple, moderate, or complex? To determine this, start by listing the essential functions you want your app to have. Does it do one or two things with a basic user interface? For example, a basic calculator or to-do list app. Then you’re probably in the simple category. Does your app need to integrate with other technologies or have more than one or two screens? For example, a financial planner or public transit app. Then you’re probably in the moderate category. Does your app need to integrate with multiple technologies or have more than 10 screens? For example, most social media apps. Then you’re probably in the complex category.

How to Create Better UX/UI Design

Design can make or break your app. More than 100,000 apps are released every month, so if yours is even a little confusing to use, no one is going to take the time to figure it out. It’s not enough to make it pretty or unique, your app needs to be designed with people and behaviour in mind. User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) are critical. UX is the experience of using a product, system or service, including usability, accessibility, flow, integrations, branding, and emotion. UI is the means by which people interact with a system, including all elements of visual design. Many companies make the mistake of trying to be highly innovative with their UX/UI. But behemoths like Google and Facebook have already set the standard for navigation, making it far more important to meet expectations than create something completely new. To better understand those expectations, start by familiarizing yourself with common features and UI patterns. Scroll through the apps you use on a daily basis and make note of what you do and don’t like. Then define how you want your users to move through your app. What is the logical flow of steps they will take? Are there certain screens you want to guide them to? The best designs aim to do one thing really well. Don’t overwhelm users with features they don’t need or overly intricate designs. That said, your app doesn’t have to do only one thing, it just needs to feel focused.

What to keep in mind as you design:

  • Minimize the number of steps it takes a user to reach their goal
  • Prioritize one action per screen whenever you can (e,g, logging in, choosing an item, etc.)
  • Include onboarding slides or tutorials to show users how the app can be used
  • Keep all of your elements consistent (typeface, colours, images, and controls)
  • Use progress bars and pop-up messages to communicate statuses and expected outcomes
  • Remove redundancies, clutter, or unnecessary design elements that could make it more challenging to take essential actions
  • Provide a visual cue when more information is available
  • Indicate the direction of scrolling using arrows
  • Minimize the number of forms users need to fill out
  • Ensure seamless transitions between portrait and landscape modes
  • Utilize white space to make the design look clean
  • Create better information hierarchy by placing vital elements higher on the screen

[caption id="attachment_5783" align="alignnone" width="1275"]Two phones showing the difference between good and poor visual hierarchy Use size, colour, and placement variation to create better visual hierarchy[/caption]

How to Choose the Right Developer

The right mobile experts can make the process more efficient, help you flesh out your ideas, and prevent you from making costly mistakes. But there are countless options to choose from. Do you hire a freelancer or go with a mobile app development company? Do you find someone local or look overseas? Do you need a full-stack developer? The answers will depend on several factors. This is where a deep understanding of your budget, time, internal talent, and project constraints comes in handy. If your project is simple and you have some time to wait, an experienced freelancer may be a great budget-friendly option to create what you need. However, one person can only do so much, so be very careful about the types of projects you take to them. If your project is more complex, an agency with a team of developers, designers, product experts, and project managers can create work at a level that is near-impossible for freelancers and the vast majority of companies to replicate on their own. But of course, this option tends to be more expensive. Either way, creating an app is going to take some time, so start by thinking about the type of people you want to work with for months on end.

  • Could language or cultural barriers get in the way?
  • Do they share your values?
  • Do they have a clear process that covers all of your concerns?
  • Do they take the time to understand your brand and vision?
  • Do they communicate clearly?
  • Are they excited about your project and working with you?
  • Are there enough employees to make the process efficient?
  • Are they willing to sign an NDA?

Next, consider the skills your developer will need.

  • How many years of experience do they have?
  • Can they take you from strategy to launch or do they only do coding?
  • Do they do app prototypes, wireframing, custom animations, and custom icons?
  • Do they have a specialty that aligns with your needs?
  • Do they have experience in your industry or building similar apps?
  • Do they have a portfolio or are willing to provide references?
  • Do they offer innovative solutions or are their recommendations out of date?
  • Can they integrate with the technology you already use?
  • What coding languages do they work in?

Finally, think about what happens after development.

  • Does the company offer training to get your team onboarded with the new technology?
  • Do they offer a warranty for their work? If so, what does it cover?
  • Do they offer support and maintenance packages?

How to Promote Your App

You’ve created something beautiful, functional, and fun to use. Now, how do you get people to download it? According to Apple, 70% of app store users use search to find apps, 65% of app downloads happen directly in the App Store, and 50% of people click on app store search ads. With this in mind, app store optimization (ASO) is a good place to start. To create the best app description, make sure your app name is unique, that keywords are relevant, and that your description emphasizes your app’s value to the user, not just its features. For example, if your app is for a smart switch, describing how your user can stay warm in bed when they forget to turn off a light is more convincing than simply telling them they can turn off the light from their phone and leaving them to fill in the blanks. In-app stores, your visuals also matter. Include 2-5 screenshots of your app and a short video tutorial highlighting its core features. To really make these stand out, get creative with captions and additional visual elements. For example, you can edit your screenshots onto a phone to help people visualize using it. Once you’ve created your listing, you can recycle much of that work to create pay per click ads. To make the most of your budget, stick to advertising on mobile devices where people can immediately download your app. Advertising through social channels like Facebook will allow you to target the specific demographics most likely to use your app. Some will even let you target your audience by their interests. Of course, there are plenty of free ways to get your app out there too. Use your website and social media channels to your advantage.

  • Add download links to your website homepage
  • Announce the app launch on your blog, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or whatever platforms you use
  • Write a persuasive landing page with a strong call to action linked to your social media callouts
  • Mention the app in your newsletter or an email blast
  • Link the app download page in your email signature and ask colleagues to do the same
  • Create a demo video for the landing page, App Store listing, blog, YouTube, etc.

You can also take advantage of your network and word of mouth. First, send out a press release about your launch to outlets with the highest crossover with your target audience. Then offer to write guest posts for high-traffic blogs in your niche. But be careful about how you write it. Don’t write something explicitly promotional. It won’t be well received by the blog or its readers. Write something valuable that only mentions your app as a solution in passing. People hate being advertised to, so the less it feels like an ad, the better.


Building an app can be daunting, but worth it. Apps present an opportunity to increase revenue, boost customer engagement, build trust, and create loyal customers. Launching a successful app requires taking the time to design and develop it strategically. It’s vital to work with people who have extensive experience and can guide you through the process, whether that means hiring new team members, finding a freelancer, or working with a development agency. Want to make an app people love? Contact us to talk about the best strategy for your goals.

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