How to develop your own app

We talk about apps a lot here on Pocket-lint - as well as our regular App of the Day, we've also written more app round-ups than you can shake a smartphone at. But what if you're thinking about producing your own app? Where do you start? And what do you need to do to make it a success? Well, read on for a few simple starter ideas on how to develop your own app.

Come up with killer idea

Plucking a superb app idea from the air is easier said than done, but you really need to spend some time choosing a concept and then honing your idea if you're to have any hope of success. It's worth checking out the apps on the bestseller lists and taking them for a spin to see what makes them so popular. Just because an idea has been done before, it doesn't mean that you can't use it but it does mean that you'll need to bring something extra to the table, whether that's better functionality or a new feature. It's important to map out exactly what you want the app to do before you get onto the development stage. You can always tweak your ideas as you go along, but without the basics in place at the start it's easy to lose your way.

Decide on a platform

You might have a personal preference for one mobile OS over another, but before you decide to go down the iOS or Android-only route, try to avoid limiting the reach of your app. If you really want to cover all the bases then you should aim to develop your app across as many platforms as possible. Not only will this give you a bigger audience in the long-run, it will also save you sitting around twiddling your thumbs while you wait for your app to be confirmed by one platform. Apple is notorious for taking ages to give approval to iOS apps, while BlackBerry and Nokia's Ovi Store will probably go it under a week and Google can take a matter of hours.

Do your market research

Considering who your app will be aimed at is of paramount importance - if you don't think it through first, then you'll regret it later on. There's a danger that if you make your target audience too niche then you won't get many people downloading it. However, if you try to aim it at everyone then you might find that this kind of over-broad scattergun approach means that it doesn't really appeal to anyone. Look at the apps that are already available in your chosen area and then make a list of what's good and bad about them and learn from it. Concentrate on what people actually get out of the app - the reason that they would fire it up on a regular basis. Whether it's beating their previous top score on a game or finding the nearest coffee shop with free Wi-Fi - once you know what the aim is, it should be easier to pinpoint who you're targeting it at.

Get yourself a developer and/or designer

If you're a techie type who knows their way around a SDK (software developer kit) then you might well be able to create an app with your own fair hands. All the big players such as Apple and Android have online guides telling exactly what you need to do to get the ball rolling and they'll also have SDKs for you to download.

If you're more of a creative type who wouldn't be able to write a piece of code if their life depended on it, then you're better off employing the services of an app developer. You should treat the process of finding an app developer as you would with any other contractor, like a builder. Use your common sense and find out how much they charge, what experience they've got and check out their previous work before committing to anything. Once you've chosen a suitable candidate it's also a good idea to get them to sign an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement). This is something that you both sign and will ensure that your developer doesn't reveal any of your revolutionary app's secrets to anyone else.

The same goes for design - unless you really know what you're doing, you're much better off hiring someone who has experience of knocking up nice graphics for mobile apps.

If you do decide to develop across numerous platforms then take the time to make sure that the app looks good on each one. If you squash an iPhone-specific app onto the screen of a BlackBerry, then it's just going to look as if you haven't made the effort. Give your developer and designer a brief that's as detailed as detailed can be. Use lists, sketches, instructions, pie charts, hand puppets - whatever gets your idea across so that they understand every aspect of what you're trying to achieve with your app. The trick is to leave as little room for error as possible. If your brief is too basic then the final article is very unlikely to turn out the way you planned.

Test it out

This may sound obvious, but you really need to make sure that your app works properly before you submit it to the app stores and unleash it on the smartphone-toting public. Make sure that you test every single element of the app under all possible conditions (over Wi-Fi, 3G, using the flight-safe mode) and on as many handsets as you can get hold of. Nothing is more annoying than an app that doesn't work properly, so taking it for a thorough test drive is absolutely essential. It's also worth keeping an eye on how much memory and CPU power your app uses, as if it's too much, then it likely to get uninstalled pretty damn fast.

Think about advertising

If you're considering developing your own app, we're not doubting your passion, but we're guessing that the chance to make some cash is probably one of the biggest driving factors. You can include ads in your apps, but it's important to be aware that these might be a deal breaker for some. That's not to say that people expect something for nothing - many users are prepared to shell out for the paid, ad-free version of an app, rather than download the free version that's packed with annoying promotional banners. The choice is yours and, indeed, what some developers do is offer both versions of the same app - free and ad-funded or paid for.

Market your app properly

You could come up with the best app that the world has ever seen, but if you don't promote it properly then you're unlikely to see stellar success. There are lots of elements to consider when it comes to marketing, such as writing press releases, putting the word out on social networking sites, and SEO for your app's website. It's also essential that you use clear, concise metadata to ensure that your app is easily searchable on the web and in the relevant app stores. Tip-top metadata will also mean that people know what your app actually does when they find it on the app store. If all this is a complete mystery to you, then it's worth considering using an app marketing agency who will take care of it all for you (for a fee, naturally).

Updates

You've come up with a knock-out idea, designed and built your app, released it to the public, so you're done, right? Wrong. It's really important to keep an eye on the feedback that you get, including reviews and comments on relevant app stores and on app forums. If more than one person has encountered a particular problem then it probably needs addressing. It may just be that there's something that they don't understand on the app - in which case a little more in-app explanation may be needed - there may be a serious bug in the software that needs taking care of or someone might come up with a genius idea of how to make your app better. Either way, if you keep you finger on the pulse then you'll be able to issue any necessary updates as quickly as possible and keep your users happy in the process.

Have you had a crack at developing your own app? How did you get on?