4 Steps to Maximize Your App Development Budget

By David 'DJ' Oragui / 17 May 2018

Following these four scalable steps will help you learn what your business should do, and should not do, when planning to develop and launch a mobile app.

We live in an ever-connected mobile world. There are more than 5 billion unique mobile device users, and those users spend more than 70 percent of their media time utilizing a mobile device

Due to the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices, more companies are discovering the need to have an app to reach customers and maintain relevance in the digital business landscape.

The preference for mobile apps is seen in a 71 percent increase in the number of mobile app downloads in 2017, and that trend is continuing in 2018.

Graph of number of mobile app downloads

The number of mobile app downloads is expected to more than double the 2016 figure in the next three years.

Organizations that are looking to stay technologically relevant need to determine if a mobile app can allow them to gain a competitive edge, or—at the very least—keep them from losing out to the competition. 

Development of a mobile app is an investment for any organization that will require time, proper planning, and a proper budget. Here are four steps to ensure you are maximizing your app development budget:

  1. Set Your Goals
  2. Determine the Best Platform
  3. Find the Right Development Partner
  4. Tailor Your Expectations

Step 1. Set Your Goals

The first part of developing a mobile app is determining exactly what you want the app to accomplish. 

  • What do you want mobile users to accomplish through the app? 
  • What functionality is necessary to provide a good user experience? 
  • What items are mandatory versus “nice to have” features? 

For budget, you should consider which features you absolutely need. Higher functionality often means higher development costs, especially if you are developing a completely unique mobile app experience (as opposed to a “one-size-fits-all” cookie cutter approach). 

Performing a true cost-benefit analysis will allow you to maximize your ROI for the mobile app. Look at the returns over a reasonable amount of time—a good benchmark might be two years, as mobile innovations tend to improve during that time span.

The quality of the app’s user experience (UX) can also impact the budget. Mobile-enhanced websites are a cheap option but tend to have less usage than apps because they can frustrate a user who expects a more robust experience. They are often simple and not in-depth.

On the other hand, developing an app that is overly complex may also drive users away. Mobile apps should be designed to provide a quicker and easier experience for mobile users, who have a preference for speed and streamlining. A competitive analysis looking at other mobile apps may assist in determining which features are available, useful, and necessary to provide the most comprehensive user experience possible.

Looking at the features that can be available for a mobile app will give a good basis for determining what you want your app to accomplish. But you should beware of enhanced functionality that does not align with your business goals. 

In mobile app development, one may be forced to choose between a “Cadillac” (high-end look, functionality, and plenty of “bells and whistles” for a higher price tag) and a “Kia” (basic, functional, dependable, and priced more reasonably). 

Remember that mobile app functionality does not need to be fancy in order to be effective.

Step 2. Determine the Best Platform

The second major decision regarding mobile app development should focus on the platform for the app. 

Currently, there are three options for mobile app development: 

  • Android apps
  • iOS apps
  • Hybrid apps

Android and iOS (Apple) are known as “native apps” and are native to a particular platform. Hybrid apps are cross-platform mobile applications that work on multiple devices. 

There are benefits to each, and more than one app solution can be developed, but multiple platforms will require multiple development stages as the technology and process for each platform is unique.

Android Dominates Market Share 

Android phones continue to dominate the mobile market, holding an estimated 87 percent of market share. There are approximately 3.5 million apps available in the Google Play Store, and more than 90 billion Android apps were downloaded in 2016

Submitting a mobile app to the Google Play Store takes less time—as little as two hours for most apps—because the review process is less stringent and features fewer rejections than the Apple App Store. 

This can shorten the development and launch time for an Android app. However, the less complicated approval process also means that there can be more “clutter” in the Google Play Store, which could affect users' ability to find your app to download.

iOS Apps Have Restrictive Requirements 

While Android dominates market share, Apple’s iOS (the name for Apple’s operating system) products remain the most popular mobile devices. 

In 2017, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus were two of the five most popular smartphones with nearly 40% of mobile device sales. There are approximately 2.2 billion iOS apps available in the App Store.

That figure is lower than the Google Play Store because the process to offer an app through the App Store is much more restrictive. 

Approval times for iOS apps can range from 1-7 days, and rejection rates for proposed new apps are higher. This can lengthen the development and launch time, as well as stretch the budget, if any unforeseen fixes are required for approval by Apple.

Hybrid Apps Are Cheaper, But Offer Less Functionality

Simply put, hybrid apps are mobile websites that are disguised as an app. Hybrid apps have the same look and feel of native apps but are tethered to a company’s website. 

The benefit of developing a hybrid app is the cross-platform capability—these apps work on both Android and iOS devices. They are also often significantly cheaper to create.

One potential downside, though, is that a hybrid app is not able to utilize the full functionality of either the Android or the iOS platform. This could result in a slower or less reliable user experience, depending upon the development process for the hybrid app.

Consider Cross-Device Functionality

Another matter to consider when developing an app for a specific platform is additional development for tablet devices.

Both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store allow apps to be shared between smartphones and tablets, in many instances via automatic download to the tablet. The user experience can be vastly different, though, because of the increased screen size and computing power of most tablets. 

For some users, an app developed specifically for use on a smartphone will not look or function properly on a tablet. The Southwest Airlines app is a good example.

On an iPad, the app appears tiny on the larger screen.

Southwest app on tablet

Zooming only makes the app appear stretched and distorted. Also, the app does not allow the user to rotate the tablet to maximize the larger screen space.

In order to determine which platform and experience you want to develop, you should look to your in-house staff or close confidants as a guide. Learning their habits and usage for mobile apps can provide a starting point for the planning process. 

Additionally, surveying existing customers or website users will provide useful insights, as well as determine the appetite for a mobile experience. 

Businesses need to have a solid use case before entering the development phase in order to justify expenditures and maximize ROI.

Step 3. Find the Right Development Partner

Once the decision has been made to develop a mobile app, many companies struggle with finding the right development partner. 

In-House Staff May Lack Skills and Time

Some prefer to minimize costs and keep the development in-house, as the belief is that any graphic or web designer can put together a mobile app that will be both functional and visually appealing. That belief, however, usually is not true.

In-house staff typically lack the specific expertise to develop and launch a fully functional mobile application, specifically when it comes to developing native apps. 

Also, while it may seem less expensive to use in-house staff for development, the time needed to properly design, test, revise, and launch the app will take those staff members away from other projects, resulting in less productivity for the business.

Outsourcing Can Provide Cost-Efficient Expertise

Outsourcing the app development is preferable, but this route also contains some potential pitfalls. 

There is a growing number of companies and freelancers who say they can develop and launch a mobile app, but you should be wary of anyone who promises to provide development services for the lowest price. Mobile app development should not be done cheaply, as the end result could have negative effects on your business or on the app's usage. 

Thoroughly Vet Your App Development Partner

There is no substitute for experience when it comes to choosing an app development partner. Look carefully through the finished products of any developer and be sure to ask for references from previous clients. 

Anyone can claim that they developed an app that is widely available and used, so speaking to the companies that hired the developer to understand the benefits and challenges can be extremely valuable to the selection process, as well as to setting expectations for the process. 

Avoid hype and flashy presentations from prospective development partners. Often, the most experienced and reputable developers will show the functionality of finished products rather than still images, screenshots, and storyboards.

Experience in your industry sector (or a parallel industry sector) should be paramount in choosing a development partner. Every industry is unique, and the features and functions of mobile apps can range dramatically from sector to sector. 

What works for retail most likely will not work for a bank, and vice versa. Seek to work with a partner that knows your industry well and can suggest adding or removing functionality tailored to your potential app users.

Lastly, look to work with a development partner that is collaborative regarding both the app content and the app budget.

While you will have a budget figure in mind, be open and transparent with the developer regarding changes, redesigns, bug fixes, and milestones. Most reputable developers will find a way to work within your budget without stripping out necessary function and design.

Step 4. Tailor Your Expectations

Once you have chosen your developer and the process has begun, you will need to be as flexible as possible regarding the finished product. 

Any custom solution will require time to properly plan, develop, and implement, and the process should be recursive. The most successful app projects have likely all taken several steps backward during at least one phase of development and the temporary setbacks often show a clearer path to success.

App development should not happen quickly. There needs to be a realistic timeline for each phase of development that allows for proper testing, feedback, and changes. This flexibility may also impact the project budget, so it is wise to have additional budget set aside for any contingencies. These include bug fixes, adding or changing functionality, or final touches to improve the user experience.

While the app is in development, you should begin to plan your marketing and promotional activities. After all, an app is only as successful if it is utilized, so making your customers aware is key. Utilizing the user perspective, detail the benefits of the app and match those benefits with your internal goals. 

Some businesses provide a special incentive for app usage, such as free goods and services, in order to ensure a greater number of downloads. Certain potential users may be unsure of adopting a mobile experience, so you will need to determine what incentives may entice them to download and use the mobile app.

Plan and Develop Your App with Purpose and Care

Developing and launching a mobile app can be an important step for a business, one that opens new doors and keeps the organization current and relevant in today’s device-connected society. The mobile app will only be as successful as you make it, so do not tread lightly into the mobile development arena. 

Choose the right partner and work collaboratively with the developer to set a budget, timeline, and expectations. Allow the proper amount of time and budget for development, testing, revisions, and launch. Utilize a recursive process to ensure success, and don’t be afraid to fail several times during the process. 

Finally, once the app is developed and launched, listen to feedback from users to ensure that the app remains relevant and utilized.

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