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Summary:

A lot can go wrong during the development and release of a mobile application, from poor project planning to faulty APIs. Often, the biggest mistakes happen before the first lines of code are ever written. HEre are seven ways to make the process better.

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A lot can go wrong during the development and release of a mobile application, from poor project planning to faulty APIs. Often, the biggest mistakes happen before the first lines of code are ever written. Poor planning and improper project management can result in a bevy of problems, all of which can be eliminated at a project’s outset with a bit of thought and organization. With more than one hundred successful application launches, we at Mutual Mobile have identified seven habits to get a mobile initiative started on the right foot and stay on track from concept through release to the market.

1. Understand the Potential of Mobile
Many of today’s mobile initiatives are born exclusively out of a company’s IT or marketing department, but mobile shouldn’t just be a fancy gimmick relegated to serving a marketing function. Ignoring the needs of the company’s bottom line business objectives excludes one of the most important steps in the process, which is identifying precisely where mobile can have the greatest impact within an organization. From training staff to streamlining operations, mobile can extend into every part of a company. Failure to bring every department to the table during the initial planning phases often results in applications that fail to meet critical business objectives.

Who here is your audience?

2. Target Your Audience and Their Needs
Smartphones and apps do not exist in a vacuum; their use occurs out in the real world with real people. Beyond the testing chambers are rural areas with poor internet access, elderly eyesight that makes small numbers challenging to read, and children demanding attention, all of which should be accounted for during the planning phase of an application. The functionality and design of your app must be informed by understanding your users and the environments they are likely to be in when using your app. Storyboards and user narratives are a useful way to imagine an app in the hands of an actual user and identify the challenges they’ll inevitably face.

3. Settle on an Objective
A mobile app isn’t a Swiss Army knife; it’s a carving blade. It should be designed to do a limited number of things extremely well. Many of the companies who have launched successful apps have recognized that an app can only deliver a portion of their full service list before it becomes prohibitively expensive to produce and unwieldy to use. Best Buy, for example, has at least five different apps, each addressing one specific functionality. Define exactly what your app’s objective will be and focus on those features that will directly address that objective.

4. Measure Success
You can only declare your app a success or a failure if you have some metric to measure its success by. There are a multitude of ways to quantify an app’s effectiveness. These might include metrics like number of downloads, amount of money spent through the app, or amount of time spent using the app. Although the metrics should be looked at as a whole, it’s important to decide on the most important measurements as early as possible to make sure your app is poised to deliver the desired results.

Test often to make sure your app isn't failing users.

5. Test Regularly
Many companies assume they know what’s important to a user and consequently waste a lot of time and energy on features that may not really matter. Effective feature lists should never be left to guesswork. Focus groups, surveys, and paper tests will all help you peer into the mind of your end user to get a better understanding of how he will ultimately respond to your app. Making decisions based upon data rather than conjecture is the simplest way to deliver an application that people will actually use.

6. Develop in Phases
There’s a reason app stores have an “update” option. App development is an exercise in iteration, and trying to pack every feature into your first release is both unrealistic and unnecessary. Release your app with the minimum it needs to be successful, then listen to what your audience loves, hates, and longs for. Think of the app’s release to market as the first step in an ongoing development evolution, not the completion of a product.

7. Be Ready to Roll Out
Post-release testing is not the ideal time to discover that your app is littered with problems. Early and sustained testing throughout the development process will prevent unplanned delays and keep production moving smoothly. This starts with integrating quality assurance from the project’s inception. Make QA proactive rather than reactive by anticipating problems before they happen and fixing small issues throughout the process.

Rachel Youens works for Mutual Mobile, an Austin, Texas-based company that empowers organizations to take full advantage of modern mobility. Follow them on twitter @mutualmobile.

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  1. I would actually add one more: think mobile. Too many software developers, engineers, and designers try to cram the user experience of Web and desktop applications into the mobile framework. That just doesn’t work. Building for mobile is a different mindset. But limited screen real-estate isn’t the only issue. Mobile users have both a different usability behavior (they are often on-the-go and working one-handed) as well as different modalities (touch/swipe vs type/click). Keeping this in mind will help you design a mobile application that is focused on the mobile experience.

    1. Hit the point perfectly. All the others hold good for a general web app. Thinking mobile is the key.

    2. Our full white paper explores this a little bit more, but yes, it’s sad to see a company that tries to cram every bit of functionality into their mobile product and keeps the same design paradigms of a desktop website. They have the right intentions, trying to go where their audience, they just don’t execute properly.

    3. Excellent point. The above list is great for general platforms and being social but thinking mobile is an essential step. The medium is different than online virtual communities and should be treated as such. Great insight.

  2. I especially like point #3. Often times a mobile application’s initial expectation is of a mini version of a main desktop site. Deciding a specific objective and delivering that in the best manner is crucial to the success of the mobile app.
    #6 is magical. The last sentence nails it, “Think of the app’s release to market as the first step in an ongoing development evolution, not the completion of a product.” This is so entirely true. Let everyone involved in the project be aware of that perspective at the beginning of the project.

    1. It’s a frustrating point when you’re doing client work sometimes that a lot of these projects aren’t really “done” for a long time. To get any sort of long term investment out of an app especially, it means you also have to give it long term attention. It’s one thing if it’s a short-lived marketing app, but if your app is an extension of your company’s service or products, you’ve got to actually support it.

  3. Flavius Saracut Monday, July 18, 2011

    I believe #3 is very important, and when setting an objective, we should always have in mind the strengths of mobile like instant communication, geolocation and focused activity.

  4. Build the mobile application for your mobile application user. Develop a web component of this, for your customer, the person who actually pays you for all the metrics garnered from the application user.

  5. Dean Coclin Monday, July 25, 2011

    Being that I’m a Symantec employee, it probably comes as no surprise that after I read this post, my first thought was, “What about security?” The most common category of mobile malware we’re seeing today is Trojanized legitimate apps. In other words, legitimate apps that have been cracked by hackers – adding malicious code in the process – then re-released. Usually, the original functionality of the app is left intact while the new malicious functionality goes completely unnoticed by users. Directly related to the problems this creates for users, the developer of the original app can take a serious hit to their reputation if one of their apps is hijacked. So, my suggestion, along with all of the other great tips in this blog post, is to keep security in mind when designing apps as well. Doing things like utilizing code-signing from a trusted source can help prevent apps from being hijacked.

    Dean Coclin
    Symantec Corp.

  6. I have not been to this blog for a long time, however it was a joy to find it again. It is such an important topic and ignored by so many, even professionals! I thank you for helping to make people more aware of these issues.

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