Meeting the business need to develop an app on a low budget

19 Aug 2010

With over 225,000 apps now available in the Apple App Store to suit your every whim, and with over five million apps downloaded from the Store to date, many people are starting to see the business potential for creating an app, but how do you go about building one, particularly on a budget?

Dermot Daly, founder of Tapadoo, which develops mobile apps, says the firm gets a lot of requests from people who have an idea for an app.

“Developing apps for the iPad or the iPhone or for Nokia or Android devices is software development like any other software development,” he explains.

While developing an app on a budget can be difficult, Daly says people can mitigate the cost if they have a good idea of what they want their app to do and if they have drawings of their artwork.

According to Shane McAllister, founder, Mobanode, a lot of people who contact his company have either unreasonable expectations as to the budgets required for even the most basic of apps, or else grand visions but limited resources to match the scope of their project.

“The deciding factor is how long will your app take to build, as this will dictate how many developers are needed, and thus the costs. Most projects that we work on are completed within a six- to eight-week timeframe.”

Both Daly and McAllister argue that enlisting the expertise of a programmer is vital when developing a mobile app.

A web designer who is well skilled in CSS and JavaScript and HTML5 for example could put together quite an impressive web-based iPhone application, explains Daly, but if you want to sell an app on the App Store he says you will need the services of a programmer.

Adds McAllister: “There are tools that let you create basic apps without programming knowledge, and for certain apps they are all that is required. However, they are constrained in what they can do and limited in scope. To realise your app, it’s best done in the hands of a programmer. If you have some programming knowledge, then Apple provides a software development kit [SDK], along with great documentation and video tutorials.”

The first place to start, however, is to research if there’s a market niche for your app.

McAllister advises people to go to the various app stores and see if there are already apps in existence that do what you want to build.

“Eighty percent of the time, you’ll probably find that there are, so then you need to ask what it is that sets your app apart from these, what’s different in your app and what can make your app stand out to achieve downloads, and possibly, hopefully, revenue.”

Adds Daly: “If the app is already there that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it – it could be badly implemented. Also, just because something is there it can as much mean a validation of your concept.”

You then need to crunch some numbers, he says, asking questions such as ‘How much can I realistically sell?’ and ‘How do I define the size of the market?’.

After consulting with clients and understanding the business reasons why they want to create an app, Daly and his team create a wireframe of the app.

“These are low fidelity diagrams of how we would see the application working and how the user will interact with it.”

Adds McAllister: “Before we open a laptop for a single line of code, out comes a pencil and a sketchpad. It’s the best way to get ideas down, map out the flow of the app and work through how the user will use it.”

Following this, a graphic designer can work on the project and the coding also happens in parallel, says Daly.

And once your app has been developed, the next stage is to apply to the particular app store where you want to make it available.

In terms of the Apple App Store, Daly says the review process can take anything from a day up to months. There’s always the possibility of rejection, but he says firms such as Tapadoo would be aware of the type of things that can cause rejection so can advise clients.

Finally, once your app is available to download how do you set out to make your fortune?

“Build a great website to support the app, use traditional media, use your social networks to promote it, perhaps give away the app for a short period of time before charging for it and leverage the resources of the app store your app is on,” says McAllister.

“The better and more polished the quality of your app, certainly it will sell better or download more,” affirms Daly.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic