How to Make an App: 8 things that will help you make an app successfully

The main mistake most app makers make when starting out, is committing to their idea too early… if you’ve an app you want to make, here are some of things you need to consider before getting started:

1  Why do you want to make an app?  

Making even the cheapest app is likely to cost a few thousand dollars.  So, it’s really important to understand your motivations to make an app, before you start.  If your main purpose in making the app, is to create a start-up business, then you’ll need to spend at least a few weeks researching and testing your idea for the app.

The first 2 tutorials of our create an app Course, are devoted to this research phase of the process.

It’s good to start with as many ideas that you might make into an app as you can think of, and then whittle these down to the best half dozen.  For example, many game developers will pull together lists of up to a 100 app ideas, as the first step to make a new game app.

That’s not to say you need to have that many ideas.  Sometimes, just having 1 very clear idea for the app you will make is enough to get started, just ensure you hold back some funds from the initial build, to give you the flexibility to make changes to the app after you launch – as it may be the case, that your users engage with the app in ways you never contemplated before you started.  This means you’ll need to make changes and iterate on your initial app, to best meet these needs.

There’s another large category of apps people wish to make, and those are apps to either promote an existing business, or to share with family and friends.  These apps may need far fewer functions and might not require the same level of performance, as an app’s whose main purpose is to be the business.

To make these types of app, there are a number of click and drag type web tools that you can look at employing, such as Conduit.  We’ll look at these tools in more detail in a later post, but beware that the app they make, will be a web app, rather than a native iPhone app, Android app, or Windows app.  Unlike native apps, web apps run through the web browser, so require the mobile device to be connected to the internet.

Microsoft recently launched its own version of these tools that actually helps you make a native app for the Windows phone.  You can find these tools at Windows Phone App Studio. Note that the app you make with them will only work on devices running Windows phone, so unless all your family, customers or other intended users, own Windows phone devices, these tools may not be suitable for you. 

2   What will be the main purpose of the app you make?

 The next thing to consider, is what the main purpose of the app you wish to make will be?  If you’re looking at taking your app idea, and making a hobby business or funded start-up, it’s important to be clear what the value proposition of the made app will be for its users?  Will the app solve a problem for them?  If so, have you researched and checked it’s a genuine problem.  Will the app you make just entertain them?  If so, how will it achieve this.  What incentive will there be for users of your app, to return to it after the initial download?

These are all questions you can ask yourself, and your potential users, before you start.

 3  On which platform should you make the app?

 This again comes down to doing some research, but is a decision that should be led by 2 main factors, understanding who your users will be, what the limitations and budget effects of the platform are.

The main mobile platforms, as you most likely already know, are Apple (iOS), Android (Google), Windows Phone (Microsoft) and Blackberry.  The popularity of these platforms varies depending on the geographical market, but the largest globally are Android and Apple.  In choosing between Android and Apple, it’s as important to understand the preference of your intended user, as it is to know that the closed system of Apple is generally easier to make an app for, than the open system of Android.

This is the second factor, whilst Android now dominates global market share of smartphone operating systems, it is harder to make an app on, than iOS.  Android users don’t upgrade to new operating systems as reliably or quickly as Apple users, so you’ll need to decide whether your app will be backward compatible to earlier versions of the operating system, or only work on the current one.  The good news is that for consumer apps you can decide to make it for a limited number of those operating systems.  However, this reduces the market share benefit over Apple.

A further factor, is that whereas iOS supports a small number of screen sizes, there are a great number of devices running Android.  Each of these devices need to be designed for and tested on, the latter normally requiring ownership of the actual devices.  Having to buy 10-20 mobile devices on which to test, is likely to double any initial budget.

This said, there is growing acceptance of Android by developers, with some now arguing Android is better.  So, we’ll return and explore it in more detail in a forthcoming post.

4  How will your app make you money? 

Okay, so now you know the app idea you’ll make, who your users will be and on which platform you’ll make it.  The next thing to consider is what the business model will be that will support your app and allow it to make money.

If the purpose of the app you’re making is to be a hobby business, having a clear idea of what the business model will be is critically important, as otherwise it may never make any money; remaining a hobby, not a business.  The good news is that for apps, the current trends are very clear and they are that most money is made, by including in-app purchases.

Paid downloads of apps will account for about 10% of app store revenues in 2013.  Developers often offer 2 versions of the app, 1 that is free to download, may include ads, and has a limited number of features, whilst the other is a paid download, with more features and no ads.  The purpose of this free app is to build trust with the user, by demonstrating the value proposition that, hopefully, makes them upgrade and pay for the full version.

5  Will the app you make require complex backend support? 

In understanding the commercial viability of your app idea, it’s important to understand how expensive it will be to make.  Whilst there is a long list of factors that determine how much an app costs to make, 1 of the easiest to understand is how much backend support your app will require.

We explain backend system design in Tutorial 3 of the AppInstruct app creation Course.

When app developers refer to the backend, they are referring to the system that powers features of the app, that are not stored in the app on the device.  Examples of these features include push notifications, data storage and integration with authentication providers.

The great news is that there is now a whole industry, which has grown up in support of the app ecosystem, providing app makers with comparatively cheap access to these types of support systems, that scale well.  Many of these systems will provide free access to scale to about 50,000 downloads, which is a large enough sample to have proven your idea.

This being said, if the app you’re intending to make, is likely to need a large amount of data storage, then understanding how this will be built, the compromises that can be made and how much it’s likely to cost, will give you an early idea of what your app is likely to cost to make and run – whether under $10,000 is realistic, or whether it might be much more than that. 

6  How will your app make users engage with it? 

These type of research questions are commonly addressed as part of the user experience research phase of your app making process.  Funded start-ups and companies employ user experience designers to help them ensure the app they make is best suited to their potential user and customer wishes.

Whilst you may not have the budget to be able to afford to hire a user experience expert, or to create large focus groups to test and iterate on your app as you make it, you should ensure that you ask these questions of yourself.  You should also enlist a group of 6-12 people, from friends and family to acquaintances to help you test the app as you make it.

The great news is, tutorial 4 of AppInstruct’s Course covers all you need to know about user experience design for mobile devices.

7  Should you make the app yourself, or engage a team to make it?

This question may have been forming in your own head by now.  Most people when thinking they will make an app, immediately focus on the need to find a good developer.  However, a good iOS or Android developer, may only be one piece in a larger team.

We’ve already alluded to the need to understand and possibly recruit a user experience designer, to help ensure your app engages with its intended audience.  You may also need the assistance of a user interface designer, to help transform your initial paper sketches of your app’s design, into wireframes, mock ups and even a proto-type.

If the app you’ll make requires a complex backend, then you may need to engage a systems designer to help design this backend and integrate it with the mobile app your front end developer will make.

A graphic designer will provide polish and may help make a rich and inviting app icon, to entice the initial download and then encourage continued engagement.

We talk in depth about how to recruit and work with an app development team in tutorials 6 and 7 of the AppInstruct Course.

The marketing of the app will be critical, but as with the general business and legal knowledge and skills necessary, these are skills you as founder should aim to learn, master and implement.

These specialist topics are covered in tutorials 8, 9 and 10 of AppInstruct’s Course, which covers the full process of how to successfully make an app.

 8  How will you make sure your users know about your app?

 Is it better to make a bad, buggy app and market it well, or make a great app, and market it badly?  The unfortunate truth is that if your aim is to make money from the app, then the former.

Marketing the app successfully is crucial to creating awareness of the app.  Awareness will be crucial, as without it how will users know about it, in order to download it and make you money.

The great news is that there are a large number of tricks which have been shown to drive awareness and downloads of apps, starting from ensuring you optimize your listing in the app stores, by choosing the best keywords, a beautiful icon and compelling screenshots, to launching at a time of seasonal (Thanksgiving, Christmas) or event (Superbowl, World Series) relevance.

Be prepared though, by the time you’ve made your app, you’re likely to have also learnt how to write a press release, optimize for search and advertise on Facebook or Adwords (Google). 

So, that’s 8 things to consider when you make an app.  Naturally, there are many more, which is why we pulled together a team of relevant experts, from user experience, user interface and system design, to mobile development, law and mobile marketing.

They’ve created a Course, which teaches all the most necessary skills to make an app successfully.  Start a Free trial to learn how to create an app and make money today.

Nicholas Wright wrote on

Nicholas is a co-founder and CEO of AppInstruct. Nic is actively involved in the start-up space, mentoring other founders with mobile, fundraising and legal advice. Nic's favorite app is WhatsApp, which allows him to remain in contact with family in America and England.