With nearly two million apps available on the App Store and nearly 3 million on the Google Play Store, mobile app developers have their work cut out for them.
Users expect more from their apps than ever — performance, visual appeal, user-friendliness, and a unique solution to a daily problem. For every problem, though, there seem to be no fewer than three apps vying for the same market share.
Aspiring app developers face a more competitive landscape than ever. But even if the supply is abundant, so is the demand. Consumers are still looking for the next game-changing amazing app. There’s no reason that the app can’t be yours if you manage the challenges standing between an app developer and their target market.
Here are seven challenges faced by mobile app developers and how to handle them.
Mobile App Challenge 1: Ensuring There’s Actually a Market for Your App
There’s nothing worse than pouring time and money into a product — physical or software — only to discover that nobody wants it.
With so many apps competing for the same market share, it can be hard to stand out. An app that solves the same problem as other, more established apps had better solve the problem better, in a unique way, or for a unique niche market.
It is also important to understand the role of the app in the context of the broader business goals. Some apps fit better into a larger business model, rather than being an independent revenue source in their own right.
How to Handle It
Don’t rely on instinct or hope that an eager market awaits your new mobile app. Get a sense of the market before a single line of code is written in the development of your app.
Perform a competitive analysis. What apps are your direct competitors? How do they market to their audience? What can you do better in terms of presentation, functionality, or outreach?
Survey your target market. Do they already use competitive apps? How do the current apps on the market fall short? What would induce them to make the shift?
If possible, “pre-sell” the app — try some marketing and see how many people download a “pre-launch” version of your app that will go live once the development process is complete. Nothing tells you that you have a market like people buying your product!
Mobile App Challenge 2: Identifying the Right Development Partner
Most organizations do not have the in-house development team needed to design a world-class app. Most of them will go shopping for a third-party developer at some point.
Unfortunately, “mobile app developer” is a saturated market, with vast variance in quality.
Not all developers have the expertise or resources to create custom software from scratch, and will not be able to meet your true needs?
Even if it costs more, most organizations will do much better with an experienced development team that is accustomed to working in a competitive marketplace with high expectations.
How to Handle It
Do your homework on any mobile app development agency you consider. How long have they been in business? What is their reputation in public testimonials forums?
Who will lead your development team, and what are their qualifications? Are they qualified for the marketplace you want your app to trade-in? It takes a very different approach to get into the iOS App Store vs. Android marketplaces, for example.
Can the developer show examples of apps they developed that are similar to yours, as well as quantifiable success metrics for those apps? Do they have a history of serving your target market and understanding what they want?
Personality matters too. Look for an agency that has a great culture and attitude — one you will enjoy doing business with.
Mobile App Challenge 3: Keeping the Project On-Budget
Some of the quotes you get for your mobile app development project may raise your eyebrows, but they are nothing compared to a mobile app development project that goes off-budget.
The cost of developing a mobile app can spiral for any number of reasons, including insufficient backend infrastructure, bad cross-department communication, underestimation of the marketing and user education budget, or failing to plan for ongoing needs and customer support.
Ballooning costs are never good news. The more you can stay on budget, the more return you can expect on the investment your new mobile app represents.
How to Handle It
A few best practices to keep an app development project on budget include:
- Aligning all stakeholders, including the development team. Make sure that everyone agrees on the business purpose of the app and core features, so no one gets unpleasantly surprised and demands extra, expensive work late in the game.
- Creating a detailed project scope. Target a clean, minimalist design in the first iteration with clear benchmarks and guidelines for the app to be delivered.
- Leaving room for flexibility. In an agile development model, for example, it is expected that features will change based on real-time feedback. That kind of flexibility is taken into account when estimating the features of the app.
- Maintaining detailed communication between stakeholders and the development team. This level of communication helps prevent missed expectations and costly backtracking.
- Prioritizing the most difficult or least understood features. When development starts, prioritizing unknowns and complex parts of the app will help mitigate risk by providing more clarity to the estimated effort. One good way to do this is by doing technical spikes of features in order to test or validate assumptions made during initial estimation.
Mobile App Challenge 4: Accounting for Performance
Users are merciless about performance. An app that is slow to load or crashes regularly will not earn a permanent place on any home screen.
That said, you never know what device or mobile operating system your users will select to use the app. Developers have to account for a variety of native scenarios, including older devices and OS versions.
It is impossible to account for every variable, and the clock is ticking before the user gives up and diverts to a competitor app.
How to Handle It
Work together with your development team to put in place a post-launch performance monitoring plan.
The goal is to get continuous feedback and identify problem areas you can correct, as well as monitor your app performance on new devices as they evolve.
Just because a boat springs a leak does not necessarily mean that the ship will inevitably sink. Be prepared to patch bugs and push performance updates to the app as soon as possible after they arise.
Mobile App Challenge 5: Managing Security Risks
New apps mean new potential points of entry for cybercriminals to embezzle money or access sensitive user data.
Cybercrime is everyone’s concern and cannot be taken lightly. Not only do you have a responsibility to your users, but a data breach is perilous to your brand’s reputation, especially an emerging brand.
60% of companies never recover from a data breach. Furthermore, some industries must validate their data practices to meet stiff regulatory compliance burdens. Failing to do so could mean fines or shutdown.
How to Handle It
Make sure that your in-house team and your third-party development team are up-to-date on the latest security best practices.
Use a variety of security-testing tools to probe your new mobile app for points of weakness. Consider hiring a penetration tester or “ethical hacker” to try and breach your app. This is a powerful best practice to identify potential security vulnerabilities.
Hire a compliance officer if you need to validate compliance with regulations.
Mobile App Challenge 6: Building a Marketing Strategy
The best mobile app in the world is useless if nobody knows it exists. Marketing is the act of achieving top-of-mind awareness in the mind of your target audience when they enter the marketplace in search of the solution you intend to provide.
So how will people become aware that your app exists? How will they come to trust you as the solution provider they need and convert to being a user of your app?
How to Handle It
Start thinking about your user-acquisition strategy from day one—that is, before a single line of code has been written.
Start by clearly defining your value proposition—what valuable solution will users get from your app, expressed in just a few words.
Clearly define your target audience—their age, gender, occupation, education, income, hobbies, passions, familial status, etc.
Use these two definitions as guiding stars to put the right message in front of the right people.
Also, define your strategy for making sure your app shows up in-store search results, which will make a critical difference.
Mobile App Challenge 7: Defining a Notification Strategy
Mobile device home screens can get crowded. Getting prospects to download your app and become users is a big step, but the next step is to keep them as users by keeping them engaged.
The most powerful tool for increasing user engagement is notifications. Instead of the user coming to the app, a notification brings the app to the users by pinging them with a call-to-action or call-to-awareness to encourage the app usage.
How to Handle It
The key to a notification strategy is to identify strategic times when a user is likely to want to interact with the app.
This could be when conditions change—a message received by another app user, a certain time of day or day of the week, holidays, the user’s birthday, a change in geographic location, money changing hands, etc.
Consider what conditions might inspire favorable user behavior, and craft a notification strategy around those. However, notifications can require extensive backend support, so you’ll want to weigh the potential benefits vs. the investment.
The road to a successful mobile device release is lined with pitfalls, but with proper preparation, those pitfalls can be navigated. By verifying your market, partnering with the right developer, adhering to your budget, and strategizing for performance, security, marketing, and notifications, visionary app founders can still find a ravenous market for their game-changing solution.