How to Develop an App Idea: A Step-by-Step Guide
Milo Mobile helps mid-size companies and mobile developers of all skill levels navigate the tech “Sea of Knowledge” through mentorship, education, and custom mobile-focused solutions.
Mobile apps, when done right, can become an invaluable part of the modern business infrastructure. They engage your audience, prompt them to take action, and build your reputation.
Numerous studies back up the importance of a well-designed mobile app for businesses. Revenue across categories and verticals is expected to approach $1 trillion this year, thanks to nearly 150 billion app downloads in 2022 alone. And that growth isn't expected to slow down anytime soon.
Of course, it's not enough to simply add to the crowded app store to get a piece of that sweet revenue pie. In fact, research shows that only 1% of mobile app startups succeed. That makes more sense once you realize that more than 1,000 apps are added to the iOS App Store alone— every single day. You’ll need to reach further and do more to succeed. But How?
Developing an App Idea with Impact: Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More
How do you develop an app idea that will stand out in such a crowded space? The key starts with careful planning. Put simply, you have to make sure that the mobile app you build is desirable to your audience, fills a core need, promotes your business in the right way, and keeps users engaged from the first download on.
There is no such thing as spending too much time on planning. These 7 steps can help you develop an app idea for your mobile app that is sure to attract, engage, and delight your audience.
1. Research and Analyze Your Target Audience
For any great app, users have to come first. The app needs to meet the pain points and needs of its future audience, giving them a distinct reason why they should download and use it to begin with. That includes asking and finding clear, evidence-based answers to questions like:
- What are your target audience's demographics?
- What are your target audience's typical online behaviors and preferences?
- What are your audience's core needs and pain points?
- What solutions does your audience currently use to solve those needs?
- What other apps does your audience currently use, and why?
Getting answers to these questions is complex. It likely requires at least some target audience research, both on your own and through third-party services. But at the same time, it's an essential step to ensure that the app idea you're looking to develop remains grounded in everything you know about its future users.
2. Formalize the Five W's of Any Potential App Idea
You might be most familiar with the Five W's concept from journalism, but the same fundamental truth can also apply to app development. Any product you build has to define itself based on five central questions or pillars:
- Who are the potential users of the app? This is a succinct summary of your audience research from the first step.
- What goals does the app need to accomplish? What needs does it solve for your audience and for your business?
- Where do your users look for solutions to their problems, and where might they encounter your app? This can help you answer questions like iOS vs. Android or even where to promote the mobile app at launch.
- When does that audience need those solutions? And how much time do they have to find and engage with them? Are they willing to spend significant time, or do they need quick solutions for immediate issues?
- Why would your audience use your app over others? What distinguishing features can you build that make it better than their current solutions?
You might be surprised at just how quickly answering all five of these questions can get you to initial app ideas that address at least one of them. But it's important to keep this step strategic. Ultimately, your app needs to answer all five Ws in a way that makes sense for your audience, which is what makes the next step such a natural follow-up.
3. Brainstorm Ideas that Solve Audience Needs
Next, it's time for some brainstorming. Get a team together that understands both your strategic business objective and your target audience. Give them some time to familiarize themselves with the Five Ws you've developed, including and especially your audience research.
Related: Is Developing an App Worth It?
Then, put some parameters in place. It's true that no idea is bad in brainstorming, but adding a few early rules can help everyone on the team make sure they only put ideas on the table that can actually help your audience.
Most likely, those guardrails are directly connected to solving a business challenge and an audience need. When someone presents an idea, have them explain exactly how that idea would accomplish both. It's the only way to make sure that any idea on the table ultimately has a high chance of bringing enough value for regular use.
The end of this process should have you with at least one, and potentially more app ideas that are worth further exploration. Through strategic brainstorming, you've narrowed your options enough to get more specific.
4. Outline Your Requirements for Developing the App
Though we are moving from creative fun to more technical specs, this step is still vital in not just developing an app idea but also ensuring that this idea can realistically be built in your environment. You'll need to define a few things here, including:
- Your budget – ideally based on the app's potential contribution to your business revenue. Keep the ongoing maintenance budget in mind in addition to your initial development and promotional budget.
- Your platform – focusing specifically on whether or not your app is best served as a native, iOS, Android, or hybrid product. The choice naturally depends on your audience, as well as an evaluation of how your audience will use your app.
- Your existing capabilities – both in terms of developing the app and maintaining the app over time. Doing more in-house may save money—if you have the available expertise. The alternative is hiring an external partner.
It’s important to note that hiring an app developer is not all or nothing. You can choose a partner that works alongside your existing team to contribute only in needed areas, aligning with your needs to create the final product, or you can choose one that will manage ongoing maintenance entirely.
5. Find a Development Partner for Your Niche and Needs
Unless you have a full-stack development team available in-house, you will likely need to partner with an app development company in at least some way. But the choices are plentiful, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed.
Look for a partner that best fits your requirements, including expertise with the audience, industry, and type of app you're trying to build. The more closely the developer aligns with what you need in terms of design, quality, and security expectations, the better.
Technical expertise matters. After all, 70% of mobile app users will abandon the app if it takes too long to load. But so does a willingness for the developer to become your strategic partner instead of a simple executioner of your vision.
Find the right expert, and they'll know enough to push back on your ideas where pushback is needed. Instead of developing exactly what you're asking for, they'll be able to help you evaluate ideas (and even contribute their own) based on your true business and audience needs.
As an added bonus, they can also help you develop and refine all of the steps listed throughout this guide. They'll become your development partner in every sense of the word.
6. Create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
At this point, you have enough information to take your app idea out for a test drive. That doesn't mean coding yet, though. Instead, it means building basic prototypes and a minimum viable product that shows just enough about your idea for your audience to evaluate it and provide feedback.
MVPs become an invaluable part of the app development process because they help you walk before you can run. By taking an early version of the product to your audience, you'll gain invaluable insights into whether it actually solves their needs--and whether it's appealing enough for them to use.
Don't forget about that second part. The best apps don't just meet user pain points, but they do so in a way that's user-friendly and intuitive to use. The combination of both of these components is the only way to ensure you build an app valuable enough for frequent and long-term use.
7. Iterate and Improve Up to and Long After Your App Launch
Your learnings from the MVP become important touchpoints to learn how you can refine and improve your idea before the launch. They should inform every part of the development process that follows, which can then be tested again to see if changes in the process lead to different insights or improvements.
Throughout that process, it's crucial to keep an open mind. Even the best idea, in theory, may not resonate with your audience. The app marketplace is littered with apps that seemed like a great idea at one point but, for some reason or another, never quite caught on. Treat your testing, learnings, and adjustments as an ongoing process.
And here's the key: those adjustments don't stop after the app launches. Ongoing maintenance and improvements can ensure that the app stays relevant and up-to-date. Even cultural touchstone apps like Facebook, Angry Birds, and others have changed enough over time that they have morphed into different iterations of themselves—even as the core idea stays the same.
Develop an App Idea Designed to Maximize Your Success
Creativity doesn't grow in a lab. But at the same time, a random idea is rarely enough to build an app designed for lasting success. You need a strategy, and you need to make sure that any app idea for your business can hold up to your objective and your audience's needs.
Getting to that point is not easy. Each of the above steps can take weeks and sometimes months. Fortunately, working with the right partner can significantly improve the efficiency of the process.
Milo Mobile can be that partner for you. Our process begins far before the coding starts, helping businesses across industries with strategic ideation to build a mobile app their audience will love. Schedule a 30-minute consultation to see how our services can be a game changer for your mobile app.