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What Your Business Needs to Know About “Create Your Own App” (CYOA)

Feb11
It’s amazing to think that Apple opened up iTunes to support apps not even six years ago, and that Google wasn't far behind with its own Android ecosystem. Now, there are billions of downloaded apps. And while gaming and less-serious apps dominate the landscape, business-oriented apps may prove the most important when it comes to dictating the success of many professionals and their companies.

That’s because the future of your business – and that of your customers – isn’t just about mobile technology, it’s about the mobility of information on that technology. With millions of different apps scattered across both Google Play and Apple’s iTunes store, there are a multitude of ways to access, share, or consume the critical information you or your business needs. The question is, do these third-party tools fit your business or customers’ unique needs, or is it time for you to create your own app (CYOA).

Assuming you have compelling reasons to create your own business-related app – that’s not just trying to make a quick buck – here is a brief primer on how to get started in the app world.

Think about what you want your app to do

Part of the CYOA process is understanding the app marketplace. As you are looking through the Google and Apple storefronts, pay attention to the user comments and ratings. While not every user rates their app downloads, it is worth seeing what they have to say.

Look at your competitors, then download and try out their apps. It’s easy to do the research and find all apps with specific brand names or keywords in both the Google and Apple app stores. Given the ever-growing number of existing apps, it’s getting harder to find an unmet or unfilled niche. Figure out where the gaps are and where your app could fill them. Download a few of these competing apps and try them out to see if they actually deliver too: you will find lots of them are very buggy or don’t measure up in critical ways. And while there are other app stores and mobile phone platforms out there, as a CYOA beginner, you’ll likely want to stick with the top two contenders (for right now at least).

Define your goals

Second, you should take a look at these great suggestions on some basic decisions you should make early on, along with some tips on general design principles and other guidelines for beginners. And know what your CYOA goals are. For example, Android tends to generate downloads in a faster time frame. If that’s your goal, prioritizing the Android app when you are allocating resources may be the best move.

Set your financial strategy

Another guideline mentioned in the above link is probably the most important: whether to charge for your app, sell advertising inside the experience, give it away for free, or choose a “freemium” model, where you get a limited version gratis and then charge for additions down the road. Many game developers have done quite well with this latter model.

You need to decide this before you get very far with building your app, because the path you take will determine how you write your code and how you decide on the various app features. It is important to stick with the same payment scheme: no one likes to change and you could lose a significant chunk of your user base if you do switch schemes down the road.

Various online sources report you can make more money with iOS apps than with Android ones, although if you choose ads to support your app, you could make more money than charging for the app itself, depending on the number of downloads. But that doesn’t mean you should load up your app with lots of ads or other come-ons for in-app purchases: keep things simple and straightforward, and your customers will thank you.

Choose your tools

Next, decide on how you are going to build your app, either by choosing an appropriate programming language (with these suggestions from PC World) or by picking one of more than a dozen different tools that can create apps from scratch, including Yapp, BuildAnApp, AppMachine, Conduit or PhoneGap. The latter compiles your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript into native apps for iOS, Android, or even Windows Phone. You’ll probably want to have developers that already know Javascript and Objective C at a minimum, and perhaps Ruby or PHP as well. If you’re on a bare-bones CYOA budget, there are dozens of different websites that offer free developer training, including taking beginning programming classes at edX and Corsera, just to name a few places.

Be your own CYOA developer

If you go the programming route, you’ll need to register as a developer and download the software development kits from Google and Apple and become familiar with their bundled tools.

Here is where you get started with the Android Development Kit. It’s free and there are instructions on the various development platforms, including Eclipse and the new Android Studio. You have tools on Mac, Windows and Linux to choose from, unlike iOS, which is naturally Mac-centric. Here’s where you can get started on the Apple SDK.

The Google and Apple tools are good starting places, but before you write any code, take a look at third-party app platform construction tools such as Mendix, OutSystems and Podio (check out this great comparison matrix of the three). Any of these can save you a lot of time and effort in building and deploying your app, and are particularly helpful if you are going to build a multitude of apps for multiple platforms. For example, one feature of these tools is the ability to handle version control, create HTML5 versions, and monitor your performance and workflows as you and your team build your apps. Users of these products say that they cut down on development time pretty significantly, once these tools are mastered.

These tools also provide integration to other Web platforms such as Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics, while also making database integration easier. Understanding the interaction between the app’s front end user interface and the Web and database servers that it connects to across the Internet is a tough balancing act – these types of tools help reduce the learning curve in the development and deployment process.

Get it in front of people

Finally, you need to get the word out on your app: post links on your blog, solicit written reviews from your customers to be posted on both Google and Apple’s app stores, and use social media to promote its wonderful ways and advantages. Think about destination websites that could review your app, or at least provide a link to it.

Good luck with your app! And if you’ve already built your own app, share it with us in the comments below. We’d love to see it.