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The market of apps is getting a bit crowded in 2021. Google Play Store currently provides more than 2.87 million apps, and Apple App Store has 1.96 million offers on the table. The chances are that if you are reading this, you found no good application in either store to satisfy your needs. All of them are great to some extent; yet, none has a full scope of functionalities and features to solve your particular business problem.
So without further idle talk, let’s get to the bottom of custom app development: from the concept and business plan to the launch, marketing, and revenue.
Custom App Development Guide: Build Your First Effective App
The umbrella term of software development encompasses all practices, stages, and activities related to delivering a software idea to the market: from the concept to a ready-to-use solution. It includes:
While googling “software development,” you will find offers from website and mobile app developers, mobile designers, QA specialists, DevOps experts, project managers, etc. All of them take part in the greater process of developing some software. But that is already clear; the trick comes when the difference between software development and custom solutions is brought up.
It might seem that every software development is custom-based. Well, it is true that a dev team creates a new solution for a particular company with specific requirements and based on the defined needs. Yet, there is a difference.
Traditional software development can run in several ways:
The first two are frequently merged into the category of ready-made apps, while custom app development is an off-the-shelf option.
No-code development sounds self-explanatory – it does not require developers to know the code. There are special tools like Airtable or Appy Pie that provide a set of drag-and-drop tools for app creation. They have appealing visual design and intuitive experience for people without a technical background. The no-code solutions are beneficial when a simple app needs to be launched in a short time, and there is no need for any specific features.
Low-code development is the middle ground between no-code and custom app development. Low-code platforms provide the same easy interface with app features that can be dragged to the final solution. However, they have certain elements of customization in terms of the order or visual appeal of the end product. The possibility to adjust the low-code app to your company’s specific design is extremely limited yet possible with some effort.
Custom development of software and apps requires high skills in coding and results in sophisticated and easily-adapted solutions. This approach allows creating an app that responds to one’s business needs and requirements; plus, it can be altered once the company’s direction or market demand changes.
The fact that a tailored coat suits one better is undeniable; the same goes for the custom apps. Of course, sometimes a ready-made coat can do the job – warm one up in the cold weather, but if you need to shine and stand out of the crowd, then a customized solution can do the trick much better. Here is why.
Cross-platform application. When a client orders custom app development, they decide which OSs, devices, models, browsers, and versions of all those are supported by the app. The low/no-code solutions frequently have a very limited selection. Furthermore, an app designed according to your requirements can seamlessly store a user’s session from a web app into an Android or desktop version. The end-users always appreciate such UX.
High security. This is a distinctive and essential element of customization since the dev team can build-in any security feature you might need (two-step verification, blockchain, ciphered data, etc.) This, in turn, decreases the risk of piracy and increases customer loyalty.
Planning. A custom app can be designed with the future vision to scale, connect to other services, grow for new features, etc. This benefit works best if you are using the same development team for the current and future app building.
Smoother connection. Some low-code apps are hard to connect to the existing systems, especially when the programming languages or codes do not match. With a custom solution, this problem does not exist because the app is specifically designed to seamlessly connect with the existing and even legacy systems.
Storage location. Today, customized applications are frequently stored on a cloud to provide for the fast and efficient work of the app, while the ready-made versions would require a server to run from. This entails an extra cost and a higher risk of the app crashing.
Customized development of an application involves a high level of adaptability to the requirements of a customer. An application that gets released after the development finishes is frequently one-of-a-kind since it contains a particular set of features ordered by the client-company. A custom app can be developed for external users (e-commerce, games, educational), but it mostly goes for internal users (customer management, production monitoring, time tracking). Custom development solutions frequently address specific needs via tailored features rather than standard software solutions.
Custom web development is an instance of the umbrella term above. It is focused on the development of applications accessed by users via web browsers from their computers, phones, tablets, and any other devices. The main feature and advantage of custom web application development are that the client can ensure their solution is accessible and responsive on screens of all sizes and in all browsers.
Custom mobile application development is similar to the web services described above, but it is focused on delivering the best options for the existing operating systems and mobile devices. A custom mobile solution needs to ensure that the app:
is available on the most popular models of mobile phones, tablets, and wearable devices
can adapt to any screen size
is compatible with the top operating systems
will adapt to the future OSs, screen sizes, models (for example, to the foldable smartphones)
Custom app development can proceed in many directions because it is adjusted to the client’s needs and requirements. Some companies come for custom web app development with a ready-made MVP and all the specifics listed; others would have just a general idea of what they want in the end. The process heavily depends on the project, the software, the specifics, and the client. Below is the list of stages, which can be altered in many ways. Yet, should you have just an idea of the final product, then once you decide to develop an app, your plan would look similar to the following one.
This step would probably be finished before you approach a custom software development company. If you are an investor looking for an opportunity, then brainstorming would be your starting point. Consider the problems existing in your country, region, or company, and the ways how an app can fix them. For example, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, the founders of Uber, could not find a taxi on a snowy night in Paris and thought: “What if you could request a ride simply by tapping your phone?” The founder and current CTO of Duolingo, Luis von Ahn, believed that free education can change the world and developed a plan for an app that would teach people foreign languages. The founders of Airbnb were looking for a way to earn a couple of extra dollars and turned the idea into a $31 billion company. These ideas seem obvious today because the services can indeed facilitate many lives. Consider thinking of such facilitation or issue for your idea before contacting a custom application development company.
Once you have a problem, you need to understand who will be using your solution. The examples given above are pretty much universal. Yet, Uber is mostly for users aged between 18-60, Airbnb is focusing on students and low/middle-income travelers, while Duolingo is for people with a lack of funds but a strong will to learn a foreign language. Of course, these are pretty vague descriptions of the target audience for an application, yet this is an excellent start to your marketing research.
Imagine a perfect user for your future app:
Who are they? (gender, age, location, occupation, income, etc.)
How often do you expect them to use the application?
What makes your app unique in the market?
The easiest way to collect this data is by simply asking people around. Set up online polls and find out what the potential audience prefers. Remember to collect their data for developing your target user profile.
Once the user and the problem are ready, it is time to carefully plan how your custom development solutions will generate revenue. The kind of strategy you select for the new project will also impact the customer satisfaction rate and the speed at which your goal will be reached.
Answer the following questions first:
How will you reach end-users? How will they learn about the app?
How much acquisition of one user will cost?
How much of a budget is needed to gain market traction?
And yes, you might think that these answers can be put up for later when your custom web development project is finished. Yet, the earlier you begin marketing, the faster you will get revenue after the app is released. Moreover, the business strategy impacts whether the app needs deep linking, slots for ads, SEO optimization (to make the apps searchable in Google or App/Google Play Stores), etc. These elements are useful for the technological side of the application as well.
At the point of business strategy development, consider also how the future app will be distributed: to individuals via stores or maybe to the organizations who will acquire it for in-house use. The in-house custom mobile application development generally requires less marketing-related development per se. Still, it needs more effort to make it compatible with the client’s internal systems and the remaining apps. The wide public availability requires more work on app optimization and adaptability to the variety of end-user devices.
Creating the specifications is an essential step, even if you are not a tech person and cannot define them in IT terms. The overall functional and technical specifications or your expectations for the future software will help website and mobile app developers understand your vision and create the exact solution you need. Here is what will be of great help:
Define user roles: think who will be using the app, for instance, teachers and students, self-learners, registered/non-registered users, returning customers or new customers, etc. The roles heavily rely on your app’s general idea.
User journeys: consider how each of the defined roles will be using your app or how you want them to do so. The easiest way is a flow chart with arrows and particular elements of the app.
Plan the app: this means only high-level planning like the expected number of screens and their names, buttons, functional design.
Set up a list of features: what you expect the app to do and how it will be done; plan any integrations (with banking systems or YouTube, for example), app analytics to alter your future marketing effort, monetization methods (in-app purchases, ads, pay-per-download, etc.)
There are no rights and wrongs at the stage of planning because the more information you can collect and define for the mobile and web application development company, the faster and easier you can get the final result.
With an idea, tech specifications, marketing strategy, and a business plan, it is just the right time to find a reliable partner to develop an app.
Go through listings: start your search by going through the listing websites like Clutch.co, Vietnam Software Development Industry Insights or The Manifest. Use the filters to find a custom software development firm in your region or a specific list of services.
Check the portfolio: browse the websites of selected teams and see if they have ever worked with applications like yours. Try to go with the companies that worked in your segment before because they can offer greater insights into the market needs and trends.
Read the blog: a blog is a place to meet the team before officially doing so. You can look through the articles to see the company’s focus and consider their knowledge base as a sign of experience.
Check market presence: market presence would involve the firm’s participation in any conferences or possibly any awards received. See also whether apps developed by them are popular and how their social media strategy works.
Check customer feedback or referrals from trusted sources: it is much easier to work with a company with positive reviews or referrals from the people you know. But consider also opinions in the online world to compare the feedback.
Focus on data and technology security: this point can be evaluated only during direct contact with the selected company. Try to find a team that can define their security strategy for you right away because it will give you clarity on their approach.
Spotlight on delivery time: be ready that delays in software development do happen. However, discuss the timeline and the delivery time you expect the selected custom application development company to follow. Scrupulous time management is a good sign (it can be evaluated by the way they show up for your first meeting/e-meeting).
Since you are reading this article, you have already decided to outsource, so the question is an offshore or onshore team. Offshore companies in Asia and Eastern Europe tend to cost less while providing a similar and frequently higher level of support and expertise. The onshore teams would cost more; yet, they are in the same time zone that would facilitate communication.
Pro tip: While a difference between offshore and onshore does exist, the former points have more value. Get to this difference only if the previous ones fail to set the distinction.
Sign a contract: contract with all details, deadlines, tech specifications, etc. is the only document that can assist you in case of a dispute. Always make sure you read the papers before you sign them to get your company covered from any unfortunate incidents.
Of course, this is just a shortlist of the essential features you need to be looking for in a custom mobile application development partner. Yet, this is a good start for the upcoming cooperation.
This stage is called pre-development because before custom web app development can begin, the outsourced company and your team will need to meet and define all project details. The latter can include anything from your drafts and ideas to their presentation of the app, from the pencil-and-paper concepts to the designer’s images and UX journeys. Negotiation is one of the essential elements of custom software development since it defines the whole project. As a rule, a development team will create a rapid prototype for your approval before getting down to business.
Please, do not mix up a prototype and an MVP because these are two different stages. A prototype is a piece of the app with clickable elements; it is a perfect way for you to understand how the app would work and feel once released. However, some website and mobile app developers would not be willing to do a free prototype since it still requires time and effort. In this case, you will likely receive some design drafts and user journeys in images to understand the upcoming working prototype. This part should be enough to evaluate which team works better for your values and who has a closer vision on your future app to start cooperation.
An MVP is a minimum viable product. This is a mini-version of your fully developed application with just enough features to be released and used by early or test-customers. This stage is still under the heading of pre-development since early tests might show that your initial idea of an app requires significant changes. It might result in a drastic alteration of the development director or even a complete abandonment of the idea.
MVPs verify whether you are creating an engaging experience for the end-users. Plan this trial run with your selected custom mobile app development team and see what feedback you can collect. For an internal app, ask several employees to start working on the new tool to see its pros and cons. For the mass-apps, those available to anyone through a Google Play/App Store, go to websites like UserTesting or Userbrain and ask people to use your app. See from how many interested users you hear back and what they have to say, pay attention to the demographics and analytics, then alter your target audience and approach if required.
Tip: Do not rush into developing all the features and releasing them to the market as soon as possible. If you’ve already won the hearts of some audience, then you get your core users. Listen to their feedback but do it selectively; if a user is continuously complaining about some features but continues to use the app, you are doing a good job. Try to improve and perfect those 5-10 features of the MVP before adding new ones and moving to the full-scale custom development solutions.
At the beginning of step #7, you already have the MVP, which sets the tone for the upcoming development procedures. And given that an MVP might be a great success or receive only positive feedback, you might not need the design stage described below. However, after the MVP, many custom web development companies go for polishing or even re-branding of the application to give it a twitch of novelty and stir up the product’s full-scale release. The choice would depend on the budget, timeline, and wishes of end-users. In any case, the traditional custom website and mobile app developers would work within the following system.
Here a quote from Steve Jobs that needs to be put on the table: “Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works.” You already have an MVP that satisfies most of the needs your users have. Do not reinvent the wheel at this point; consider incorporating feedback about your app’s usability, employ new design trends to refresh it, play with small animations for buttons and pages crossover, etc. Make small yet tangible changes.
Development is where the magic of coding transforms an idea into an actual application. Most often, you will not have to know much about coding, development techniques, programming languages, selected frameworks, etc. The custom application development company will handle all of this. There are two things important for a client at this stage: you should decide on the app handover and control the process. The former means that before the development begins, you need to arrange the way you will take over the app once the development is done, plus app storage location (your servers or the cloud). The upcoming development depends on this choice, so make sure you discuss it with the developers. The latter implies having regular meetings with the development team to track the progress. These meetings would typically take place weekly or monthly, depending on the development sprints and prior agreement. At such control points, ensure that the team is on track with the development timeline; they should face no major blockers, and have no further questions to you as the client.
Testing is a vital element of every development. Some testers identify major issues with the app’s performance or functionality and can alert the development team before the solution is pushed to the market.
Testing can be performed by the same custom application development company that is doing the core job or by an external team of QA specialists. The choice would be discussed upon contract signing. Testers are usually present at every development stage to minimize the negative impact, which bugs and app discrepancies have on an end-user.
This step is of high importance. Before the application is launched and available to the end-users, your team should understand how to work with it. It is especially vital for custom apps developed for in-house use. Internal workers who will have direct contact with the application should understand how the app works, test it and have a follow-up Q&A session.
Whenever you are creating an app for the end-users, training would mean a transfer of knowledge from the outsourced development team to the in-house experts. Your IT department needs to know how to handle the app, monitor, and control it once it is released, and the end-users will get a hold of its content.
Once all the details are finalized, and you are satisfied with the software, it goes live and becomes available in all the stores.
The best practices listed here can be considered step #8 in the development process – the post-development routine. They ensure that your app remains trendy at all times and also provide continuity of efficient app functioning.
Listen to the users
This point has already been mentioned in the MVP part above. The collection of feedback allows a company to stay useful to its customers and improve the offered services. Voice Of Customer is one of the most powerful tools to know what the market thinks of your application and what the latter is missing. Besides the mere listening to your users, make sure you deliver the improvements or features they ask for. By following the customer’s voice, you can show them that you care about their opinion, thereby significantly increasing your brand loyalty. To collect the data and opinions, you can use third-party platforms like UserVoice, Braze, and Apptentive or create an in-app feedback form for that purpose.
Constant development and improvement of an app is the leading way to get continuous revenue. Bug fixes, new features, improvements, re-design, and other application changes make it relevant to your end-users current needs and requirements. Lack of development gets an application to the point of huge stagnation and a major loss of revenue. Keep it fresh and comfortable for the end-users and follow up on every improvement suggestion you get. If possible, contact the same custom web development team on board for improvement or sign a continuous contract on a project basis to have an expert team of programmers at an arm’s length.
Follow the users cross-platform
Custom web app development is impressive. It offers a perfect way to access your application on laptops, phones, and other mobile devices. But it is essential to follow your users between platforms and mediums. This means that if a user is buying a web app, they should be able to continue their activities in a mobile app rather than use an optimized website on a mobile device. Furthermore, ensure that you develop an app for every trending OS since failure to account for the top ones will sooner or later lead to the loss of users. Ubiquitous presence should become your goal after the first app release.
Use competitive technologies
Competitive technologies in this context only mean that your code, selected language, and framework can accommodate changes; the modern technologies are rapidly evolving and have a supportive community. For example, coding in Pascal makes no sense since this language lives only in the memories while Java is among the most common backend programming languages. Keep it consistent and straightforward, but make sure that the selected technologies give you room for perfection.
Protect customer data
In 2019, there were 1,506 security breaches in the US; all of them led to users’ personal data exposure. In the first half of 2020, the number of security infraction cases seemed to decrease, but the total count and companies’ losses are still in progress. Every breach and theft of personal digital data is potentially a huge scandal that many startups cannot handle. Instead of relying on a chance, you’d rather invest in customer data protection from the start by complying with privacy legislation regulations (like HIPAA and GDPR), use of privacy-as-a-service solutions, and adherence to the best practices (such as support of HTTPS or data encryption).
Considering that you will follow the best practices and continuously improve your application, the answer is - it never ends. But you are probably looking for a more precise reply: when the application gets launched and begins to bring in some revenue. This process usually takes from four to nine months, depending on a range of factors.
Here is how long every stage may take:
Planning and requirements: 2-4 weeks
Design and architecture: 2 weeks
Development: 3-8 months
Implementation: 2-4 weeks
Tests and maintenance: 3-6 weeks
Production: 3+ weeks
The actual timeline in custom mobile application development heavily depends on your project scope. A small application of time-tracking can be finished in three months altogether, while an extensive app for online shopping would require 9-12 months of development only. Below are a few factors that impact the complexity and length of your app delivery time.
Number of screens (up to 25 is pretty standard; more require precise planning, user journeys, and navigation)
Need for the admin portal besides the app itself
Support for multiple devices, platforms, and OSs
Integrations with other systems and applications
Data migration from the legacy systems
Heavy reporting requirements
Changes of requirements/missing requirements in the process of development
Inconsistent data from stakeholders
The success of an application consists of three elements: marketing, user-centricity, and the product itself. The combination of all three components guarantees profitability and good performance for both users and app owners. Let’s take a look at what these factors mean in more detail.
The marketing stage has already been discussed above. Its main component is targeting the right consumers. For instance, if you are in the market for the luxurious segment of customers, then the lack of an iOS-based app will significantly hit the sales and revenue.
The user-centricity element encourages user retention, making people return to your application and use it again and again. You need to consider the app’s overall design and intuitive UX/UI among the main user-centricity features. The application needs to follow the natural usage pattern and cover the key expectations of the users. You should also incorporate a support feature in plain sight, for example, a chat, so that anyone who got lost or needs a specific element of your application could receive professional assistance within seconds. Further, remember about accessibility and voice-led navigation in the app. By 2023, it is expected that 8 billion people would use virtual assistance technologies, so it is of utmost importance to plan such features for the future and begin implementing them now.
The product itself includes both of the above components; however, it also offers more technical reliability. App performance of custom development solutions must be at the A-level because custom apps have to solve customer problems without keeping the users waiting for a page to load. Data protection and stable workflow without major maintenance windows or unexpected app crashes are what make users return and use the app further. In a single word, product greatness is its 100% reliability for the end-user.
The cost of custom app development is one of the most decisive factors for the companies that are looking to get a perfect solution at the lowest price. Clients frequently require a very accurate estimate for the upcoming project, and in most cases, receive only a tentative number with the answer “it depends” in return. The truth is that custom software development cost varies substantially because each project is unique and the cost of a small calculator-like app cannot be compared to the Facebook-like application. However, we will try to define what impacts the final cost of an app the most.
The complexity of features. What seems to be natural for an average app user might be extra work for a developer. Push notifications, chat, feedback, integrations, use of microphone or camera, and many other features, which are not obligatory present in an app, are additions. The more of them you have, the higher will be the final cost.
Design elaboration. A mere mock-up with nice colors and a pleasant feel is only part of the designer’s job. User experience is what presents a puzzle to some experts. If you have an extensive application, then the design of all features that will fit into one screen would not clutter it. Thus, understanding its functioning for users of all age groups and from all countries might be quite a task. The app structure directly impacts the design budget and hence the overall app cost.
Cross-platform app development. Custom mobile application development costs significantly less than cross-platform app development because it utilizes only one medium – Android/iOS phones, for example. The more OS versions, device types, browsers, and their combinations you add to the list of supported devices, the more development work is required.
Data usage and storage. Whenever an application transfers or utilizes customer-developed content in any way (photos in a messenger or articles on a platform), it needs a place to store them besides the options of publishing or sharing them. Cloud storage cost, any integrations with external sources, access to a user’s device are all the features that must be paid extra.
Human resources involved in the development. Big apps need big teams, so they cost considerable sums of money. Smaller applications can be developed on a budget.’ The cost of every custom web app development directly depends on the team members the project needs and utilizes. And in this case, team location, experience, and local salary would make an impact on your budget, and a great one! Considering that the average wage per hour in the US is about 20-25 times higher than in offshore teams of Vietnam or India, the final budget is determined by your choice of an outsourcing company.
Maintenance. Upcoming bug fixes, monitoring, cleaning, and maintenance should also be included in the price estimate as well. Once an application is released, the expenses are not fully covered because every product needs the support of a support agent (to collect the data) and a developer (to fix the reported issues), to say the least. Most often, this will be a team of tech professionals working on the maintenance daily. So, either include maintenance in the original budget or plan a separate project for keeping the good shape of the newly-released application.
To answer the question raised: the cost of custom software development indeed varies. It can go as low as $30,000 for a small app delivered in 3-4 months or as high as $250,000 for a major complex project with a follow-up improvements plan. If you are interested in the cost of your app idea, contact us to discuss the project scope and set up the cost plan for you. It is free!
Saigon Technology is one of the leading software development companies in Vietnam. We work with startups and enterprises, small-sized apps and major challenges, niche products, and frontline solutions. We aim at devising a perfect solution to your problems by delivering impactful and intuitive custom applications tailored specifically to your needs.
Our team works in sprints and provides regular reports to the client, so you could keep track of the progress and pro-actively participate in the development process. Our marketers follow the industry trends, while the researchers carefully investigate your market niche to create a one-of-a-kind solution that will meet the needs of your end-users and guarantee high retention rates. At Saigon Technology, we know how challenging new tools can be. After we develop an app, full-scale training is always provided to the client’s team to ensure a smooth transition to the new technology and a comfortable adaptation period for every team member. See our work in action here, and do not hesitate to contact us for any further clarifications, inquiries, and requests. We are always open to new projects!
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YOUR SUCCESS IS OUR MISSION.