Have you ever wondered, “How does an app go from an idea to reality?” Well, we thought we would show you how our Banh Mi Locator took shape – from crude drawings through to thousands of downloads. This is a real-life story on how you can create something that people engage with and use on a regular basis by adhering a few basic principles along the way.
The Lightbulb Moment
Originally drawing inspiration from a fan page of Banh Mi (with approximately 10,000 members), users would ask where the best location for a Banh Mi was. As nothing of its kind existed, we thought this would be a great subject in order to test the success of an app from start to finish. We asked members of the group what they thought and after some very positive responses, we thought this was a great idea. A very unique and original niche that hasn’t been catered for, we set about putting the wheels in motion to build the Banh Mi Locator.
Getting it on Paper
Some people choose to write their ideas on paper, which is fine. We have seen some great sketches come in all different forms, but our preference is to wireframe and sketch out on the computer using Balsamiq. We find it meets our needs and flexibility but this is very much a personal decision. You can see sample output above under ‘The concept’. We will go into this in more detail shortly, but whatever ideas you have in mind, it is generally best to get it out of your head and on to paper as soon as you can.
Some samples from the beginning
As you can see above, the origins of our current app aren’t very special or visually appealing. But it is crucial in being able to validate and further build upon your initial idea. Through this process, we were able to work out what was going to be important to a user of the app – specifically Distance, Price and the overall rating of the business. The overall rating was going to be an average of the ratings per business left in the Facebook group, but this was not practical – as such, the overall rating in the initial iteration of the Banh Mi Locator was somewhat redundant (and another lesson learned).
In any app or website, content is king. We needed to work out where the information was coming from and how we would store this. In this prototype and project as a whole, we decided to focus on the app itself, rather than any web back-end or other further development. This was a lean project, and as such, our database input was all manual. We decided on a very basic database structure and fed in all information into the database via .csv (Excel) files. We could then use myPHP’s back-end to modify information where required (this is an online database management tool that comes as standard with most hosting/website packages).
We manually gathered information from the Facebook group, Google and any other business we knew off hand. This process to collate over 150 businesses took about 6-8 hours in total.
Even with a basic app like we wanted to build, documentation is still important. This can take any form, but we decided to collate all of our notes and desired outcomes/functionality into a Word document. We also utilised the ‘sticky note’ function in Balsamiq in order to better visualise what we wanted to app to do.
Once we had decided on the key points, including design and database structure, we went about coding the project. We will go into more details about some of the considerations we made when creating this app, and these may be questions/issues that have been or are being raised in your process.
Outsourcing vs Local
This is the cause of much debate. Do I choose a local developer or do I look overseas? There are some very poignient points for and against both, but we decided to keep this project in-house. We felt like we could get this done a lot quicker and with fewer communication issues that arise from working thousands of kilometres apart and via email. Having said this, if you are looking to develop a quick prototype or similar and decide to outsource your project overseas, keep the below in mind:
- Use a reputable website such as ODesk or Freelancer – your payments to your developer are safer and there is less chance of being ripped off.
- Communicate well, and communicate often. 95% of issues we find with outsourced projects is that there was a failure to communicate on the key concepts and features, which ultimately lead to a poor finished product.
- Have a look at some of the developer’s previous work. Is this the first time they have attempted a project like yours? Look for consistency, positive reviews from others and samples of their work. If it doesn’t feel quite right, don’t proceed with them.
You get what you pay for.
Android vs iPhone
Again, a rather contentious subject. We’re not going to look at it from a “who’s better” perspective – but what will drive better results for downloads of an app.
We made the decision to develop for both platforms. You may wish to conduct some research (surveymonkey.com is a good starting point) with friends, family or Facebook contacts on what phones people use in your area. We knew that this was likely going to be a 50/50 split (or thereabouts) and went about developing for both.
To develop for an iPhone, you will need a Mac, whereas a Mac or a PC can be used for Android development.
In order to publish your app online, Apple requires a $99 developer account to be registered (this is a yearly fee for sole publishers or a $99 per app fee for companies), while Android (through the Google Play store) commands a once-off $25 registration fee.
Close, but not quite there yet
Our first round of testing went well with only a few minor problems. As you can see below, there’s a few things we want to fix. You can see the changes that were made that improved the app considerably.
Bland Intro Screen
We decided we wanted to spice up the main screen. Currently looks a little bland.
Currently hard to navigate opening hours. Needs fixing.
Fresher Main Screen
A simple text change and we have transformed the look of the main page
Opening Hours Fixed
Users are able to navigate opening hours with more ease
Testing Your App
Test. Test. Test.
We put our app in front of family and friends before we even published it in any app stores. We wanted to make sure that the app was good to go straight away. Of course, not all bugs are picked up in local testing, but we hoped that most of these would be identified. We found a few, went back and fixed, and repeated the process until we were finally happy with what we had.
The next step was to publish our app – and to test our app once it hit the app store. This would also mean we could send people the app link to download and try for themselves before any ‘official’ launch. Based on this feedback, we went back and made some more modifications before we were happy to launch.
Creating a successful app isn’t just about the functionality and a good design. You need downloads!
Test. Test. Test.
One of the best ways to create excitement around your app is to let people know about it. This can come in many forms – the newspaper, Facebook/social media or word of mouth. The reason I mention these three forms is that these are accessible for everybody and it doesn’t take much to get setup.
Below: The spike in downloads generated from being featured in the paper.
Setting up a Facebook page for your app is imperative. This is where you can communicate with your app subscribers and interest parties and it also serves as a very useful tool for feedback on your finished product. We set up a Facebook before our app had launched and made sure we had friends and family who were testing our app like the page. We further engaged with the local business community by visiting their pages and telling them about what was coming. We already had a solid base to work from which meant launch would be more successful.
We advertised through the interest group on Facebook and this also garnered a lot of support for the app. We found that the tight-knit and passionate community spread the word amongst other people which saw follow-up downloads of the app even when we weren’t actively advertising the app.
We also engaged in some very basic Facebook advertising with some good success. We will be publishing our findings on this in a blog post in the not too distant future.
A traditional, but always successful medium to harness support of your app is having something published in the paper. As writers are always starved for content, simply emailing them with your idea/venture may interest them enough to be featured in your local paper.
Most local papers also have an online edition. Not only do people see your app and learn about it through the traditional, paper form of the news, but an online edition also gives you more exposure to a wider audience.
We saw downloads quadruple in the week we were featured in the newspaper, which gives you a real sense of what this sort of coverage can do for you app.
Below are some of the considerations we made and actions taken post-release
Continual monitoring of the app
User feedback has been crucial in establishing what we did right, and what we need to change. Both the Google Play and Apple stores have user reviews which form a very solid basis for further development and future changes to the app. We have continually monitored the situation and continue to engage with our audience to let them know that their feedback is warranted and is being listened to.
We have also been able to track trends via both app stores and kept an eye on download counts as time has progressed. We have also been able to monitor any issues/bugs that have arisen as we have built in tracking and analytics to our apps
There are many handy plugins that can be used in your app to track how users interact with your app. We like to use Flurry (www.flurry.com) to keep track and informed of how our app is being used and our retention rate and usage time of our users.
Through tracking of bugs and also listening to user feedback, we have been able to make decisions on further development of the Banh Mi Locator. We are able to identify issues early on and coupled with the useful tips and suggestions from the community, we are able to create a product that is continually evolving and better meeting people’s needs.
With the above in mind, we continue to make changes to the app and constantly evolve the public offering. We try to implement as many features as possible and feel the product has come a long way from just being written on paper. Every app is different depending on the target market and even the most experienced app developers and online strategists are constantly learning.