Top 7 Mistakes when building your first mobile app
I bet you’ve spent sleepless nights fretting over what could go wrong with your pet mobile app project … and how to head off those mistakes before it is too late. You should be!
This is my list of the top 7 mistakes that plague mobile app development projects – believe me .. we’ve have seen every one of these over nearly 100 mobile projects we have been involved in!
I’ve arranged the list in the order in which these mistakes occur in the typical app development cycle. The list covers not only technical challenges but also addresses features, planning and marketing aspects.
At the end of the article is a resources section, which includes a simple self help questionnaire that will help you organize your thoughts and plans for the app.
A friend of mine was speaking to a top app marketing strategy consultant about how best to market his planned app. The first question she asked my friend was .. what are you trying to achieve? Is it a 100,000 downloads in the first month? Is it getting mentioned and written about in the top few tech and app websites and magazines? Are you looking at a certain number of daily active users in order to demonstrate traction and raise the next round of funding?
Of course, every developer wants their app to come to life and be used by millions of people, but the idea is to break this down to smaller, time bound, plannable goalsn the context of your app, each of these goals may require different strategies, both from a marketing perspective, and also from a features and user experience perspective. These goals also define how you will measure the success of the app and whether you are doing the right things.
Similarly, a lot of apps are planned with the target audience segment being ‘everyone’ or perhaps if we’re getting specific – ‘everyone who is interested in fitness’. While this may be your aim in the long run, it is too broad a group to target when you are starting out. Perhaps a better target segment may sound like ‘young, urban outdoor enthusiasts, who are lazy and need motivation to get out of the house’’
Your goals and targets will change along the way, but at each stage you should be very clear and very specific about what these are.
Complicating the Concept
The best way for your mobile app to spread is when your users tell their friends. If the app can be described in one simple sentence and the key benefit – the ‘here’s why you need this app’ is conveyed effectively, you have a winner.
Too many apps and app developers find themselves unable to describe their concept quite so simply. It is quite common to hear something like ‘my app is like Tinder plus Facebook plus Meetup and some elements of Google Maps’. Well, I have all those on my phone, so I don’t really want your app.
But if a friend told me, ‘check this app out .. it helps you meet folks with similar interests in your neighbourhood’ I might just be interested.
Help your users help you – keep your messaging clear and simple, so they understand the key benefit easily, and can convey it just as easily to others.
Trying too many things
The best and most successful mobile apps started out by doing one thing, and doing it really well. Uber let you check for and call a taxi now (no advance booking, no tipping calculator, no trip history). Whatsapp allows you to exchange messages with your telephone contacts real quick (no fancy profiles, no friend requests). Whizzle, an app we developed, allows you to order stuff from local businesses via chat.
Our natural tendency is to add more and more features into the app believing that consumers will not get hooked to the app if it lacks certain features. There are several reasons why it does not work this way.
People primarily use their mobile devices while doing something else – watching TV, riding a bus with one hand holding their bag or in a meeting in the office. Their attention is rarely focussed 100% on the device screen. Hence users don’t expect mobile apps to have complex navigation or a lot of features.
There is limited screen space to use, and cramming the screen with a lot of functionality or menus upon menus is a surefire way to confused and unsatisfied users.
Once you have a successful app with a large user base, there is plenty of time to add on additional features around your core promise.
Building out your app without usability testing
One of the biggest and most frequent mistakes we see from clients and app developers is not involving end users enough in the development phase.
Secrecy and over confidence (and sometimes, lack of confidence!) tend to be the typical reasons for this. Having spent weeks refining the app idea, workflows and even designs, it seems almost inconceivable that much more can be gained from concept testing and usability testing with real users.
Yet no consumer products company – from cars to breakfast cereal – ever launches any product or even a marketing campaign/advertisement without having done significant consumer studies – A/B testing, focus group studies etc. Neither, nowadays, do any political parties running election campaigns!
Your target audience is the best source of ideas for how to make your app better and give you feedback. It is difficult to simulate real world usage outside of the real world, but the benefits are huge anyway.
It is difficult enough to get each additional user to download your app.
Often the user downloads the app anticipating a great experience, and gets to the registration screen, an email verification process and a profile questionnaire – all this before she can even tell if the app is all it claimed to be.
You have somewhere between 6 and 10 seconds before a user loses interest and may never come back
The best apps take you straight to the ‘experience’ screens, get you hooked, and then take care of the registration and other details – at a time when you are actually keen to personalize and repeat the experience.
You can beta test with a very small proportion of your users, and the direct feedback you do get (ratings, emails) tends to be from the most happy or the least happy users.This means that the bulk of your users will never get heard.
In any case, experience shows that the best feedback about your app comes not from asking users, but by watching them use the app. Analytics and metrics allow you to ‘watch’ every one of your users traverse the app the real world, at zero or negligible cost.
A choiceful selection of metrics – a brief list is given below – can tell you a lot about how you are doing against your goals, and exactly where the app performs below expectations.
This seems fairly obvious, but a surprisingly large number of apps are released without even the basic metrics being tracked.
A list of common metrics to be tracked is given in the resources section at the bottom of this post, as well as additional reading, and a list of popular metrics tools.
Multiple Platforms at once
Developing a winning mobile app is an iterative process. Every release to the market tells you more about what customers want, and what they liked, hated or did not understand at all. Each feedback cycle lets you go back to the drawing board and improve the app for a better customer experience.
One of our clients, whose app and product are vying for attention in a very competitive space (shopping), has tweaked their key product focus about three times in the last 1 year, responding to user feedback, competition and market forces. Nothing wrong with that – it’s exactly what you need to do: be agile and responsive to what your customers are saying.
Obviously, this costs time and money to do.
Barring a few situations, I always recommend that startups look at launching on one platform first, validate their ideas and core concepts with real users, look at what works and what doesn’t, and iterate on that. Only once you have validated your app’s traction with users should you start building out on subsequent platforms.
Building both the top platforms (iOS and Android) can be a mistake for multiple reasons:
The first is cost – since it’s a good idea to build native apps, you will be hiring or adding engineers in 2 technologies to your team.
Designs and navigation flow need to be slightly different too (remember iOS doesn’t have a back button, Android does), so you will be looking at all graphics and UX work twice over as well.
Every iteration costs twice as much to do as well.
At the minimum, we recommend lagging the second platform by a month behind the first one. Ideally, at least one release cycle behind the first one. This will help you conserve your budget and bandwidth, and give you more staying power when you go up against the big guns.
There are many more possible slip-ups in your app development process, but I believe these 7 mistakes cover the most significant and most impactful to eventual success.
Mobile App project planning template: Download here
Common metrics to be tracked:
(Daily Active Users (DAU), Retention Rate, Average Time Spent in App, App Crashes, Engagement, ‘Bounce Rate’, Load times for content, Next action, Time on each screen, Unique users tapping on <button>, Other Events)