When I was a full time mobile developer, many individuals and companies approached me with ideas for mobile development. Some people weren’t from the mobile ecosystem or even from a software development background. These people asked how to go about developing a mobile idea.

These tips will hopefully help you see mobile development from a developer’s point of view and hence gain a head start. This primer is suitable for a range of people…

  • Entrepreneurs and business owners considering mobile development
  • Students learning about mobile
  • Analysts wanting to understand mobile development
  • Investors wishing to learn about the mobile development process

1. Check Your Idea is Feasible

It’s too easy to buy into an idea and commit significant resources only to find very late on that it’s overly difficult or impossible to implement. Do research upfront. Test risky areas. Consider creating a low cost proof of concept exercising risky areas. Fail early, not later. Related to technical feasibility is the choice of mobile platform…

2. Choose Your Mobile Platform(s)

These days you will be choosing one or more of Android, iOS or web based or hybrid. The main factors are the type of app, geography (some platforms are more popular in some countries than others), demographics (e.g. some platforms are used more by enterprise or by particular age groups) or the market (some platforms have better routes to market or better monetisation).

Take a survey of your intended users’ device types and in some cases their future purchase intentions. Don’t just assume your intended users use the phone type you use. Understand that there are some projects that only work on Android and others that while they will work on iOS, they won’t pass Apple app review.

3. Start Creating a Business Model and Determine a Business Process

Just because your idea’s an app or mobile web site doesn’t mean you don’t need a business model. Take a look at Business Model Generation and start filling your key activities, partners, resources, cost structure, customer relationships, segments, value propositions, channels and revenue streams as you work through this primer.

Research Lean and Agile and determine your business process strategy based on your business needs. You might also like to take a look at the Lean Canvas which is a lean version of the business model generation mentioned above.

Never determine your process, or many other things for that matter, just because someone says ‘this is the best/standard’ way. Question whether such decisions should be based on your business needs.

4. Think About OS Version Variants and Form Factors

Think about what OS versions and/or devices you will support. Most iOS users tend to be on the latest version when their device has been able to be upgraded. Android has a large number of OS versions and literally thousands of devices that causes problems with fragmentation.

Think about if and how you want to support tablets and tablet specific functionality and screen formats. Also think how your idea might look in both horizontal and vertical aspect ratios.

5. Work out How Much It Will Cost

Most projects take between a few weeks and a few months per platform. The average time to create a non-trivial mobile application is about 6 to 8 weeks. In fact, if your project is larger than that then you are probably trying to do too much for your first iteration. You might be better doing less and improving the application later based on user feedback and ideas – that will nearly always be different and better than if you had try to create the ideas yourself.

Professional European and N American developers charge between £300 (about $450, €330) and £650 (about $980, €720) per day. The variation in price depends on experience, whether freelance or small mobile company. Hence, the cost of an average project will be of the order of tens of thousands of pounds, dollars or Euros. Double to treble the cost if you are developing via a media agency or other intermediary. Reduce the cost by a factor or four to five if you are willing to offshore to typically Russia or India.

Consider accelerators for funding but be aware, outside the US, that relatively few (e.g. 0.01% in the UK) of companies go this route and any financial incentives are usually too small to take the company through the accelerator scheme.

Consider that most apps also need ongoing development beyond that initially envisaged.