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App development doesn't have to be a lottery

There's no shortage of people trying to make the next great app, and the sheer volume of production makes for an extremely crowded field. The odds of success in the app development world are slim, with Ars​ Technica describing it as less of a business and more of a lottery. Of those who launch an app, around 60 percent won't see any return at all on their investment. Considering that the odds are against any app developer turning a profit, it's not surprising that many businesses are deterred by the idea of creating an enterprise app in the first place. After all, successful businesses thrive on pragmatism, and what's sensible about funneling time, money and manpower into a platform that's more likely than not to lose money?

If this is how your company views business app development, we don't blame you. After all, it can be dispiriting to hear about so many individuals and businesses clamoring to create that rare app that will take the world by storm. To hear that 63 percent of developers' most successful apps had fewer than 50,000 total downloads doesn't exactly inspire confidence when it comes to launching your own organizational app. But app development does not have to be a shot in the dark. By deploying a robust set of development strategies, you can take control of the success of your app and leave nothing to chance. Here are some of the steps you can take to make app creation a worthwhile investment instead of a lottery:

  • Focus on a few great functions over many small ones: It can't be stated enough that in the app realm, simplicity is key. If you can't sum up exactly what your app does in a few words, chances are you've lost your audience already. One example of harnessing simplicity comes from a developer named Benjamin Mayo, who launched an app called Writing Aid. In a piece for 9to5Mac, Mayo said that one of the main things that inspired him to create his app was the over-crowdedness he noticed in other apps he used. For instance, he'd find himself using an app only to be interrupted by that app's "Word of the Day." Gimmicks like these are deployed by app developers to better engage with users, but they're largely counterproductive since more often than not they only interfere with app use.

Mayo found that these visual distractions were particularly present in writing-based apps, and so he set out to rectify that by creating a writing assistant with all the simplicity of Snapchat or Instagram.

"If someone asked me for advice on building an app, this is what I would say: Get one key focus locked down in your mind and work to make that happen," Mayo wrote.

For him, that focus boiled down to "a blank screen with a search box." And essentially that's exactly what Mayo's app is: a word search-based app that merges definitions and synonyms. But it's more than just a dictionary-thesaurus hybrid. It also provides inverted functionality, enabling you to find words based on definitions _you _input. For instance, if you were to write "saying something in a shorter way," the app would likely return words like "pithy" and "concise." Just as Mayo was driven to create an app harnessing simplicity, that's become one of Writing Aid's main selling points.

"I've been looking for an app that can give me a word's definitions without a messy interface (ads and clutter) or having to connect to the internet," wrote one happy customer on the Apple Store. "Writing Aid does just that, giving me multiple definitions within seconds."

  • Make sure everything behind the scenes matches the front display: Think about a typical frat house for a moment - opulent on the outside, but cluttered and dilapidated on the inside. While this kind of inner-outer polarity may work for carefree college students, it doesn't cut it in the app development realm. As an industry infographic points out, app creators must ensure that the inner workings of an app are as carefully designed as what users see. Every time a user does something in your business's app - like, say, views an item for sale or hits a "Chat with Store" button - that triggers a multi-step response within your app.

Take the purchasing merchandise, for example. If a customer selects an item to buy using your store's app, that triggers the following sequence of events: (1) The app carries out an external call to a backend resource; (2) That backend service makes a call to a database where the item is housed; (3) Within that database, a search is conducted to ensure the item is still available; (4) The results from this database are carried through the backend and into the hands of the customer. Of course, all of this must happen in an instant - less than one second, to be exact. For that reason, the overall success of your app will be contingent on the strength of its internal infrastructure. Fortunately, it's easy to build apps that are strong inside and out by leveraging HTML5 form.

  • Market, market, market: Many developers don't adequately account for the role of marketing in an app's success, as Ars Technica pointed out. For instance, one study found that 52 percent of app developers surveyed said that fewer than 5 percent of work time related to the app was spent marketing it. And more than half of respondents admitted to not allocating any funds for app promotion. But anyone who thinks an app will simply sell itself is mistaken. Just like any product, an enterprise app must be promoted in order to be successful. No matter how clean and functional your app is, it's all but guaranteed to fade into obscurity if you don't have a plan to market it.

"If an app isn't charting, and it isn't featured by Apple, the only way users are likely to find it is through the developer's marketing efforts," said Rogue Amoeba's Paul Kafasis.


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