Iterative app prototyping can supercharge the mobile development process, helping you learn from mistakes, align expectations and validate requirements.
User hunger for mobile apps shows no sign of abating. In fact, according to data from Yahoo Flurry, over 90 of our online time is now dedicated to app use. This boom has led to designers and developers rushing to find more efficient ways to build and launch mobile apps; simply applying a trusty software-inspired waterfall approach, or even the kind of agile approach favoured in website development, can often be an imperfect fit for mobile.
The iterative prototyping model, on the other hand, lends itself to mobile app development. Iterative app prototyping allows developers to cycle through the build-test-rebuild process faster and at lower cost, as well as engaging stakeholders from the earlier stages.
Mobile app development in 12 steps
Step 1: Ask yourself tough questions
Before setting out on the journey to market launch, ask yourself some tough questions: what is your app for? What makes it unique? Is there truly a user need or desire for what you offer? We like the example of Spotify: back in the day the team must have sat down to solve a problem – user worries about accessing music legally online – and defined their USP from there. Focus groups, questionnaires, workshops, vox pops – anything that will get you hearing the users’ voices is a good way to strike out for new territory at this point.
Step 2: Create app wireframes with your team
Paper prototyping can be a great way to figure out the nuts and bolts of app functionality, map customer journeys or navigation flows, or even to run early-stage usability tests. Pen and paper is fine, but you can streamline with process with some handy tools, like downloadable mobile screen templates (basically real-world UI kits), or metal UI Stencils. No matter your chosen tool, the objective at this stage is to get everyone thinking, communicating and acting as a team with a common goal. Once achieved, it’s time to move on to wireframing the app with a prototyping tool.
Step 3: Learn from the competition
Make no mistake – with over 1000 apps submitted to Apple on a daily basis in 2015, the competition for app supremacy is fierce. Chances are, there are some apps out there in direct competition with yours. Competition analysis should do 4 things:
- Reveal competitive landscape
- Provide inspiration
- Provide insight into functional requirements
- Give you examples of market strategy
If you find a particular competitor app you like, find out if it uses open source controls by scouring the app’s acknowledgements page. Open source marketplace Cocoa Controls is also a good way to find the open source controls used by your competitors.
If your mobile app solution has already been invented and launched by the competition, you can use brand recognition tools to spy on it and figure out its rates of success. If it’s not pulling in tons of downloads, there might still be room for your app after all.
This step may be a turning point in your development process: if you struggle to find a space for your mobile app in the current market, or if your risk mitigation strategy is weak, it might be time to move on to the next project. Better to find that out now than months, and dollars, down the line.