By John Houghton on December 6, 2012
Let’s face it, of the over one million iPhone, iPad and Android (phone and tablet) apps available, many are of sub-standard design and quality. As the app development frenzy has pushed non-software developers into software roles, their inexperience has resulted in low quality apps. Follow these four best practices to improve your odds of success.
Involve Users – You should run the app idea by a set of users and involve them in the initial planning phase and user acceptance testing. This can be simple or elaborate. As an example of a simple user test, I gave a prototype app to my friend to try, and I could see in the first few seconds that he didn’t know how to use it. Seeing where he got lost, it also became clear how to fix it. That’s an example of a simple check of a design. This should be a regular habit while developing apps. The more involved your users are in the process, the better.
Define Clear Requirements – I hear horror stories about investors who try to build apps without requirements documents. This, combined with inexperience, invariably results in a zombie app that is never released. The standard document for outlining an app’s requirements is called a Product Requirements Document (PRD), and it briefly states the business case and high-level requirements. The author of this document is the product manager, who has a lot of “functional” experience with apps (the engineer doesn’t write this). If you have never worked with your development team before, or if you think they need a lot of direction, you should write a Functional Specification, which contains wireframes and specifies in detail exactly what the app does. Clear requirements will guide your developers toward producing the app you’re expecting.
Focus on User Experience – For iOS devices, Apple emphasizes this throughout their iOS developer documentation. This goes from creating exceptional graphics to really thinking about the crux of your app and what it will do. Many people make the mistake of reinventing the wheel when it comes to the user interface (UI). Apple provides UI elements and conventions. These are all specified in their Human Interface Guidelines. One of the most important graphical elements is the App Icon, and you would be wise to focus resources here. The App Icon is the first thing users see when they first come across your app.
Test Thoroughly – Most folks outside of the software industry don’t understand what it means to test an app. Start by making a matrix of possible conditions your app is likely to encounter and how your app will handle them. What happens when the user is using your app and they get a call or an appointment reminder? Does the app require connectivity? What happens when the device switches from Wi-Fi to cellular data? What about when there is no connection? Can they use the app while listening to music? All of these possibilities define your use cases and test cases which make up your test plan. The app not only has to handle these cases gracefully, but must give intelligent and informed error messages to keep the user on track. Many apps today fall down quickly because the developers didn’t anticipate some of the most common conditions. Testing should be very thorough, and can easily take as long as development.
Although most apps fall short when it comes to quality, following these four best practices can help make your app successful.