9 Questions To Ask App Development Companies Before Hiring Them
I've been debating the most important questions to ask app development companies. How much does an app cost? How often should apps be updated? Should I get an Android or iOS app? Recently I had the chance to sit down with Chief-Changemaker Puff to discuss the most important questions you should be asking app development companies, but more importantly, what good answers sound like.
This is THE most common question app development companies get asked and the answer is never simple, but one of the things you should always make sure of is that your app developers mention the following aspects when it comes to app development costs:
How complicated your app is
The most expensive features
Android and iOS options
Ongoing costs and updates
Continuous improvement plans
How complicated is your app idea?
Will your users create profiles or communicate with each other? Do you plan on selling products or taking payments through the app? Depending on what you need your app to do, different features and functions will all cost different amounts, but usually the cost of apps ranges from:
Simple apps: <$50,000
Data consumption apps: $50,000 – $100,000
Login apps: $100,000 – $300,000
Social networking apps: $150,000 – $500,000
E-commerce apps: $200,000 – $1,000,000
On-demand apps: $100,000 – $1,500,000
Marketplace apps: $200,000 – $1,500,000
A few other costs to consider:
You might need a CMS (Content Management System) so you can edit, upload and manage content within your app, in which case this significant cost should be factored in at the beginning of your project.
What kind of features cost the most?
One thing to bear in mind:
You’re not actually paying for the features themselves, it’s the development time taken to build different features that ultimately influences your final cost. However, there are a few features that typically add higher costs to your app development project:
E-commerce: do you need to process payments securely?
Social Media: will you need sharing/profile options?
Databases: will you need to access/store user or third-party data?
User profiles: do your users need to log-in, have accounts or profiles?
Servers: will you need to use your developer’s servers/team going forward?
24/7 Support: will you need continuous support in case of emergencies?
Developers: will you need to hire developers for your in-house team?
Make sure app developers explore your goals:
A huge red flag is developers giving you an estimate purely based on your brief and ideas; your app developers should always look to achieve your goals in the most cost-efficient way possible.
Make sure they take the time to explore your goals, as often the most expensive features aren't the most valuable
Puff, Chief-Changemaker, 3SIDED CUBE
Which cost more: Android or iOS apps?
Android vs iOS App Stores:
Both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store have the same revenue conditions, being that they take 30% and give other 70% to the developers. Where they differ is that Google Play charges a single payment $25 while the App Store charges a $99 annual fee.
Developing Apps for Android & iOS:
React-Native is a platform for hybrid app development, meaning that apps can be developed in a single code-base which can dramatically reduce development costs, however using React-Native often means that certain features or functions either cannot be built, don’t work the way you imagine or are extremely complicated to execute.
Post-launch costs & continuous improvement plans:
Post-launch costs can often be underestimated and it’s down to app development companies to make sure there’s a clear plan of future updates and how they will be used to respond to feedback from your users.
Updates can be used to fix bugs, add new features, improve usability or change the design and branding of your app.
Continuous Improvement Plans are used to prioritise different features, functions or elements to make sure that post-launch, your updates add the most value to your users in the most cost-effective way.
What are payment milestones?
Specific stages in the process which are used to track your progress. It’s down to you and your developers to map out project milestones that suit the both of you, these could be before different stages in the project like initial designs and prototypes, completion of the final build or submission to the App Store.
The important part is that you make sure development companies don’t ask for costly payments upfront for obvious reasons. Milestones are a great way to work from a project management perspective as they break down the development process and set the standards for progress, as well as reducing issues with cash flow and creating more trust between yourselves and your developers.
A minimum of two milestones and a maximum of four or five... On completion of the first build, final build, submission or release on the App Store... These are the questions you should be asking your app development company
Design sprints and prototyping: six to twelve weeks
Development process: six to twelve weeks
Submission to the app store(s): up to two weeks
Continuous improvement plan: any length of time
Ongoing support and maintenance: ongoing.
The most important thing to make sure of:
Ensure that your app development company estimates stages separately and uses Agile project management methods. Leaving time for testing, feedback and improvements throughout design sprints during their process.
How to write an app development brief:
(1 - 2 weeks)
Briefing your app development company will require a few things no matter who you’re working with, like company information and contacts. But to give your app developers a full understanding of your project, you’ll want to include the following:
Project aims and success metrics
RFP (request for proposal)
Approximate budget range
Required delivery date (estimate)
A common mistake?
Sending app development companies RFP’s can create a road-map for your idea and project, giving them a better understanding of what it is ultimately they’re pitching for. The problem here is that often they force companies down the same tunnel by taking away opportunities for them to stand out by doing things differently.
Always give app development companies room to explore and challenge your ideas and give them the freedom they need to stand out from the crowd.
Researching your app idea:
(4 - 5 weeks)
The research stage is one of the most commonly underestimated, it’s used to build a shared understanding of a number of things like your idea, users, industry, competition, the problem you’re facing and how you and your developers will solve that problem. By the end of this stage you should come away with the following:
An MVP (minimum viable product)
The basics. MVP’s should always include the things most important to your users, and should never include any features that aren’t crucial for launch.
These effectively map out the users’ journey through your app and how they interact with it to achieve their goal. They test usability and interfaces to make sure your app is intuitive to use.
Not a fully functional app. The prototype at this stage should mimic certain features that are most important to your project, testing these and validating them before starting development.
You can complete this stage in as little as five days, but if budget and time allows, speak to more users and spread this out over three or four weeks.
Puff, Chief-Changemaker, 3 SIDED CUBE
How long do design sprints take?
(6 - 12 weeks)
A design sprint is a short process (usually five days), that answers business questions by designing, prototyping and testing elements of your app with users in the real world. Multiple sprints are required, but they save a LOT of time when it comes to finding problems later down the line.
If you want to include a specific feature, this stage in the process lets you build a basic design which can be tested with users to provide a number of insights. Like how much users actually value that feature, how they use it, when they use it, if it’s difficult to use, if accessing the feature is intuitive etc.
A major red flag?
If your app developers accept what you tell them without challenging your ideas or being willing to adapt the projects at different stages throughout the process.
Development time and prototyping:
(6 - 12 weeks)
Working alongside design sprints, rapid prototyping allows you to quickly and easily build simple versions of your app to test with your end users, being adapted based on their feedback.
This means you save a lot of time as changes are made efficiently, without having to lose work or start-over when things need changing.
Always make sure:
Your app developers test with real users in the real world. Without giving them direction or guidance, neither you or your developers will be able to spot the changes or improvements that your users will find from naturally using your app.
When you're going into the development phase, having done this kind of thinking upfront can save you a lot of time in the long run.
Puff, Chief-Changemaker, 3 SIDED CUBE
Deploying to the App Stores:
This stage can be broken down into two main areas; submitting your app and having it reviewed. Both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store require a few things from you before submission:
Contact and basic company info
Screenshots of your app features
Descriptions of what your app does
Icons for display in Store listings
Demonstrations of your app being used
Which store submission takes longer?
The Apple App Store: mainly because Apple has a far more in-depth reviewing process which is done manually. Whereas Android apps are pre-analysed by an algorithm for malware or obvious violations.
Deciding whether to develop your app for Android, iOS or both should never be taken lightly. There are a few aspects that will help you decide on which OS (Operating System) to choose, it comes down to users, devices and development.
Both OS share a lot of similarities, but where they differ can significantly impact how your app will be received, on top of the potential features or functionality and device capabilities.
It’s crucial that app development companies look at the two platforms separately and understand that they can be used differently to achieve different goals. Without just telling you that your app should be on both platforms.
Android vs iOS users.
There are far more devices running Android than iOS, which means that these users are spread across wider regions and areas, and there are significantly more of them.
Unsurprisingly due to the lower cost of devices, Android users are more prominent in developing or lower income areas. On the other hand, iOS users tend to be more clustered around large cities and urban areas.
First off iOS users on average spend more money on apps than Android users, including things like in-app purchases and membership fees. In contrast, Android users download free apps more regularly, testing the apps out before they decide whether or not to pay for them.
Ultimately it always comes back to your end users, what they're looking for and which platform your specific audience uses the most
Puff, Chief-Changemaker, 3 SIDED CUBE
Android vs iOS devices.
The differences between Android and iOS devices can include anything from camera quality to battery life and storage space. But looking at Android and iOS devices in general, the main differences that will influence your decision are customisation, quality and accessibility.
The quality of your app:
Android runs on far more devices than iOS, with all these devices having different capabilities like screens sizes, the design of your app will be very ranged in terms of the way different elements, colours and content is presented.
Your app’s accessibility:
Accessibility means making sure your mobile device can be used by people who have disabilities/impairments or even just struggle to use mobile technology. An accessible app is one which accommodates for larger text options, screen magnification or custom vibration settings.
As Android devices give users more UI (User Interface) options, it’s the commonly chosen platform for apps that focus on people with disabilities or impairments.
Android vs iOS development.
Without going into the app development process in too much detail, there are two separate pieces of software developers use to build apps, known as IDE’s (Integrated Development Studios). Both Android Studio and iOS Xcode let developers do a couple of things, including:
Drag and drop elements into different views
Draft user journeys through different pages in the app
Develop a range of API’s (Application Programming Interface)
Implement style sheets with brand colours, typography and imagery
Test the app in a virtual environment.
One difference worth mentioning relates to testing your app in virtual environments, as Android Studio uses an emulator to mimic the software being used, while iOS Xcode uses a simulator which also replicates the user’s device while testing.
Which platform takes longer to develop apps for?
Android, for one simple reason: fragmentation.
Fragmentation refers to the number of differences between Android devices and versions. Because apps more often than not need to be used across a number of these devices, developing them to work seamlessly on such a broader range means development time takes a lot longer and can be a lot more complex.
Whether you decide to build an Android, iOS or hybrid app, there's no right or wrong answers, just make sure you know what you're trying to achieve with each audience
Throughout the process of working on an app development project, there are a number of stages or phases no matter who you’re working with:
Researching & writing a brief
Design & development time
Staging & deployment
Continuous improvement plans
Ongoing support & maintenance.
The most important thing to make sure of:
That developers talk about using a mix of Agile and Waterfall project management methods, Agile means that the process is iterative and changes/adaptions can be made with little time or resources being wasted. While Waterfall ensures that there is an effective structure to the project and everyone is clear on what needs to be accomplished at which stages throughout the entire process.
Traditional vs Agile project management:
The more traditional project management method creates a more linear process, which ultimately means that the following stages of your project cannot be started until the previous step is completed.
A more iterative and adaptable approach, throughout the development process, you’ll be going over your app designs constantly based on feedback from testing with your end users.
What are design sprints?
Used to develop and test specific components of your app with users in the real world, design sprints usually take one or two weeks, and at the end of each sprint, decisions are made on which elements of your project add the most value for your users, before they go into development.
What level of involvement will developers need from you?
One of the most common and incorrect assumptions people make while working with app development companies is thinking that you’ll only be needed at specific milestones throughout your project.
App developers will need constant input from you, your team and your users. This could be during research and testing or deployment and submission, the important part is that you’re willing to get involved and lead the direction of the project yourself.
One thing to always make sure of?
That you’re not only communicating with your project manager. Yes, this is going to be the main person you’ll communicate with, but never underestimate the value of talking to the developers and creatives working on your project.
Quite often you're shielded from the developers and designers themselves. But if there's enough trust, it's often better to go straight to developers themselves
Typically, successful apps with many active users will be updated up to four times a month. The most important thing to mention here is the differences between these updates. Which will always differ depending on the complexity of what you’re trying to do.
For example, the bug fixing updates take a lot less time to complete than feature release updates, but again, these updates can be implemented together which will drastically change your plan for post-launch support and maintenance.
Make sure your app developers:
Put together a plan or at least a rough process on how you’ll update and maintain your app post-launch, it needs to be strategic in terms of prioritising new features and basing updates on the feedback from your users.
A ‘bug’ is a technical issue which makes your app crash once users take certain actions. After your app is launched you’ll receive a lot of feedback and bugs that make the app less usable or accessible on certain devices or OS versions.
The main cause of bugs in your app?
We’ve found that bugs are most commonly found in apps that use a CMS (Content Management System), as client-side teams usually tend to have less knowledge around these systems, they often implement new content that causes other elements to break or stop working effectively. If you plan on using a CMS or taking your project in-house, make sure your team have a full understanding of how to manage the app first.
Implementing new features:
People very often underestimate the amount of time and resources that will be needed to update their app after it’s live in the Store. To keep users engaged and active, new features will be introduced that weren’t available in the initial version of your app.
The complexity of these releases all depends on what you’re trying to achieve. But obviously they take far more time to complete than bug fixes, although updates can implement new features AND fix bugs, its down to you and your developers to plan out when updates will be implemented and how they’ll be used to improve the experience for your users.
New feature updates should only take one or two weeks of development time, but this doesn’t take into account the time taken to test the feature, fix any issues with it and have it approved by the Store.
Using continuous improvement plans:
These are the backlog of ideas that you plan on implementing after your app is launched and live in the Stores. They can include new functionality, features, designs or other elements which are prioritised based on the value they add to your end users.
Being iterative, continuous improvement plans will change based on the feedback from your users, each having a goal or objective in mind; if reports show a certain goal isn’t being achieved, CI plans give you the opportunity to make achieving these goals possible after your app is launched.
In the world of apps in particular, people have very high expectations of apps continuously improving and keeping them engaged with new features and designs
There are a number of ways app development companies should test your app, which all relate to which stage in the project testing occurs. From wireframes and initial stages to prototypes and high-fidelity designs, testing your app is a crucial part of each stage and should be used to achieve different insights and outcomes.
These are things app developers should always be doing:
Constantly looking for different ways to achieving your goals
Testing your ideas during the initial research stage
Iterating designs based on feedback from design sprints
Test specific features before developing them.
Testing your ideas during research:
This kind of testing should be used to asses basic concepts and ideas, gaining valuable insights into how valuable users find your ideas, how they want to use them in your app and what they feel could be improved.
At this stage, research should generally involve sketching, validating and prototyping:
Concepts should be tested in sketches as these designs require very low time and resource investment, they’re BASIC, meaning they may not perform from a technical perspective, but give clues to how people will use your app.
Validating with users:
Once sketches have been drawn-up, these can be tested with real users to gain insights on their first impressions of the app, how they would want to use it and other ways they feel their experience with the app could be improved.
Your prototype at this stage is far from a fully-functional app. Testing your initial research should lead on from sketches being validated, as these elements or features can be built in a simple way to make sure they’re effective before being developed.
Rapid Prototyping in design sprints:
Design sprints answer critical questions about your business, focusing on elements like user behaviour, commercial strategy, innovation, design and more. The step-by-step process can take varying lengths of time, but typically aim to:
Challenge & explore concepts
Define & scope problems
Find & test solutions
Your app development company should be challenging your ideas and concepts as they understand that it doesn’t matter what you or they think the problem is, it matters what your end users think the problem is.
Quite often people will come to us with a fully-fleshed out solution, but during this initial testing stage, it becomes very apparent very quickly which features really do add value
Whether you’re submitting your app to the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, you’ll need a couple of things that are a little more complicated and your app development company should be taking care of, but the requirements from you will usually include putting together assets, creating an App Store listing and submitting version for review.
These assets can be pretty simple or complicated depending on your project and product, the important thing to remember is to think about creating your listing to suit your users perspective, not your own.
What do you need before submitting to the App Store?
The first thing to mention here is that these are not the ONLY things you’ll need; as there are more technical requirements that are down to your app development company to cover, such as the final build, versioning and certification.
The parts you need to worry about include the following:
All of these aspects will differ depending on the scope of your project and app being submitted to the Store, but regardless, App Store Optimisation is going to play a HUGE part in how your app performs.
What is ASO (App Store Optimisation)?
This is the process of gaining higher rankings in search results on the App Store. By taking your users languages, phrases and terminology into consideration you can see which keywords have the highest searches and decide on an ASO strategy that put your app in front of the right people.
Your name should include your primary keywords and focus on the way your audience naturally searches for your apps, using their language and phrases to match keywords with what they’re searching for. Keywords are a great way to ‘index’ your app and let the Store and your users know what your app does and what it’s content is about, keywords are a great way to distinguish your app from others in your category.
Besides these, your description also plays a role but make sure you it reads well and get’s your message across; trying to fit your keywords in will make the description less impactful and effective, leading to potential users deciding not to download it.
The most important thing to mention here is that when it comes to measuring the success of your app, development companies should be asking and questioning your definition of success right at the start of your project.
That way you’ll always have an end goal in mind and always have a purpose to what you’re developing. Make sure you use metrics and KPI’s (Key Performance Indicator) to ensure objectives are actually measurable and can be sued to inform continuous improvement plans and ongoing support.
A few examples of metrics:
Engagement metrics: How people use your app. This covers things like how many pages they view and how much time they spend using the app per session.
Outcome metrics: Tracking users’ actions. From sending contact forms to making appointments or visiting websites, these are the events users take that indicate a conversion.
Behavioural metrics: This type of metric is less common but plays a large role in defining your audience and user-base. Reporting on the locations and times of day people interact with your app the most.
Retention metrics: This refers to how many times people come back to your app and although is similar to engagement, usually involves active users who open/use the app several times per day.
KPI's based on these metrics:
Your KPI’s are what define the success of your metrics and objectives. They need to include a figure or statistic that can be tracked, as well as a time-frame for which these figures or stats need to be achieved by. Typically these are based on a monthly basis, but can differ if you’re planning on longer-term achievements.
Metric: Monthly Engagement.
KPI: Achieve an average of 2:00 minutes per session.
Metric: Monthly Retention:
KPI: Have 60% of users open the app more than four times per day.
By setting metrics and KPI’s this way, you can not only measure the success of your app in terms of different aims and objectives, but also use these reports to find room for improvement; providing insights into which areas you need to focus on to give your users a better experience.
This one’s a given. When it comes to finding out about app development companies previous or present clients and projects, you should never stop at reading the case studies on their website. There are a few other ways to find out this information in far more detail, from the client rather than the developers:
You’ll want to use a mix of different methods including looking through the app development company’s website (blog, projects, team) as well as their social media channels.
For apps, the most commonly-used business directories are Clutch and Business of Apps. They’re a great way to filter agencies based on a number of things including reviews and ratings from their clients. You can get a better idea of what it’s like to work with an agency from their client’s perspective.
One of the most valuable resources however is the market leader matrix which can be customised by different criteria. Company directories make it easy to create or refine your list of app developers you’d consider working with.
Given the plethora of different awards and categories, browsing the most well-known is a great way to get the best range of projects and work that developers have completed for their clients, a few places start:
UK App Awards
Wirehive 100 Awards
You can refine your search and check out the previous winners of different award categories to find an agency that’s been recognised as the best in a certain sector, that’s relevant to your app or app idea.
So the likelihood of someone recommending an app agency is definitely low, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t happen. App-related networking events are probably the best way to really meet and get to know people you may end up working with.
You’ll definitely either meet someone who’s in the same position as you and might be able to give you some advice or insights, or someone who’s had their idea turned into an app and can point you in the right direction.
Is there another question you want us to answer?
Let us know @3SIDEDCUBE and #AskPuff for her insights and answers!
Published on July 11, 2018, last updated on August 9, 2018