How to communicate with developers

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The wind blew across the blue waves, and set the tone of the day: blue. There is a downed tree in their yard, I wonder when they’re going to take care of it? Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Language is an imprecise tool – especially when you’re attempting to communicate abstract, involved ideas and concepts. Language barriers aren’t just limited to foreign languages – they’re present amongst different professions as well.

Take, for example, the muddy waters of acronyms (which tech is rife with): A chemical engineer is talking to a software engineer about APIs. The chemical engineer thinks they’re speaking about Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients, and the software engineer is thinking Application Programming Interfaces – they’re both engineers (admittedly in very different fields) but they’re talking about completely different subjects, all while using the exact same acronym.

This game of telephone is compounded when two (or more) people who work within completely different schools of thought are communicating the intentions of their ideas. We’ve all been trained to think in different ways, depending on our type of profession: writers live and die by the five w’s and the upside down pyramid, while graphic designers think in the rule of thirds and adhere to visual hierarchy. Mechanical engineers live and breathe f=ma and deal with safety regulations while physicists work with… well, who really knows? You get the idea.

Okay, okay… just one more. A software engineer is sent to the grocery store with a set of instructions: “Buy a carton of milk, and if they have eggs, get six.” The engineer comes back with six cartons of milk. The person who sent them to the store asks, “why did you buy six cartons of milk?” The engineer replies, “They had eggs.”

How to break through the barrier

The first thing to keep in mind (and this is very important) is that software engineers are people too. As much fun as it is to pretend like they’re robots, they have feelings just like you and me – and communicating with them as such is crucial to a successful development cycle.

The easiest way to get around miscommunication is to accept it will happen – and plan for it in your development schedule. There’s a lot going on during mobile app development – a UI designer will look at a project one way, while a programmer will look at it from a different lens, and a project manager will have a unique perspective as well.

Treat your people like people, and you’ll already be miles ahead.

Be organized

It doesn’t matter what tools your team uses to communicate with each other and keep tasks organized – all that matters is you do it. There’s a bunch of project management platforms out there for you to choose from, but it’s important to pick the one that fits your team’s needs and preferences the best.

We like to use Trello, as we can keep track of an entire sprint and the tasks that make up the sprint in an easily digestible format. Our project manager will break these tasks down into individual features that need to be implemented, with specific details of what the final product should be – the flow, the visuals, and the information that must be included.

It’s important to make a distinction here – a project manager doesn’t tell the software engineers how to implement a feature – just what features need to be implemented where. A good project manager can admit they aren’t as technically savvy as the software engineers (unless they were originally a programmer), and will communicate that to their dev team. A good project manager should also know every use case scenario, every step of the app’s process and it’s flow, and it’s entire feature set.

Our project manager rarely fields technical questions – most of the questions software engineers will ask are more about clarification than “how do I do this?” Questions you can expect from developers will be:

“Where should I place the quotations in the text field?” Or, “What font should I use?”

It’s best to provide every piece of information every time. Don’t worry about making your lists pretty – software engineers aren’t worried about that. What they’re concerned with is getting things to their exact specifications. If your project uses multiple fonts, denote which fonts should be used where for each and every task. If you need an to turn 50% opaque after being interacted with, include that information in the task.

There’s no such thing as “over describing” when it comes to code. Say what you mean in the simplest terms possible, repeat information whenever necessary, and communicate exactly what you want and expect. The less wiggle room, the better – be direct.

Code iterations can become repetitive – if you have a sneaking suspicion that you and a software developer are speaking about two different features, clarify. Programmers love clarification.

A picture is worth a thousand words

A prototype is worth a million. If your software engineers can actually analyze what the final product should look like, and how it should act, they’re much more likely to implement your concept correctly. Just like project management tools, there’s a lot of prototyping platforms out there. We prefer to use Invision.

It’s good practice to keep track of your assets by assigning a universal naming convention, i.e. “homescreen_header.svg” rather than just “header.svg”. This will help your developers keep track of what goes where. Checklists are a big help here.

Don’t be afraid to use sketches either – they don’t have to be pretty to get the idea across. Use every medium available to you to express your idea before development gets into the swing of things. Use flowcharts to help software engineers keep track of the flow of the app.

Know your project

Top to bottom, front to back. The more you know about your project – the better. Software engineers don’t have the answer to everything. The work they do might seem like magic, but a lot of programmers are very specialized – a front end developer might even have less knowledge about backend logic than you!

The key to good development is to build a good relationship with your software engineers – and this is achieved by clear and concise communication.

Guest blog: Benefits of proximity marketing and how to plan a campaign

This is a guest blog written by our good friends at Kumulos, specifically Caroline McClelland, Kumulos’ Marketing Manager.

With 17 years of marketing management experience in global organizations including information technology, financial services and retail, Caroline has great passion for mobile marketing and building high performing digital teams to work creatively in all areas of marketing.

When it comes to mobile marketing, proximity marketing is one of the fastest ways to gain a competitive edge for your business. Whether you already have a mobile app, or are planning to develop a mobile app, you need to know that personalization is now the key success factor. Proximity marketing – aka personalization – is vital to provide an awesome mobile app experience users.

This guest blog from our technology partner Kumulos not only explains the benefits of proximity marketing but how to plan a campaign.

PROXIMITY MARKETING – WHAT IS IT?

Proximity marketing simply refers to communicating with customers at the right place, at the right time, with a personalized mobile message. It bridges the gap between offline and online marketing. Beacons, geofencing and push notifications play a vital role.

There are so many benefits of proximity marketing – far too many for one blog post. According to Beaconstac, proximity marketing is 16 times more effective than Google Pay per click! From easy geotargeting to improve app engagement and improved retention, you’ll be compelled to execute a proximity marketing campaign soon!

THE POWER OF PROXIMITY MARKETING

For years, we have seen the power of proximity marketing. In particular, the retail sector is notorious for geotargeting each other’s outlets. Even back in 2014, Dunkin Donuts delivered discount coupons to people near Starbucks. Needless to say, this gave them substantially higher coupon redemption rates. Recently, the initiative from Burger King is a great example of how to use the power of relevance and immediacy by offering customers something highly relevant and timely. Their proximity promotion was designed to retain customers that may be tempted to a competitor and promote a new feature in their app.

It’s not just retail which is benefiting from proximity marketing. Beacons are effectively used across all industries including airports, events, hotels, real estate and more. In fact, they work anywhere that there are people with your app on their mobile device.

So, before executing a proximity marketing campaign, let’s take a look at some of the benefits of adopting this personalized mobile marketing.

BENEFITS OF PROXIMITY MARKETING

1: Geotargeting Is Easy With Proximity Marketing

It’s so easy. Just pick a precise location so that when someone enters, exits or lingers within that geofence, a push notification is sent to that person’s mobile. Geofence technology can also send messages to anyone present within a geofence immediately or with a preset delay. If you use segments and channels you can send different messages to different customers who enter the same geofence and/or are near to a beacon. What’s more, beacons provide more detailed location data than GPS or WIFI tracking.

2: Proximity Marketing Increases App Engagement

Keeping users engaged is one of the most important ways of ensuring the commercial success of any app. For any business where the location is important, geotargeting in conjunction with push notifications is one of the most effective app engagement tools.

3: Beacons Help To Improve App Retention

Improving app retention is a priority for all businesses with a mobile app. Setting up proximity marketing campaigns with beacons is a sure way of increasing brand loyalty and improving customer retention. It’s important to have app analytics in place so that you can create reports on the open rate and engagement rate for push notifications.

The average clickthrough rate (CTR) for beacon-based push notifications can be as high as 80%. With this high CTR, it’s easy to see why beacons can help transform the customer experience.

4: Proximity Marketing Helps You Gain A Competitive Edge

By creating an interactive environment for your customers, not only will this help engage them and retain them but it will give your brand a competitive edge. However, there is a fine line between improving customer experience and appearing creepy with too many disruptive messages. This is why you need to analyze your target audience and spend time on your mobile marketing automation strategy.

5: Proximity Marketing Gives You Immediate Conversions

By increasing app engagement, a proximity marketing campaign will help you with your conversion goals. With proximity campaigns, you immediately connect with prospects when they are most in a situation to purchase from your brand. Retailers can prompt customers, at the perfect timing, with enticing offers such as discount push notifications.

6: Proximity Marketing = A Personalized Experience

Personalization is a key aspect to any customer experience. In retail, for example, with proximity marketing, not only can businesses send personalized messages to app users…but at the same time, the store staff can be alerted if a loyal customer walks in, enabling them to offer the best in-store experience to regular customers.

PLANNING A PROXIMITY MARKETING CAMPAIGN

When it comes to planning a proximity campaign, there are a number of things to take into consideration. Firstly, there’s identifying the target audience. Secondly, the content strategy requires attention. Thirdly, you need to think about the metrics you’ll track to measure the success of the campaigns.

But, most importantly you need to think about the digital technology required and find a great mobile app development partner. A mobile app developer will need to incorporate a beacon solution along with a push notifications service. With many options available, it’s important to find a mobile app developer, like NS804 who uses both a beacon solution provider and push notifications provider with a great fit. These solutions provide mobile app developers with great options for location triggered push notifications and proximity marketing using beacons and geofence technology.

IMPLEMENTING A PROXIMITY MARKETING CAMPAIGN

As mentioned, selecting the right technology partner is key to implementing your proximity marketing campaign. So here’s what you need to know before you contact your mobile app developer.

Beacons

Beacons came on the tech scene in 2013 when Apple announced new iBeacon technology.

But buying beacon hardware is not always the most efficient answer as you also need a developer on board with plenty time. This is why many businesses prefer a complete proximity marketing solution from their digital transformation partner.

Geofencing

Geofencing has become a standard practice for plenty of businesses. It is a location-based service that allows you to set up a virtual boundary around a specified location such that whenever a device enters or exits the defined boundaries, an alert is sent to the administrator. Geofencing software along with SMS marketing systems and push notifications tools allow businesses to use a customer’s location to send out messages when they’re near a defined boundary, such as their shop.

Push Notifications

Regardless of the technology in use, your push notifications are the most important part of your proximity campaign. Timely and relevant push notifications have a great influence on customer behavior. A good mobile marketing automation platform will enable you to schedule push notifications and manage geofences. For example, mobile app developers can easily provide app clients with proximity marketing by accessing a mobile app performance management platform.

PROXIMITY MARKETING IS HERE TO STAY

Remember that proximity marketing isn’t just limited to mobile devices. Wearables can also receive beacon notifications. So, if you are seeking new ways to gain a competitive edge, it’s time you suggested proximity marketing. Whether you want to have a mobile app developed or enhanced, there’s a proximity marketing solution which will fit your requirements.

ABOUT KUMULOS

Kumulos App Performance Management platform comes with a comprehensive range of services covering the entire life cycle of the app. Its 5 integrated services include app store optimization, analytics & reporting, backend hosting, crash reporting & endpoint monitoring and its award winning push notifications service, which received awards from Business of Apps, Mobile App Daily and The Tool. It provides a management console for mobile app developers, like NS804, to gain comprehensive visibility on how all client apps are performing technically and commercially.

Richmond Inno’s Tech Madness

When we first heard we were officially nominated to be a competitor in Richmond Inno’s Tech Madness, we were honestly floored. While we’re proud of our work culture, our partners’ ideas, and the apps we build, we do our best to remain humble – when you’re a small tech company, there’s no time to pat yourself on the back. You either stay hungry, or you go by the wayside.

Out of our five guiding principles, being humble is the first and most important tenant we stick by, so it’s a little weird to write a blog post such as this – but another guiding principle of ours is to always remain grateful – for every opportunity, every learning experience, every client – and especially, when others appreciate our work.

When we saw the line up of amazing companies we would be competing against, we were honored to be included among them – and to be a frank, a little hesitant to hope for much in terms of advancement in Richmond Inno’s Tech Madness bracket.

Our first round of competition had us paired up with ARtGlass – an innovative company with a truly amazing vision for AR implementation in cultural sites like art galleries, museums, and historical landmarks. It was honestly difficult to post on social media asking for our followers to vote – this whole event is based around who you would invest in, and I’d invest in ARtGlass.

They were a number one seed, and we were just happy to be included. And then, we were in round two, the sweet sixteen.

There was a lot of celebration on our Slack office channel the next morning – but then everyone quickly got back to work – we live and die by sticking to an unending push forward, after all.

Our next competitor was SSUPP Foods – another company doing great things for RVA. They make plant based, vegan, gluten free dips packed with essential nutrients (and flavor) using a sustainable farming method that is both quick (an incredible 7-day growth cycle) and a lot less impactful on the environment than conventional farming methods. Not to mention, this is all done indoors in an urban environment – they’re truly solving the issues civilization will face in the future when it comes to the effects of climate change on agriculture and food production.

Sustainability is something we as a company (and individuals) care about deeply, so it was with a humble heart that we asked our social followers to once again vote for us. It was a close race, but we won the round. We took a moment to once again congratulate ourselves, and the “Tada!” Emoji on our Slack office channel was utilized plentifully on the morning of the 20th. But yet again, it was back to work – mobile development waits for no one.

And now, it’s the final day of Richmond Inno’s Elite 8. We’re up against TraceRX, a supply chain management company that provides tracking from start to finish with their app that uses cloud computing and secure blockchain to empower humanitarian aid workers, and provide them with a tool that helps organize and manage their important and essential mission.

Another truly amazing company – just like every competitor in Tech Madness. There’s a little over ten hours left in this round, and no matter the outcome of the votes, we’re humbled to have made it this far, passionate about our current projects and our ideas for the future, unified in our vision, grateful to be included among such amazing RVA companies, and excited to continue providing our fantastic partners with a service that helps them build great apps.

UPDATE: We’re in the Semi-Finals!

We’re floored! Once again, we didn’t expect to make it out of the Elite 8 (especially up against an amazing venture like TraceRX), but here we are! TraceRX, we’re sad to see you go – you have a truly impactful mission for good. We’re now paired with Occasion Genius, a powerhouse in Richmond. No matter what happens, we’re honored to have gotten this far! Thank you to everyone who has voted for us, and Richmond Inno for putting on this amazing event!

 

App Trends – If we were going to build an app, what would it be?

So, I’ve been writing content for NS804 for about six months now (congrats, me!), and for four of those months, I’ve had a singular question written at the top of my cubicle’s whiteboard:

What is the number one question people ask about making apps?

It’s a question I’ve been mulling over when I’m trying to sleep at night, and it’s something I try to consider during all of my content ideation. But it’s a pretty open-ended, context-subjective query.

I’m not even attempting to say I figured it out – I believe it’s an important question to continuously ask because it’s so chase-able and mutable. But I do think the subject of this blog post, at the very least, skims the surface.

The insider’s perspective

Just because I’ve only been creating content for NS804 for six months doesn’t mean I only have access to six months worth of mobile development experience – we’ve been around since 2012, after all.

I wanted to write a piece about app trends (which, if you’re looking for more content relating to current trends of the mobile market, check out this fantastic blog post by Kumulos’ Marketing Manager, Caroline McClelland). I also wanted to at least try to answer this question I’ve been chasing continuously.

So, in my best attempt to answer this previously posed question, I grabbed our CEO, Nick Jones, in our motivational poster-lined hall and asked, “If you were going to make an app, what would it be?”

Without hesitation, he responded with “On-Demand.” He’s a man of few, but pertinent words.

I also proposed the same question to our Business Development Manager, Jon Osborn. As his headphones blasted Biggie in the background (turn the volume down, Jon! Your poor ears!), he answered with:

“Enterprise AR, Process Consolidation (think a master platform), and games.”

So, let’s talk about those.

On-Demand apps

“Wait,” you might find yourself thinking. “On-demand isn’t trendy. Uber was 2009.”

And you’d be right about that – but just because the taxi service industry was flipped upside down a decade ago, doesn’t mean every industry has had its own shake-up. Both millennials and Gen Z have incredibly high purchasing power (in the billions), and love on-demand services – I might belong to the “industry-killing” millennial generation, but I would tout it’s much more accurate to say we like what we like, and we don’t what we don’t. I’ve always failed to see why “the customer is always right” doesn’t apply to millennials for some reason. The inability to adapt spelled the doom of the dinosaurs, just as it’ll spell the doom of Applebee’s. But, I’ve gone on a tangent.

There’s more ground to cover in the on-demand industry than just transportation and entertainment. The amount of service-based sectors that could evolve to work within an on-demand business model is truly staggering – and that’s why it’s expected to become a $335 billion industry by 2025.

The on-demand business model is the greatest boon to local and small businesses since, well, anything. On-demand services benefit from an intensely personal relationship to the consumer, so smaller companies actually have a leg up when compared to big box retailers and the like. Small companies with low overhead also have a strong potential to tailor their services to the demands of an on-demand business model, unlike their larger counterparts.

This isn’t to say large companies can implement their own on-demand services – just look at Kroger’s Pickup. The difference is, however, the potential for growth. If you’re a small business owner, this is the time to build an app to create an on-demand service within your business. It might seem like a heavy investment, but the payoff is worth it.

Millennials don’t like talking on the phone. It takes a lot of time, it’s not conducive to accurate dissemination of information, and it’s not on-demand enough. If your business uses phone calls to communicate with customers in any step of your funnel, you can implement an on-demand form of communication for booking, delivery, or any other service. If millennials are given the chance to place an order online or through an app versus over the phone, they’ll go with the online order every time – even if it takes a little longer.

Enterprise AR

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about AR at the enterprise level, and it certainly won’t be the last. Right now, with a lack of truly pervasive and useful wearables, AR or MxR isn’t entirely ready to make a splash. This is, however, soon to change; wearables are on the rise, and MxR headsets like Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 are soon going to be making waves in the manufacturing industry.

If you want to get ahead of the game with an evergreen, scalable app, go with AR. Once companies realize AR’s potential to dramatically cut training costs, improve worker efficiency, and increase quality, everyone is going to want an AR app to enhance their potential revenue.

Most of the logic behind AR apps is adaptable to many situations, so it’s incredibly scalable. If you build out your logic now, your business could focus on front end development for AR apps, and basically re-brand your backend to fit with the needs of your current client.

The “master platform” app

Time is money. That’s nothing new – but the potential to streamline a business’ internal processes has never been greater.

A master platform app is the perfect way to cut through the chaff of running a business – your accountants can access their books on their desktops, while your sales team can jot down and track leads through their phones, and your customer service reps can engage customers on their POS.

With one platform containing all of these different systems, it cuts down on training time, subscription fees, and time wasted transferring data between incompatible enterprise services.

The best part is, just like AR apps, the backend of a master platform app would largely be the same between one company or another, so it too is scalable.

Games

There’s nothing trendy about games, per se. Gaming trends come about with the advancement of technology – from mancala to jacks, to Pac Man and Flappybird.

There is a new trend coming about with mobile devices, however – foldable phones. This will be a huge boost for the UX of mobile games – right now, mobile games need to account for the fact that at least a quarter of the device’s screen will be blocked by the users’ thumbs. This will all change with foldable phones.

With the ability to interact with two screens, one can be dedicated to controls, opening up the possibility for more intricate or challenging game design. Visuals will also be enhanced as an entire screen can now be dedicated solely to display, rather than acting as a hybrid between visuals and control schemes.

The clamshell design is the optimal design for mobile (what was previously called hand-held) gaming – Nintendo adopted this style with the Gameboy SP in 2003, and with the release of the first generation DS three years later, solidified the UX of this design. Nintendo has been creating addicting games that utilize two screens in truly inspiring ways – and now mobile gaming will have the ability to do the same.

If you’ve been considering making a mobile game, but have been overwhelmed by the amount of saturation in the mobile gaming market, think about what you could do with a foldable phone. Many existent games will attempt to adapt their current UI to foldable phones, but it’ll be the games that were made with two screens in mind that will truly shine.

Think about the user

Trends are called trends for a reason – they’re not permanent, nor fool-proof rules. Whenever you’re in the process of ideation for a mobile app, always focus on achieving one goal – solving your users’ pain point. Nothing is as powerful (or profitable) as an app that creates a positive change in your users’ lives, and that’s not a trend – it’s human nature.

Measuring your app’s success – with Kumulos

For the past couple of months we’ve been going over both the basic theory of, and different strategies for the implementation of a successful ASO campaign. But one (very important) part we haven’t covered is how to actually measure your app’s growth.

There are many different ways to go about measuring your app’s success, but we’re going do a virtual tour of our favorite app analytics platform – Kumulos.

Before we do, we’re (really quickly) going to go over the absolute basics of ASO, and why it’s just as important to keep track of your ASO campaign as it is to come up with one.

ASO: Just the facts

  • ASO stands for App Store Optimization, and is the process of improving the visibility of an app through the means provided in the App Store or Google Play
  • Keywords are the basis of ASO – just like SEO
  • ASO isn’t just limited to the App Store or Google Play – it ties in with your SEO, as well as the UX of your app itself
  • The rules and trends of ASO are ever changing – just like SEO

Why you need to keep track of your app’s performance

Just because a keyword works well one week doesn’t mean it will perform well the next – staying on top of keyword trends requires close observation of your install rates when changes occur. Also, a powerful tool, A/B testing, can provide a big boost to your app’s rankings – but only if you analyze the data your changes bring.

Keeping track of your competitors performance is just as important as analyzing your own app’s success, and we’ll cover how to do just that a little bit later in this blog. To put it simply, if you’re not analyzing your app’s (and your competitors’) performance, you’re flying blind – and your ASO efforts will eventually hit a wall.

Measuring your app’s success – with Kumulos

There’s a lot you can do through Kumulos:

    Keep track of your ASO campaigns on both the App Store and Google Play – from your app’s description to when you last updated it, and everything in between

  1. Analyze (and create) reports on user acquisition and retention, as well as audience engagement, conversion rates, and your API performance
  2. Explore and analyze events
  3. Keep track of your backend: API use, current SDKs, tables, and more
  4. View reports that are updated every 5 minutes covering app issues, crashes, and other monitoring checks
  5. Last but not least- schedule, implement, and analyze push notifications
  6. Managing your ASO with Kumulos

    Kumulos

    This is the screen you will see after opening your app’s ASO tab. From here you can view all of the information your app displays on the App Store and Google play.

    From the ASO tab, you can compare both your App Store and Google Play efforts. This keeps the access of this information in one place, making it easy for developers to keep track of both campaigns – and allows for simple synchronization, or differentiation, depending on how users on both platforms respond to your ASO campaign implementations.

    Kumulos

    When you click on a specific tab under ASO, Kumulos will give you a detailed breakdown of all pertinent data

    Not only does Kumulos keep track of your keyword rankings, it also helps you figure out how your competitors are doing as well:

    Kumulos

    By clicking the gear highlighted above, you can find a lot of information on your own keywords, and your competition’s:

    Kumulos

    Knowing what keywords your competition is ranking for can help you decide where to focus – consider the following when strategizing your keywords:

    • Just because everyone else is competing for a certain keyword or phrase, doesn’t mean it’s the best
    • Try putting high-competition keywords in the title of your app. For example, “Brew Trader – Trade Beer Better”
    • Mix in low-competition keywords to catch potential users, such as “Beer Trader” versus the more popular “Beer Swap”
    • Make sure most of your keywords and phrases are as specific as possible – while it is important to rank for generic keywords like “beer,” you’ll achieve higher rankings by getting specific with your keywords

    Kumulos also keeps track of your app’s user ranking and user reviews, so you never have to leave the Kumulos portal to analyze the entirety of your ASO.

    Tracking analytics with Kumulos

    Kumulos

    This is where things start to get really cool – as you can see above, there’s a lot you can do with the analytics tab.

    1. Acquisition

    Kumulos

    By clicking the menu button highlighted above, you can select specific items to visualize

    Some things to keep in mind when looking at your app’s acquisition:

    • Retention is an important stat if you app has a demand for daily use – if it doesn’t, you don’t need to worry about it too much
    • Daily users and monthly installs are key metrics to keep track of
    • Look for power users (users who log in continually and daily)
    • Your acquisition report is your key to A/B testing – this is where you’ll find out if the change you made (such as switching your app’s icon or swapping a keyword) had a positive or negative impact on your conversion rates.

      Under acquisition, you’ll also find:

      Kumulos

      How your rankings have changed over time, compared to your competitors.

      2. Audience

      Kumulos

      You’ll use this tab to figure out where you users are coming from, as well as:

      Kumulos

      Breakdowns of which users are using which platform (sorted by version), and which version of your app they are using.

      Use this section to help plan your acquisition campaigns, and keep track of the OS users are on – if a large portion of your users are on older versions of an OS, you’ll want to make sure your updates don’t ruin their UX (such as reducing the compatibility with smaller screen resolutions).

      3. Engagement

      The first thing you’ll see under engagement is this:

      Kumulos

      By studying your session distribution chart, you can figure out the best times to send out push notifications. There are two ways to go about scheduling push notifications:

      1. Send notifications on a busy day right before a peak usage time (in order to maximize the number of users in a given span of time)
      2. Or, send notifications on slower days to boost retention on low volume days

      You can always mix and match to get the most from your push notifications, but we’ll get more into that later.

      Reports via Kumulos

      My favorite Kumulos feature is the report tab. You can generate an interactive PDF based on a range of dates that will provide a breakdown of all the information you’ll need to make strategic decisions for your ASO campaign.

      Kumulos

      Push

      Kumulos

      Under the push tab, you can keep track of who is subscribing to your push notifications. You can also schedule and automate notifications, as well as target specific groups of users, and analyze who’s opening what.

      Kumulos

      Kumulos does a fantastic job of organizing a facet of ASO that is difficult to keep track of, especially with the “sent” tab. Here, you can look back through your app’s history of campaign-driven and event-driven notifications in order to keep track of where you are within a campaign.

      Backend

      Kumulos

      Here you can find everything you need to keep track of your app’s backend: API use, SDKs, API performance, Hookup connection, and all of your application’s details.

      Diagnostics

      Kumulos

      This is a tab you should visit at least once a day – the effects of crashes or app issues on your app’s ASO can quickly spiral out of control. Kumulos helps you keep track by continuously updating this tab every five minutes, so you know as soon as something happens.

      Kumulos is an all-in-one app analytics platform

      Not only does Kumulos provide a complete hub of all your ASO information, it’s very user friendly – this is especially due to the report feature, which allows you to send all the analytics of a campaign in an auto-populated PDF for easy dissemination of information. We love sending these reports to clients, as the data breakdowns are simple enough for anyone to digest – whether or not they know the theory behind ASO.

      The push feature is great as well – not only does Kumulos keep track of all your analytics, it actually provides an actionable service. This is a powerful inclusion in the platform, as it gives you the ability to directly analyze user opening trends, and create a new push campaign based on your analytics, all without ever leaving their service!

      Anyway, I just want to say a thank you to the folks over at Kumulos for their help with this blog – and if you’re interested in getting started with Kumulos, drop by and give them a ring! They’re all fantastic people!

All about beta testing: When, why, and how

There’s no harsher reality than facing criticism about something you call your own, especially after investing time and resources into your brainchild. This is, however, a crucial step to the success of any business venture, and doubly so when it comes to the app development cycle – and by facing the music before launch, you can jumpstart your app on its path to success.

Marketing companies use focus groups, manufacturers meet standards with quality assurance, and software developers rely on beta testing.

What is beta testing?

There comes a time in every app’s cycle of development where it’s mostly put together, and it’s ready to test its wings. Before its inaugural flight, however, it’s a smart move to have a dress rehearsal in order to identify bugs. This is the purpose of a beta test; it’s a limited release of your app (as its most current, nearly-complete version) among a select audience, with the expectation of receiving constructive criticism about your app from that audience.

It’s an integral but over-looked facet of software development, and while this does add another step to the app development cycle, it ultimately reduces cost, cuts time spent debugging, and serves as a testing ground for future user acquisition and retention strategies.

Below, you’ll find a bunch of reasons detailing why beta testing is important, what you need to know in order to successfully run a beta test, and who to include in your app’s beta test.

Improve your app’s quality

Most developers have their own app testers, and software engineers and project managers will also test builds after every sprint, but there is one major issue when it comes to a dev team testing their own app: they know the ins and outs of the build, the exact specifications of the app’s intended use, and every aspect of the app’s flow. While it’s important to have the team test their own work, it’s virtually essential to bring in outside perspectives in order to catch every snag and bug.

Different testing environments: When you open your app to beta testing, you gain access to a wide variety of devices and usage environments through which to test your app. This is important because your app might not work or display the same way on a Galaxy when compared to a Pixel, just like how a website can look different depending on what browser you’re viewing it in. The actual environment a user is in can also affect the functionality of an app – especially if it requires a wi-fi connection. Your app must work the same everywhere, regardless if the user is in a sub way or a corn field.

Bug detection: The more people that are involved in testing, the greater a chance of a bug being caught. This is because the user base involved in the beta test won’t follow intended user paths as readily as your own dev team, due to lacking the familiarity your team has with the app from actually building it. Its like the difference between an artist explaining their work, versus someone else describing how it makes them feel – while the artist might have a more intimate connection to their piece, what really matters is how their audience feels about it.

There’s something to be said about making something yourself, whether it be a meal or piece of art. There’s nothing like coming up with an idea and executing it from inception to completion, all on your own.

A lot of developers will pay to have a dedicated tester for this very reason, and launching a beta test of your app is essentially adding hundreds (sometimes even thousands) of testers for free.

Improve user friendliness: Not everyone thinks the same way – and that’s a good thing when it comes to beta testing. By bringing in extra pairs of eyes into the testing of your app, you get a clearer picture about how your users will actually interact with your app. Steps in your apps flow might have seemed clear to your development team, but might not be to your beta test users, and it’s always better to rework your app’s flow before its true launch. Users are naturally more forgiving during beta tests than they are with finished products, so they are more likely to give feedback when confused, rather than just abandoning your app for another.

App performance (tech stack): During your beta test, you can analyze different aspects of your app’s performance, the first being the technical side of your app. By looking through multiple user scenarios, you can see what functionalities are used, and which are ignored. If possible, either take these ignored features out of your app entirely, or reduce them to the aspects that are actually being used. Reducing the overall size of your app is important, as 25% of smartphone users have deleted an app from their device solely to free up storage space.

You can also test for crashes and other app-breaking bugs, another big detractor from your app’s user retention.

App performance (user behavior): The second aspect of app performance you can analyze is your app’s user behavior. Despite mapping out the obvious aspects, like user flow within your app, you can analyze other trends, such as the daily, weekly, and monthly patterns of user retention. By figuring out the rate of engagement within your app, you can set a schedule of push notifications, and try it out, all during the beta testing. This will take away some of the burden of creating your ASO campaign.

Reduce cost

It might seem a little backwards, but adding in the extra step and taking the extra hours to conduct beta testing actually reduces the overall cost of making an app. This is for two main reasons:

  1. Speeds up the publishing and app launch process
  2. Reduces overall testing time

Both the App Store and Google Play have rules for publishing your app, and the App Store has an actual app review process. If your app doesn’t meet certain guidelines, it will be denied, and you’ll have to go through the process all over again, which delays your app’s launch, therefore increasing the chances of a competing app getting to market before yours does.

Beta testing also reduces your time spent testing your app – this is because you iron out all the kinks in one fell swoop – rather than testing being staggered and dispersed over the course of weeks, or sometimes even months. When you have your entire team (as well as a dedicated user base) focused on the testing of your app, you can dedicate more resources and developers to identifying and fixing issues before launch – rather than launching first, and then attempting to fix issues that are hurting your app’s reputation, all while working on the development of another app.

Increase your potential for growth

Beta testing can increase your app’s growth potential in two ways:

  1. Word of mouth advertising
  2. Boosting your app’s ASO by building a dedicated user base before its actual launch

When users are included in a beta test, it makes them feel special – it is exclusive, early access to the app, after all. Early adopters tend to be more engaged with apps than regular users, and are more likely to view your app favorably, as they will witness the app grow to accommodate their criticisms. If you listen carefully, and implement changes based off of your beta testers’ feedback, they’ll form a strong bond with your app, and are much more likely to advocate your app to their friends than if they found it naturally. Beta testers will sometimes tell their friends about a new app they get to use before everyone else, instilling feelings of envy among potential users. When your app is actually published, those users will immediately jump on board.

A huge portion of your app’s ranking on the App Store and Google Play is determined by user ratings and reviews. While users can’t review or rate your app during its beta testing phase, they’ll be ready to review and rate it on day one of its actual release. Rather than slowly building up ratings and reviews after launch, you’ll have multiple from the beginning, giving you an extra boost, and helping to differentiate your app from competitors. New users are much more likely to download an app if it already has ratings and reviews, giving you another leg up on increasing your user acquisition – which increases your app’s rank, and provides the foundation for an upward trend of growth.

You can also pay attention to the language beta testers use, and implement popular phrases or words as keywords for your ASO campaign.

Who you need

It’s important to include the right people in your beta test – you’ll want a mix of users who are well-versed with your app and those who are new to it, as well as technically proficient users, and not-so-technically savvy users. The most important audience to include, however, is the community you intend to engage the most with.

From your own development team, you’ll want to include:

  • Product managers
  • Sales staff
  • UX/UI designers (preferably those who haven’t worked on you app)
  • Quality managers
  • The developer’s dedicated app tester(s)

Externally, you’ll want to find:

  • Early adopters
  • The community your app is intended to engage with

Social media is a fantastic way to find (and engage) your app’s intended audience. Reddit is, perhaps, the best place to find your tribe, however. Say, for example, you want to run a beta test for AnswersNow, an app that connects autism experts with caretakers, and helps the caretakers provide better care by answering their questions in real-time.

By going to Reddit and searching “autism,” you can find r/autism, a ten-year-old community with a user base of over 40,000 subscribers. When you directly engage with a community like this, you’ll usually find more people signing up for your beta test than you have spots to fill, and the community will be especially forthcoming if you’re giving them early access to an app that provides a solution to a pain point in their daily lives like AnswersNow does.

When to beta test

There’s definitely a right and wrong time to beta test. Too early, and your testers will abandon your app due to lack of functionality. Too late, and there’s hardly any benefit to the actual testing – the more complete an app is, the more difficult it is to implement changes to its code, UI, and UX.

You’ll want to implement your beta testing when your app has enough functionality to test 90% of scenarios from start to completion. For example, if you’re running the beta test for AnswersNow, you’ll definitely want to make sure the chat functionality of your app works, as that’s the backbone of the app. Quality of life features and elements like graphic icons don’t necessarily have to be there yet – but your app should at least have a logo. Think about a dress rehearsal versus an actual play; during the dress rehearsal, costumes aren’t used, and every actor knows their lines, but they can always ask for help if they forget. During the actual play, everyone is dressed up and 100% ready to go.

Should companies pay you for your personal data?

Imagine for a moment that you keep a journal detailing your daily activities: where you went, what you ate, what you bought, what shows you watched, who you talked to… all the usual journal-like things.

Now imagine that every night, your mom sneaks into your room, goes through what you wrote down, and then sells that information to other journal perusers and people who are really interested in what you journaled about.

That’s the current state of data. You might create it, and it might be your data, but someone else is out there making money from it.

It all started with Lou Montulli’s invention of cookies in 1991, and since then, the rest is history. Data collection during this fledgling stage was relatively benign, lacked direct monetary value, and was almost solely utilized for the benefit of the user – but in the last 28 years, big data has grown – and is expected to continue, and become a global market worth over $100 billion by 2022.

There’s a lot of different ways we create data: the sites we visit on the web, the apps we use on our phones, the smart watches that keep track of our fitness routines, the smart home devices we have conversations with, the credit cards and payment services we use to buy things – all of these channels (and much, much more) are used to simultaneously produce and collect data.

It’s almost like we’ve broken the first law of thermodynamics, or created a virtual perpetual motion machine; we create data by accessing data produced by others, which creates more data, which creates more data…

And all of this data is the backbone of an incredibly lucrative industry – and not just financially either. The data we create by liking a photo or by binging on our favorite show on Netflix is not only sold to marketers, it’s analyzed by a myriad of industries. The data one individual creates is almost meaningless, but when millions of daily lives can be studied, trends and behaviors (consumer or otherwise) can come into view with a clarity only made possible by the exorbitant amount of data we create on a daily basis.

An interesting idea

It’s weird to think that while we create all this data, other people are making money off of it. It wouldn’t exist without us users, after all.

This past February, California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, had an interesting idea which will soon be proposed as legislation. The bill, which was written by Common Sense Media, follows hot on the heels of one of the most sweeping user privacy laws passed in the entire nation, and proposes that companies should indeed pay users for the data that is collected from them.

While the details of the bill haven’t been released yet, the hint of a bill such as this exemplifies the growing pains of the tech sector. We’re all just trying to keep up with each other.

The idea of a bill that would put a price on data brings up a few questions, and the possible answers, at least for now, seem to be arbitrary. Without the specifics of the bill, we can only guess as to the method that will be proposed.

There’s a few different ways they could go about this: companies could either pay users directly to access their data, the trading of it could be taxed, or companies could be taxed by the amount of data they have collected or acquired. I’m sure there’s more variations of this – I’m no economist – but I can say each comes with benefits and downfalls.

If companies were obliged to pay users for their data, companies would just stop the mass collection of data, and focus on power users. If there was a price point for every piece of data collected, businesses would naturally gravitate towards the users they could get the most data out of (thus reducing the amount of time spent in the acquisition stage), and this would quite possibly provide a skewed data set.

Directly paying users for their data would probably spell the doom for small businesses’ SEO and ASO campaigns, and would place an undue burden on startups while barely touching the budgets of tech giants like Facebook and Google – and the larger companies tend to be the crux of this whole issue.

Not to mention, the whole point of a bill meant to put money back into users’ pockets wouldn’t work if less data was being collected – in fact, the more data that is produced, collected, and traded, the more wealth users would receive if a bill such as this one were to pass.

Compounding this problem of legally requiring companies to pay for data they collect is that it would be akin to planting one tree, and declaring it a forest. A lot of the focus on this topic seems to be on social media – which does makes up a huge facet of data collection – but it’s not just Instagram and Snapchat that are utilizing our data.

Banks and healthcare are two industries that acquire and analyze vast amounts of user data. These businesses don’t usually conduct data collection themselves, and more often than not acquire data by purchasing it from other companies.

The other two options are much more attractive, but come with their own sets of issues. If we were to place a tax on the trading of user data, would the tax be placed on the profits of the sale, or added on to the purchase? Would there be a set limit to how much data can be traded before being taxed? Again, depending on the scope of taxing the trading of data, an undue burden could be placed on smaller companies.

If there was a tax on the amount of data collected or purchased, again, a lower limit would need to be set. But this is all speculation, and I’m no economist. However, despite listing out these concerns, it’s my opinion that the wealth produced from data traded between companies should, in some way, contribute to the wealth of the users who produced that data. Why? Because…

The future

Remember the 10 Year Challenge? There’s been a lot of speculation that it was a data collection scheme hidden in plain sight, and while the additional user engagement was an added bonus, the true purpose was to help train AI facial recognition software.

Data collection has only (and will continue to) become more personal. Xbox One’s Kinect camera can recognize your facial expressions, determine your emotions, and read your heart rate – and while that opens up amazing possibilities for UX in video games (especially those in the horror genre), it’s incredibly personal data. The iPhone X uses tech similar to this as well.

Just imagine the innumerable ways this tech could be applied today – almost every device has some sort of camera installed, and it’s not necessary to have special hardware to read a user’s emotions – it’s the AI that does the brunt of the work. It’s an almost absolute certainty advertisers will use facial recognition technology paired with emotion recognition technology to study how audiences respond to their ad campaigns. Your smart TV already watches everything you do – soon it’ll be analyzing your mood, too.

The problem is that all of this tech is super cool. I personally can’t wait for VR facial recognition to really come to fruition, but it’s still disconcerting that any developer with access to the back end of this technology could then turn around and sell data about your face to another company that is of no benefit to you.

The whole issue of big data is just plain weird. There’s never been something like this before. The best analogy I can come up with is this: it would be like if a company hosted a focus group, but the subjects of the study paid the rent of the meeting space, paid the company to let them be subjects in the focus group, and then divulged incredibly personal information. And after all that, asked the company, “when can I give you more money?”

We live in a universe where matter can neither be created nor destroyed – everything stays constant. There’s no way to escape the inexorable pull of entropy. Except data. We can make data out of thin air. Every second of every day.

And as AI becomes smarter, companies can do more with the data sets they have – AI is extremely adept at taking in and analyzing vast quantities of individual data points to find patterns the human brain wouldn’t be able to comprehend.

It doesn’t end at facial recognition either – your voice is being analyzed as well. Perhaps the most troublesome form of data collection is biological data. Companies like 23andMe can sell your genetic makeup for a profit – and there’s a whole new set of ethical conundrums to tackle there.

It’s a super complicated issue that will only become more intricate as time goes on, and while the proposed bill in California might not have all the answers (especially since we don’t know the details yet), at least we’re moving in the right direction – recognizing there’s an issue, and having a discussion about it. The tech industry is particularly skilled at collecting and analyzing data – it’s about time we analyze ourselves.

Do devs have an ethical responsibility to tell clients their idea is bad?

There’s a minefield of ethical conundrums in the software development industry today, and a lot of devs have been talking about it – which is only a good thing. I do think, however, that the industry has been framing this conversation incorrectly – we tend to focus on issues like user privacy, data security (or lack thereof), and automated feeds – which, to be fair, are very important aspects of the ethical dilemmas facing software development, and definitely need to be talked about.

But what if we were to take one step back, and try re-framing these ethical dilemmas? Rather than focus on the tools and features that create these ethical pot holes, what if we looked at why we’re using these tools in the first place?

Let’s quickly take a look, for example, at the ever-looming (and ever-growing) ethical dilemma of automated feeds in social media. As we’re all aware of by now, it was Facebook’s automated feed, and the algorithms that run it, that were responsible for creating echo chambers that led to the spread of a whole bunch of misinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Troll factories would craft fake stories paired with sensational headlines that were guaranteed to capture attention – which were then noticed by Facebook’s algorithms – giving them higher priority in users’ feeds, and thus creating a vicious cycle. Bots masquerading as real people would comment on articles to give the impression that not only were these fake stories true, but they were worth talking about.

It’s a natural phenomenon of human instinct to place more credence on an object or idea if more people are interested in it. It was a virtually 100% automated process that was able to profoundly effect the way Americans (and other users in democratic countries as well) consumed media, and ultimately influenced their vote. This misinformation campaign effected everyone from all political leanings.

And, to be fair, this wasn’t limited to Facebook – every social media platform on the internet was affected – especially those with a degree of anonymity (I’m looking at you, reddit).

Regardless of political views, the idea of bots fabricating fake stories, and then amplifying those stories in order to influence real humans is a terrifying prospect. And we’re living it, right now.

But this isn’t what this blog is about. I want to look at why the idea of an automated feed came to fruition in the first place. To look at why the digital environment almost necessitated some of the tools software devs use that create these ethical dilemmas. Not the how, but the why.

I think, ultimately, issues like this arise when the idea behind an app or platform isn’t sound. Facebook isn’t at all what it was when it started. I remember being young enough to not be allowed to create a Facebook account because I wasn’t in college. Remember that? Can you imagine Facebook saying “no” to a user signing up for their services today?

It’s all based upon another human quirk – greed. Facebook’s shareholders got greedy, and figured out a way to keep users scrolling more: use algorithms to display interesting content. Users got greedy, and demanded more content to keep them scrolling. This wasn’t just a failure of Facebook’s ethics – we fueled it. We adopted it as normal.

I’m sure some devs over at Facebook found themselves asking the question; “Is this okay? Should we actually do this?”

But, I’m also sure that those devs with ethical concerns were either ousted or overruled; and Facebook, and its shareholders, reaped the rewards that come with automated content.

As a content creator, I relish the idea of automated content. It just makes sense. It’s more efficient. You can reach a much wider audience. As a human, I hate it. Where’s the authenticity? The realness? The human aspect of communication?

What I’m really trying to get at here is that ethically grey tools and processes seem to appear for one of three reasons:

  1. A platform or idea has run its course, and the user base has become disinterested, disillusioned, stagnant, or even shrinking in its size or engagement
  2. A platform or idea is, from its inception, shaky at best
  3. Lazy or un-informed code leads to security breaches or sub-standard UX that must be supplemented by data mining or another ethically grey tool

And this is where we, as an industry, must ask ourselves…

Do devs have an ethical responsibility to tell appreneurs their idea is bad?

For the rest of this blog, I’m going to focus on reason number two; this being that the underlying idea of an app won’t work. Reason number one is unavoidable in the digital age (trends do come and go, after all), and reason number three is a pretty easy fix; but when devs know that the idea for an app is bad, or will only be sustainable by implementing tools or processes that lack a certain ethical standard – that is something we can fix.

Now, there are a couple ways to define what constitutes as a “bad” idea for an app:

  • The idea’s scope is too large
  • The idea lacks a monetization component that doesn’t use data collection or another ethically grey tool

This is where that human component comes into play again – greed. It’s difficult for a business to say “no” to a client’s money. Financially, it’s detrimental. In a service based economy, it’s almost farcical. But when it comes down to it, we might have to.

Doctors, lawyers, notaries – all of these professions have some sort of philosophical and morally binding oath that they work within – doctors have a sworn duty to care for patients, lawyers must defend their client’s best interests, and notaries must make sure the party in question truly signed the document.

One of the most well-known tech giants in the world had a motto within a similar vein as the Hippocratic Oath for many years; Google’s famous “don’t be evil” mantra. While Google has recently removed this phrase from its code of conduct, I think it’s time the software and hardware engineers, designers, project managers, and CTOs that make up the tech sector take it upon ourselves to uphold new tech to this standard. “Don’t be evil,” is after all, not a high bar in my opinion.

“Don’t be evil” is also a little dramatic for some of the reasoning behind bad apps. So, for at least a little while, let’s take a step back from the realm of debating good and evil. Apps are very rarely made with malicious intent, and just because an idea is bad, doesn’t mean the people behind it are – but just as it’s a doctor’s duty to tell their patient cigarettes are bad for their health, so too should developers inform their clients about bad app practices.

When the scope of a client’s idea is too large

Scope creep is real, and it can spell the doom of many apps. Every dev shop has interacted with a client who has big dreams for their app, with plans to do it all. Businesses and entrepreneurs are still figuring out how to navigate ventures with apps, and tend to stick to the old school idea of providing the “one stop shop” for their customer’s needs. The people who use apps aren’t customers, however – they’re users. There’s a distinction for a reason. More often than not, when someone opens an app on their phone, they’re not going to spend money. Unless it’s an e-commerce app or a game that utilizes in-app purchases, once a user has either paid for the download or subscription, using the app in the moment is free.

Business owners are still in the mindset of “the more time customers spend in my store, the more money they spend as well,” but apps don’t work that way. Sure, the higher the apps’ retention, the higher its rank in the app store, but if an app doesn’t use in-app purchases, the extra revenue user retention brings in is ultimately due to higher user acquisition – the retention aspect isn’t the source of monetization, just as revenue from a marketing campaign doesn’t flow from the ads themselves, but from the sales that come along with higher brand recognition.

While scope creep can be disastrous for the business or appreneur themselves, this can actually be quite advantageous for dev shops – the larger the scope of the app, the more billable hours.

Just because an app is capable of doing more, however, doesn’t mean it will be successful. The average smartphone user uses 9 apps a day, and 30 apps a month – and devs know that users will always gravitate towards the app that solves a particular pain point better than another. Long gone is the day when business models like Sears could provide the one stop shop experience – before the internet, customers had to take time from their day to actually get to the services and goods provided. Now, app users can just open up another service with their phone. If they aren’t satisfied, they can delete a service and find another one – all with the same thumb.

Apps that try to do everything never do anything well.

It’s really no skin off a developer’s back to agree to build their client an app that suffers from scope creep – while it might not be too common of a practice, it’s totally possible for a dev shop to build in features that don’t help to solve the intended users’ pain point – and while this can lead to a larger payout for the developer, it can take away necessary funding from the appreneur’s marketing budget, or delay launch as the client finds more investment in order to continue development.

The idea lacks a sustainable form of monetization

This is the one that can lead to some heavy ethical dilemmas. There are a lot of helpful, well-made apps that use monetization tactics that aren’t with the user’s benefit in mind.

Take, for example, a study on user privacy from Symantec’s blog by Gillian Cleary; an Android app named “Brightest Flashlight LED – Super Bright Torch” with over 10 million installs accesses these permissions on users’ phones:

  • Precise user location
  • Access to users’ contacts
  • Send SMS messages
  • Permission to directly call phone numbers
  • Permission to reroute outgoing calls
  • Access to camera
  • Record audio via microphone
  • Read/write contents of USB storage
  • Read phone status and identity
  • Now, as Cleary pointed out, some of these make sense, actually. Accessing call data can allow the app user to assign different LED flashes to different contacts, providing users with the option to create unique signals based on who was calling them. I fail to see the reason, however, why a flashlight would need to know a user’s precise location – unless the app was collecting data on users, and the company that collected that data was selling it to marketers.

    Big data is a big industry now, and a lot of apps are cashing in. Foursquare (admittedly, in a pretty natural direction of growth) has become a “location marketing company,” and as this article from the New York Times shows, our phones, and the apps, on them, collect a lot of data on our habits, whereabouts, and almost every detail about our daily lives.

    Data is important – but if an app isn’t able to sustain itself without selling off users’ data, maybe we just shouldn’t make it. There are enough apps out there, after all.

    I’ve always found it interesting how users have been so readily participant with private companies collecting and selling their personal data (the amount of sales of a device that listens to every conversation, like Amazon’s Alexa, is frankly astounding) while simultaneously being recalcitrant towards the data collection projects run by governmental agencies like the NSA – but that is quickly changing.

    Going back to our first example, Facebook – the social media powerhouse saw 26% of its app users uninstall the app from their phone following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. As all devs know, users are fickle, and are more likely to abandon an app than actually use it. If the only revenue stream an app has is personal data collection, and the user base finds out, it could spell disaster for the app.

    If you’re looking for ideas on app monetization, check out our blog on the topic.

How to build a mobile app: Build cycles

Every business has a process, just like every recipe has a set order of steps – and, just like a recipe, if a business’ process is out of order or incomplete, the final product can end up tasting pretty bad.

Developing a mobile app is no different – missing (or incorrectly implementing) a single step of development can throw a wrench in the process, causing days or sometimes even weeks of delays and re-structuring code.

Every developer has their own tweaks and differences in their development process, but the overarching steps are generally universal in their order. You wouldn’t bake a cake and then put in the flour, after all.

The mobile development cycle

  1. Research
  2. Design
  3. Prototype
  4. Determine feasibility
  5. Program
  6. Test
  7. Publish
  8. ASO & app marketing

These steps, while ultimately implemented in this order, do share some give and take, especially between steps 5 and 6; a dev team will program and then test – and after finding bugs, may return to any point of the process depending on the problem that was discovered.

This method of coding, testing, and then coding again is what’s called agile development. Dev teams that work within an agile development cycle work in sprints – coders will build a feature or feature set usually over a period of one to two weeks (we like to work in one week sprints to really take advantage of agile’s full potential), test the build, debug, and then implement their current branch into the master branch of code.

But, before we get more into steps five and six, let’s talk about step one…

Research

This is possibly the most important step of any business venture – without properly researching your target market, audience, and the competition you will face, there’s no foundation to build a solid structure upon. The story about the three little piggies? Yeah, it’s like that – but it’s your money being blown away, not straw. As we’ve gone over before, there are a few questions to ask that can help guide your research:

  • What do I want my app to accomplish?
  • What platform(s) do I want my app to be on?
  • What is my competition?
  • What is my time table?
  • What is my budget?

Some of these questions will lead the direction of your research, and others will be answered by your research. For instance, your findings about your target audience will dictate what platform(s) you will publish your app on, while knowing what you want your app to accomplish will determine the target audience you will want to tap into. If you want to build a productivity app, for example, your target audience will mostly be persons over the age of 25, while a mobile game might go after a target audience in their teens.

Other times, finding an untapped market might dictate what you want your app to accomplish – there’s a lot of research methodologies out there – but no matter what, every step you take should be to figure out the best way to solve your intended audience’s pain point.

What’s a pain point? Let’s pretend our target audience is… squirrels. Yeah, squirrels. You’ve seen a lot of the furry critters complaining on social media about always losing the acorns they’ve buried, and you’ve decided your going to build an app that helps them keep track of their acorn haul.

The pain point is squirrels are constantly losing acorns – your app, and everything it does, is intended to solve it.

Design

Sketch

Good design is the blending of both form and function to create a simultaneously visually pleasing and useful tool that provides the functions necessary to solving your users’ pain point.

In other words, don’t just make something that’s pretty – make it work for your users. A good way to go about getting into your users’ heads is to come up with user stories; a helpful tool for figuring out what design choices you should make, and how the functions of your app will flow together.

For example, our squirrel-based acorn finder app (which from now on will be referred to as Nutsapp) should have a pretty simple design, as it really only needs to accomplish a few functions to solve the squirrels’ pain point:

  1. Provide users with a map of the surrounding area using GPS
  2. Allow users to place geotags where they’ve buried acorns using location services
  3. Store the geotags in searchable lists – e.g. “acorns by proximity” or “acorns by date buried”

So, we have our user story; a squirrel buries an acorn, opens Nutsapp, places a geotag on their map, and eventually, searches a list to find it again. Based on that, we can create wireframes to determine how the information will be displayed on the squirrel’s mobile device, and based on those wireframes, we can build the UI of the app itself in a program like Sketch.

Then it’s on to the next step…

Prototyping

During this next phase of development, the designer of Nutsapp would build the prototype in a program like Invision. This is where UX is the main focus – prototyping is used to determine whether or not a design makes sense when actually used to solve the pain point of an app.

The development team should always keep in mind use case scenarios during this step – if the app’s flow doesn’t make sense, it’s time to go back to the design phase.

There’s a lot of back and forth between prototyping and design – and that’s a good thing. This is the first step that designers and programmers work with each other, and together, they can determine the next step of the development phase.

Feasibility

Once the programmers for Nutsapp have looked at the prototype, they can then determine the feasibility of its functionality. The programmers will look into whether the necessary back end integration is achievable or not, and determine what APIs will be used to provide users with the functions Nutsapp needs to work.

If a part of Nutsapp’s design isn’t feasible, the programmers will usually work with the designer to figure out a good way to achieve the necessary UX and functionality while still working within the realm of what’s possible to code.

Programming

Coding

Speaking of code, this is where the magic happens. Programmers will take the designed UI/UX and build based on the prototype provided (which is why it’s so important to nail down look, feel, and feasibility of the prototype before moving to this step).

Usually, devs will:

  1. Build the UI
  2. Connect the UI to the code that makes it actually function
  3. Define the data model (the structure of information in the app)

If the dev team is working within the agile method, after each sprint, the team would meet up, discuss their progress, test the functionality, and determine the goal of the next sprint based on the findings of the testing. This cycle is repeated until the app is completely built.

Testing

While Nutsapp’s dev team has been testing after each sprint, after the app has been fully coded, it’s time to move on to beta testing. This is an important step, because it gives you the chance to see how someone who has no knowledge of the inner workings of Nutsapp interacts with and navigates the functions within the app.

It might feel a little disheartening, but do your best to try to break your app. Push every button you can faster than a squirrel normally would, attempt to complete steps out of order, and see what happens when information is input incorrectly.

When you find bugs – and most likely, you will – go back to the programming phase, and fix them. It’s always better to find and fix bugs before launch, even if this delays the launch of your app. Squirrels, just like users, are skittish, and any hiccup in the UX of an app can cause your target audience to abandon your service.

Publishing

After (throughly) testing and de-bugging your app, it’s time to move on to publishing. Both the App Store and Google Play have different publishing rules, and if you’re searching for a quick rundown, look no further than our How much does it cost to make an app? blog.

ASO & app marketing

We’ve gone over ASO and app marketing before (multipletimes, in fact), so if you want to go over both the basics and the nitty gritty, visit all three of those blogs.

Your ASO and app marketing campaign are mostly based off of your findings from the first step of the development process – research, and as such, your ASO and marketing campaign should be developed over the course of the entire process. The reason we’ve listed this step last is because ASO and app marketing never end.

Your competition is constantly changing, along with the needs of your users and the trends they expect to be followed. A few ASO rules to always follow are:

  • Update your app frequently, but not unnecessarily
  • Use A/B testing on your app’s page on the App Store (or Google Play) to determine what works best to capture your audience’s attention
  • Keywords, keywords, keywords – look at what keywords your competitors are using, see what you can do to beat them, and figure out keywords they aren’t using to their full advantage to capture an untapped segment of potential users

Your ASO and app marketing efforts should work in tandem – people generally use the search feature of both the App Store and search engines like Google in the same way. If a squirrel is searching for “acorn finder” in Google, they’re most likely going to search for the same thing on the App Store.

Some sections of your app’s page on the App Store don’t rank for keywords, so consider putting your most important and strategic keywords in your app’s title, after the actual name of your app. In the case of Nutsapp, this would look like: “Nutsapp – Acorn Finder.”

Agile development fits its namesake

It’s called agile, because that’s what app development needs to be – adaptive to the issues every development cycle will face, and quick to respond and fix those problems.

How can the tech and green sectors work together?

Let’s all face it – there’s a clock, and it’s ticking down the seconds until we run out of the lifeblood of all tech – rare earth metals.

The problem with batteries

If you’re using anything other than a desktop computer that remains plugged into a wall socket, that device uses a battery for energy storage, which is – almost invariably – made of lithium (and other materials). Un-surprisingly, as a rare earth metal, lithium isn’t plentiful or renewable, and its reserves, just like any finite resource, will eventually deplete.

Some investors and analysts aren’t worried, as even if lithium battery production triples, there’s still 185 years of the resource scattered around the globe, just waiting to be mined.

Those concentrations of lithium are, however, often located in pristine wilderness like the English countryside or buried under land that belongs to indigenous peoples; over half of the world’s lithium reserves reside along the border of Chile and Argentina, home to herders who live on the Atacama Plateau, a land they consider sacred. The people of the Atacama Plateau are concerned about the water shortages and pollution that invariably comes along with mining operations – not to mention the inescapable geological scarring to their land.

Even if the ethical and environmental concerns aren’t worrisome for the tech sector, that number of 185 years should be. This projective estimate is based on a mere tripling of lithium usage for batteries – which is also used in the production of a lot of other materials; over one third of mined lithium goes to the fabrication of ceramics.

To make things worse, this isn’t just about smartphone, tablet, and laptop batteries – as the EV market expands, the estimated time that reserves will linger shoots way down. If there were 100 Tesla Gigafactories, we’d have enough reserves of Lithium to last 50 years. That many EV factories isn’t a stretch of the imagination – in 2015, 565,000 EVS were sold globally. In 2018, 2,018,247 million EVs were sold across the world – and that’s just passenger vehicles. That’s a market share increase from 0.38% (2014) to 2.1% (2018) in just four years.

EV growth

As you can see above, this chart from Wikipedia shows annual sales of EVs are following the trend of exponential growth. As the auto industries in China and India begin to expand, this growth will only increase – and rapidly.

Still, many market analysts aren’t concerned; as this article on Bloomberg states, even if the cost of lithium were to increase by 300%, the price of a battery pack would only rise by a meager 2%. But this isn’t the real issue – no matter how economically feasible lithium remains, it’s still a finite resource. Earth is, after all, a closed system (other than a stray meteorite every once and a while) and while lithium is found in the ground, that doesn’t mean it grows there.

And what happens as the solar sector increases? In 2010, 0.1% of the United States’ energy production (which has been slow to adopt solar technology when compared to other countries) came from solar – that percentage has grown to 2% in 2018. For the past five years, solar has either come in first or second place for the winner of most installed type of energy production in the U.S., and even with current tariffs, is continuing its trend of rapid growth.

All of this energy produced by solar cells has to be stored somewhere – batteries. Wind power faces the same struggles with long term energy storage as well.

Last but not least, for the second time in as many weeks, we’ve got to talk about robots. It may be a few years off, but the robot revolution is coming – Spotmini (I swear I’m not on Boston Dynamic’s payroll, I just love this little guy) is projected to come to market this year.

Now I, along with everyone else who is old enough to have been self-aware in 2002, remember the promise of the Roomba; it was supposed to change vacuuming forever. And it didn’t. But the robots being developed now aren’t automated vacuums – they do their own stunts, act as fish-mimicking marine biologists, and can open doors.

Remember when the iPhone first came out? Sure, people thought it was cool, but we already had Mp3s and cellphones. A lot of people didn’t want this new-fangled “smartphone” – they were expensive, and the iPhone wasn’t capable of doing anything any other combination of laptop, cellphone, and Mp3 couldn’t. No one could have expected this device to produce its own industry and boost so many others.

Let’s go back – way back – to Times Square, ca. 1905.

Times Square

Photo from Library of Congress

Horses and buggies everywhere. Next, let’s look at the same place just six years later, in 1911:

Times Square

Photo from Library of Congress

There might be a horse in that photo somewhere, but there are a bunch of cars. The iPhone was released in 2007, and by 2013 – the same amount of time that passed between those two photos of Times Square – smartphones had flooded the market. Now, just as it’s practically impossible to get around the U.S. without a car, it’s difficult to stay up to date and function professionally without a smartphone.

Once a few trend setters start showing off their Spotminis fetching items, holding open doors while they carry in groceries, or even just following them around like their very own robot dog, you can bet people will follow suit. Envy is a powerful emotion, and a widely used sales tactic due to its power over our psychology.

Bezos and Spotmini

Who doesn’t want to feel like Jeff Bezos?

So, the point is; soon, batteries (and the lithium that they are made with) won’t just be limited to laptops, tablets, smartphones, wearables, cars, and wind and solar energy. Robots will probably (definitely) have a huge impact on lithium’s demand.

It doesn’t matter if the price of lithium only goes up by 2% – at some point, in the not-so-distant future, we’re going to run out of the stuff.

So what are we going to do?

I don’t know, I just work here – but some very smart people are working on solutions.

  • Researchers have figured out a way to not only capture CO2, but sequester it and the fabricate the carbon into electrodes.
  • Alphabet owned, Cambridge-based Malta has made a heat pump that uses molten salt and antifreeze to store energy, and then convert it back into energy using a heat engine – this could store energy for weeks.
  • Numerous companies are searching for a new form of battery – flow batteries. These use electrochemical processes to store a charge.
  • There’s still a lot of ground to cover, and many bridges to cross. Hopefully, as the tech sector moves into the 2020’s, it can evolve to meet the needs of both users and the earth.