What are the steps to creating an app?

Do you want to create an app, but have no idea where to start? That’s okay! It’s actually not that complicated, as long as you have a roadmap to guide you.

Naturally, just like any idea or business venture, the first step is:

Ideation

Whether your idea comes from inspiration from your daily life, or from finding a need due to market research, or even because your business needs an app; the strength of an idea isn’t based off of color schemes, names, or packing in trending feature sets to impress investors.

It’s all about how well your app helps solve the pain point your intended users face. It doesn’t matter what your app does, or what type of app it is – your app’s value will be judged by the solution it provides.

Gaming apps solve boredom, fitness apps help solve either lack of motivation or help keep track of goals, navigation apps help users find their way, banking apps help users answer the important questions like “Do I have enough money in my checking account for this coffee?”

You get the idea.

At this point, don’t sweat the small stuff – don’t even worry about what your app will look like. Only focus on the solution it can provide, and the most logical and practical way to facilitate that solution.

Market research

If you didn’t initially start with this step, you’ll want to do it now. You don’t even need a prototype of your app by this point – all that you need is your idea. Take that idea, and bring it to your target market. Talk with them about what they want. Go to networking events, conventions, local businesses, check out blogs, google “your idea + problems,” and most importantly, research your competition.

There’s 2 million apps on the App Store, and 2.6 million on Google Play – mathematically, it’s pretty likely someone has built an app that at least touches on the basis of your idea.

Your job isn’t to come up with an original idea – it’s coming up with the most optimal solution to that idea. If you’re worried about originality, don’t be – Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey covered every narrative trope imaginable – writers today just come up with ways to repackage those ideas.

Uber wasn’t an original idea – people had been flagging down taxis for a hundred years by the time Uber came along. When you boil Uber down to its core idea, all that it is is replacing a hand wave with an app – everything else is secondary. Instagram didn’t invent filters, it just made it easier to use filters to make your photos look better.

When you’re researching your competition, pay close attention to three things:

  • The UI/UX
  • The features it uses to solve the problem
  • The app’s ASO

Take from those three things the aspects you do like, and keep them. Replace what you don’t like with your own spin on things. Then, come up with how you can create a unique package for your branding. Remember – your idea, and even the features used to facilitate your idea, don’t need to be original. If you’re making an app that requires GPS and mapping, you’re inevitably going to implement location services during development – coding languages (and the methods for building app functionalities) were designed to be systematic and logical – not unique.

One more important aspect concerning market research – this is when you’ll want to decide what platform(s) you’ll use to build your app. Knowing which platform you’re building for will dictate every following step in the process of creating an app – and if you are building both an Android and iOS app version, you’ll need two dedicated development teams.

More about deciding which platform is best for your app:

Gather your resources

For you, this means finalizing your concept and your market research, and then finding a developer. Once you’ve settled on a developer, it’s their responsibility to determine your app’s feature set and the SDKs and APIs it utilizes to achieve your desired functionality.

Your feature set will be based upon user stories. User stories are detailed, step-by-step use cases of what a user will do during a session in your app in order to accomplish solving your pain point.

This is when it’s time to start planning out the design of your app. Some dev shops have their own UI/UX designers, some don’t. If they don’t you’ll need to do it yourself, or find a freelance designer.

App design usually begins with wireframes and color options (usually starting with the home screen and moving on from there), as well as planning out the UX of the main functionalities your app provides. Think of the inverted pyramid – start with the overarching themes, and slowly work your way down to the nitty gritty details. If your app has graphics, this is the step you’ll implement those – anything visual that your app requires should be complete before coding begins (if your app requires heavy backend infrastructure, start building that out as soon as possible).

For more information about proper app design, visit our blog on covering the topic.

From these designs, you can build out a prototype, which is actually much easier than you’d expect, via help from different prototyping applications:

Once you’ve signed off on a prototype, your development team can get down to actually building your app. A good developer will be able to take your plan and run with it from here – they’ll obviously check in to provide you with updates, and to make sure you’re happy with what they’re producing, but they won’t be asking you technical questions – that’s why you hired them, after all.

Testing

This is a step that begins after the first lines of code of your app are implemented, and after that, testing never ends. It might sound disheartening, but that’s the nature of the beast.

To efficiently test, lay out every step of your user stories (which you and your development team came up with in the previous step) in a spreadsheet, and identify the features that aren’t working properly. Take the time to make sure your app feels smooth and attentive to inputs as well. Users are likely to abandon slow apps in favor of faster ones.

Record every bug you discover while testing. Fix the issues, and test again. Repeat this step until testing is complete.

Then, it’s time for testing round two… beta testing!

Beta testing will open up your app to a small segment of the public – one that you, or a marketing agency (or your developer) will find. The purpose of a beta test is to increase the likelihood of catching bugs due to increased entropy. Beta testers, while not as detail oriented as a dedicated internal testing team, will use your app in the way they expect it to work – not the use case you have imagined. You’ll find out during this step if the two align, and iron out the kinks if they don’t.

Beta tests are important for another reason – it opens up your app to more devices and usage environments. Your app needs to work the same in a cornfield as it does on the subway. The text and font you used in your app may be legible in an office environment, but the sun’s glare might make it difficult to read. These are the kinds of details beta testing will pick up on, and improve upon.

For more information and tips about running a beta test, visit our blog covering the topic.

ASO

Before you launch your app, you’ll want to plan out your ASO. There are two fronts to your ASO campaign: user acquisition, and user retention, in that order. These can be broken down into sub-categories:

User acquisition:

  • Keywords
  • The app’s build and compatibility
  • The app’s actual page on the App Store (you can think of this as your app’s storefront)

User retention:

  • User reviews and ratings
  • Time users actually engage with the app
  • In-app purchases (if applicable)

Keywords are the bread-and-butter of any ASO campaign. The App Store’s search option functions in largely the same manner as a search engine like Google: users input a phrase or word, and the App Store displays apps based upon relevance and ranking.

Keywords are the foundation from which to build your ASO efforts, and effectively implementing them is crucial to your app’s success on the App Store. The most important steps you can take to ensure your keywords are working for you is to:

  1. Know your competition and
  2. Start with 2-3 keywords (as your campaign matures, consider utilizing up to five main keywords)

For more information about ASO, visit our blog on the topic. For more information about keyword research, check out our guide on the topic.

Launch

Congratulations! You’re almost there. The next steps are publishing your app, which will mean different things depending on what platform you want to release on. Both the App Store and Google Play have different approval processes and standards for apps to pass before they can be published, as well as publishing fees.

Apple has strict guidelines that must be met for your app to be approved – Android does not.

To publish an App on the App Store, you must pay a yearly fee of $99, and Apple takes 30% of profits from downloads (that 30% is only applied to paid app and in-app purchases). In order to publish to Google Play, you must pay a one-time fee of $25, and Android also takes 30% of profits from paid an in-app purchases.

Update

As soon as your app is launched, you’ll want to start analyzing your user data. In order to do this, you’ll need to find an analytics platform. This is a very detailed and intricate process, so for accessibility, we won’t include that information on this particular blog – but you can find all the information you need about measuring analytics here.

Based off of your analytics, user reviews, and user ratings, you’ll want to start coming up with ideas for how to enhance your app. From here, you’ll begin again at step one: ideation.

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