How to build a mobile app: App design

What makes a well-designed app? Is it the colors? The layout? The icons? The flow?

It’s simultaneously none and all of these things combined – and a whole lot more. In this addition to How to Build a Mobile App: The Ultimate Guide, we’re going to go through – step-by-step – how to properly design an app from the ground up.

Step 1: Find the problem

This might be the hundredth time we’ve stated it in our blog, but knowing your users’ pain point will drive every facet of your app’s development – from the logic in the backend to your color scheme and logo.

This is the most important step to take, as it will dictate everything your app does. When searching for a pain point, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this problem specific to my niche?
  • What solution does my niche expect?
  • What steps do they need to take in order to solve the problem?
  • Where does my app fit in those steps?

For example, let’s pretend you want to make an app for gardeners. Great! Now, what niche of gardeners are you attempting to connect with? Gardeners is much too broad of an audience. What about community gardens? Those are pretty big right now. Still too broad. Okay, how about community garden managers? Now there’s an idea.

What kinds of problems do community garden managers face? Are community gardens often managed by one individual, or a team? Is that team made of employees or volunteers?

Narrow your scope as much as you can, and know as much as you can about your audience. Go to a community garden. Get your hands dirty. Figure out what it’s all about, and put yourself in the shoes of a community garden manager. Then, figure out how to make their life easier.

Step 2: Know the problem – and the steps to solve it

Let’s continue to pretend you’re making an app for community garden managers, and the problem you’re planning to solve isn’t (after your extensive research) necessarily gardening related, but rather gardening adjacent. You found that two big issues community food gardens strive to solve are food waste and food deserts – community gardens tend to reach out to, well, the community, in an effort to get them eating healthier, fresher, and more local produce.

The community garden you’ve reached out to specifically wants to have a system put in place that keeps track of their food production, and how much of the food produced is wasted – but their group of volunteers doesn’t have the time to reach out to fifteen, thirty, or one hundred people every week.

So, your plan is to make an app that gives the community garden manager the tools they need to keep track of food production and food waste. But how do you go about doing that?

They have a limited budget, and since they’re volunteers, limited time. Because of this, they need a system that gives them the necessary data to effectively run the garden in the shortest amount of time possible. This is also a two step process – the community garden manager needs to know what’s happening in their garden, as well as what’s happening at their members’ dining room tables.

Your app needs to allow the community manager to collect data from remote locations – the community garden members’ kitchens, as well as the garden itself. So, you now know this app will be designed with two types of users in mind:

  1. The community manager keeping track of the different plots in the garden
  2. and the members who self report on their food consumption

Notice that both of these categories of users are organized by the role they play in solving the main paint point – secondary pain points are solved (like how to share and analyze data remotely) in the process of solving the main pain point – giving the manager the tools they need to adapt with members’ tastes, and grow more food that will actually be eaten.

Everyone’s brains work differently, so we won’t tell you to specifically sketch out your ideas, make wireframes, or write a list of steps users would take. Do whatever works for you – but it’s necessary for you to know the expected steps the people using your app will take. These are called your use case scenarios, or user stories.

So let’s map out the main use case scenario for this app. From now on, for brevity’s sake, we’ll call this app “Growr”:

  1. The community garden manager adds in the current produce to a selectable list on Growr
  2. A community garden member selects the types (and amounts) of produce they brought home from the garden from that list
  3. The member then reports on the types and amounts of produce they actually ate
  4. The data is sent to the community garden manager, who then uses that data to optimize the amounts and types of food grown in the garden

Step 3 – Build your brand

Whether you’re doing it DIY or by partnering with a dev shop, this is the time to figure out what your app is going to look like. By this point, you know the audience you’re trying to connect with, the problem they face, and the steps your app will take to help them solve that problem.

An app’s brand is determined by your audience, and measured by how well it solves their problem – not by its icon in the App Store. But, it doesn’t hurt to make your solution look pretty. This is where you’ll figure out Growr’s color palette, fonts, logo, and icons.

After you’ve created these individual elements that comprise your visual brand, and with a map of your use case scenarios, you can start to layout your app. This is a step in the process where we will advise the use of wireframes – this is to help you get a feel for the flow of your app, and save both time and money.

The next step is to add in all the individual elements you made previously (like the logo, and button styles), and fill in the wireframe layouts with final versions. When that’s done, it’s time to move on to the prototyping phase.

Step 4 – Make it work

You don’t need to know Swift or JAVA – there are plenty of prototyping apps available to use. Before we begin coding, our lead designer will create a prototype of the app in InVision, and we’ll all sit down in our conference room to test the build against the pain point. We get the whole company together for these meetings – the more eyes on your prototype the better.

Doing this will allow you to iron out any bumps in your app’s flow, UX, and design all before writing a single line of code. It will also give you an idea of what your app will really look like when it’s complete – it’s the difference between looking at a photo and watching a video – prototyping your app, while adding another step into the design process, will always give you more information that screenshots of your app’s layout.

After this, your design phase is complete! It’s on to coding for you!

Some other prototyping tools you can use:

Platforms, themes, and user expectations

Major decisions about your app’s design will be made by which platform you build your app for – either Android or iOS. Both have different style guidelines, as well as over-arching layout themes. Android and iOS users expect the same functionality to be interacted with in very different ways; Android users, for instance, will look for a “hamburger” style navigation menu, while iOS users will look for a bottom navigation bar.

Android design principles

Create. Unify. Customize. These are the ideals of Android, and specifically, Material design. Material design focuses on typography, grids, space, scale, color, and imagery, and a meaningful, focused hierarchy that immerses users in the UX of the app.

Click here for the full list of Android core design principles.

iOS design principles

Clarity. Deference. Depth. These are the themes that separate iOS from other platforms. Some other words that pop up a lot in Apple’s iOS design guide are understand, familiar, subtle, and functionality. iOS guidelines dictate apps with an esthetic that fits the brand of the app, consistency of theme with iOS as a whole, and fluid manipulation and feedback.

Click here for the iOS style guide.

General app design principles

Whether it’s print, web, or mobile, good design is more than making something look pretty – design is understanding both the project and the problem – and knowing how to present that information in a pleasing way.

An important thing to keep in mind when designing your app is that any interaction should provide a user with some sort of feedback. Think of the difference between a website that features scrolling parallax versus one that doesn’t. Which one feels like the better, more responsive UX?

Smartphones are much more intimate than a desktop – they spend most of their time right next to us – and because of this, we expect our inputs when using them to have a sort of visual conversation with us.

You want your app to feel like it belongs on the users device, and for iOS and Android users, this will mean different things. While Android apps tend to be more customized than iOS apps, both feature libraries of visual elements available to all UI/UX designers. Don’t be afraid to use these – in fact, Apple encourages it. Your app should feel as native to the user as their native texting app.

This is why we believe native development is always the best choice in the long run – even if that means increasing the time and money spent in the development stage. While building multiple apps for different platforms can be more expensive in the beginning, having two native apps that perform better with users than a single hybrid app is a more sustainable and scalable business model. For more reasons why we believe native is the better choice, visit our blog on the topic.

Another thing to consider is not only the hierarchal flow of your app, but the visual flow as well. For example, when an iOS user sees a screen come in from the bottom of their device (known as a presentation), they intuitively expect a step that must be completed before moving back to the previous screen. If a screen comes in from the side (known as a push), they intuitively know they’ve moved on to the next step.

It’s choices like this that may be small on their own, but the summation of their parts as a whole create a consistent visual language and flow throughout your app – which is one of the main hallmarks of good design.

Nitpick the details

Details matter – an app should never have to come with a set of instructions in order for a user to know how to properly interact with it. It’s the small details that will provide your users with the hints and visual cues they need to navigate your app.

Subtly is key to mobile app design. Something as simple as a highlighted or muted color can imply a button’s functionality – if a button is a bright color, your users will expect it to accomplish something. If a button is a muted color, like grey, they will intuitively expect it to perform an action analog to a canceling function.

There’s a balance to these fine details, however. Keep your design as simple as possible – if the people you present your prototype to can’t figure out how to navigate your app in a few minutes (or ideally, 30 seconds), it’s time to go back to the drawing board and figure out how you can simplify things.

Understand the problem

That’s the most important part of mobile app design. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a designer yourself – knowing what your app needs to accomplish will dictate everything about it. It’s a quote I’ve used before, but I feel Frank Lloyd Wright’s words fit perfectly in reference to mobile design:

Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.

How to build a mobile app: Actionable apps

Did you know that within the first three days of an app being downloaded, 77% of the users who downloaded it have already deleted it from their device?

It doesn’t get any better with time, either – after a month, 90% of users will have abandoned the app. There’s many reasons for this – ranging from the app taking up too much storage space, to unresolved bugs like crashes causing users frustration, enough of which leads to the users switching to another, more reliable app.

For a lot of app publishers however, the problem isn’t user acquisition – it’s user retention. Sometimes it’s for the reasons listed above, but unfortunately, it’s quite often due to the app not providing anything solid for its users to act upon.

Actions speak louder than words

There are many tools you can use to drive user engagement through action – too many to cover completely. And for a lot of apps, the pain points they solve are unique, and therefore use toolsets tailor-made to the particular problem they are designed to solve.

There are, however, general categories of CTAs you can use to drive your app’s user engagement:

  • Tools
  • Push notifications
  • Empowerment
  • Limited time offers and other classic CTAs

Actionable tools

Sometimes, the only thing you need to make an actionable app is a good idea. These can come in many forms – apps like Uber solve a particular pain point brilliantly, Instagram gives users the tools to make every photo look good, and games like long-gone Flappybird toe the line perfectly between simplistic, eye-catching, and just downright fun.

All of these apps listed above are million dollar ideas, or to be more accurate, multi-million (or even billion) dollar ideas. If you’ve come up with a truly ground breaking solution that effects a wide ranging audience before anyone else, or you solve a common pain point better than anyone else, your app fits into this category. After acquisition, you’ve got little to worry about – your app will drive it’s own user engagement.

Not every app built from a good idea will achieve this rockstar status, however – and shouldn’t be compared to giants like Uber. Taxis have been a widespread thing in even the smallest of towns for a long time – Uber just provided a smoother user experience. The whole ride share industry is booming due to its enormous demand – everyone needs some form of transportation, whether it’s a car, bike, or scooter.

Some good ideas focus on smaller market segments – and that’s not a bad thing. A smaller market segment means a close-knit tribe to engage with. Take, for example, Whystle. It’s an app that provides its users with alerts about product and safety recalls announced from government agencies like the FDA or FTC, and the industries they regulate.

While an app like that won’t appeal to as many people as an app like Instagram, Whystle solves a pain point facing many users – health and safety conscious consumers no longer have to scour a multitude of websites for news about recalls – they can just open up Whystle and scroll through a list in a matter of seconds.

Creating an inherently actionable app is the hardest type of actionable app to achieve; but the best way to go about this isn’t to search for a moment of inspiration – it’s all about doing market research, identifying a pain point that has yet to be solved by an app, and then figuring out how to make an app that provides the solution.

For more tips about app ideation, check out our blog on the topic.

On the other side of the coin, you can look at what apps are doing well, and then provide the same tools for a different segment of that market. Think of Uber vs. Lyft.

The equation behind any successful app that serves users as a tool is: pain point + solution + user experience + ASO = high user retention and acquisition.

Push notifications

Push notifications are a powerful CTA tool – they can increase user retention by up to 180%, and users that opt in to push notifications engage with apps 88% more than those who don’t.

The trick is to remember that a push notification will almost 100% of the time be seen as an interruption to your users – the only time it wouldn’t be is if the user is currently navigating to open up your app.

Due to their inherently disruptive nature, push notifications must always have at least one of the following traits (and optimally, both):

  • Provides an immediately tangible benefit
  • Is a personalized reminder or offer

Sending spammy or plain broadcasted push notifications to your users doesn’t have the same impact as personalized ones – broadcasted push notifications have an engagement rate of 15%, while personalized more than triple that with an engagement rate of 54%. Take the time to analyze your user data and craft personalized messages for push notifications – it will pay off.

Look at user metrics like the time of day they engage with your app, the countries they live in, the device they use, the products or content they click on, and then make messages specific to those interests. If you have a segment of users that live in Portugal, craft them messages in Portuguese. If they’ve looked at a specific product a few times and then left their session, send them a push notification with a 5% off code for that product.

The more personal the better. They can also be used to make the most out of a bad situation – for instance, if a user experiences a crash while using your app, send them a push notification apologizing for the issue, and that you’re working to fix it. This kind of personal engagement gives you a much better chance at retaining the user after a bad experience.

An easy way to keep track and make sense of personalized user data is with an analytics platform like Kumulos. Kumulos also gives you a platform to both send out and analyze the results of personalized push notifications.

Due to geofencing and location services, push notifications can now be more personalized and poignant than ever with proximity marketing. These can be used to engage users when they are near a physical location pertinent to your app; for example, if you ran an e-bike service, you could send a user a push notification when they are within two blocks from a bike station.

For more information about proximity marketing check out our guest blog on the topic by Kumulos Marketing Manager Caroline McClelland.

Empowerment

These are apps that somewhat fall into the tool category, but rather than providing a service or tool, give users encouragement to complete tasks. This can be achieved in many different ways; an exercise app can keep track of a users gains or times in order to demonstrate their accomplishments, or a sandwich shop can use an app to keep track of how many lunches a customer has had, and reward them for every tenth meal purchased.

Apps that empower their users like this will often see high engagement – they give users a goal to continuously strive towards – whether it’s losing weight or buying that tenth turkey club. In order to check their progress, users have to open up your app, which consequently leads to higher engagement.

Limited time offers and other classic CTAs

Most marketing and sales tactics are transferrable to apps, and the most common channel for these strategies is through push notifications. Let’s revisit that proximity marketing example – not only can you alert a user that your service is close to their current location, you can make the offer even more enticing by adding fear of loss into the mix: Hey, we noticed you’re close to one of our scooter stations, but there’s only 2 left! Hurry before they’re all gone!

These tactics don’t have to be applied to only push notifications, however. Other digital mediums like newsletters, social media, the app store, and any other channel you engage users through can be used to promote limited time offers.

Personalization and user benefit

Those two features are the bottom line to creating an actionable app. Create pertinent CTAs that provide users with an immediate benefit – whether it’s through the tools your app provides, push notifications, or encouraging the completion of goals. Remember to specifically tailor your CTAs to both your brand and the users you’re engaging with, and don’t be afraid to try new things, as long as you follow the golden rule of user engagement – engage users like friends, not like customers.

Improving your business operations and culture with an internal app

Very rarely does a change in your business’ process relate to a boost throughout the entirety of your company’s systems and departments – and you’d be right to be wary of anyone claiming to be able to facilitate such sweeping reform.

But there is one change you can make that will increase your company’s efficiency, communication, collaboration, training, and employee retention, as well as inventory management, accounting, service, and sales – all of these facets of your business can be improved simultaneously by creating an internal mobile app for your employees and operations.

Most companies understand the power of reaching out to their audiences using a consumer-facing mobile app. Global mobile traffic hovers at around 50% of all internet usage, and 82% of all mobile users in the U.S. made at least one online purchase through their mobile device as of December 2017. Out of all that mobile traffic, 90% comes from time spent using apps.

Stats like these are compelling – and make for good figures to show to board rooms. But here’s another stat to consider: A study conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management found that large corporations (~100,000 employees) reported an average loss of $62.4 million per year due to miscommunication, and small companies (<100 employees) on average report a loss of $420,000 a year for the same reason.

Those are the direct opposite of insignificant figures. Let’s look into the various ways a mobile app can boost your business’ bottom line and employee culture at the same time.

Improve your employees’ communication consistency

Have you ever called an employee’s phone, and not gotten an answer? Of course you have. Does your team struggle to keep on top of emails from other team members? More than likely, at least sometimes.

With your own internal app, you can keep all communication under one roof – a good way to ensure employees with multiple emails or phone numbers are kept in the loop. This also helps keep past conversations organized, which makes referencing data supplied by co-workers a much faster process for employees working on a project or being trained, lessening the amount of interruption in workflow they face on a daily, hourly, or even minute-by-minute basis.

Workers switching between programs or even devices might not seem like the massive time sink that it actually is – but consider the decision of UPS to not make left turns; they invested in a software that mapped the United States (as well as most of the world), in order to nearly eradicate left turns from their parcel delivery truck routes. This decision ended up saving the company over 20 million gallons of fuel every year – those seconds it takes to make a left turn add up, and the same is for employees waiting for that one program that always takes so long to boot up.

Email is the left turn of inter-office communication. An app keeps everyone, at all times (at least during work hours), in real-time communication with each other – no delays or time spent finding someone.

Your internal app doesn’t have to be limited to the four walls of your office, either – we actually include our clients in their own specific channel in order to ensure clear and quick communication, as well as transparency in the development process. Our business developer regularly sends us photos of cool things happening in the city during his client meet ups – or a photo of his passenger seat laden with donuts on their way back to the office.

If you work in collaboration with any outside teams, agencies, or freelancers, or have a sales or service team in the field, a mobile app keeps them in constant communication as well.

Communication is the key to a strong & collaborative culture

Everyone likes being heard – and from reasons ranging from remote workers to introverted employees, it can be difficult for some of your employees’ voices to be recognized. According to a Gallup poll, 70% of the work force is disengaged – and reasons reported include:

  • Lack of feedback or direction from their manager
  • Lack of socialization with their team
  • Lack of understanding of their company’s mission and values
  • Lack of proper communication between them and their manager

All of these issues can easily be solved with an internal business app. For example, a few months ago, I experienced a death in my family; in the following weeks, the messages and encouragement I would receive from our CEO and my team members were enormously beneficial to my productivity, my well being, and my connection to NS804.

All of our communication is done through this channel. The connection it provides is the backbone of our culture – it’s surprising how empty even a small office can feel without some form of instant communication available.

Our CEO can randomly quiz us on our core principles, and give out rewards to the person who responds the fastest; non-punitive competitions like this help keep employees engaged with your core values, promote healthy, lighthearted conversations between managers and employees, and empower introverted team members that might not be comfortable shouting out “Humble, passionate, unified, grateful, service!” in the conference room.

It’s a level playing field for all types of communication, and keeps employees focused on your goals, and engaged with the work necessary to achieve them. Remember that figure of 70% of the work force being disengaged from their employer? They cost organizations $450 – $500 billion annually – with an internal business app, those organizations could re-engage with a portion of that 70%. Even an employee engagement rate increase of 10% would be equivalent to a $50 billion increase in revenue for those organizations.

That’s not a paltry sum.

Efficiency

An internal business app doesn’t just provide your employees with a new way to talk to each other – it gives them the knowledge and tools of your entire company – and it’s all just a few inputs away.

There’s one word that will make any retail or manufacturing company shiver: inventory.

Between your accounting, sales, and service departments, there’s bound to be a discrepancy in numbers eventually – or, for example, a service employee could grab a part from your stock for a customer in your store, but accounting isn’t made aware of it in time to warn your sales rep that they can only guarantee that new client of yours 49 parts instead of the 50 they were just promised.

An internal business app can stop those handshakes from happening. With an internal business app, your business developer will never again make promise your company can’t keep because you’re one part short from a full order – instead, they’ll impress their client with: “Oh, looks like we just had another sale from that lot. I can get you the partial order right now for a discounted price, or get that order to you in full tomorrow.”

When a client sees that your business developer is that in tune with your company, and that knowledgeable about your capabilities, they are subtly shown that your company will be the most attentive to their needs. Rather than saying, “We take care of our clients,” you can show them in real time.

Internal business apps give these systems (inventory management, accounting, service, and sales) the ability to work off of the same number sets, the same SKUs, and the same reports. If your service department accesses inventory, accounting, sales, and the inventory manager are made aware of the change instantly. With the growing on-demand economy, the ability to report accurate numbers in real time will be imperative to your growth and success.

Internal business apps boost your workflow, make you more adaptable, and improve your client and customer relations

Mobile apps have undoubtably had an enormous impact on the way customers and clients engage with businesses – the companies that migrated to mobile engagement are reaping the rewards right now. The same will be true for companies that utilize internal business apps – they will be more efficient, providing a better customer experience, and they’ll boost employee retention and culture.

A company that boasts high customer and employee satisfaction? That’s one that I’d bet on.

The end of the tech sector?

Name an industry that hasn’t been changed by tech. I’ve been sitting here for the past twenty minutes trying to think of one, and I haven’t been able come up with anything. Even linguistics aren’t immune – the preface “smart” is even more pervasive than “HD” was in the late 00’s and early 10’s. Smartphones, smartwatches, smartTVs, smart locks, smart cars, Smart Water, smart homes…

The tech sector has never been stronger (when weighing its economic and cultural impact both) – and yet, the next few years may just be the end of it. Not because companies like Amazon are a trend that will fizzle out as predicted by economists in the early 00’s, but because companies like Amazon aren’t just online retailers anymore. Google isn’t just a search engine for the web – it’s a search engine for everything.

Soon (given the current rate of innovation), the tech sector will cease to exist because it won’t just be a sector, but rather the economy itself.

The user experience

The melding of the tech sector with other industries has been both sudden and violent, and yet intrinsic to the success of the current leaders of the economy today. Just as other industries benefit from the inclusion of tech, so to does tech benefit from partnering with those industries; it’s the natural avenue of progression for tech’s growth.

Surface features, like refrigerators and mirrors enhanced with LCD screens that tell you the weather is an obvious inclusion of tech – but these changes are superficial. The screen on your refrigerator isn’t the end game – it’s part of a system that’s been in the making for the past decade.

The overarching theme in any user-facing software is to provide good UX by focusing on solving a pain point with an easy to use tool that takes the stress out of solving the user’s problem. No one was ever asking to check stocks in the bathroom mirror – but they were showing companies (by the products they purchase) that they like universal services.

When smartphones went from something everyone wanted to something everyone had, mobile traffic very rapidly took over half the share of internet usage, and is now the leading source of all internet traffic.

This wasn’t because there was a new device with a screen on it, it’s because people wanted to use the internet everywhere, and all of a sudden, they could. We just happen to spend a lot of our day not in front of a desktop, laptop or tablet – and when you’re standing in front of the mirror combing your hair, or opening the fridge to grab a snack, your hands are usually occupied. No one appreciates a weather-telling refrigerator, but they do appreciate one that gives them the ability to continue taking in visual information while interacting with their Google Assistant, or Alexa, or HomePod, or whatever name Facebook will come up with, when their hands are otherwise occupied.

There’s a comforting feeling you get (at least I do) when using tech to solve problems, due to the user experience that’s been baked in since the dawn of the internet.

Yesterday, when chatting with a Grubhub customer service representative, I noticed something; I didn’t feel the usual anxiety of talking over a phone. If they didn’t have a chat feature, I probably wouldn’t have even communicated the issue I had with their service – I wasn’t as much dissatisfied as I was confused, and the interaction over the phone wouldn’t have been worth the emotional investment – but the interaction I had with Grubhub through the chat feature ended up increasing my brand loyalty by providing customer service through a channel I preferred.

Companies are always looking for new ways to communicate with their customers – especially those that provide a service. Tech has the added benefit (and upper hand) of it’s main point of interaction remaining with the customer at all times.

This is why Amazon can afford to open up physical book stores and buy out Whole Foods. Why Google is entering the video game industry with the Stadia – because they’re better built to work within the still emerging digital economy, and like water, economic growth will seek the path of least resistance – and for tech, that direction is towards home services and beyond.

The new vertical integration

Tesla might be a car company – but they don’t just make cars. They write auto-pilot software, build batteries and energy storage facilities, and supply the charging stations that keep their cars running. But this is the usual, time-honored vertical integration we all know.

Google and Amazon are competing to provide both customers and companies with fully integrated customer acquisition funnels. Customers can use their Alexa or Google Home to find a company that provides a service, while companies can use ad platforms provided by Google and Amazon to reach the customers. Google and Amazon provide the cloud storage the other companies use to host their website and app, provide the analytics of their platforms’ user acquisition, and provide companies with customers’ data.

Amazon buys food, sells that food in a physical location and through a digital platform, handles the transportation of the food (from either factory-to-store, or store-to-customer), and uses the data from what the customer bought to sell to advertisers and create more pertinent targeted ads.

Google will give users the ability to control almost every aspect of their home; through Google Home, you’ll be able to find and book, for example, a furnace repair service, without worrying if you’ll even be there. Your Google Home could use the porch camera to verify the technician was their at the scheduled time, open the smart locks, and record the entire visit.

Tech has evolved

It isn’t web dev or apps or blockchain or VR – tech is rapidly becoming the way we want to interact with everything. The words “user” and “customer” have almost become synonymous, and as such, brands are expected to provide a user experience that is unique, searchable, and unified within the system that is the internet of things. Companies like Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple all stand to benefit greatly from the coming customer acquisition revolution.

How to communicate with developers

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.