In-app payments and purchasing – cost and profitability

There are many methods of app monetization, but none are as palatable for users – and profitable for publishers – as in-app payments and in-app purchasing. Just like any lucrative revenue stream, however, there are many costs (both hidden and upfront) associated with implementing the ability to charge users while they are engaging with your app; and there are even more pitfalls that may pop up during the development and implementation of in-app purchasing and payments.

Below, you’ll find knowledge about the deployment, cost, and revenue potential of in-app payments and purchasing:

The difference between in-app purchases and in-app payments

There’s a lot of different ways for users to spend money in apps, and a plethora of platforms that facilitate payments. In-app purchases are distinguishable from in-app payments because they are used in situations where the user isn’t buying a product, but rather additional content for the app itself.

In-app payments refer to purchases made through an app – the most common example being eCommerce apps, or even retail apps like those for Target or Kroger. Both of these methods involve the user paying for a good or service – but both are implemented (technologically, and strategically) using different methods, and come with different associated costs, as well as revenue models.

Let’s look deeper into these two revenue-driving options:

In-app purchases

In-app purchases can be broken down into four categories:

  1. Consumables: These are (usually) single pieces of content that are purchased once, depleted, and then purchased again. The most obvious example of a consumable purchase in an app would be lives, gems, or coins that many mobile games use as in-game currency. Another example of consumable purchases that is outside of the gaming sphere, however, is Tinder’s option to buy more swipes. Consumable purchases don’t just belong in games – if your consumable purchase can provide enough value, users will purchase it.
  2. Non-Consumable: These are, not surprisingly, the direct opposite of consumable purchases. Once bought, these extra pieces of content, additional features, or extra services will never expire. A good example are filters in Instagram, or sticker packets in WhatsApp.
  3. Auto-Renewing Subscriptions: Using this model of in-app purchasing, users buy access to services that regularly provide content updates, like Hulu. Other subscription services offer more utilitarian products, like cloud storage services such as dropbox, or productivity software like Monday. Users will be charged on a regular basis using this model.
  4. Non-Renewing Subscriptions: Users will purchase access to services or content just like auto-renewing subscriptions – this method differs in one key factor however: content is not regularly updated, and the user is only charged once for the content or service, and not on a reoccurring basis. The most prevalent example of this would be the omni-present “season pass.” In order to access these services or content, users must pay for every release.

Note: For apps published to Apple’s App Store to make use of in-app purchasing (and payments), publishers must sign Apple’s Paid Applications Agreement, as well as set up their company’s baking and tax information with Apple.

There are two options when it comes to in-app purchasing APIs: StoreKit for iOS, and In-App Billing API for Android (always with the clever names, Android). These options are the only two available for implementing in-app purchasing through Apple and Google’s platforms, and both (just like the sale of any product or content through the App Store or Google Play) will take 30% of the profit from each in-app sale made through your app.

This form of app monetization is, so far, incredibly successful, if implemented respectfully and properly. According to a study conducted by App Annie, out of 1,200 developers, 50% of them used in-app purchases to drive their revenue, and the App Store’s top revenue-earning app of 2018, the game Fortnite, made $450 million that year – using a revenue model mainly based around in-app purchases of character costumes.

In-app payments

This is where your field of developmental and payment options begin to widen – the purchasing of goods, services, and content outside of the App Store or Google Play can be implemented through many different APIs, and the strategy behind the CTA changes based on the individual app.

On of the most popular apps to make use of in-app payments is Uber – riders need a way to pay drivers, and drivers need a way to receive payments. In the same manner as Apple and Android with in-app purchases, Uber takes a percentage of the profits from each transaction between riders and drivers.

This revenue model is also highly successful – Uber’s revenue in 2018 was $11.27 billion.

In-app payments are also the backbone of mobile eCommerce – an industry that boasted 500 billion individual sales in 2018.

While you can develop your own custom in-app payment processing system, there are APIs out there that can speed up development: two popular options being Stripe and Braintree. Both of these APIs provide end-to-end encryption, and charge a percentage for each credit or debit card transaction. Stripe charges 2.9% + $0.20 for non-European cards, and Braintree charges 2.9% + $0.20 as well.

In the near future, we’ll cover these (and more) in-app payment APIs in greater detail – so stay tuned for a deep dive into payment gateway APIs.

When implemented, and not imposed, in-app purchasing and payments are an un-stoppable revenue stream

The key to both in-app purchases and payments is to be honest, clear, and provide value. Remember – anyone can play Fortnite for free, and yet it made $450 million last year. While the in-app purchases in the form of costumes weren’t necessary to the gameplay, users were more than happy to purchase them. When users don’t feel pressured to pay for extra content or services, but are rather presented with the option, they are more likely to pay, and continue engaging with your app.

Reported from Clutch – NS804 Apps’ client rating is 4.9 out of 5 stars

At NS804, our team of motivated engineers provides full-service mobile application development, specializing in native iOS and Android mobile app development. Since 2012, NS804 has produced more than 100 apps.

As a result of our dedicated service to customer satisfaction, partnerships, personalized digital strategy, and informed design, NS804 has earned a reputation for our tailor-made developments, according to Clutch.

Through Clutch, our clients have rated us a 4.9 out of 5 based on their experiences with us from their app development’s start to completion. Our firm, based in Virginia, strives to be your partner and your developer – when you succeed, we succeed – so your success is always our number one priority. Your input and vision for the app we help bring to life is highly valued by our team, as we aim to ensure that you understand the front and backend processes of your app.

Clutch, a respected Washington D.C. B2B business, ratings and reviews platform that provides firm suggestions and buying recommendations to a plethora of businesses through its ranking system based on collected objective client feedback, seeks to ensure that the best value is given through their in-depth analysis of this data.

Our past clients only have good things to say about their experiences with NS804, highlighting our responsive communication, pride in our work, guidance from start to launch, and a lot more.

In one of our most recent reviews, the founder of Carpe Diem Social LLC said, “[NS804’s] team does a great job of turning around last-minute requests,” showing our dedication to our clients and willingness to accommodate you however we can.

It’s feedback such as this that means the world to us – if there’s anything we can do to help our partners succeed, we’re on it.

Clutch Profile

The Manifest, a sister blog site of Clutch, featured our team in Richmond as a top 2 app developer in Virginia. We can help your business be one of the 32% of small businesses have a mobile app.

So what are you waiting for? Come create with us today. Contact us here.

Backend design

When I was younger – as in less-than-a-decade old – I wanted to be an architect. That was, until I learned about the existence of trigonometry, calculus, and all the higher-than-geometry level math I could never possibly hope to understand. I liked drawing houses and castles, not mathematically planning them.

Many professions, just like that of architect, necessitate the mastery of hidden skillsets or knowledge bases that the layperson isn’t aware of; the perfect example of this being backend developers. The title, and the topic that comes with it, is enough to make most people instantly glaze over – even some frontend developers will look for an excuse to escape from the conversation.

There’s a reason that this blog is titled “backend design,” however – a lot more design goes into backend development than you would think. Or, more accurately stated, a lot of design goes into architecting the backend.

Systems architecture

According to Introduction to Systems Architecture Design by Medium, backend architecture is “… a conceptual representation of the components and subcomponents that reflects the behavior of the system.”

In other words, backend design is architecting a structure for the frontend, user-facing data layer. It’s akin to designing a car – there’s just as much artistry necessary as engineering. Code is code is code – there’s nothing special about Ruby on Rails or Node.js. Once mastered, the language of the backend can be written just as fast as a frontend developer working in Swift or JavaScript.

Just as a good UI designer knows how to create a rectangle in Sketch, so to does a backend developer know how to build a NoSQL database: the true skill of design is knowing where to place that rectangle in order to create a pleasing layout, or how to organize data in order to minimize latency.

So know that when someone starts talking about systems architecture, they’re really talking about architecture, and less about code. And once this topic is broken down, it’s not that complicated (on a high-level, at least) to comprehend.

The backend can be broken down into three layers:

  1. Controllers – these handle client requests, such as when a user adds an item to their cart.
  2. Services – access data in the DAO layer, and send it back to the controller, which then sends the retrieved information to the client.
  3. Data Access Objects (DAO) – This is the layer where data can be stored, organized, and accessed.

Most often, these layers can be implemented by cloud providers; these platforms – like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, or Microsoft Azure – will sell managed services like on-demand servers, or databases (in addition to many other services).

When someone speaks to the scalability of the cloud, this is what they’re referring to; “the cloud” is really a collection of remote servers that provide customers with ready-made backend infrastructure, giving companies the ability to increase their operations without needing to store, manage, and maintain servers physically on site.

Within these layers are components, of which we’ll cover the four most basic and widely-used:

  1. Virtual machines – Like most things in the world of computers, the moniker “virtual machine” is an apt descriptor of what VMs do; a VM is nothing but a computer simulated inside of a computer, much like a digital Russian nesting doll. When utilizing cloud providers, VMs will be hosted on larger servers that allocate the necessary CPU, RAM, SSD, and network bandwidth in order to run your VM – this exact process can be achieved on a personal computer as well. VMs run the operations of your backend.
  2. Load balancers – Run too many applications on your computer, and it’ll start to slow down. The same is true for your VMs in the cloud or on your local servers – too many client requests, and the time it takes to load a page can skyrocket. Your backend’s load balancer is designed to solve this problem: load balancers act as a medium between your backend’s controllers and services layer. Load balancers both interpret client requests from the controllers layer, and keep track of the health of VMs – and to ensure low latency client request, the load balancer distributes those client requests evenly between VMs.
  3. Databases – Databases are how your DAO layer is organized. There are two types of database structures: non relational (NoSQL), or relational (SQL). We’ll cover those a little bit below.
  4. Caches – The reason databases can have different structures is because certain databases are optimized for different types of data, in order to decrease the time it takes to access information. Caches are used for the same reason; during times of heavy traffic, caches can store data that is sure to be accessed in rapid succession by many clients, thus reducing the time it takes to complete client requests. Caches can be thought of as super-optimized, small databases.

Back it up

Before we get into anything more complicated, theres a few basic concepts we can go over now that we’ve covered the building blocks of the backend:

  1. Latency – This is the length of time it takes a client request to complete. Latency always refers to time.
  2. Bandwidth – This is the maximum amount of client requests (data) your server can handle.
  3. Throughput – This is the true amount of data your servers can handle. Often, during times of high traffic, bandwidth will drop as latency rises – this new measurement is called throughput.

In order to reduce latency and increase bandwidth, backend systems will be scaled up to process more client requests. This can be achieved via three different methods:

  1. Vertical scaling – This method reduces latency by increasing the amount of requests a single VM or physical server can handle by upgrading the CPU, RAM, or SSD of the machine.
  2. Horizontal scaling – Reduces latency by adding more VMs or physical servers, thereby increasing the number of client requests that can be handled at a given moment.
  3. Auto scaling – uses the same principle as horizontal scaling, but automates the process: VMs are added as they are needed, and deleted as client requests decrease. Both auto and horizontal scaling necessitate a load balancer.

Another design choice that can reduce latency is the type of database your DAO layer makes use of. As stated above, there are two types of database structures: SQL and NoSQL. While SQL databases are organized to write data in a very efficient manner; NoSQL databases are organized to read data quickly, but due to their structure, require duplicate data in order to access information.

You can think of a SQL database as a collection of tables that hold very specific, uniform sets of information, that link up in a web. NoSQL databases are structured in branches, which lead to other branches, which lead to other branches.

SQL - NoSQL

Both come with their pros and cons – NoSQL databases can access information faster, and are optimized for dealing with un-related sets of data. SQL databases are robust and optimized for dealing with requests that require relational data from various processes in your backend’s service layer.

Back in business

Just as a house would fall apart without the wooden structure, plumbing, wiring, and ventilation, so to would your website or application without its backend. It’s important to know what’s going on back there!

Stay tuned for our future look into scaling up your backend systems.

How to find a pain point for your app – discovering the value you can bring to customers

All inventions and products – from the wheel to selfie-sticks – are designed to solve a pain point. There wouldn’t be the need of inventing something if there wasn’t a problem to begin with – and good thing too; if early homo sapiens had no need for fire, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Inventions, and the products that follow, make things easier. A product only has value when it helps the customer – if it creates no change (or, even worse, negative change), the product is useless. The only way to ensure a product is truly useful for customers is for that product to solve a pain point they face – whether in their daily, weekly, monthly, or sometimes, even yearly lives.

A pain point is difficult to identify, and requires discerning the true nature and scope of the problem consumers are facing. Pain points may present themselves in a few different ways:

  • By being confronted with the pain point in your own life
  • Your own ideation
  • Exploratory market research

Each of these three come with their own methods for finding a pain point – let’s go over them:

Experience it

This is the most common form of pain point discovery – after confronting a pain point in your life enough times, you’ll either come up with your own solution, or find someone who can help to provide the solution. Everyone may be a unique individual, but we all share struggles throughout our day; chances are, if you’re facing a personal pain point, other people are as well.

This method of pain point identification is the most straightforward in addition to being the most common – usually, the solution will present itself to you in a moment of clarity – many dreamed of stronger backs, but someone creative enough dreamed of the wheel.

Often, there is little-to-no need to explain the solution to customers when your pain point’s genesis is one such as this; merely introducing users to your product or idea will be enough to generate conversions.

Your idea needn’t be nascent either – your pain point might stem from another company’s product. If you are able to provide a simpler or more effective solution to the pain point than the original product, your product has a very good chance of success. This is for a few reasons: there is an already proven need, the market is already identified, and product expectations have already been set.

With the introduction of even just a slightly more efficient experience, your product can grab hold of a significant portion of the market, in the same manner as Lyft did with Uber.

Create a need

Pain point creation is a topic that could easily fill a book. The idea of creating a pain point is the direct opposite of the previous method – rather than being presented with a pain point and then solving it after experiencing it, it revolves around making a product that simultaneously creates and solves a pain point.

Sound complicated? The theory is complex, but the implementation of this method creates the most common form of product on the market – those we don’t need. Perhaps the most proliferate example of such a product are collectibles in competitive gaming:

Don’t have a pink cowboy hat? Well, now your space marine can – for just $1.99!M

Or, to bring it out of the digital realm:

Got milk?

Regardless, creating a pain point takes a lot of market research, which is exactly what we’re going over next.

Find a community

This is always made easier if your market research is looking into an already existing market – think Coke vs. Pepsi, or Windows vs. Mac. If you’re searching for an untapped market, however, this process can become much more complicated.

There’s often a need to find a new community to market to when you offer a service in an over-saturated market, and are looking for a new growth opportunity, or searching for a concrete customer base.

For example, there are plenty of custom carpentry shops – some specialize in cabinets, others in furniture, and others in flooring – but all of these markets are awash with carpentry companies competing for customers.

Carpentry companies like Wyrmwood (a company that makes wooden table-top gaming accessories for games like Dungeons & Dragons) however, can utilize many of the same carpentry skills while catering to an untapped market – meaning their re-tooling and operational costs hardly change, and their potential profit grows exponentially.

This isn’t to say that the people at Wyrmwood don’t enjoy D&D – it’s that they were smart enough to see a need, and fill the void in that particular market.

The most sure method of finding a community with a need is to search for one that is engaged. It helps to find a community that is obscure enough to not have a competitive market as well, but that isn’t always a possibility.

When you find a community that is truly engaged, go to important events based around that community, visit the online homes of the community, and engage with it yourself. After engaging with members of this newfound community, you’ll have either found a pain point through your research, or experienced the pain point yourself.

Your community needn’t be close knit either – entire demographics can fill the same role. For one of our client’s apps, this was the method of pain point discovery; Lauren Bell’s Whystle found that families (and the federal government and private brands as well) wanted to have an informational hub for product and safety recalls – Lauren Bell was inventive enough to think of putting it on an app.

After finding your pain point, what’s the next step? Find out here.

Why MVP for your mobile app?

Why do so many software products start out as MVPs?

The reason is due to the significant benefits MVP software brings to the development process: faster, more affordable development, and reliable, resourceful market validation. Essentially, a MVP is a quick method of validating your product via customer feedback. But before we get any further, let’s go over what “MVP” actually means.

MVP stands for:

Minimum – the minimum set of features a product can have while still remaining…

Viable – to provide value to customers, so they are willing to engage with the…

Product – which is ready to be used for consumption.

The development of technological products has always lent itself to that of a MVP – from Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone to the 1998 startup named Google, MVPs have had a huge impact on the way users and products co-exist and co-benefit from each other.

Well-known MVPs

It wouldn’t be fair to say that the following products should still be considered MVPs presently – but rather that they started out that way, and over many iterations, have become the products, services, and platforms they are now.

Facebook

Back when this social media giant was known as The Facebook in 2004, the product offered was most definitely a MVP. During its 1.0 phase, Facebook was a website available only to Harvard students – the intention behind this limited release was to collect feedback in order to create a more robust and user-friendly product. At this time, Facebook was nowhere near what it is today – the website comprised of a profile page, friend requests, and a “send message” feature.

AirBnB

The story of this internationally-used app is the perfect example of a successful MVP product. An idea thought up in 2007 when roommates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia were unable to afford rent in the expensive real estate market of San Francisco, the app now known as Airbnb was originally a website by the name of airbedandbreakfast.com.

The site’s first listing (Chesky and Gebbia’s apartment living room) was a true MVP experience as well: an air mattress in a room, along with a cooked breakfast. These are the amenities users of the original site were offered. After the addition of Nathan Blecharczyk (the creator of the website) and the Industrial Design Conference of 2008 held in San Francisco created a need for extra lodging in the area, the company was able to host its first guest.

Now, the company is considering the possibility of opening its own airline. This is the power of MVP products; they can start out as a single air mattress in your apartment’s living room, and develop into international companies with revenues measured by billions of dollars.

There are many more MVP success stories, like that of Goupon, Amazon, Buffer, Snapchat, and others – but for now, let’s get into what makes a product a true MVP.

MVP theory

As previously stated above, a MVP is a product that provides users with the minimum set of features required to provide a marketable and consumable experience. When Bell invented the telephone in 1876, his product provided a usable method of long-distance communication, and not much else. His original telephone model required users to speak into a standing receiver, and hold another speaker to their ear – and after decades of feedback from customers, phones morphed from rotary, to corded and cordless, and eventually to cell and smartphones.

It is this evolution that is the hallmark of a MVP.

While MVPs do come with quicker development cycles (making it easier to beat competition to market, as well as capitalizing on untapped markets), the most beneficial aspect of a MVP is the direct customer validation.

The market (and your users) will very quickly determine if your product is viable. If the idea is interesting enough, or the solution to the pain point is useful enough, users will jump on board. Therefore, by the usage of a MVP, you can quickly and cheaply prove your validity on the market without wasting time and resources on preliminary marketing and focus groups.

The next step is the most important – listening and reacting to customer feedback. The idea behind a MVP isn’t to build a product with the minimal feature set and then leave it alone – AirBnb didn’t stop at a single air mattress, after all – it’s to create the foundation for a fully-fledged product, platform, or experience.

Take the feedback you receive from early adopters, and implement it – this creates a strong brand for two very important and distinct reasons: your company proves to customers that their voices are heard and matter, and customer-requested features ensure a UX that has been tested against multiple scenarios, environments, and use cases (and lacks any excess features your users don’t want).

MVPs prove your worth

With market validation comes revenue – which can then be used to present a case for your business to investors. After AirBnB’s debut in 2008, the company received their first round of seed money in 2009 from Y Combinator, and by 2010, had raised over $7 million. By 2014, the company was valued at $10 billion, and now, in 2019, boasts a valuation of $35 billion.

MVPs naturally lend themselves to the continual update cycles apps (and all software) are beholden to, and create an environment for meaningful, impactful improvements to your users’ experience. MVPs are more than just a quick way to develop an app – they provide you with the foundation to create a community based around your brand.

Custom inventory solutions for the enterprise level business

There are many inventory management solutions out there, but many are ill-suited to the reality of enterprise level environments that currently exist on legacy systems, or lack the ability to integrate with entrenched ITSM using languages like .NET.

For these reasons, and more (which we will cover below), a third party proprietary inventory management software system won’t make the cut when stacked up against the vast scale and needs of the enterprise level.

The scope of inventory management

Inventory management software can either be used as a standalone system, or integrated within your ERP. A basic inventory management system would provide tools used for:

  • Tracking products
  • Alerting when product levels are low
  • Barcode scanning
  • Generating accurate accounting and financial data

There are many free inventory management software platforms that will offer most of the features listed above, but few include barcode scanning, and many lack reports that can integrate into a larger ERP system – and all are limited to a set number of transactions – such as 100 products in total, or 20 orders every month.

For any additional features, or the ability to scale up, these free software platforms will charge monthly fees, usually dependent on the number of users, number of products being managed, and number of orders processed.

For any company that operates at a scale larger than that of a startup or boutique, these pricing models can create exorbitant invoices for your company – and at the enterprise level, these solutions lack any form of ROI, and quickly become a burden to your bottom line.”

Even enterprise level software can fail to truly meet the standard of market fluidity national and multi-national brands face. While many ERP systems are designed to be customized to various industries, this is akin to designing your own app with a drag-and-drop software.

Options such as these also lack true integration within your environment – these platforms are intended to replace aspects of, or even the entirety of your enterprise environment, and not to work within the architecture your company has worked with for years.

Enterprise environments take years, sometimes even decades to truly be implemented, and they are continuously adapting and upgrading as technology improves and markets dictate more speed and customer value. Brands that can truly be classified as “enterprise level” are no different – cultivating a national or multinational brand is an undertaking that can take a full generation, and requires continuous observation and tinkering to keep growing, and stay relevant in the public’s eye.

For a brand that took twenty years to rise to the level that it is now, it is much smarter to invest in the future, rather than the present – and using an proprietary third party software for inventory management is investing for the short term rather than the long term.

Finally, many inventory management systems lack mobile integration – a necessity to maintain speed and efficiency in a truly connected enterprise environment.

Customized solutions increase efficiency

An inventory management system can do a lot more than tell you when levels are low on a certain product. With a custom platform fully integrated within the rest of your ERP environment, you can track detailed data points such as a product’s physical location in your warehouse, or the system can automatically determine the optimal time for re-ordering products: based on data points such as available shipping routes or closest supplier, and even down to weather patterns that might effect delivery schedules.

A more sophisticated inventory management system goes beyond tracking the sale of a type of product – with RFID integration, when scanned by your POS system, individual products can be tracked and recorded as they are sold. With data as intricate as this, a custom inventory platform is able to aggregate sales data in order to automatically generate reports that provide insight into optimal production times and when demand increases or decreases.

When working with a custom inventory management system, all of this data will automatically populate in their respective reports for your different departments, warehouses, and offices – whether spread throughout town, or across the globe. Via realtime integration, your service team in St. Louis will be aware of a part being shipped out from New Delhi, and your accounting firm in New York will receive the purchase order.

A system such as this provides you with a detailed view of the entire history of a product – from production to the final sale. This can be further broken down into the order history of each part, that when pieced together create a finished product – meaning you can analyze the intricacies of your entire operations through a single program.

Most importantly, all of these features can be accessed and utilized via mobile device – meaning your business developers out in the field have the latest data, and your CCO in Denmark has access to the latest numbers.

A major benefit to custom inventory management solutions is the fact that your internal IT department needn’t learn new systems architecture and languages, or restructure to fit the limitations of a piece of third party software – when built custom, languages that are commonly used throughout legacy systems, like .NET or COBOL are valid options. This isn’t so with proprietary software.

Improve customer value and satisfaction

A custom inventory platform, when fully integrated within your enterprise environment, is an efficient method for increasing your customer satisfaction. This is the ultimate goal of an inventory management system – customers can reliably count on your item stock, and B2B connections can trust your operations and records.

With the additional insight big data analytics can provide your production and sales, your enterprise can take the next leap towards continual improvement in efficiency.

MVP + Agile methodology

Developing a MVP app using the agile methodology of project management is a powerful combination for any enterprise, appreneur, or startup seeking to prove the validity of their idea. Before we get into this combination, however, let’s first look into what a MVP is, as well as agile methodology.

What is a MVP?

A MVP (in regards to app development) is an app that utilizes the smallest number of features possible in order to a) cut the time of production, b) reduce the total cost of development, and c) gain customer validation and insight.

MVP stands for:

Minimum – the minimum set of features a product can have while still remaining…

Viable – to provide value to customers, so they are willing to engage with the…

Product – which is ready to be used for consumption.

While a MVP app is a great way to get to market both faster and cheaper than a conventional app, the true value is the customer insight a MVP provides. Due to the utilitarian nature of a MVP app’s feature set, early adopters of your app are able to request additional features based upon the core functionality of your app, and you don’t send time backtracking and re-developing entire sections of your codebase in order to replace features your users didn’t even want.

The feedback your MVP will receive will also be much more precise and reliable than if you were to spend resources conducting preliminary product focus groups; customers will use your app in many different situations and settings, will compare its usefulness to other apps they use regularly, and will have more time to engage with your app before providing feedback.

What is Agile?

Agile is a widely-popular methodology for app development. Agile development, at its core, is about incremental improvements; teams work in sprints to complete objectives, such as “successfully implement in-app payment,” or “build out user profile UI.” During these sprints, developers will meet to discuss what they have accomplished, and what they are stuck on.

A developer’s code will be tested, and after passing code review, will be added to the true codebase of the app, known as the master branch. Once an objective has been successfully implemented, the team will move on to the next feature. Over the course of development, this process will continue until a complete app is built.

The benefits to an Agile method of development are numerous, but three stick out: speed, reliability, and adaptability. This development methodology is fast because code isn’t implemented until it is tested and reviewed, therefore creating a robust codebase, which allows for easy post-development updating.

Due to these aforementioned benefits, Agile methodology has practically become a standard for developers; each dev shop will put their own twist on things, but the overall process of adding to the master branch incrementally remains largely intact. With user retention being so closely entwined with app updates, having a reliable and structured codebase like that provided by Agile is important; developers often must push out app updates on quick timetables when a new OS releases, or a new device is released to market.

MVP + Agile

Just like Agile, MVPs are based around quick development cycles, and just like MVPs, Agile methodology revolves around improving a codebase via continual, incremental updates. Due to their overlapping nature, these two methodologies fit perfectly together, and create a development environment that is both highly stable and cost efficient.

In order to successfully merge these two methodologies, you will need to make use of careful planning to ensure product market fit. While every app will face different development hurdles, and therefore travel a different path, a MVP app developed in an Agile environment should include the following steps after the initial development cycle:

1 – Testing

Testing is the number on step on this list for a reason – without it, all the following steps are based on flawed data. Apple makes conducting a beta test simple with TestFlight, a service which allows you to host an app for a limited beta test release.

This is why we recommend developing your MVP app for iOS.

This gives you the environment you need to allow beta test users to download and engage with your app. In order to ensure your beta test has enough participants, you’ll want to cultivate a following on social media beforehand.

2 – Community engagement

By engaging with your early adopters, you can drastically reduce the total cost of your app’s development through crucial customer insight. This benefit is the reason so many big names in the tech industry started out as MVPs: Google, Airbnb, Dropbox, Buffer, Uber, Facebook, and Snapchat, to name a few.

The crucial aspect to customer insight is true customer engagement. Throughout your beta test, respond to criticism and compliments alike – and when users request a feature, implement it. If a user leaves a rating and review after your MVP has launched on the App Store or Google Play, respond, and if they have requested a fix, implement that fix.

By showing this level of care, you will ensure the customer feedback you are receiving is truly insightful – while simultaneously creating an engaging and value-producing product.

3. Continual updates

Going hand-in-hand with step 2, continual updates are key to any app’s user retention metric. Users are constantly demanding new innovation and a better experience – which is a huge driving factor behind the need for UI design updates. Security risks play a significant role in this as well.

Incremental, insightful improvements

With a MVP product developed using Agile methodology, you are ensuring the development of your app is both fast and cost effective; with direct and low-cost customer insight and structured code implementations leading to robust user experiences, your app can quickly collect and retain a growing audience that both proves the value of your product and adds to it.

Improving your company’s productivity with an enterprise app

Every business stands to boost their employee productivity, and therefore their revenue through the integration of their internal systems with an enterprise platform. The development of a true enterprise platform doesn’t just mean an app your employees can access via their smartphone – in essence, enterprise platforms are designed with the purpose of optimizing your work processes, systems, and communication.

There’s never been a better time to deploy your very own enterprise app – AI enhanced analytical services are more affordable than ever before, and industry legacy systems are quickly getting outpaced by their big-data-optimized counterparts – soon, companies that don’t make use of their own enterprise platform will find their speed as a company lagging behind competition, and their employees leaving in favor of a company more engaged with its workforce.

The impact of enterprise app deployment

According to a report from software giant Adobe, companies that invest in an enterprise platform see a 35% ROI. A substantial number of companies reported increased productivity (51%), as well as better employee communication (47%), and reduced operating costs (31%).

Numbers like these are nothing to ignore – which is why, according to the same report, 67% of businesses are using an enterprise app. Many of the same problems enterprise apps help to alleviate are widespread concerns throughout different industries: 55% of companies site the need for improved communication, and 54% of companies struggle to keep up with their ever growing mobile workforce.

Enterprise apps, are, of course, the best tool for improving employee communications and connectedness – whether in the office or out in the field.

Productivity through connectivity

Over half of the companies from this report acknowledge that staying connected with their employees out in the field is a prescient issue, and according to a poll from Gallup, 70% of the workforce is disengaged – reasons reported include:

  • Lack of feedback or direction from their manage
  • Lack of socialization with their team
  • Lack of understanding of company mission and values
  • Lack of proper communication between the employee and manager
    • When you’re an employee out in the field doing maintenance on an HVAC system or switch hub, or a business developer building relationships with potential clients, it’s easy to feel detached from the company you work for.

      It’s even easier to fall out of the loop – today’s business environment is one of continuous change, every minute of every day. A business developer needs to know the latest market forecast based on stock data, the latest environmental regulations for building permits, if the potential client’s favorite team is playing that week.

      Knowing the fine details your clients will care about is key to driving sales – and no business developer has the time to keep up with all of these data points for every potential client. Building client profiles based on specific verticals that automatically aggregate pertinent data is the most efficient method of keeping your business developers who are out in the field continuously on top of their game – and continuously impressing clients with their personalized conversations and service.

      Enterprise systems do more than keeping your employees in the loop; they are highly efficient at tracking and organizing physical inventory as well. Via an enterprise platform your sales, service, and accounting departments can view the same inventory data in real time. Enterprise systems are built to work within your already existent environment, and can therefore connect the individual systems these departments use.

      For instance, if your service department sells an item to a customer at a store, your accounting team will be notified of the sale immediately before submitting a new revenue report – just as your sales manager is made aware of the change in the item lot size before shaking hands with a client who wants the same item.

      Enterprise systems don’t just connect individual departments’ ability to manage inventory – it also helps your company predict when sales will happen, and when the optimal time to order more inventory will be, based on patterns that are recognizable through big data analytics. When you can optimize your ordering times, you maximize your inventory turnaround, and increase your ability to manage more product, or more types of products.

      Big data is the key to optimization

      When combined with AI, analytics, and machine learning, big data gives enterprises the information they need in order to stay a step ahead of their competition through inferred business intelligence.

      Overwhelmingly, throughout recent years, the vast majority of data that has been created is classified as “unstructured” data – meaning it is data found in documents like emails, recordings, telecommunications, video – and only 0.5% of it has been analyzed.

      Enterprises, unsurprisingly, sit on a proverbial mountain of this unstructured data – and via predictive analytics and other forms of data aggregation systems, these companies can access and analyze big data more intricately and faster than ever before.

      Through big data, companies can recognize patterns that interrupt workflow and productivity that might otherwise be unrecognizable without viewing the problem with the scope big data analytics makes possible.

      Take, for instance, 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. Without big data, creating these avenues for efficiency is impossible, or less efficient than it would be with big data integration.

      Venture ahead via enterprise platforms

      Improving your company’s productivity requires more than just a mobile app – a truly integrated system must work within your enterprise environment as soon as it is deployed. For more about proper deployment, visit our blog on the topic: Enterprise app development.

      An enterprise platform gives your company the ability to improve productivity, communications, systems management, and employee loyalty via one system – and simultaneously gives you a leg up on your competition.

Enterprise app development

Enterprise app development is more than simply building an app for a business – an enterprise developer must account for a multitude of challenges, including complex and vast internal systems, legacy software, manual processes, deploying within an already existing environment, and much more.

Having the ability to quickly integrate a corporation’s highly intricate and intertwined internal business systems within a single mobile software solution requires an entirely different skill set than other forms of software development; it necessitates that the developer understands both the corporation’s systems as well as their app’s system architecture.

In short, there’s a big difference between developing an app for an entrepreneur with an idea, or an enterprise level business with a plan for complete mobile integration throughout their existing systems.

Developing for enterprise

Successful deployment in an enterprise environment is akin to changing a car’s tire while maintaining speed – but with careful planning, clear documentation, and the creation of replicative test environments, it can be achieved.

The following are processes most enterprises should consider when planning for the development of a system-integrating app:

  • Change management
  • Project management
  • Approval gates
  • Environment integration

Also be aware that for your own internal IT department, a software development project precludes the signs of increased risk and systems maintenance – below, you’ll find steps your development partner can take in order to minimize the burden put on your own IT department.

Enterprise structure

Structuring an app to the enterprise environment requires significant communication and documentation – the ultimate goal of any enterprise software development is to ensure your development partner properly manages the project, so you own IT department can continue to focus on ITSM and ITIL.

In order to achieve this, your development partner should always provide you with a statement of work that covers all assumptions – this helps to ensure time spent in development is used efficiently, and helps alleviate speed bumps if changes arise such as an increase in burn rate.

There is no such thing as too much documentation – it’s a good idea to make it a rule that in order for any change to pass through your change approval and governance gates, the change must include supporting documentation. This helps to take some of the burden of learning an entirely new system away from your internal IT department.

Doing so will also both simplify and quicken the process of ultimately handing off management of your new enterprise software to your internal IT department – the proverbial changing of the tire.

Before any development begins, it’s important to make sure your BSA has throughly run through the entirety of the proposed app’s feature set, systems architecture, process structure, and risk assessment. After the entirety of the tech stack is defined (define your tech stack as early as possible), and requirements gathering is complete (for enterprise apps, this usually consists of large quantities of data aggregation), development can begin.

Deploying in the enterprise environment

Most enterprise systems are spread out across multiple environments – requiring communication between multiple types of applications, devices, APIs, and data.

Gone are the days when an ESB (enterprise service bus) would suffice – this centralized methodology of technology and teams causes a bottleneck in the flow of information and delay integration between the components of your business systems. A distributed system architecture with multiple reusable endpoints such as this is both more robust and more adaptive than the old ESB model as well.

In order to effectively integrate with an environment that allows for communication between multiple systems and layers, you’ll need to ensure your development partner allocates enough time to test your under-development app in a replicative environment. If your environment exists on premise or in the cloud, you’ll need to account for that during testing. Utilizing all devices that will be integrated – from routers to smartphones – is essential too.

To fully integrate your various systems, you’ll need to make use of messaging, application connectors, data streams, enterprise integration patterns, and APIs throughout your enterprise environment – depending on your data and architecture needs, some of these may be unnecessary.

Messaging

Messaging provides a channel for the various components in a distributed system through which to communicate with each other. This allows components to both send and receive messages in different languages, compliers, and even operating systems – messages can all be read with the use of one unified format and protocol.

Application connectors

These architectural elements provide the rules for how components interact with each other. Because they are standard class connections that are customizable to APIs, they can be quickly integrated with new endpoints.

Data streams

Aptly named, data streams provide an avenue for a continuous flow of data that applications distributed throughout your architecture can add to or consume from, independent of the data that is being transferred.

Enterprise integrations patterns

Referred to as EIPs, these are collections of solutions to common integration problems – these rely heavily on proper and through software documentation.

Application programming interfaces

APIs are a set of tools, definitions, and protocols that provides functionality in the form of a feature set by communicating with, and requesting data from a different set of software that does not require implementation.

How to choose your enterprise development partner

While it may be tough to convince your CFO, it’s much more important to pick the development company with a robust management structure and portfolio over the developer with the lower hourly rate.

Knowing your app is properly managed during development is a much better factor for determining the total cost of its development than comparing hourly rates. Mismanaged software can lead to delays measured in months, or sometimes, even years.

Take this example of the nationally-renowned web dev company Accenture and their mismanagement of website redevelopment for the car rental company Hertz. Hertz paid the web developer $32 million – and still didn’t have a functional website.

If you want to ensure smooth development for your enterprise-level app, always choose the partner that displays the most knowledge about your specific needs as a business. If you’d like examples of how enterprise apps can improve your company’s efficiency, culture, and other aspects, we’ve written quite a few on the topic:

Hiring an app agency vs. an app freelancer

What is the more cost effective option; an app development agency, or a freelance app developer? While there’s plenty of pros and cons to assign to either, it is our belief that ultimately, when presented with the entirety of an app’s lifecycle, hiring an app development agency is the better choice.

Why? Because apps are never truly finished products – they exist in a medium that necessitates constant and continuous improvement. When your product exists in a space that sees users demanding the best features, the fastest loading times, and the most up-to-date UI, you need to ensure your app’s code is accessible, modifiable, and organized.

Below, you’ll find the pros of cons of hiring an app development agency versus a freelance app developer, via a comparison of both options throughout each step in the development process:

Finding an agency vs. finding a freelancer

Whether you’re searching for a freelancer or a development agency, you’ll want to begin online – however, do your best to stay away from Google or other search engines.

For freelance app developers, sites like UpWork or Clutch or The Manifest. All of these sites function very similarly; you can search for developers based on certain criteria, and find contact information (whether through the aggregate site or their own) in order to begin the vetting process.

While it’s (usually) easier to find a freelance developer, you’ll find development agencies are (again, usually) more responsive.

Hiring an agency vs. hiring a freelancer

The difference in vetting a freelance app developer versus an app development agency marks where the process starts to noticeably deviate depending on which route you take. You’ll find freelancers’ CVs and portfolios to be very skillset driven – this is because freelance developers tend to specialize in developing one type of app.

App development agencies, on the other hand, will usually focus on presenting potential clients with examples of past projects and experience – this is because agencies employ a team of developers who each specialize in different aspects of app development – this diversity of knowledge allows agencies to work on a wider array of apps.

Agencies rely on steady clients, and therefore tend to take NDAs (and business partnerships in general) more seriously than freelancers – freelancers are, however, more likely to adjust to client demands.

Agency capability vs. freelancer capability

The complexity, scale, and scope of your app will largely determine if freelance development is even a viable option. As previously mentioned, freelancers tend to specialize in developing one type of app: such as eCommerce, productivity, or event apps, for example. Not only does this specialization narrow freelancers’ capabilities to the development of a single type of app, it often means freelancers are only capable of deploying in one environment, and developing for one platform.

Development agencies, however, will make use of the multiple skill sets available to them. These full-stack agencies can create any app, large or small, for any system, and for either platform: Android, or iOS (because Android and iOS utilize different code bases, it is exceedingly rare to find a freelancer capable of developing both Android and iOS apps).

Even when coding for a single platform, programming an app requires two different skillsets – frontend and backend development. For this reason, app agencies will employ programmers for both; frontend developers build out the UI and connect the functionality of the app’s features to the UI. Backend developers program the app’s logic architecture, set-up and implement servers, and connect APIs to their respective endpoints.

Agencies also utilize other tangential skillsets in order to improve the quality of the product that is developed; UI/UX designers create the visual design and flow of the app, providing a roadmap for the frontend developers – QA engineers create test environments in order to throughly analyze the robustness of an app before its initial launch, and project managers ensure every task is completed on time and in order, therefore maintaining a consistent and efficient development schedule.

When you hire a freelance developer, you are relegating all of these tasks onto either the freelancer, yourself, or your company. As an example – while a freelance developer might be efficient at developing the systems necessary for the entire feature set of an eCommerce app, they might not be the best UI/UX designer.

A freelance developer, in this situation, would most likely make use of an app design template (meaning your app will look cookie-cutter) – or run the risk of designing the app themselves – or, if their client was willing to pay for it, bring on a supplemental freelance designer.

Agency app management vs. freelance app management

Due to the nature of their work, freelancers tend to move from client to client very quickly – small projects have quick turn around times. Your app’s lifecycle is neither short or hands-off, however. All apps require updates for aesthetic purposes, improved security, and new feature implementation. Continual analysis of your app’s status via analytics and crash reporting is a necessary task as well – and with every update released by Google Play or the App Store, your app will need to follow suit. Even updates for changes as simple as new screen resolutions require time spent in development.

Agencies have this app lifecycle management structure built in to both their build teams and business model – freelancers generally don’t.

The cost of an agency vs. the cost of a freelancer

For all of the reasons stated above, the lower hourly rate freelancers are known for doesn’t equate to more cost effective development. For a freelancer to successfully develop the entirety of an app, they must have a mastery of a wide array of skills – and when they are lacking in an area of development, must spend time learning said skill, adding to the overall time your app spends in development, and bloating your budget.

Agencies specialize in producing complex apps efficiently; freelancers specialize in client acquisition, not app lifecycle management.