Picking a mobile app development company: What they don’t tell you

Frank Zinghini

Founder & CEO

Businesses have caught on to the mobile craze, and there is every expectation that expansion will only increase. Everyone is competing for dominance in the mobile space. Incorporating mobile applications into the overall product strategy is an excellent way for companies to set themselves apart. Many businesses that understand this will be tempted to hire a mobile app development company to accomplish this.

But what you don’t know can hurt you.

The problem is that many firms who present themselves as mobile app development companies have grown out of activies other than proper software product development. Web design and marketing firms got into building promotional apps for businesses, and game developers moved from consoles down to handheld devices.

In general, these kinds of firms don’t maintain the kind of quality that is necessary for the successful launch of a mobile component to a larger, multi-channel product strategy. These developers may have impressive portfolios and testimonials, but things that go on behind the scenes—the things that you don’t necessarily see during a proposal—aren’t efficient or cost-effective.

Here’s what many of these companies won’t tell you:

1. Programmers Are Only the Start

These days, three people in a garage can start a mobile app development company. Jim, Paul, and Mary may all be extremely talented programmers to be sure, and they very well may be able to handle building your application. But the truth is that mobile app development requires a diversity of skills that many firms simply don’t have.

The most obviously necessary skill beyond programming is graphic and user interface design. It isn’t enough for an app to simply work as intended; it needs to look good and be naturally intuitive, too. Form matters just as much as function on the mobile space, and different hardware needs to be accounted for as well. Will this app look as good on an iPad as it does on an iPhone? iPads and other tablets usually require two hands to operate. How will this be accounted for? Will the elements be rearranged, or will they remain in place?

These are just a few questions that explain why diversity of talent is incredibly important when it comes to successfully launching an application. While solid programmers are absolutely necessary, mobile app development companies must have access to a range of other skills and experts to make sure that the product is well-designed from end to end. Clean code just isn’t enough.

2. Designers Are Not Enough

This is almost the reverse of #1: just as developers can’t get the job done without proper design, designers can not succeed without being part of a proper software development team. This is important because there are many mobile app development firms who present themselves as full-scope developers, but who in fact come from the design world, and don’t know or appreciate the right way to build a robust and reliable commercial software product.

It is not enough for the application to look good. It has to make life easier for the user; it has to work more smoothly than the competitive products; it has to be so intuitive that the user always knows exactly what to do next with no confusion. This kind of usability comes with years of experience designing applications that are tested by users and used by users. There is no substitute for this experience, and guessing or assuming is a sure path to market failure.

3. They Only Do What They’re Told

Most companies agree that they should do what they’re hired to do—it’s a fundamental characteristic of any economic system. There is a difference, however, between doing what is required and doing what should be done.

A good mobile app development company will not just take simple direction and hand you only what you asked for, especially if what you asked for isn’t the best possible version of an application. Say, for example, you are a retailer who wants to hire a company to design an app that allows your users to buy your products and have them shipped to them. Seems simple enough, right? A company will design a shopping cart and a way for you to easily adjust your inventory, then call it a day.

An exceptional company, however, may include a few things that you didn’t think to ask for. How about a way to process returns directly on the app? Or how about a way to have their purchases shipped to the store? Or simply a way for them to check a store’s availability so that they can pick it up today rather than just heading to your competitor instead?

Simple things beyond the basic instruction can make an enormous difference between companies, and it’s not something that should be mimimized.

4. They Don’t Do Continuous Quality Assurance

Quality is important to any software application, but interestingly there’s a higher expectation of quality with mobile apps. People expect that their phone will just work, and by extension they expect every app on that device to work seamlessly as well. We may tolerate Microsoft Word crashing from time to time, because we’ve been trained to expect that, but when your phone crashes for any reason it just feels strange.

Quality Assurance is the process of making sure your app works, and works well. Many mobile app developers lack the rigor necessary to do this well; QA is too often an afterthought.

Everyone who has taken a computer programming course knows that it’s smarter to debug a program each time you make an adjustment rather than waiting until the whole thing is built. It’s by far the simplest way to isolate problems as they occur—if your app crashes right after you add a button, then there’s probably something wrong with that button. It’s the technical equivalent of tasting a meal as you cook it so that it isn’t over-seasoned.

However, many mobile app development companies don’t do this, which is a problem because quality assurance is arguably the most important step in a product launch. Instead, they will simply write the app, complete the build, and then run a QA check. If it fails, well… back to the drawing board.

This is the kind of thing that can delay an application launch, which will have cascading effects on an entire business. If your quarterly budget requires an app to launch in June, but it gets pushed back to July, that slows everything down, including potential revenue.

The best companies maintain high standards of QA checks throughout the development process. This is tied to the last point, which is…

5. Their Project Managers Aren’t Effective

Project managers are the backbone of any mobile app development company. Programming is a talent that can be learned, but management requires a set of natural skills that not everyone has.

A good project manager not only understands the expectations of an application’s development, he or she knows how to communicate those expectations to the engineers, designers, and specialists. They get that the end user experience is the most important thing for a successful application launch, and they know what it takes to get that done.

Less-capable project managers, on the other hand, can drag down the development process. One person may not know what another is doing, their people may not be working on the parts of the project where they are most effective, or they simply may not understand enough about the application to effectively get the job done.

The best project managers know when to ask questions and how to get the most out of their teams. They can make the difference between an app that just works and an app that you can be proud of.

All of these things can be avoided when you choose a mobile app development company. Ask appropriate questions during your selection process, get to know the people involved, and keep an eye on things as they develop—it can save you a lot of time, money, and effort later on.

For more information on selecting and working with developers for your upcoming app project, please download a guide for CEOs about creating great software from Applied Visions today.

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