Top ten tips for creating a smartphone app for your business

Thinking of creating a smartphone app but no idea where to start? Neil Waller, co-founder of MyDestinationInfo.com, shares his tips on how to develop an app for your business. He launched the MyDestinationInfo smartphone app earlier this year, offering users local travel guides, a personal trip planner and exclusive offers for different destinations.

1. Define The Target Audience

Before you start developing, decide who your target audience is. Each type of handset tends to have a different type of user, so you need to know who you want to reach. Developing an app for iPhone, Blackberry, Android and Nokia is a costly process as each handset has different usability requirements. It's almost like having to make four different apps. Pick your audience and then pick the handsets to focus on.

Defining your audience will also help when it comes to branding as you'll need to decide how much and what type of branding to use. Are you keeping your corporate style or toning it down? Once you've identified who is going to be downloading the app, you can work your style and branding accordingly.

2. Do Your Research

Market research is a fancy way of saying "Look at what other people are doing and don't make the same mistakes." Coming up with creative solutions in the development and design of your app starts with analysing other applications. Learn from the best and worst examples in the App Store and make a note of their flaws and successes.

3. Find a Niche, Be Original, Have a Good Idea

It sounds simple, but as with any product it needs to be based on a good idea. It's almost always going to be necessary to think of an app as a separate product, rather than a carbon copy of your website. Take a look at your business and then come up with a clean and simple idea that can be reflected in the app. In such a competitive market you need to think of something new and different to capture people's attention.

4. Define Your Objective

What is the purpose of the app? Why should people download it. Is it for entertainment, as a source of information or does it serve a more practical purpose?

5. Check Out the Competition

This is vital. In order to be original you need to know what else is out there competing in the same space. There's no point launching something that has already been done.

6. To Monetise or Not to Monetise

Decisions on monetisation largely depend on what you are looking to achieve with the app. If you are predominantly using it as a marketing tool to help establish your brand, it may be best to focus on getting as many downloads as possible by offering a free app.

On the flip side, apps can present a significant revenue opportunity; some apps have become multi-million pound businesses!

It's likely that the cost of development will influence your decision on whether to monetise. Although the industry is still relatively young, there is a huge range of companies from established agencies to individuals, all offering a wealth of expertise. It's worth shopping around as you can still get a great price for an app with a company who will work effectively with you to deliver what you need.

Be wary of companies who might be looking to use your project as a learning experience and always ask to see a live demo of their previous work, not just screen grabs.

7. Keep it Simple

Apps are refined, streamlined versions of the user's full web browsing experience. When you're working with a developer, consider whether the app needs all of the full web functionality to fulfil its core function. If not, look to provide a slimmed down version of your site's features or another function which is complimentary to your business. The latter being particularly important if you already have a .mobi website, a mobile version of the full site.

8. Decide How to Promote/Advertise

Once you're happy with the app you'll need to think about the best way to promote it. This will depend on the type of business you have but focused promotion to the target audience needs to be considered in advance. Angry Birds was the second app ever to have a YouTube trailer, and it had a huge impact. We have created a short, informative video for the MyDestinationInfo.com app.

9. Harness Feedback

Make sure you get some constructive feedback. App users are often happy to provide constructive criticism and suggestions for improving its usability. Make sure you listen to what your customers are telling you and update your app accordingly.

10. Make the most out of what Smartphones offer

You need to know how smartphones work and how people use apps on them. Keep things simple yet innovative and most importantly - user-friendly.

The best apps play to the benefits and functionality of the smartphone as a device. For example, The AA's app allows the user to find the cheapest petrol pumps near the user's location. Tesco's much- publicised app lets you scan barcodes to add products to your shopping list. In summary, you'd do well to incorporate a location-based service or feature on your app.

Find out more about MyDestinationInfo.com

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