As you're probably aware, mobile is all the rage nowadays: app development jobs are booming, everyone and their mom wants/needs an app, and all the hippest marketers are pressing companies to go mobile or miss out. In this post, I'm going to show you three methods to consider for getting your very own app developed. Additionally, I'll mention some ideas for monetization, explain some of the technology that's out there for developers to work with, give some price points you might expect to pay, and ultimately give a solid, top-level view of the mobile development landscape. This is far from a comprehensive guide, but it will certainly give you a firm grasp on where to start with your mobile app endeavors!
Mobile development: Pick your platform(s)
Before you go about hiring someone, one of the first things you have to establish is which platform(s) you would like your app to run on: Android, iOS (iPhone/iPad), Windows Phone, etc. Doing this will allow you to find the right developer(s) for the job. You may be delighted to know that there are cross-platform frameworks/SDKs that developers can use to code once, then compile for multiple mobile platforms. Though there are many such frameworks/SDKs, a few popular examples are PhoneGap, Titanium, and Corona. These are legitimate platforms that can quite extensively boost your app's time to market, which makes them very cost-effective. They don't allow you to get as close to the hardware level as some developers like for performance tweaking, but not every app needs that kind of attention.
So, pick your platform(s) before you pick your developer. Also, take care to notice developers who absolutely insist on not using cross-platform frameworks/SDKs. It doesn't mean they're bad developers (probably far from it, actually), but the future is definitely moving towards robust, cross-platform frameworks that allow you to get so much more out of one coding job. You may well need to hire a developer to code your iOS app in Objective-C instead of using a cross-platform framework, but really try to flesh out if that's a necessary endeavor before you commit.
1: Hire in-house
Hiring in-house requires finding the right candidate to bring into your company and paying them to focus on building and/or maintaining your app. Depending on how extensive your app needs are, this could even require a small team of people: developers, artists, etc. By the time your app is finished, you could easily be out tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars; however, that's if you go the team route. With the right coder and small enough app needs, you could very well end up with a solid, first-release app in a month or less for around $1-5K. Decent mobile app developers are in high demand right now, so take the time necessary to find the right candidate(s).
If you're not looking to bring developers in-house, then outsourcing may be the way for you to go. Depending on your budget and the scope of your app, you have plenty of options for where you choose to outsource the development of your app. On the high end of the cost spectrum, you can seek out a consulting company that specializes in mobile app development. There are many such firms out there with dedicated teams of mobile app developers, but do your due diligence to research and locate reputable firms. With the high price tag should come an excellent track record, all the help and advice you could ask for, progress/milestone reports, and much more.
If the consulting route is more than you're seeking, then you might strongly want to consider utilizing some of the great mobile app developers on sites like oDesk, Elance, and Freelancer. I know quite a number of people who have outsourced their mobile app needs to developers on oDesk, specifically, and the results for them have been fantastic (prices paid range from $500-$5000). Such sites allow you to create job posts and sift through potential candidates by how well they've been ranked by previous clients, how many total hours they've put into mobile app projects, etc. Sites like oDesk also deal with payments in rather excellent ways. Personally, I've heard the quickest turnarounds comes from getting locked-in price quotes (as opposed to hourly rates) from devs for a specific project you map out. Then, devs are less likely to put your project on the back burner and drag out the time of completion.
Lastly, there's always thinking locally and tapping resources like Craigslist, Meetup.com, etc. to find candidates. They are obviously more risky, but with a bit of time and thought, you can easily weed out the less desirable from the lot.
Last, but certainly not least, you may just want to jump into developing your own app! If you decide to go this route, then I highly recommend looking into those frameworks/SDKs I mentioned earlier in the article -- especially PhoneGap and Corona. They make developing a mobile app about as simple as it can be, and you end up with code that you can compile for various mobile platforms. If you decide to go this route, then, depending on your level of programming experience, it may take a while before your product ends up in the market of your chosen mobile platform. If time is of no concern to you, then this may be just the approach you should consider taking to bring your app to fruition.
I'm not going to spend much time on this section, but I felt I should list a few things on the topic of monetization for mobile apps, beyond that of simply putting a price tag on your app. First, there's monetizing with ads. As always, there are cases of apps that do excessively well with ad-based monetization, but those cases tend to be rare. A site by the name of mobiThinking has really extensive write-ups of mobile ad networks that I encourage you to dig into. The rabbit hole is massive, but you're sure to learn A LOT along the way.
Next, there's in-app purchases. One of the hottest trends of mobile app monetization at the moment is giving your app away for free, then charging users either for in-app upgrades, or a full-featured version of the app. Most of the people I personally know who work in the mobile app industry are making the most money off of this method of monetization.
Lastly, there's push notifications. In the proper context (and without absolutely bombarding users), push notifications can be used to create sales -- whether it's reminding those who haven't yet purchased app upgrades to do so, or maybe tossing out an affiliate offer that serves your users well. This method of monetization is seldom mentioned, but can be very powerful, if used correctly and not abused.
I hope you've found this article useful. As I mentioned previously, this is more of a top-level overview than a comprehensive how-to (for instance, I chose not to delve into perhaps the most important factor of a successful app: mobile app marketing), but it's certainly enough to get the ball rolling for some of you out there who have had no idea where to begin with having your own app developed. The mobile app space is so incredibly vast, and it's not going away any time soon, so go ahead and take the plunge. I welcome all comments and suggestions from anyone who desires to take part in this discussion, so please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments below!
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